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Literature, Empire and Race


Module description

In this module we introduce you to the complex interrelationships between literature, empire and race. We consider how empire and race have been written into existence at various historical moments, and how writers have used their work to contest colonialism and racialisation.

Framing our analysis of key texts (e.g. Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Achebe’s Things Fall Apart) will be concepts central to postcolonial thought, such as ‘Orientalism’ (Edward Said), colonial discourse, subalterneity (Gayatri Spivak) and 'hybridity’ (Homi Bhabha). The module is arranged around key themes including 'encounters', 'contact zones', 'the Black Atlantic' and 'writing back'. 

Before the start of the module you are strongly recommended to read:

  • Elleke Boehmer, Colonial and Postcolonial Literature
  • The first chapter of Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake: On Blackness and Being
  • Peter Hulme, Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Caribbean 1492-1797
  • Salman Rushdie’s 1991 essay, ‘Imaginary Homelands’
  • John McLeod, Beginning Postcolonialism

Indicative syllabus

  • Introduction: What does literature have to do with empire, cultural difference and questions of race?
  • Reading the New World: The Tempest
  • Colonial encounters: the captivity narrative 
  • Black Atlantic I: Turner, Equiano 
  • Black Atlantic II: legacies and resistance
  • Imperial mythmaking in the nineteenth century
  • Colonial Gothic: India
  • Dislocations: literature and the breakup of empire
  • Fictions of the diaspora
  • Literature and decoloniality

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will have:

  • analysed the role of literature in the formation and the deconstruction of empire
  • debated the politics and poetics of colonial encounter 
  • examined historical constructions of race.