Is the US an empire?

Professor Dominic Alessio, Professor of History and Vice President of International Programmes at Richmond, has just had an article published in the European Journal of American Studies with his long-term research colleague, Professor Wesley Renfro, Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Quinnipiac University in the US.

The article, which is part of a long-standing ‘Empire debate’ in US history and politics, examines the nature of empires and whether or not the US qualifies as one. Professors Alessio and Renfro argue that perceptions of ‘empires’ are often connected to the disciplinary training of the scholars and students engaged in researching the topic:

Professional historians, especially those influenced by the postcolonial turn, acknowledge that empires take varied forms and continue to shape political outcomes in the 21st century. By contrast, a number of their colleagues in political science and international relations are, on balance, seemingly more skeptical of the proposition that empires still exist.

The academics conclude the article with an analogy to illustrate their point:

On the question of definition and the issue of an American empire, perhaps the best approach is to see the phenomenon of empire as fluid, one that best employs the analogy of a river. Sometimes empire can be a raging torrent (formal conquest of large spaces by invading armies), whilst at other times it can merely threaten to flood and burst its banks (hegemony). Like a river, empire can also change its course and forge new channels and river banks whilst older contours get forgotten or swept away until what was at one time a river bed is now so old and dried up that it is not even thought about by some as a river anymore (Artois, First Nation Lands and Hawai’i). Consequently, in aiming to clarify the definitional conundrums of empire we helpfully suggest the following: empire is a river even when it is a river no more!