Accessibility statement

Empires - HIS00146H

« Back to module search

  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Eliza Hartrich
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

Empire, imperialism, decolonisation: these words stand at the heart of twenty-first-century ‘culture wars’ and remain among the most controversial terms used in history-writing today. In this module, we interrogate what it means for a state to be an ‘empire’. Must empires be based on conquest? Is the term relevant to non-Western societies? Who decides what it means to be ‘indigenous’? Alongside these broad conceptual questions, the module delves into individual histories to attempt to uncover the lived experiences of colonisers and colonised. We shall look at how imperial expansion revolutionised what people ate in the early modern period, how landscapes from medieval Wales to modern Taiwan were transformed to meet the needs of colonial powers, and how processes of colonisation influenced definitions of race, social class, and gender. Particular attention will be paid to the strategies used by colonised peoples to resist imperial power and to the ways that past empires still structure our lives today.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

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

Module content

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

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

  1. Empire, hegemony, postcolonialism: contested concepts
  2. Types of imperial power: relationships between ‘centre’ and ‘periphery’
  3. Us and them: race, indigeneity, and the negotiation of difference
  4. Colonial bodies: gender, sex, and health
  5. Colonial landscapes: cities and nature
  6. Empires and mobility: enslavement, forced migration, and settlement
  7. Empires and the global economy: food and material culture
  8. Resisting empire: from ‘weapons of the weak’ to decolonisation


Task Length % of module mark
Online Exam -less than 24hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Open Exam - Empires
5 hours 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment work, students will produce an essay plan relating to the themes and issues of the module.

For summative assessment students will complete an Open Exam in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Online Exam -less than 24hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Open Exam - Empires
5 hours 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive written feedback, which may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss their feedback 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 25 working days of the submission. For semester 1 assessments, the tutor will be available during student hours of the following semester 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:

  • Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).
  • Michael A. Gomez, African Dominion: A New History of Empire in Early and Medieval West Africa (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018)
  • Ann Laura Stoler, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule, 2nd edn (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010)

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.