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The Colonial Gaze: Western Perceptions of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 1600-1960


    Module description

    In this module we examine the history of Western perceptions of China, Japan, South Asia, Africa and the Middle East from the seventeenth century to the present. We will consider political, cultural, economic, social, religious and ideological encounters between the West and the non-Western world, setting this ambivalent and often troubled relationship within a broader historical context.

    The module will progress chronologically, beginning with the conflicts and challenges of perception produced by the 'expansion of Europe' and ending with discussion of the ways in which decolonisation transformed, complicated or entrenched pre-existing perceptions, misperceptions and distortions of the non-Western world.

    Seminars will be organised around a specific theme, such as travellers, trade, war, religions, and focus on a specific region, although comparisons with other regions will be encouraged.

    You will receive rigorous methodological training in the use of primary materials for historical research, including diaries, memoirs, travel writings, novels, newspapers, journals and films, as well as visual materials such as maps, cartoons and posters, honing your technical capabilities to assess and engage critically with a variety of sources.

    Indicative syllabus

    • Introduction and discussion of conceptual/methodological frameworks
    • Introduction to the histories of China and Japan, 1600-twentieth century
    • The Jesuit encounter with China and Japan between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries
    • Utopian visions: the eighteenth-century cult of China in the Enlightenment and the Chinoiserie craze
    • Embassies and economic wars: gunboat diplomacy, Sinophobia and the rise of Japan
    • Encounters in the South Seas: Captain Cook, Joseph Banks and Pacific Islanders
    • Introduction to the history of South Asia, 1600-twentieth century
    • The Orientalist Gaze in South Asia in the late eighteenth century
    • The Mutiny/Rebellion of 1857
    • Portrayals of Indian nationalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
    • Introduction to the history of Africa, 1600-twentieth century
    • The Atlantic Slave Trade in the nineteenth century and the defence of slavery
    • Indian Ocean slavery
    • David Livingstone: exploration, abolition, Christianity and commerce
    • Mau Maus of the mind and the decolonisation of Kenya
    • Introduction to the history of the Middle East, 1600-twentieth century
    • The exotic Middle East: Lawrence of Arabia and the romanticisation of the Bedouin
    • The Thousand and One Nights: gender, sex and the harem in European imaginations of the Middle East
    • The afterlives of Orientalism: the Middle East in the Western media
    • Occidentalism: 'The West' in African, Asian and Middle Eastern eyes

    Learning objectives

    By the end of this module, you will be able to:

    • demonstrate a confident familiarity with diverse themes in Asian, African, Middle Eastern history from 1600 to the twentieth century
    • identify themes specific to Western perceptions of these regions
    • analyse in-depth a broad range of primary sources, understand their limitations and biases, and confidently compare and contrast the insights that textual and visual sources offer
    • account for historical changes in Western perceptions of Asia, Africa and the Middle East
    • reflect on how themes and perceptions of non-European societies and cultures are constructed by theorists and commentators
    • engage critically with the political, cultural and social contexts of Western imperialism and the non-Western societies that encountered it
    • discuss the long-range impact and afterlives of particular Western perceptions of the non-Western world
    • analyse and summarise the intentions and arguments of primary and secondary sources
    • compare and contrast different interpretations of the same event/period/phenomenon.