Improvement, Modernization or Violence? 'Development' in Historical Perspective

Tutor: Sabine Clarke

Module type: Special Subject

Module code: HIS00054H

The 1960s and 1970s have been described as the ‘development era’, when states in Latin America, Africa and Asia were subject to numerous interventions from the US and Europe, intended to modernise these countries. The failure of many of these projects to produce economic and social improvements for the countries concerned has produced an extensive literature that is often highly critical of the ideas and strategies promoted by advocates of development. This course will examine the longer history of the idea of development and consider the different permutations of this idea across historical time and geographic space, relating the meanings given to the concept of development to social, political and economic contexts. It will examine the nature of development plans and schemes in practice during the 19th and 20th centuries, from the period of European Empires to the post-colonial world.

In doing so it will consider such things as the ways in which development discourses and strategies have incorporated particular representations of peasants and tropical environments, the relationship between domestic issues and the overseas actions of European countries and North America, and the role of scientific and medical expertise in shaping development ideas and practices. Finally it will consider the responses of communities subject to European and American interventions as part of development.

Seminars are likely to cover the following areas:

    • The debate about development: an introduction
    • The origins of the idea
    • ‘Developing the great estate’: crisis in the British Empire in the late 19th century
    • The rise of expertise
    • Complementary economies 
    • The impact of the Great Depression
    • Ideas of conservation and tropical arcadia
    • British legislation and funding 1929-1962.
    • Agricultural development: compulsion, negotiation and resistance.
    • Agencies of development – UN, World Bank and NGOs
    • The US and the significance of the Cold War context
    • Post war theories of development
    • DDT and malaria
    • Demography, Hunger, Development
    • The Green Revolution
    • Globalisation and development
    • Contemporary debates and historical reflections


For more information, please visit the module catalogue