Portland Vase, 1st c. BCE

SSP100 The Empire Strikes Back:
Imperial Ambitions of Athens, Rome, Britain and the US

Prof. Michael Arnush marnush@skidmore.edu
MW 11.30am-1.30pm Office hours: W 2-3.15, TH by appt.
Mask of Agamemnon, Mycenae, 15th c. BCE
How would YOU rule an empire? What kind of empire would you oversee, how long would it last, and would people hold it in esteem? The city and museums of London provide a rare opportunity for students to examine four distinct yet similar empires that left an indelible mark on western culture and, indeed, the entire world. Students begin their study of empire with ancient Athens, whose emblematic imperial expressions appeared on the Elgin Marbles, now housed in the British Museum. From there we travel to the Roman empire, which stretched from Syria to Britain and is captured in full at the BM, the Museum of London and in sites outside of London. These two ancient cultures then provide the backdrop for our study of the rise of imperialism in 18th century Britain, specifically the creation of Neo-Classical architecture and fine arts as captured in the streets of London and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Students conclude their study of empire through a comparison of these examples with the American empire of the postwar era, culminating in discussions centering on the contemporary status of America’s presence overseas.

To introduce students to disciplinary (primarily historical, literary, and art historical), interdisciplinary and ethical perspectives.

To help students develop critical intellectual skills, consonant with the goals of Scribner Seminars:

  • to identify problems, formulate productive questions, and answer those questions
  • to distinguish among, and formulate, types of questions and evidence inherent in each of the above-named disciplines, and acquire the core methodologies of each discipline
  • to read critically, and gather and interpret evidence
  • to develop visual analytical skills and learn to navigate in and interpret material in museum collections
  • to make connections among various kinds of evidence, and ideas
  • to recognize choices, examine assumptions and take a skeptical stance
  • to formulate conclusions based upon the evidence
  • to communicate those ideas in writing and orally – both through presentations in museums and during in-class discussions
  • to relate the results of these studies to each student’s educational goals