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Knowledge & Empire, c.1760-1965 - HIS00050I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Miss Emma Marshall
  • Credit value: 30 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22

Module summary

The relationship between science, medicine and technology and European Imperialism is both complex and controversial. This course will consider the role of European knowledge systems and practices in facilitating imperial expansion and colonial control from map-making and botanical classification in the 18th and 19th centuries to the large-scale development schemes of the twentieth century. Students will be encouraged to assess the relative importance of science, technology and medicine to the success of the imperial project at different moments in history and also the importance of empire for European knowledge systems and medical and scientific practitioners from c.1760.

The course will consider how the knowledge produced of other peoples and other lands by doctors and scientists informed understandings of tropical environments and racial difference at home and also how empire provided opportunities for making careers. In addition this course will consider the issue of the status of indigenous knowledge -both the ways in which local knowledges have been important for European science and medicine and also how historians have attempted to describe and define Western science with respect to other modes of knowledge production. Finally this course will consider some of the legacies of the relationship between science, medicine, technology and empire for the post-colonial world.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2021-22 to Summer Term 2021-22

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To provide students with the opportunity to study particular historical topics in depth;
  • To develop students' ability to examine a topic from a range of perspectives and to strengthen their ability to work critically and reflectively with secondary and primary material; and
  • To combine seminar preparation and discussion of the topic being studied with extended independent work on a project devised by the student.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • have acquired a deep knowledge of the specific topic studied
  • have developed their ability to use and synthesise a range of primary and secondary sources
  • be able to evaluate the arguments that historians have made about the topic studied
  • have developed their ability to study independently through seminar-based teaching
  • gain experience of working collaboratively through an assessed group project

Module content

Teaching Programme:

This 30-credit module is taught through a weekly two-hour seminar run from weeks 2-10 in the spring term and a four week period of project work undertaken in weeks 1-4 of the summer term. Students will complete their group project work within that period and tutors should arrange to be available for consultation with students twice during that time. There will be no formal seminar teaching during this period.

1.Exploring, naming and classifying

2.How do ‘natives’ think?

3. The pathogenic tropics

4. The rise of scientific racism

5. The botanical garden, the zoo and the museum

6. Scientific careers in the 19th century

7.Technological imperial networks

8.The politics of colonial medicine

9. Developing the great estate


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 33
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
24-Hour Open Exam
8 hours 67

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative assessment will be a group presentation between weeks 5 and 7 of the spring term.

For summative assessment students take a 24-hour open exam in the summer term assessment period, usually released at 11:00 on day 1 and submitted at 11:00 on day 2. For those taking two Explorations modules the 24-hour open exams are held on consecutive days, with both papers released at 11:00 on day 1 and both due for submission on 11:00 of day 3.

Students also submit a piece of written work for their group project of no more than 3,000 words in week 5 of the summer term.

The exam carries 67% of assessment and the project element 33% for this module.

Students who need to be reassessed in the project component of this module (for example due to Exceptional Circumstance) will be required to submit in the summer reassessment period a shorter individual project (2,000 words) which should include a short reflection (500 words max) on group work, considering how this project could be expanded if a team of three to four people were working on it. Students should consider how they would divide up the research tasks, and reflect briefly on problems which might arise and how they would manage them. Module tutors will advise on the content and design of this project. 


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 33
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
24-Hour Open Exam
8 hours 67

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will typically receive written feedback that will include comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their seminars and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline unless submitted in week 5 of the summer term, in which case these are available within 25 working days. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:Preliminary reading:

Combes, Annie E. Reinventing Africa: Museums, Material Culture and Popular Imagination in Late Victorian and Edwardian England. London, 1994.

Harrison, Mark. Climates and Constitutions. New Delhi, 1999.

Stepan, Nancy. The Idea of Race in Science. Macmillan, 1982.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.