Professor Richard Toye, at the RAMM in front of the tiger shot by King George V in 1911


Delve into the controversies of the British Empire with new free online course

The opportunity to explore the British Empire through stories of the individuals who contributed to its rise and fall and the themes of money, violence, race, religion, sex, propaganda and power is now available through a free online course.

Ruling over a quarter of the world’s population and paving the way for today’s global economy, the British Empire continues to cause enormous disagreement amongst historians. It raises many questions and areas for debate which will be explored over six weeks, in three hour slots of interactive online participation, starting from 19 January. 

Experts from the University’s Centre for Imperial and Global History make up one of the largest groups of imperial and global historians currently working in the UK, and will guide participants on the course. 

Lead educator on the course, Professor Richard Toye said:“The British Empire online course is open to anyone with an interest in imperial history, whether young or retired person and or just curious but never taken it any further than personal interest. It does not require any reading before you start or previous experience of studying the subject. Along the way there will be lots of opportunity for people to debate the questions they have raised and draw their own conclusions.”

He added:“Eminent historians from the University of Exeter will provide new perspectives of the British Empire, through exploring how the Empire happened, what were the forces that created it, that held it together and that ultimately led to its demise.”

Elements of the course may reflect more localised areas, for example although surrounded by the residue and legacy of the British Empire, few know of the South West region’s darker and more controversial history as a hub of Britain’s global Empire. The story of the British Empire, begins with the Elizabethan age, and the South West was home to Elizabethan explorers such as Sir Francis Drake, whose Empire-building exploits verged into piracy.  

The online course will look at attitudes of the British public towards Empire which was pivotal in its development and demise. In Devon, Castle Drogo was built by Julius Drewe the founder of Home & Colonial Stores, whose imperial associations were just one of the ways that the Empire was ‘normalised’ to people at home in Britain.  Imperial artefacts, including a tiger shot by George V in 1911, and a rare copy of Sir John Bowring’s ‘Treaty of Friendship and Commerce between Siam and Great Britain’ are on display at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, which highlights the regions strong associations with the trappings of Empire.

To sign up for Empire: The Controversies of British Imperialism online course, participants need to go the Future Learn website to register or via the University of Exeter website.

Date: 15 January 2015

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