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Unit information: Introduction to the History of the British Empire: Rise, Fall and Legacies in 2015/16

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Unit name Introduction to the History of the British Empire: Rise, Fall and Legacies
Unit code HIST13014
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Potter
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This outline unit offers a broad survey of the history of Britain’s modern empire. The British Empire was, of course, for an extended period the biggest and most powerful of the modern world’s imperial systems. It had an enormous impact on much of the Americas, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic and Pacific worlds. Moreover, historians have become increasingly curious about how crucial its influence was on the peoples of Britain itself and about its relationship to the nature of ‘Englishness’ and ‘Britishness’. The significance of empire also remains a major and highly contentious part of current political debate, whether people are arguing about its legacies in former British colonies, about national identities, ethnicity and multi-culturalism in contemporary Britain. The unit provides an overview of these debates, as well as an introduction to some of the key conceptual and historiographical issues relevant to modern history more broadly.


  • an introduction to the history of the British empire and ideas about that history
  • an awareness of the main issues at stake in undertaking historical analysis in the period
  • an introduction to key concepts/theories in colonial and postcolonial history (imperialism, colonialism, postcolonialism, underdevelopment, globalisation, ethnicity, national identity, space and territory)
  • an opportunity for students to discuss concepts/issues in colonial and postcolonial history and to discuss these in a small-group context

Intended Learning Outcomes

  • an understanding of some of the main issues in the history of the British empire
  • an awareness of shifting ideas about the history of the British empire and the politics of history
  • an awareness of key concepts/theories in colonial and postcolonial history
  • ability to set individual issues within their longer term historical context
  • ability to select pertinent evidence in order to illustrate/demonstrate more general historical points.

Teaching Information

2 x 1hr lectures weekly over 10 weeks plus 1 x 1hr seminar weekly over 10 weeks.

Assessment Information

  • 1 X 2000 word essay (formative)
  • 1 x 2 hour exam (100%)

Reading and References

John Darwin, Unfinished Empire: the global expansion of Britain (London, 2012)

Simon J. Potter, British Imperial History (Basingstoke, 2014)

Sarah Stockwell (ed) The British Empire - Themes and Perspectives (2008)

John Newsinger, The Blood Never Dried: A People's History of the British Empire (2006)

Niall Ferguson, Empire: how Britain made the modern world (2003)

Bernard Porter, The lion’s share: a short history of British imperialism, 1850-1995 (1996)

The Oxford History of the British Empire (5 Vols, 1998-9)