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Literature, Empire and Race


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 5
  • Convenor: Agnes Woolley
  • Assessment: a 1500-word essay (40%) and a 3000-word research essay (60%)

Module description

This module introduces 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, as well as how writers have used their work to contest colonialism and racialisation. Framing our analysis of key texts - 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’ (Said), colonial discourse, subalterneity and ‘writing back’ (Rushdie). The module is divided into three periodic and thematic blocks: ‘Encounters’ examines some of the first ‘contact zones’ of colonial encounter, enslavement and the idea of the Black Atlantic; ‘The Forward Policy’ looks at cultural forms that consolidated imperialist ideology as well as writing by subjects living under empire; and the final block, ‘Writing Back’, considers how twentieth and twenty-first-century writers have responded to empire and its evolving legacies through questions of race, migration and heritage.  

The module is taught in weekly ‘leminar’ form, comprising a mini-lecture and seminar. This will be supported by resources and materials on Moodle. 

Over the summer you are strongly recommended to read the following:

  • Elleke Boehmer, Colonial and Postcolonial Literature (Oxford University Press, 2005). 
  • 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 (Methuen, 1986)
  • Salman Rushdie’s 1991 essay, ‘Imaginary Homelands’
  • John McLeod, Beginning Postcolonialism (Manchester University Press, 2000).

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.