From Empire to Commonwealth: war, race and imperialism in British History, 1780 to the present day

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Joanna Lewis SAR3.03


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Government and History and BSc in International Relations and History. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

This course offers an advanced history of the British Empire that focuses on the metropolitan experience of building, running and then losing an empire. Its primary focus is on Africa. It covers the period from the loss of the American colonies to decolonisation and the survival of the Commonwealth. Within the context of Britain's wider political, social and cultural history, the course will examine the following: the extension of empire during the Victorian era; liberalism and racism; the expansion of colonies of white settlement; the role of missionaries; the scramble for Africa, the impact of empire at home, the running of empire overseas; gender and  empire;  managing national decline and empire; the contribution of empire to the First and Second World Wars; fast exit strategies; violent decolonisation; race and  immigration; post-colonial dictators and the legacy of white settlers. Case studies include Britain and Zimbabwe; Idi Amin and Uganda; and the Mau Mau insurgency.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT. 1 hour of lectures in the ST.

There will be a reading week in the Michaelmas and the Lent terms and a revision lecture in the Summer Term.

Formative coursework

2 essays; one mock exam; class presentations.

Indicative reading

John Darwin, The British Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World System, 1830-1970 (OUP 2010); C A Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 1780 to 1914 (Blackwell 2004); Ronald Hyam, Understanding the British Empire (CUP, 2010); Ronald Hyam, Britain's Imperial Century, 1815 to 1914 (CUP latest edn); L J Butler, Britain and Empire: Adjusting to a Post-Imperial World (I B Tauris, 2007); Sarah Stockwell (ed) The British Empire: Themes and Perspectives (Blackwell, 2007); Bernard Porter, Absent Minded Imperialists: Empire, Society and Culture in Britain (OUP, 2006) Bill Schwarz, The White Man's World: Memories of Empire (OUP, 2012); Peter Clarke, Hope and Glory: Britain 1900-2000 (CUP, 2004); M W Doyle, Empires: A Comparative Study (Cornell University Press: 1986); P D Morgan; S Hawkins (ed) The Black Experience and the Empire (OUP, 2004); David Anderson, Histories of the Hanged: Britain's Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire (CUP 2006); Henry Morton Stanley, How I found Livingstone (1872; kindle ebook); Sir F D Lugard, The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa (1922); Ashley Jackson & and David Tomkins, Illustrating Empire: A Visual History of British Imperialism (The Bodleian Library, Oxford; 2011); James Belich, The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld (OUP, 2011).


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.

100% Exam

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2015/16: 36

Average class size 2015/16: 12

Capped 2015/16: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills