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Art of the British Empire


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Assessment: a 3000-word essay (60%) and three-hour take-home examination (40%)

Module description

This module will explore the relationship between British imperialism and visual culture, with particular emphasis on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when Britain's overseas interests were expanding rapidly. By drawing on a range of sources - including paintings, photographs and printed material - the module will explore how British artists, travellers and settlers across the Empire responded to the people and places they encountered, how their approach was influenced by their preconceptions, and what impact their work had back in Europe in shaping the attitudes and ideas that underpinned, informed or challenged imperialism.

Themes to be covered will include exploration, landscapes, the recording of historical events, imperial architecture, depictions of colonised peoples and colonial societies, and engagement with key social and political debates.

The study of the links between culture and imperialism has been transformed by theoretical ideas developed during the last 40 years. We will discuss recent debates about the subject, and, through this, we shall examine the role of visual culture in the expression, development and negotiation of questions of race, cultural difference, identity, power, and morality.

Indicative module content

  • The theoretical framework
  • Exploration and speculation
  • The voyages of Captain Cook
  • Early ideas of race
  • Recording history in the eighteenth century
  • Imperial landscapes - India
  • Colonial society in India
  • Visitors to Britain
  • Science and nature
  • Morality and empire - India
  • Imperial landscapes - Australia
  • Morality and empire - slavery
  • Collecting empire
  • Race and 'science'
  • Recording history in the nineteenth century
  • Architecture and British India
  • Imperial landscapes - North America
  • Architecture and design in Britain
  • Art of the postcolonial diaspora