English, 2013 curriculum - Free topic 14: Britain after Empire

Course content

This course turns the mirror of decolonisation – a term normally used to understand the emergence of new independent nation states across Asia and Africa in the mid-twentieth century – back on to Britain itself. It explores the extent to which Britain went through a process of “decolonisation” towards a downsized conception of the nation for a post-imperial world, prompting an overhaul of some of the major assumptions and ideas that had shaped British culture and society for more than a century.   The question of how (and how much) Britain itself was affected by the loss of its colonial Empire is one which has drawn much scholarly interest, and one whose answer continues to divide historians. The course examines the historiographical debate on the issue, dissecting arguments put forward, on the one hand, by those who assert that there was precious little reaction to Empire's end in Britain, and, on the other hand, those arguing that the influence of this process upon Britain was profound. A number of historical events and their metropolitan responses are considered, including the decolonisation of India, the “Wind of Change” in colonial Africa, the debates about restricting Commonwealth immigrants, the outbreak of the Northern Ireland Troubles, the Falklands War, the political emergence of Scottish and Welsh independence and the threat posed by Brexit to the integrity and unity of the United Kingdom. These themes are linked by the key methodological question: how do we operationalise imperial decline as a causal factor driving domestic social and cultural responses, and what is the role of memory and nostalgia in reconstituting the Empire in contemporary Britain?  

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:

  • John Darwin, The Empire Project. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
  • Catherine Hall and Sonya O. Rose, eds. At Home with the Empire: Metropolitan Culture and the Imperial World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • John M. MacKenzie, Propaganda and Empire: The Manipulation of British Public Opinion, 1880-1960. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984Paul, Kathleen. Whitewashing Britain: Race and Citizenship in the Post-war Era. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997.
  • Kennetta Hammond Perry, London is the Place for Me: Black Britons, Citizenship and the Politics of Race (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016)
  • Bernard Porter, The Absent-Minded Imperialists: Empire, Society, and Culture in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Camilla Schofield, Enoch Powell and the Making of Postcolonial Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
  • Andrew S. Thompson, ed. Britain’s Experience of Empire in the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • Stuart Ward, ed. British Culture and the End of Empire. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001.
  • Wendy Webster, Englishness and Empire 1939-1965. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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

At the end of this course students should have:
• An extensive knowledge of the historiographical debate on the influence of imperial decline on British metropolitan culture and politics.
• An understanding of metropolitan connotations of the concept of ‘Britishness’ and its relationality to ‘off-shore’, non-metropolitan variants.
• A sense of the present day legacies of Empire in Britain.
• An understanding of the methodological approaches to transnational history in the English-speaking world
• Developed the fundamentals of research skills: problem formulation, resource gathering, and source criticism

Britain after Empire will be taught in weeks 14-20, four hours/week.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Criteria for exam assessment


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