The themed section “Nonhuman Empires” contributes to a critique of anthropocentrism in the field of imperial history. It reveals the variety of ways in which the historical trajectories of nonhuman animals and empires both intersected and informed one another. Beyond merely rehabilitating nonhuman themes in conversations about imperial history, it provides a platform for rethinking both nonhumans and empires as they are envisioned conventionally in the historiography. This introductory article begins by situating this special section as a conversation between science studies and animal studies, on the one hand, and the historiography of empires, on the other. It then suggests ways to reconceptualize agency, subjects, nonhumans, and empire by combining certain shared concerns of subaltern studies and actor-network theory. Finally, it emphasizes the need to integrate postcolonial critiques with emerging scholarship about the posthuman.
I presented earlier drafts of this essay at the Centre for Historical Analysis at Rutgers University and at the Lipphardt Research Group Colloquium in Berlin, and I immensely befitted from discussions that followed. I thank Simon Schaffer, Sujit Sivasundaram, James Hall, and Shinjini Das for their helpful criticisms. This essay was partly supported by a grant from the Wellcome Trust (091630/Z/10/Z).