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Divided worlds: the British Empire, 1846-1961 - Semester 1 - HIS00136H

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Amanda Behm
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

The British Empire reached its widest global extent in the first half of the twentieth century only to then crumble within two decades. While that sketch is familiar, we too often fail to ask: what was the nature of the British Empire for those who lived it? What political tectonics defined its rise and fall? How did ‘Britons’ around the world attempt to reconcile a professed love of liberty with the brutal realities of authoritarian rule? This module examines the moving parts of Britain’s imperial system from the mid-nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth. It emphasises, on one hand, the development of a so-called ‘British World’ through migration, trade, and communication networks connecting Britain and the settler regions of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa; and on the other, the expansion and hardening of colonial authoritarianism in India, Africa, and the Middle East, along with the expropriation and exclusion of indigenous groups and racialised ‘others’ in the settler colonies.

Taking these trajectories as mutually referent and inseparable, we will look at a range of textual sources, from official reports to brawling political journalism, from scholarly treatises to fiction and travel writing, as well as visual sources such as advertising, photography, and pageantry. We will pay special attention to colonial violence and crisis as forcing reckonings in imperial politics, and we will interrogate contested notions of freedom, self-government, and Britishness across the empire. The insights we derive will inform our understanding of modern British and global history, the legacies of empire, and decolonization as an ongoing and multifaceted struggle.

Related modules

Students taking this module must also take the second part in Semester 2.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to in depth study of a specific historical topic using primary and secondary material;
  • To enable students to explore the topic through discussion and writing; and
  • To enable students to evaluate and analyse primary sources.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Grasp key themes, issues and debates relevant to the topic being studied;
  • Have acquired knowledge and understanding about that topic;
  • Be able to comment on and analyse original sources;
  • Be able to relate the primary and secondary material to one another; and
  • Have acquired skills and confidence in close reading and discussion of texts and debates.

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1 and a 3-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11 of semester 1. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW). Students prepare for and participate in eight three-hour seminars in all.

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

  1. Targeting the British Empire
  2. ‘The Raj’ in context: debates and controversies
  3. Migration, settlement, and dispossession
  4. From free trade to imperial revolt
  5. (In)security state: violence, despotism, and the crisis of governance
  6. Asia on the move and the politics of ‘whiteness’
  7. A ‘new imperialism’?
  8. Empire 1900: the Boer War as crucible


Task Length % of module mark
Text Commentaries and Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students will be given the opportunity to produce text commentaries in seminar, including a written commentary.

For the summative assessment students build a portfolio of two parts, to be submitted together:
a) Two text commentaries of 500-750 words; and
b) One 1,500-word essay which reflects on the significance of the chosen texts in light of scholarship and sources from across the module.
The commentaries comprise 50% and the essay 50% of the overall mark for this module. Summative assessments will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Text Commentaries and Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Formative work will be live marked in seminar and supplemented by the tutor giving oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative work during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For summative assessment tasks, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 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 semester 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:

  • Antoinette Burton, The Trouble with Empire: Challenges to Modern British Imperialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).
  • Bill Schwarz, Memories of Empire, vol. 1: The White Man’s World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

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.