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Empires - HIS00101H

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Amanda Behm
  • Credit value: 40 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21

Module summary

In this course, we’ll explore the history of empire-building, expansion, and rule from the early modern period to the late 20th century, with additional reference to classical and medieval models. The course explores a wide variety of different case studies within a thematic and chronological framework. While it emphasizes the dynamics of modern European empires—namely British, French, German, and Dutch— it sets them in conversation and comparative context with cases from the ancient world to the present day, including Greek and Roman empires, intra-European settlement and conquest, early modern colonization in the Americas, land-based Eurasian empires, twentieth-century revisionist projects, Cold War superpowers and neo-imperialism, and global postcoloniality. Weekly discussions will explore a range of historiographies and interpretive positions, including economic history, social reform literature, political thought and intellectual history, critical theory, and environmental history.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2020-21 to Spring Term 2020-21

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to the practice of comparative history;
  • To enable students to acquire skills and understanding of that practice by studying a particular topic or theme; and
  • To enable students to reflect on the possibilities and difficulties involved in comparative history

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Grasp the key approaches and challenges involved in comparative history;
  • Understand a range of aspects of the topic or theme which they have studied;
  • Be able to use and evaluate comparative approaches to that topic or theme; and
  • Have learned to discuss and write about comparative history
  • Have developed skills in group work

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1 of the autumn term, and a 3-hour seminar in weeks 2-5 and 7-9 of the autumn term and weeks 2-5 and 7-10 of the spring term. Both the autumn and spring terms include a reading week for final year students and so there will be no teaching in week 6. Students prepare for and participate in fifteen three-hour seminars.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

1.         Comparison, comparative history, and the problem of thinking globally

2.         Theories of imperialism I: what is empire?

3.         Theories of imperialism II: peripheries and postcolonial theory

4.         Ancient templates: the ghosts of Greece and Rome

5.         Early modern empire-building in the New World

6.         The Age of Revolutions

7.         Imperial repertoires I: liberalism and authoritarianism

8.         Imperial repertoires II: settler colonialism

9.         Contesting difference in the modern world

10.      “New imperialism” and its critics

11.      Imperial war, imperialist peace? Redefining the colonial world

12.      Revisionist empire: fascist and communist projects in context

13.      The Second World War and colonial independence in British, French, and Dutch worlds

14.      The Cold War and decolonization

15.      Whose postcolonial world? Legacies, processes, and stakes


Task Length % of module mark
Project - 4,000 words
N/A 33
Online Exam
N/A 67

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For procedural work, the students will make group presentations towards the end of the autumn term.

For summative assessment students will complete a 4,000-word group project due in week 6 of the spring term -- this will account for 33% of the final mark. They will then also take a 2,000-word 24-hour open exam during the common assessment period in the summer term, usually released at 11:00 on day 1 and submitted at 11:00 on day 2. The open exam will be worth 67% of the final mark.


Task Length % of module mark
Project - 4,000 words
N/A 33
Online Exam
N/A 67

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive feedback that will include comments and a mark. If this takes the form of live feedback in class it will be supported by a written comment sheet.

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. 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:

Burbank, Jane, and Frederick Cooper. Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.

Maier, Charles. Among Empires: American Ascendancy and Its Predecessors. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.

Howe, Stephen. Empire: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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.