Our objective is to understand the role and significance of comparison between empires. For the purpose of the Network, we look mainly at those modern empires that have studied, used, or modelled themselves on older empires. We are interested in examining how and why empires, imperial writers, and imperial formations of the modern era (the British, French, Spanish, and Ottoman empires, among others) placed themselves in a relationship to ancient empires (the Egyptian, Persian, and Roman, among others). We hope to analyse the ways in which empires appropriate other empires and rethink our understanding of both ancient and modern empires from this perspective.
A second objective of the Network is to bring a large and diverse body of scholars and thinkers into contact with each other and to promote interdisciplinary work about empire. There are at least two good reasons for promoting this objective at the present time. First, recent scholarship has begun to interrogate the relationship between ancient and modern imperialism using a wide range of approaches that draw from disciplines as disparate as history, sociology, political science, cultural studies, postcolonial studies, and classical studies. There is a real need to develop more extensive contact between these scholars and to facilitate interdisciplinary dialogue between them. We believe that scholars who write about empire have much to learn from each other and that there are areas for cross-fertilization and intellectual interaction that have not yet been exploited in full. Second, the US-led interventions in Iraq and elsewhere have generated a flood of publications about American imperialism, again by writers from very different backgrounds, and have prompted further reflection on the parallels between the USA and Rome. But, precisely at a time when empire needs urgently to be discussed with seriousness and sophistication, many of these analyses are made casually and are lacking in historical depth and rigour. By bringing together scholars who have undertaken research about ancient and modern imperialism, the Network addresses fundamental questions of contemporary importance and creates a space for the thoughtful and rigorous study of imperialism.
A working assumption is that the Network remains open to different methodologies and insists on no one particular framework for the study of empire. The Network also facilitates a dialogue between specialists from different backgrounds and it combines empirical and theoretical approaches. Our member scholars come from many countries and work in several distinct disciplines. It is an indication of the value of the Network that so many researchers, from institutions around the world, have already participated in our workshops and conferences with such alacrity.
While the subject of empire is heavily studied, there are few if any enterprises that examine the phenomenon described above. We hope that the Network will help explain how and why empires have related themselves to other empires so often and so powerfully. The Network aims to improve existing analyses of empire and enhance our understanding of imperial discourses, formations, practices, and structures.