Independent India: Myths of Freedom and Development

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Taylor C. Sherman, SAR M.10


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Government and History, BSc in International Relations and History and BSc in Politics 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

Focusing on the early decades after India gained independence in 1947, this course raises questions about the nature of freedom and the tasks of development and modernisation faced by postcolonial nations. The course begins with a brief study of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. Students will survey his philosophy and his style of leadership while exploring the myth of the strong male leader. The course will then cover India’s foreign policy, asking students to probe the meaning of Nonalignment, and inspect the character of India’s relations with Indians Overseas and with its neighbours, including China and Pakistan. Students will then turn to the nature of secularism in India by examining the treatment of Muslims who remained in India after the creation of Pakistan. This section also probes official attempts to reform Hinduism and improve the lives of Dalits (former untouchables) in India. Students then are asked to query how socialist India was by reading political theory from Communists, Socialists, Gandhians and others. Next, students interrogate the nature and extent of economic development achieved in this period by studying the strengths and weaknesses of international aid supplied to the country, as well as India’s own development programmes. Students will then explore how Indians expressed their visions of modernity in the realms of science, art & architecture and the emancipation of women. Finally, the course concludes by scrutinising the Constitution and the conduct of India’s first democratic elections. Using a variety of primary source materials, with a strong element of film and visual arts, this course asks students to see India and Indians in new ways.


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT.

There will be a reading week in the Michaelmas and the Lent terms.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 draft essay (1200 words) and 1 essay (2000 words) in the MT, and 1 gobbet exercise (600 words) in the LT. 

Indicative reading


Essay (30%, 3000 words) in the LT.
Essay (35%, 3000 words) and document analysis (20%) in the ST.
Video gobbet (15%) in the MT and LT.

Document Analysis (600 words).

Fieldwork video gobbet. The main theme of the course is political myths. For this project, students will be asked to find an object in London (or anywhere in the world, but they must visit it in person) that is related to one of the myths discussed in the course. Students will work in groups of 2-3 to make a roughly five-minute video describing the object and how it relates to the course.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2018/19: 14

Average class size 2018/19: 15

Capped 2018/19: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills