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By 1900 the British Empire was an empire on which ‘the sun never set’, the largest the world had ever seen. Yet, in the late 1700s, the Empire had teetered on the brink of collapse, undermined by the humiliating loss of the ‘thirteen colonies’ in America; the bankruptcy, corruption and nepotism of British ventures in India; and growing hostility to the slavery that sustained West Indian sugar plantations. Exploring this dramatic transformation, ‘Britain’s Empire: Power and Resistance’ considers British imperialism from the perspectives of colonizers and colonized. It examines how debates about race, civilization, government, gender, freedom, economics, and religion both shaped the growth and rule of empire and were themselves shaped by the empire’s existence. Students will study the impact on the Empire of the American War of Independence; the rise and fall of the East India Company state; the transition from slavery to indentured and ‘free’ labour in the Caribbean; the growth of settler societies in Canada, southern Africa and Australasia; and the British exploration, exploitation and partition of Africa. Indigenous responses to, and rejections of, colonialism are explored via regional case studies including India, New Zealand, the West Indies and Africa.
Weekly lectures will provide an overview of particular topics, highlight the connections between different regions of Britain’s empire, and demonstrate how the empire was made and remade over the course of the nineteenth century. The critical use of primary sources will be emphasized: what questions should historians ask of sources produced by colonizers? How can historians locate, foreground and critique accounts that provide the perspective of those who were colonized? Weekly tutorials will give students further opportunities to engage with, and contextualize, primary source material include official testimony, government reports and memoranda, private letters, speeches, fiction, maps, cartoons, paintings and architecture.
Intended learning outcomes
On completion of this subject, students should be able to:
- Identify the range of imperial formations that constituted Britain's empire in the period, c. 1763-1900 and describe how they changed over time.
- Analyse the dynamics of imperial expansion and control.
- Analyse the interactions between colonised and colonising peoples in Britain's empire.
- Locate and analyse primary and secondary sources to construct and evaluate historical arguments.
- Demonstrate skills of critical thinking and clear communication through class discussions and the preparation of written work for assessment.
- Display critical and analytical skills.
- Be open to new ideas and perspectives.
- Communicate effectively.
- Manage their time well.
Last updated: 20 February 2024