Cultures of Empire: British and French Involvement in the Middle East and India, c.1770-1914

Tutor: Joanna de Groot

Module type: Special Subject

Module Code: HIS00029H

This module offers students an opportunity to explore links between cultural, political, and material history, and a chance to consider the role[s] of cultural approaches to histories of colonial expansion and other forms of European intervention in a wider world. Taking the specific case of European [mainly British and French] involvement in, views about, and representations of, what they came to call ‘the Orient / the East’, the module will deal with the varied forms of encounter which took place. These ranged from adventurous exploration to armchair theorising, and from religious activity and colonial policy making to artistic or literary creativity and sexual experimentation.

The core of the work which you do will be detailed study of source material [personal and political records, visual material, travel writing, missionary material] which emerged from these encounters, and which provide evidence of the ideas, judgements, and representations made and used by French and British ‘experts’, explorers, officials, artists and policy makers. This study will form the basis for analysis of the roles played by ideas, by information, and by images concerning ‘the Orient’, in cultural and political life in the UK and France, and in the development of European activities in the Middle East and India. It should appeal to any of you with interests in 19th century British, French, and imperial or international history and/or in the history of culture [elite and popular], religion, and ideas. You don’t need to have any specific expertise or previous experience - just curiosity about the subject matter of the module.

The module will likely have the following structure:

  • Section A: contexts, concepts and encounters [4 seminars]

This section will introduce students to the historical background to the specific issues explored in this module, to examples of primary material, and to the conceptual approaches and themes which will underpin their studies during the term.

  • Section B: travel, expertise, and imagination [4 seminars]

This section will examine examples of travel writing and visual art, and their historical contexts, in order to explore patterns and blends of  ‘expert’ knowledge, imaginative invention, practical concern, and intellectual preconceptions about ‘the East’ which they contained . Consideration  will be given to the roles of those who commissioned, produced, and read or saw these materials, and to their thematic and chronological contexts.

  • Section C: gender, morality, and religion [4 seminars]

This section will focus on material which expresses the gendered  and moralising elements in European ideas, images, and theories about ‘the East’. It will involve comparisons between male and female creators and consumers of these representations, and an examination of ways in which they both shaped and were shaped by concerns about masculinity, femininity, sexuality and domesticity which influenced actions and policies as well as attitudes, beliefs and opinions. 

  • Section D: expertise, ideas, and politics [4 seminars]

This section will look at the cultural underpinnings of politics and at the political importance of culture. Taking three or four specific examples [the trial of Warren Hastings, travel writers and policy making towards Iran, French colonialism in Algeria, the British occupation of Egypt] students will consider how to give due weight to accounts of culture and ideology within analyses of political developments without over-emphasising them.

  • Section E: results and prospects [2 seminars]

Students will design and organise sessions which enable them to review, reconsider,  and critique the issues and material which they have studied to return to issues requiring further discussion, and to raise additional matters relevant to the module in the ways which they decide are most appropriate


For more information, please visit the module catalogue.