English, 2013 curriculum - Free topic 13: The Break-Up of Greater Britain

Course content

This course addresses the legacies of Britain’s imperial past through an examination of the interconnections between the unraveling of the British Empire and the so-called ‘Break-Up of Britain’. Over the past four decades, the integrity and future of the United Kingdom has been increasingly called into question, widely manifest in the politics of ‘devolution’ in the Welsh and Scottish assemblies and the current impasse over Brexit and Scottish independence aspirations. This course seeks to anchor these dilemmas in the wider, global context of the end of the British empire – specifically the fate of ‘Greater Britain’ – arguably the world’s first global civic idea. The notion that Britishness transcended geography, uniting a worldwide community of British subjects, was one of the major casualties of the end of empire. Studying the demise of British civic culture throughout the many self-styled ‘British’ communities around the world over the past sixty years offers a new perspective on developments in the UK in recent decades. Among the case studies to be considered are the collapse of fiercely loyal British communities in South Africa in the face of Afrikaner nationalism in the 1950s and 60s; the struggle over British symbols and identity in Canada in the post-WWII era amid fears of absorption into the United States; the crisis of Britishness in Australia and New Zealand under the pressure of European integration and global decolonization; and the changing attitudes among communities in Rhodesia, Kenya and Hong Kong in the wake of empire.

Classes, with particular emphasis on reading primary and secondary texts, oral discussion and developing proficiency in English.


Course readings will be selected from a wide range of primary and secondary sources, including extracts from the following texts:

  • Duncan Bell, The Idea of Greater Britain (Princeton, 2007).
  •  Robert Bickers (ed.), Settlers and Expatriates: Britons over the Seas (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2010).
  • Carl Bridge and Kent Fedorowich (eds.), The British World: Diaspora, Culture, Identity (London, 2003).
  • James Curran and Stuart Ward, The Unknown Nation: Australia After Empire (Melbourne, 2010).
  • James Belich, Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World, 1783-1939 (Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • Phillip Buckner (ed.) Canada and the End of Empire (Vancouver, 2005).
  • Phillip Buckner and Doug Francis, Rediscovering the British World (Calgary, 2005).
  • Kate Darian-Smith (et. al), Britishness Abroad, (Melbourne, 2007).
  • Ronald Hyam and Peter Henshaw, The Lion and the Springbok: Britain and South Africa Since the Boer War (Cambridge, 2007).
  • Jose E. Igartua, The Other Quiet Revolution: National Identities in English Canada, 1945-71 (Vancouver, 2007).
  • J. G. A. Pocock, The Discovery of Islands: Essays in British History (Cambridge, 2005).
  • Bill Schwarz, The White Man’s World (Oxford, 2010).

• One weekly lecture (one hour)
• One weekly student workshop (three hours)

At the end of this course students should have:
• A clear grasp of the primary agencies and processes that attended the decline of the British Empire
• An undertanding of the reaction of settler colonial societies to this process, particularly in an Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and African context
• An awareness of the fundamental continuties and divergences between comparative settler-colonial contexts
• An understanding of the global connotations of the concept of ‘Britishness’ and its fate since the onset of imperial decline
• A sense of the present day legacies of Empire in the settler colonial world
• Honed skills in written analysis at an advanced level

The Break-Up of Greater Britain will be taught in weeks 6-12, four hours/week.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Criteria for exam assessment


  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Preparation
  • 176,75
  • English
  • 204,75