Subject of 2017: »End of Empires«
The »Historische Kolleg«, the History Programme of the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften, the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities at Goethe University Frankfurt, is dedicating the year 2017 to the study of the »End of Empires« under the directorship of Prof. Dr. C. Cornelißen (Goethe University) and Prof. Dr. Thomas Duve (Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History/Goethe University).
The end of empires: An early-modern perspective
Two seminal events came to determine the course of Europe’s early modern history: the discovery of the Americas and the French Revolution. They signify both the end of the old and the beginning of the new imperial structures. The Iberian monarchies deployed different imperial strategies to establish their dominance in America, Africa and Asia. In Latin America, their invasion spelled the end of the Aztec Empire as well as of the Inca Empire, despite its vast swaths of territories; in Asia, however, the situation was very different. 300 years later, both the Spanish and the Portuguese Empire stood on the brink of collapse. Independence movements began to take their course in Hispanic America, triggered not least by power shifts in Europe and the rise of the French Empire.
How did contemporaneous accounts construe and document the decline of the indigenous political and cultural orders? At the same time, how did the founders of the new empires justify their conquests? How does historiography today interpret the beginning and the end of these empires? Special attention will be given to the normative underpinnings of imperial rule: What role was allocated to »law« in the constitution of empires? To what extent were the new orders built upon the prevalent normative and institutional structures? What resources were used? How did that in turn impact the European normative systems?
The End of Empires: Legal-Historical Perspectives
The end of an empire has often been marked by a legal act. In most cases, these documents also establish a new order. Beginning and end seemingly coincide in them. A clearer picture can be gained by looking at the history of Latin America. The so-called papal Bull of Donation of 1493 to the Catholic Monarchs and the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494, which for some were the beginning of a new world order, were at the same time the beginning of the end of the Inca Empire. In turn, the post-1810 Latin American Declarations of Independence sealed the fall of the Iberian Empires and allowed the emergence of the nation state structures that still exist today.
When long-lasting and complex historical transformations are compressed into legal acts, they receive great symbolic meaning. They provide us with the facts that are so important for our regimes of remembrance; they allow the construction of a »before« and »after« and thus develop an additional impact of their very own. In addition to this transformative dimension of law, we can also discover – by looking more closely – law’s resilience, the moment of arrest, its structural conservatism. Constitutional and political orders may change, but the valid legislation can remain astonishingly unaffected. Institutional logic, discourse and practices do not change overnight. They often domesticate the large political changes. During the 19th and 20th centuries, an international and transnational normative order developed alongside the nation state order and this normative order is considered by some to be a perpetuation of the colonial structures ̶ an informal but not less important empire. Thus, we must ask when do empires truly come to »an end«. How far into a new era does the influential power of their normative order reach?
For the thematic focus of 2017, we will discuss such legal-historical questions in a series of academic activities, in particular by means of historical research on the European and Latin American world of the early modern age. We will investigate how the Spanish Conquistadors made use of existing normative structures in order to establish their own order; which theoretical reflections on the spatial dimension of law we can observe in the Spanish monarchy, especially in the School of Salamanca; how long the normative structures of the Spanish Empire influenced the 19th century; and to what extent our present-day legal system still bears the imperial characteristics of this seemingly long-ago past. The activities will be carried out in cooperation with the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History, Frankfurt and the DFG Collaborative Research Centre »Schwächediskurse und Ressourcenregime«, Frankfurt.
The end of empires: Perspectives in contemporary history
The years 1917-18 represent a significant chapter in the history of modern empires. For the onslaught of the Bolshevist Revolution and the military and social challenges brought about by the First World War led to the collapse of the multi-ethnic European empires, and thereby paved the way for the triumphant rise of the modern idea of the nation state. At the same time, their demise led to a massive restructuring of political order in the former European empires overseas. Historians have long described these developments as a more or less inevitable process. After the end of the Cold War and in the aftermath of the new wave of nationalism in Europe, however, this teleological view has been steadily challenged. In light of that, the new history of empire offers a nuanced picture of the political and social framework conditions, as well as of the internal machinations of the multi-national empires right up to 1918.
How did it affect the internal and external political stability of multi-national empires in Europe before 1917/18? How did multi-ethnicity factor into the consolidation or affirmation of imperial rule, and, similarly, how does that relate to the idea of national self-determination? Other questions ensue: How can we explain the enduring changes in historical interpretation and analysis? Any response to these questions requires us to address the global impact of the collapse of the European empire. The British Empire offers a perfect illustration of that phenomenon as the sole »European« empire which harnessed all available resources to expand its global reach immediately following 1918, but soon after, also found itself confronted with demands for national independence in its overseas territories.
An overview of all events of the Historische Kolleg can be found here.
Thomas Maissen: »Das Ende der Imperien: epochenübergreifende Überlegungen«, Lecture 30.01.2017.
Please find the report here.
Lecture series »End of Empires« (Flyer)