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Unit information: Decolonisation in 2020/21

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Unit name Decolonisation
Unit code HIST20116
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Saima Nasar
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This course covers the interconnected histories of empires, independence movements and decolonisation in twentieth-century Africa and Asia. It sets out to trace the decline of imperial systems from multiple perspectives, and examine the making of the postcolonial world in the context of two world wars and global economic shifts. Central themes covered in this unit are: imperialism and nationalism, liberation movements, Cold War diplomacy and global governance, and population and cultural transfers. We also examine the ways in which the end of empire was imagined in Asia and Africa, and bolstered by notions of solidarity among a new generation of political leaders, women, activists, and intellectuals. 

In this unit, we ask the following core questions: what drove the process of decolonisation? How has the end of empire traditionally been understood? By what means, and with what success, did Asian and African politicians build nations in the period before and after decolonisation? How might we compare the afterlives of empire in Britain and the post-colonial world? To answer these questions the unit will analyse and evaluate a wide and diverse range of relevant primary source material including official documents, conference reports, newspapers, films, personal testimonies, and literature. Students will assess the historiographical context and trends of the topic to offer a critical understanding of decolonisation. They will have the opportunity to improve their reading, writing, presentation, and oral skills through the writing of essays and class papers, participation in seminar discussion, and engagement with primary source material.

Intended learning outcomes

Successful students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the main developments in the history of decolonization and postcolonial nation-building.
  2. Respond critically to the terms and approaches used by historians to analyse decolonisation
  3. Discuss and evaluate the key historiographical debates surrounding decolonisation and postcolonial nation-building
  4. Understand and interpret primary sources and select pertinent evidence in order to illustrate specific and more general historical points
  5. Present their research and judgements in written and oral forms and styles appropriate to the discipline and to level I

Teaching details

Classes will involve a combination of long- and short-form lectures, class discussion, investigative activities, and practical activities. Students will be expected to engage with readings and participate on a weekly basis. This will be further supported with drop-in sessions and self-directed exercises with tutor and peer feedback.

Assessment Details

1 x 2500-word Essay (50%) [ILOs 1-5]; 1 x Timed Assessment (50%) [ILOs 1-5]; 1 x Formative Oral Presentation [ILO 5]

Reading and References

Darwin, John, Britain and Decolonization: Retreat from Empire in the Post-war World (Palgrave, 1988). 

Elkins, Caroline, Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in 'Kenya (2014)

Mazower, Mark, No 'Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (Princeton, 2009). 

Prashad, Vijay, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (2008)

James, Leslie and Leake, Elisabeth (Eds.), Decolonization and the Cold War: Negotiating Independence (Bloomsbury, 2015)

Bailkin, Jordanna, The Afterlife of Empire (2012)