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The British Empire 1607-1997

Second Year Module

Module Leader: Dr Jo Frew

The story of the British empire is one of wealth and plenty. It is also one of destitution and struggle. From the early network of trade and settlement that stretched from the Indian Ocean to North America through to the lust for power and influence in the scramble for Africa and Asia in the nineteenth century: throughout Britains empire brought freedom and opportunity to some. It also brought decline and enslavement, at home and abroad. The history of Britain, its people and their state, has been intimately tied to its empire. This vital connection with empire and Commonwealth partly explains the ongoing interest in the history of imperial Britain. It was through its empire that the Britain has always ensured, and still does, its place in the world.

That is only one reason, though, for the continuing interest in the British empire. For many the British empire represents a period when the world turned upside down. Studying imperial Britain is about understanding how subjection to foreign rule, revolution, civilisation and progress transformed their countries and societies. This module will consider this wide literature on Britain and its empire. Attention will be fixed on how imperialism affected both colonisers and colonised. In fact, one question of continuing importance will be, who was making the empire tick, coloniser or colonised? The big game of empire will be considered, but so too will the lives of those who created, sustained and lived under the empire to bring the big game alive.

This module will take a chronological path from the early modern period through to the present day examining the evolution, apotheosis, demise and legacy of the British Empire. Key themes will include: origins and consequences; trade, conquest and settlement; imperial rule and identities; the social and cultural impact of empire at home and abroad; emigration and immigration; slavery; consumption; intellectual exchange; resistance and nationalism; the end of empire and Commonwealth; and the continuing mythology of empire.


Learning and Teaching Strategies:

This module will be delivered through weekly lectures andseminars plus tutorial support. Where appropriate supporting resources will also be made available online. Seminar sessions will be designed to encourage student participation and will support students in strengthening their skills of presentation, discussion, argument and debate, and in evaluating, interpreting and using secondary and primary sources.





Weighting %


Submission Date

The British Empire, 1607–1997

Document commentary


2,000 words

Week 5



2,500 words

End of semester

Individual presentation


10 minutes and handouts of not less than 2 sides of A4

As scheduled


Recommended introductory reading:

Philippa Levine, The British Empire: Sunrise to Sunset, (2007).

R.Hyam, The End of British Imperialism: The Road to Decolonisation 1918-1968, (Manchester, 2007)

S.E.Stockwell, (ed.), The British Empire: Themes and Perspectives, (London, 2007)


Further Reading:

N.B. A full reading list is included in a module handbook which will be provided in the first week of teaching.

Jordanna Bailkin, The Afterlife of Empire (Berkeley, 2012).

Jane Burbank, and Frederick Cooper, Empires in world history (Princeton, New Jersey, 2010).

John Darwin, The rise and fall of the British world system, 1830-1970 (Cambridge, 2009).

John Darwin, Unfinished empire: the global expansion of Britain (London,2013).

Ulrike Hillemann, Asian empire and British knowledge: China and the networks of British imperial expansion (Basingstoke, 2009).

Stephen Howe, New imperial histories (London, 2010).

Ronald Hyam, Understanding the British empire (Cambridge, 2010).

Robert Iliffe, Africans: history of a continent, 2nd edn (Cambridge, 2007).

Lawrence James, The rise and fall of the British empire (London, 1995).

Paul Kleber Monod, Imperial island: A history of Britain and its empire, 1660-1837 (Oxford, 2009).

Miles Ogborn, Global lives: Britain and the world, 1550-1800 (Cambridge, 2010).

Douglas M. Peers and Nandini Gooptu, India and the British empire (Oxford,2012).