Skip to main content

Unit information: Space, Comparison and Empire in 2021/22

Unit name Space, Comparison and Empire
Unit code MODLM0051
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Alexandra Reza
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Modern Languages
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

Space has become an increasingly important category in literary studies, especially in its ‘World’ and 'Comparative’ declensions. In this unit, we will investigate a wide range of scholarship on space in literary and cultural studies and geography and probe the ways that 20th and 21st century writers, artists and filmmakers, especially from Africa, the Caribbean and Europe, have interrogated the connections between space and colonialism.

In the Martinican poet Aimé Césaire’s seminal Cahier d'un retour au pays natal, the poetic voice imagines redrawing the world map and producing a new, “original geography”. Amílcar Cabral, the Guinea-Bissau and Cabo Verde independence leader, wrote that decolonization would produce a “new human geography”. Césaire, Cabral and many others in the conjuncture of decolonization found modes of writing about space that disavowed colonial assumptions. For them, space did not have to be understood in classificatory and possessive terms. Anti-colonialism, they suggested, involved contestation not only over territory but also over the question of space itself.

As well as reading more ‘theoretical’ material, we turn to fiction, poetry and cinema as important sites of spatial thinking. Each week, we will move through different ‘spaces’ at different scales – the tropics, the botanical garden, urban spaces, railways, kitchens, ports – and will use this spatial frame to juxtapose and compare different kinds of cultural materials. Each seminar will be hooked around two set works. We begin with writing by Europeans travelling to Africa in the early 20th century and end with contemporary documentary film about Africans travelling to Europe today. We will also engage with film and installation about botany, and will take a trip to the University of Bristol Botanic Gardens, reflecting on ideas of constructed human space versus ideas of wilderness, and on the histories of botanical expeditions.

Each week, we will also think about comparative method: about how and why we compare different materials, and what thinking about European colonialisms comparatively can help us understand. We will think, too, about scale: how do we think the ‘big’ and the ‘small’ together?


  • To introduce students to a range of 20th and 21st century film, artwork, and writing and, in so doing, to consolidate their critical vocabulary and confidence in analysing and interpreting a wide range of cultural forms.
  • To help students develop a nuanced understanding of literary-critical debates about space and empire, and of how to bring those debates to bear on their own practice as comparative critics.

To equip students with the skills to work collaboratively to define research questions for group discussion, and to express their ideas with clarity and precision in their writing and speech.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the unit, successful students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a nuanced understanding of academic debates around space and empire;
  2. Evaluate and apply these insights to different contexts through linguistic, textual and cultural analysis;
  3. Select questions and relevant material for comparative research and select appropriate methods of analysis, including close reading and watching, for approaching those questions at a high level by exercising independent judgement;
  4. Synthesize, and effectively communicate their responses to, different forms of writing and artwork, both in written form and in oral presentation appropriate to level 7.

Teaching Information

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous sessions and asynchronous activities, including seminars and collaborative as well as self-directed learning opportunities supported by tutor consultation. The core of this teaching will be a weekly 2hr seminar.

Assessment Information

1 x 5000-word essay (100%). [ILOs 1-4.]


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. MODLM0051).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.