Colonial Violence: From 'Pacification' to Counter-Insurgency (HIH1005)

StaffDr Gareth Curless - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level4
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

In addition to the spectacular moments of colonial violence, such as the suppression of rebellion, civil unrest and insurgencies, the aim of the module is to introduce students to the ‘everyday’ forms of colonial violence. The module will encourage students to consider the structural and indirect forms of violence that underwrote colonial rule, including land alienation and coercive employment practices and the denigration and misrepresentation of indigenous society.


The module will introduce students to the variety of sources that historians use to study colonial violence. Students will learn to interpret and analyse a range of sources, including official documents and correspondence, films and photographs, literary texts, speeches and manifestoes. The sources will be drawn from across the European empires and will be translated where necessary. All of these sources come with their own advantages and challenges. As such, the module will offer students the opportunity to discuss these issues in relation to both the individual sources and key secondary works.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Work critically with a range of sources to assess the nature of colonial violence
  • 2. Assess the role of violence in the upholding of colonial rule and its violent collapse
  • 3. Assess the sources in relation to the key historical debates on colonial violence

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Identify the problems of using historical sources, e.g. utility, limitations, etc, and compare the validity of different types of sources.
  • 5. Answer a question briefly and concisely.
  • 6. Present work orally, respond to questions orally, and think quickly of questions to ask other students.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Conduct independent study and group work, including the presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning
  • 8. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.
  • 9. Work with others in a team and to interact effectively with the tutor and the wider group.
  • 10. Write to a very tight word-length.

Syllabus plan

Possible topics include: conquest; rebellion and ‘pacification’; crime and policing; civil unrest and riot control; coercive labour regimes; colonial penal regimes; capital punishment; gender and violence; insurgency and counter-insurgency; and the legacy of colonial violence.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities22 hour lecture: Introduction to module
Scheduled learning and teaching activities2010 x 2 hour seminars. At a meeting of the whole class generally a different group of 3-4 students will give a presentation to the whole class, followed by class discussion and working through the sources for that week carefully. Additional sources may be issued in the class and the lecturer will also use the time to set up issues for the following week.
Guided independent study128Students prepare for the session through reading and research; writing a weekly source essay and preparing one group presentation in the course of the term.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group presentation (3-4 students)10-15 minutes1-4, 6-7, 9Oral
Lowest mark from portfolio of 5 source commentaries500 words1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
4 highest marks from portfolio of 5 source commentaries602000 words (500 per commentary) (15% per commentary)1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments
Essay on Sources401500 words1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
4 highest marks of a portfolio of 5 source commentaries.4 highest marks of a portfolio of 5 source commentaries.1-5, 7-8, 10Referral/deferral period.
1500-word essay1500-word essay1-5, 7-8, 10Referral/deferral period.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading


Steven Pierce and Anupama Rao (eds) Discipline and the Other Body: Correction, Corporeality and the Other Body (Durham, 2006).


Emily Burrill, Richard Roberts, and Elizabeth Thornberry (eds) Domestic Violence and the Law in Colonial and Postcolonial Africa (Athens, 2010).


Taylor Sherman, State Violence and Punishment in India (Abingdon, 2010).


Diana Paton, No Bond but the Law: Punishment, Race, and Gender in Jamaican State Formation, 1780-1870 (Durham, 2004).


David Anderson, Histories of the Hanged: Testimonies from the Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya (London, 2004).


Toyin Falola, Colonialism and Violence in Nigeria (Bloomington, 2009).


Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (London, 1965).


Martin Thomas, Fight or Flight: Britain, France and their Roads from Empire (Oxford, 2014).


Daniel Rycroft, Representing Rebellion: Visual Aspects of Counterinsurgency in Colonial India (New Delhi, 2006).


Philip Dine, Images of the Algerian War: French Fiction and Film, 1954-1992 (Oxford, 1994).


Huw Bennett, Fighting the Mau Mau  (Cambridge, 2012).

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Key words search

Imperialism, Violence, Conflict, Resistance, Colonial Rule