Decolonisation and the Collapse of the British Empire, 1919-1968 (HIH2014A)

StaffDr Gareth Curless - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF LevelL5
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module has two principal aims. Firstly, to consider why the British Empire collapsed so rapidly in the decades after 1919, focusing on issues such as organised anti-colonial nationalism, the failure of imperial reform initiatives, violent insurgency and the effects of the global Cold War. Secondly, to consider the meaning and consequences of decolonisation for both metropolitan Britain and the former colonial dependencies. The overall aim of the module is to encourage students to understand decolonisation as a national, imperial and global phenomenon that had consequences that lasted beyond the formal withdrawal of colonial control.


You will need effective communication and analytical skills, oral and written, to complete many of your modules and in a job after you graduate.  This module aims to help you develop your skills in researching, interpreting, and analysing both primary and secondary material, and in reporting on your work.  It provides you with an opportunity to explore an area of history in more depth, and helps you to develop the depth of understanding you will require to study more specialised areas of history. It will also give you an opportunity to work in a team on a group presentation.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Identify and evaluate the key factors – political, social, economic and cultural – that contributed to the collapse of the British Empire.
  • 2. Understand the key historiographical debates relating to decolonisation.
  • 3. Evaluate the main themes in the subject and to collate information upon, and evaluate in greater detail, those aspects of the module discussed in seminar and especially those topics selected by students for their coursework.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Analyse the key developments of the period
  • 5. Collate data from a range of sources, both primary and secondary
  • 6. Interpret primary sources
  • 7. Trace long-term as well as short-term historical developments
  • 8. Recognise and deploy historical terminology correctly
  • 9. Assess different approaches to historical writing in areas of controversy

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 10. Work both independently and in a group, including participating in oral seminar discussions
  • 11. Identify a topic, select, comprehend, and organise primary and secondary materials on that topic with little guidance
  • 12. Produce to a deadline and in examination conditions a coherent argument

Syllabus plan

Each week of the course will focus on a different theme, which will be studied in relation to one or more case studies. Case studies will be drawn from across Africa, the Caribbean and South East Asia. Lectures and seminars may cover the following themes: the historiography of decolonisation; the British Empire in the inter-war years; party politics and the end of empire; colonial conflicts; the Cold War; the late colonial state and development; anti-colonial nationalism and popular protest; Afro-Asian  solidarity and Third Worldism; independence and national sovereignty; and Britain after Empire.

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 hoursLectures
Scheduled learning and teaching activities22 hoursSeminars; these will be led by the tutor. You will need to prepare for each seminar and present on a given topic in groups of 4 on 4 occasions
Guided independent study22 hours Web-based activities located on ELE ? preparation for seminars and presentations
Guided independent study234 hoursReading and preparation for seminars and presentations

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay plan x 1500 words1-12Verbal and written

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
Essay303,000 Words1-12Written and verbal
Group Presentation2025 Minutes1-11Written and verbal
Exam502 Questions in 2 Hours1-12Written

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay3,000 Words1-12Referral/deferral period
Group Presentation1,500 script as for individual presentation, equivalent to 10 minutes1-11
Exam2 Questions in 2 Hours1-12Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

The re-assessment of the essay and exam are exactly the same, a 3,000 words essay (worth 30%) and a 2 hours exam (worth 50%). The group presentation will be replaced by a written script equivalent to 10 minutes of speech.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Ronald Hyam, Britain's Declining Empire: The Road To Decolonisation, 1918-1968 (Cambridge, 2006).


John Darwin, Britain And Decolonisation: The Retreat From Empire In The Post-War World (Basingstoke, 1988).


William Roger Louis, Ends Of British Imperialism: The Scramble For Empire, Suez And Decolonization: Collected Essays (London, 2006).


Frederick Cooper, Decolonisation And African Society: The Labor Question In British And French Africa (Cambridge, 1996).


John Darwin, The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World-System, 1830-1970 (Cambridge, 2009).


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


L. J. Butler, Britain and Empire: Adjusting to a Post-Imperial World (London, 2001).


Prasenjit Duara, Decolonization. Perspectives from Now and Then (London, 2004).
Robert Holland, European Decolonization, 1918-1981 (London, 1981).


Martin Thomas, Bob Moore and L.J. Butler, Crises Of Empire: Decolonization And Europe's Imperial States, 1918-1975 (London, 2008).

Module has an active ELE page?


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Imperialism; Empire; Decolonisation; Modern History; Africa; South East Asia; Caribbean; Conflict; Violence; Cold War; Colonialism.