Skip to main content

Empires: Conquest and Decolonisation, from 1700 to Brexit


Module description

In this module we take a comparative approach to the study of empire. We will consider the variety of forms that empires have taken from the classical to the modern periods, the methods by which empires were sustained and managed, and the factors that eventually caused most empires to fall. Among issues to be discussed are the importance of ideology in building and sustaining empire, the economics of empire, collaboration and coercion, rivalry and cooperation between empires, and nationalism.

Throughout the module, you will be encouraged to draw parallels and contrasts between empires of different eras, competing metropoles and varied ideologies of legitimation, in order to gain critical perspective on imperial experiences.

Indicative syllabus

I. Origins and examples of empires (up through the early modern period)

  • Empire and imperialism as ideas 
  • Rome: empire and law 
  • China: empire and culture/bureaucracy 
  • Ottoman Empire: empire and religion 
  • Holy Roman Empire: empire and feudalism
  • Overseas Empire: economic empires

II. Sustainability/Management of empire (mainly nineteenth century)

  • Geography and the tools of Empire 
  • The economics of empire 
  • Management of difference: cooptation and collaboration 
  • The civilising mission 
  • Imperial adaptation to ‘native’ practices
  • Religion
  • Coercion and conflict
  • Migration

III. End of empire (twentieth century)

  • Competition and cooperation of empires: Africa
  • Competition and cooperation of empires: Asia 
  • Anti-imperialism: metropole and colonies 
  • Nationalism: inclusion and exclusion
  • Post-national empires: the EU and USA?
  • Post-imperialism

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will:

  • have good knowledge of the major themes in the debates about empire and decolonisation
  • be able to compare and contrast several narratives on empires with reference to their distinct historical and historiographical contexts
  • be able to handle primary sources with confidence and demonstrate the ability to use them as a means of critiquing current paradigms.