HTC Talks: An Empire Defended: Fortification, Colonization, and the 17th-Century English State: Hannah Kaemmer



England’s seventeenth-century empire is generally conceived as one of trade and global exchange rather than territorial conquest. Yet every English colonial settlement was fortified in earth, timber, and stone—physical inscriptions of spatial power. This talk will interrogate this seeming incongruity. Drawing on examples from North Africa, Ireland, and the Americas, it centers fortifications as an essential architecture of empire and reveals how defensive infrastructural projects effected increasing English state control over colonized spaces, even before the establishment of explicit imperial policies. Fortifying colonial sites required new managerial institutions and processes, which in turn facilitated further territorial expansion across the globe. Ultimately, the paper contends that tracing the deliberate and unrelenting material work of empire building forces a reconsideration of both the history of the First British Empire and architecture’s profound role in the construction of imperial power.


Hannah Kaemmer is a PhD candidate in the History and Theory of Architecture at Harvard University. Her research focuses on built environments of empire and the intersection of science and architecture in the early modern period. Her dissertation project considers the relationship between engineering and empire building in seventeenth-century England. She has an article forthcoming (June 2023) in Nuncius on the relationship between architectural and natural philosophical representations in seventeenth-century England; she has also published on houses as spaces of control in Post-Medieval Archaeology.