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Level 7

7AAH4010 Britain & Decolonisation

Credit value: 20
Module convenor/tutor 2019/20: Professor Richard Drayton 
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour weekly seminars
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x 4,000-word essay
Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

In recent years the historiography of the ‘end of empire’ has been one of the most rapidly-developing and exciting aspects of the literature on the history of British imperialism, driven not only by the continued opening up of records relating to the post-war period, but also by new controversies concerning Britain’s response to colonial politics and insurrection, and the impact of decolonisation on Britain itself. The first part of the course provides an introduction to ‘why’ and ‘how’ after the second world war Britain came to experience such a dramatic transformation in its world role, examining debates surrounding the relative importance of global change, domestic politics and economy, and anti-colonial resistance in bringing about Britain’s post-war retreat from empire. The course then proceeds to focus on country case studies that together illustrate the diverse nature of British decolonisation and the very different processes --from negotiation to armed revolt—by which former colonies attained their independence from Britain. The final part of the course explores the newly-emerging literature on the cultural, social, economic and political consequences for Britain of the transition from empire to Commonwealth. Students will be encouraged throughout to make comparison between British decolonisation and the experience of other European empires.

Provisional teaching plan

  1. Introduction: British decolonisation in comparative context
  2. Global change and the end of empire: the Second World War
  3. India: partition and independence.
  4. Anticolonialism.
  5. Colonialism and development at the end of empire.
  6. Insurgency and counter-insurgency: comparing colonial ‘emergencies’ in Malaya, Cyprus, and Kenya
  7. Britain, Suez and the Middle East
  8. Harold Macmillan, the ‘wind of change’, and decolonisation in east and central Africa
  9. The ‘British World’ and ‘Britishness’ at the End of Empire
  10. British society, culture, and the end of empire

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these texts is not mandatory

John Darwin, The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World System (Cambridge: CUP, 2009)

Ronald Hyam, Britain’s Declining Empire: The Road to Decolonisation, 1918-1968 (Cambridge: CUP, 2006).

Spencer Mawby, The Transformation and Decline of the British Empire (Palgrave 2015)

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