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Ending European Empires: Decolonization After 1945 in Comparative Perspective

Tutor: Amanda Behm / Henrice Altink

Module type: Histories and Contexts

Module code: HIS00002I

This course focuses on the end of the British, French, Dutch, Belgian, and Portuguese empires but situates decolonization within the longer-term context of latecolonial rule, changing European attitudes and colonial policies, and the rise of nationalism. While its emphasis is on political issues, lectures and seminars will not neglect economic, social, and cultural dimensions. 

A series of case studies of decolonization episodes will illustrate the differences between (and within) European empires, exploring topics that include the impact of the First and Second World Wars; the Cold War and American influence; anti-colonial nationalist movements; and the particular problems posed by white settler colonies. The end of empire decisively reshaped former colonies but also had a deep impact upon Europe itself, and the paths by which Europe as well as former overseas possessions became ‘postcolonial’ both receive attention.

The lecture programme will likely include the following:

Lectures 1 and 2:         

  • Introducing Decolonization in Comparative Perspective

Lectures 3-7: Ending Empires in Asia

  • Two lectures on Late British India, Independence, and Partition
  • Two lectures on the Dutch East Indies, Indonesian Independence, and Protracted Rule in the Dutch West Indies
  • One lecture on French Indochina, Vietnamese Communism, and the Cold War

Lectures 8-9:                

  • The Belgian Congo

Lectures 10-16: Settler Colonialisms in Africa and Decolonization’s Impact on Europe

  • Two lectures on French Algeria
  • Two lectures on Decolonization’s Consequences in Europe
  • Two lectures on Portugal, Dictatorship, and Decolonization in Africa
  • One lecture on British Central Africa and the Road from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe


Discussion groups will deal with the following:

  • Changing European Imperial Priorities and Capabilities
  • Anti-colonial Nationalisms
  • European Settler Societies
  • Decolonizing Europe

Sessions will consider these issues in relationship to the themes featured in that week’s lectures. During discussion groups, students will be asked to focus on a selection of core readings that include primary and secondary sources.


For more information, please visit the module catalogue.