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Decolonisation and Development: the British Empire,1945-1965 - HIS00153M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. David Clayton
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

This module addresses a simple question: to what extent did attempts to remake the empire lead inevitably to its collapse? This question has huge significance for modern historians given the longevity and geographic scope of the British Empire and because of on-going claims that Britain’s relative decline as a global power coincided with its retreat from empire.

As the pressures leading to decolonisation intensified, there were top-down attempts by imperial agencies to make colonial people more healthy, more knowledgeable, and more productive: there was a new emphasis on colonial development holistically conceived. This module debates the relationship between these two dynamics–that is, ’decolonisation’ and ‘development’. It addresses this problem, one which informs global historical debates about the legacy of imperialism, for a period when the pace of change in colonial dependencies picked up. In 1945, Britain had colonies in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania, and had plans to extend democratic as well as socio-economic reforms in anticipation of holding on to this vast empire for many more decades. Twenty years later this empire was no more. There remained a residue of dependent territories, such as the Falklands, and Hong Kong: but India, Malaya, Kenya, Jamaica, Malta, Fiji et al were independent, and developing a range of new constitutional and economic relationships with Britain and with other ex-colonial territories.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

The aims of this module are 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

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Demonstrate a knowledge of a specialist historiographical literature;
  • Present findings in an analytical framework derived from a specialist field;
  • Solve a well-defined historiographical problem using insights drawn from secondary and, where appropriate, primary sources.
  • Set out written findings using a professional scholarly apparatus.

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing (RAW) weeks during which there are no seminars, and during which students research and write a formative essay, consulting with the module tutor. Students prepare for eight seminars in all.

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

  1. Sources on and secrecy about the British colonial project
  2. Imperial defence and global strategic retreat
  3. Managing/exploiting colonial commodities
  4. Strikes and industrial relations
  5. Insurgencies and counter-insurgencies
  6. Making the empire-welfare state
  7. Projecting Britainic values (via propaganda)
  8. Technocratic Schemes


Task Length % of module mark
Long Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students submit a 2,000-word formative essay in week 9.
A 4,000-word summative essay will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Long Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will typically receive written feedback on their formative essay 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 formative essay during their tutor’s student hours—especially during week 11, before, that is, they finalise their plans for the Summative Essay.

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

  • Caroline Elkins, Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire (London: The Bodley Head, 2022)
  • John Darwin. The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World-System, 1830-1970 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.)
  • Shohei Saito, “Operation Legacy’: Britain’s Destruction and Concealment of Colonial Records World, Britain’s Destruction and Concealment of Colonial Records Worldwide’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History’, April 2017, 697-719.

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.