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De/colonising Memory: Public Histories of Empire, Colonialism & Postcolonialism - HIS00134M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Victoria Hoyle
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

Memories of empire and colonialism are deeply contested in public – in museums and archives, in public spaces and programmes of commemoration, in the rhetoric of politicians and journalists, and in and amongst global communities. In recent years we have seen discussion about the interpretation of heritage sites; about the land and knowledge rights of Indigenous people; about the repatriation of stolen artefacts and the return of displaced archives; about apology and reparations to people of colour for the injustices of slavery and oppression; as well as the much-discussed removal or protection of statues and monuments.

In this module students will explore the relationship between history, heritage and the imperial and colonial projects of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. How have states, institutions and communities understood and constructed narratives about empire and coloniality? How are these narratives expressed through public manifestations in museums, archives, monuments, and popular culture, from the perspectives of both colonisers and the colonised? To what extent are neo-colonial agendas at work in public history practices? We will also consider how postcolonial, decolonial and Indigenous interventions have generated counternarratives, activist archives, and reclaimed memories and spaces.

Throughout we will ask: can public histories be decolonised? What does this mean and what does/could it look like? What are the roles and responsibilities of historians in this process, and how might we work alongside other communities? We will look at both debates and public histories internationally with case studies from Europe, South Asia, North America, South America, East Africa and Australasia.

Content note: During the course of this module we will discuss some difficult themes and histories, including slavery, racism, colonial violence and genocide. We will approach these topics sensitively and thoughtfully and I will give information in advance about what you will encounter in primary sources and readings.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2022-23

Module aims

The module aims to:

  • Develop skills of source analysis and interpretation;
  • Assess a range of source material and relevant secondary works; and
  • Develop students’ powers of evidence-based historical argument, both orally and in writing.

Module learning outcomes

After completing this module students should have:

  • A familiarity with the relationship between history and heritage on the one hand and empire, colonialism and postcolonialism on the other, across a range of domains and practices, including museums; archives; landscape and public space; monuments and commemoration; political discourse; cultural memory; and social justice activism.
  • Knowledge of a range of diverse case studies of public histories of empire, colonialism and postcolonialism globally.
  • An ability to reflect on the roles and responsibilities of historians in relation to debates around contested, difficult and sensitive histories.

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Students will attend eight weekly two-hour seminars in weeks 2-9.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

  1. Memory and empire: Concepts and contexts
  2. The Brutish Museums? Collecting and displaying coloniality
  3. Displaced Archives: postcolonial memory and justice
  4. Politics, policy and the rhetorics of colonialism and post-colonialism
  5. Guilt, reparation and collective responsibility
  6. Monumental slurs? Commemoration after empire
  7. History as resistance – counternarratives and activist histories
  8. Decolonising public history


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will complete a 2,000-word formative essay, due in week 6 of Autumn term. They will then submit a 4,000-word assessed essay for summative assessment in week 2 of Spring term.

For further details about assessed work, students should refer to the Taught Masters Degrees Statement of Assessment.


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment, students will receive oral feedback at a one-to-one meeting with their tutor and written feedback consisting of comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission. Tutors are also available in their student hours to discuss formative assessment. 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. 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:

  • Rodney Harrison and Lotte Hughes, "Heritage, colonialism and postcolonialism," Understanding the Politics of Heritage, ed. Rodney Harrison. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010, pp234-269.
  • Kalypso Nicolaïdis, Berny Sebe, and Gabrielle Maas. Echoes of Empire: Memory, Identity and Colonial Legacies. London: I. B. Tauris & Company, Limited, 2014.
  • Dan Hicks, Brutish Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution. London: Pluto Press, 2020.

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.