“Halt! Identify yourselves, in the name of the Empire!”

The Dark Side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities, some considered to be unnatural…

I am currently teaching a unit on imperialism in World History. We are working through the causes and effects of imperialism and the different strategies of empire building in order to ultimately determine if we think that the United States is/is not/was/was never an empire. We examined the Ancient Maya, China in the age of Dynasties, the Spanish, the British, and compared and contrasted their strategies, goals & ambitions, purposes, and results. Then we determined that, like all good social scientists, we needed a model in order to effectively assess all of these empires. Our archetype of empire is the Galactic Empire. To this end the students came up with a list of characteristics that they believed must exist to merit the label: Empire. The list looked something like this:

  • Territory
  • Army/military strength
  • Influence
  • Power
  • Money
  • Respected by others
  • Allies
  • Renown
  • Strong leader, perhaps an autocrat, definitely with cult of personality
  • The five elements of “civilization”, which include skilled workers, advanced cities, complex institutions, advanced technology, and record keeping
  • Ambition
  • Hierarchy
  • Unique cultural traditions
  • Independence
At this point in the list-making process, there was a bit of a lapse in the suggestions. To be fair, it was a pretty comprehensive list. Then one of the girls in my first period class shouted out, “They gotta have the Force!” The class laughed. I wrote it on the board. The Force. They laughed some more. I did the old raised-teacher-eyebrow thing. They quieted down. Could the Force be something that we look at more metaphorically than literally (if we even needed to adjust its meaning)? The Force in Star Wars terminology is defined (according to the Wookieepedia) as: “a metaphysical, binding, and ubiquitous power, the Force was viewed in many different aspects, including, but not limited to, the light side, the dark side, the Unifying Force, and the Living Force.”
Sounds pretty much like cultural imperialism to this old lady.

It is a rare and joyous moment when something like Star Wars is validated as meaningful academia. The idea that Star Wars could actually be a legit focus in the study of World History has been one of these moments. Of course, I now must tread lightly so as not to ruin something cool by ‘schooling’ it, but that is a chance I am willing to take.

As these students began to put together composites of the characteristics of the various empires we looked at – focusing specifically on their aims, ambitions, and methods as time (and let’s face it, attention) is always limited in high school you’ve gotta be selective, so we are – certain trends become clear. Trends not only in the characters of the empires and their imperial designs, but trends in the scholarship. This is fun when the students start to notice these things and ask questions….

Why did everyone think the Maya were all peaceful?
Why don’t we learn how they partied?
If the Maya calendar is so accurate, why don’t we use it? [Chased by the inevitable follow-up, ’cause then we’re all gonna die in December!]

The second of our empires who aimed for a sort of self-sufficiency the Western World has never seemed to understand was Ancient China. My students seem to instinctively understand the Chinese response to Britain, “We don’t need you. We are awesome.” [On a personal note, I find it fascinating how this attitude has persevered throughout all of China’s history and is alive and well today. Not that I disagree, but it is an interesting cultural legacy.] And the students totally understand China’s attitude because, well, because of their size, really. When we write on the board that the land area of China is 9,569,901 km sq (which I have to convert into square miles, thank you very much England… 3,694,959) and then I write down the land area of Britain, 241,930 km sq (and this is generous as it include the entire UK… 93,409) the kids laugh.

What? The Maya had more territory!
That is so small? Is it bigger now? [No…]
Hold on, why did they call it *Great* Britain?

Still, the students also seem to totally understand the shift in power once drugs are introduced, and the opium wars are one of the most logical lessons we’ve covered in History so far this year. But they are perplexed by the Treaty of Nanking and further confused by the Open Door Policy.

Um, I think I am reading this wrong because it seems like the Chinese got totally screwed in this Treaty. Who would sign this?
Wait, no one agreed to John Hay’s plan, but he said people did… and that worked? That’s like a Jedi mind trick! [smiles]
Uh, when did the United States even get involved? 
Maybe everyone was smoking opium or something… [Ah, would that it were so simple…]

In general Britain confounds them. They fully understand the need for Britain to spread out and take over the world, but they don’t understand how they were able to do it. We talk about gunboat diplomacy and dollar diplomacy. We talk about short-term and long-term considerations (and miscalculations). They keep asking why Britain called itself great. We talk about how the sun never set on the British Empire. They mention that the Spanish had already used that saying a century or so earlier… and we consider the effectiveness of British imperialism as a commercial ambition and a matter of national pride. They seem to understand this. In contrast considering Spain’s hyper-religious focus, they seem to think the Brits had a better strategy by not alienating every non-Catholic on the planet. What was that going to do for them anyhow? they ask. I refer them to Mel Brooks in agreement.

All the while, pretty much every third question is, “When are we going to watch Star Wars???” [The other primary questions having to do with why Britain is *Great* Britain (insert all size matters jokes here, and trust I have been hearing them, these are sophomores, after all), and if we are going to watch all six Star Wars films. (I did mention they are sophomores, right? Disregard the idea that there are no silly questions…)]

And so tomorrow, it begins, in a galaxy not so far away, armed with all sorts of comparative data, and a timeline of the Galactic Empire from the year 19 B.B.Y. (the year the Empire was established) to the year 137 A.B.Y. (the year in which the Remnant of the Galactic Empire joins the Galactic Alliance, while all the displaced Siths are simultaneously infiltrating the emerging conjoined governments…) they will get a chance to examine the Galactic Empire, its aims, ambitions, strategies, the cyclical nature of imperial strength, and the ever-present Force to put the finally piece in place for their model of empire and identify the similarities they may see between the Galactic Empire and…

  • The Empire of the Maya: “Listen, I can’t get involved. I’ve got work to do. It’s not that I like the Empire; I hate it! But there’s nothing I can do about it right now. It’s such a long way from here.” – Luke Skywalker
  • The Empires of Ancient China: “The Empire reaches far and wide, and is made up of countless individuals who all strive for the same overall goal: stability.” – Imperial Advisor Ars Dangor
  • The Spanish Empire: “I have brought peace, freedom, justice, and security to my new Empire!“- Darth Vader
  • The British Empire: “We must move quickly. The Jedi are relentless. If they are not all destroyed, it will be civil war without end.” – Palpatine

Then it falls to them to determine the state and/or existence of the American Empire…

We are an Empire ruled by the majority! An Empire ruled by a new Constitution! An Empire of laws, not of politicians! An Empire devoted to the preservation of a just society. Of a safe and secure society! We are an Empire that will stand for ten thousand years!“―Palpatine

*all quotations from taken from Wookieepedia.

About Amanda

I am repatriating expatriate trying to work it all out. Well, to work some of it out anyhow. I am writing here for sanity, focus and general over-sharing.
This entry was posted in Education, Movies, Perception, Philosophical Underpinnings, Politics, Work and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to “Halt! Identify yourselves, in the name of the Empire!”

  1. Kelly says:

    I’ll say it again. I wanna be in your class.

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