Module HTH-2149:
Britannia Rule the Waves

Module Facts

Run by School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Dr Lowri Ann Rees

Overall aims and purpose

From the American Revolution to the eve of the First World War, Britain witnessed tremendous expansion, which saw the nation firmly established as a Great Power. Britain's modern capitalist economy was developing, which resulted in her becoming the world's wealthiest nation. A quarter of the world was under British rule, and it was famously said that the sun never set on the British Empire. This module will explore the impact of empire on the society, culture and politics of Britain, analysing the historical legacy of the British Empire. Britain will be placed in a wider global context, with students exploring the effects of colonial rule specifically on the West Indies, Australasia, India, China and the colonies in Africa. Students will have the opportunity to engage with primary sources, current historical debates and newly published research on imperial history, a topic that has received renewed interest in recent years.

Course content

(1) Introduction to the module, British Empire and Imperial Studies (2) Governing the Empire (3) British Policy and Trade (4) Technological Change (5) Scientific Exploration (6) The Empire: Asia (7) The Empire: America (8) The Empire: Africa (9) The Empire: Australasia (10) The British Empire and the Approach of War (11) Concluding lecture

Assessment Criteria


Excellent students (70s and above) will combine this solid achievement across the criteria with a greater depth of knowledge and sophistication of analysis.


Good students (60s) will show a solid level of achievement in all the criteria described above.


Threshold students (lower 40s) will demonstrate an appropriate range or depth of knowledge of parts of the relevant field; they will make partially successful attempts to frame an argument which engages with important issues of historical interpretation.

Learning outcomes

  1. Judge between the competing interpretations of the historiography (including current positions in historical and other academic writing)

  2. Present clear, evidence-based, and cogent historical argument under examination conditions

  3. Demonstrate a wide-ranging knowledge concerning the British Empire during the period 1780-1914

  4. Analyse individual pieces of historical evidence very closely – particularly setting them in context, judging their qualities as evidence, and explaining their significance

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight

One individual presentation to be delivered during a seminar. Presentations will be 10 minutes in length, followed by a discussion and question and answer session.


Students will be expected to select an essay question from the list provided in the module handbook. Essay questions will focus on broader themes and topics explored during the course of the module.


2-hour exam whereby students answer two essay based questions


Teaching and Learning Strategy


Lectures will explore the historical significance of key topics and present an overview of related historiography

Private study

Students must dedicate time to private study whilst enrolled on this module, and attending the lectures, workshop and seminars alone will not suffice.


During this special, one-off workshop, students will get the opportunity to engage with the debates surrounding Edward Said's work on 'orientalism'.


Seminars will be an opportunity to explore themes and topics introduced in lectures in greater depth and detail. They will also be an opportunity to discuss and analyse primary sources


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • problem solving to develop solutions to understand the past
  • understanding the complexity of change over time; in specific contexts and chronologies
  • being sensitive to the differences, or the "otherness" of the past, and the difficulty to using it as a guide to present or future action
  • being sensitive to the role of perceptions of the past in contemporary cultures
  • producing logical and structured arguments supported by relevant evidence
  • planning, designing, executing and documenting a programme of research, working independently
  • marshalling and critically appraising other people's arguments, including listening and questioning
  • presenting effective oral presentations for different kinds of audiences, including academic and/or audiences with little knowledge of history
  • preparing effective written communications for different readerships
  • making effective and appropriate forms of visual presentation
  • making critical and effective use of information retrieval skills using paper-based and electronic resources
  • collaborating effectively in a team via experience of working in a group
  • appreciating and being sensitive to different cultures and dealing with unfamiliar situations
  • critical evaluation of one's own and others' opinions
  • engaging with relevant aspects of current agendas such as global perspectives, public engagement, employability, enterprise, and creativity


Reading list

D. Armitage, The Ideological Origins of the British Empire (2000) C. A. Bayly, Imperial Meridian: The British Empire and the World, 1780-1830 (1989) D. Bell, The Idea of Greater Britain: Empire and the Future of World Order, 1860-1900 (2009)

E. A. Benians and others (eds.), The Cambridge History of the British Empire, vols 2 and 3 (1929 and 1959) J. Beynon, ‘Overlords of Empire? British “Proconsular Imperialism” in Comparative Perspective’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, xix (1991), pp. 164-202. A. Burton, Burdens of History: British Feminists, Indian Women, and Imperial Culture, 1865-1915 (1994) P. Cain, British Imperialism 1688-2000 (2001) S. Chapman, Merchant Enterprise in Britain: From the Industrial Revolution to World War I (1992) N. Dalziel, The Penguin Historical Atlas of the British Empire (2006) J. Darwin, After Tamerlane: The Global History of Empire (2007) —, The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World System 1830-1970 (2009) T.M. Devine, Scotland's Empire 1600-1815 (2004) J. Eddy & D. Schreuder (eds.), The Rise of Colonial Nationalism: Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa First Asser their Nationalities, 1880-1914 (1988) C. C. Eldridge, England’s Mission: The Imperial Idea in the Age of Gladstone and Disraeli, 1868-1880 (1973) D. K. Fieldhouse, Economics and Empire, 1830-1914 (1973) —, Colonialism 1870-1945: An Introduction (1981). L. H. Gann & P. Duignan, The Rulers of British Africa, 1870-1914 (1978) C. Hall and S. Rose, At Home with the Empire: Metropolitan Culture and the Imperial World (2006) S. Howe, New Imperial Histories Reader (2009) R. Hyam, Britain’s Imperial Century, 1815-1914: a Study of Empire and Expansion (1993) —, The Lion's Share (2004) —, Understanding the British Empire (2010) T. O. Lloyd, The British Empire 1558-1995 (1996) W. D. McIntyre, The Imperial Frontier in the Tropics, 1865-75: a Study of British Colonial Policy in West Africa, Malaya and the South Pacific in the Age of Gladstone and Disraeli (1967) P. J. Marshall (ed.), The Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire (1996) P. K. Monod, Imperial Island: A History of Britain and its Empire 1660-1837 (2009) R. Owen & B. Sutcliffe (eds.), Studies in the Theory of Imperialism (1972) B. Porter, ‘The Edwardians and their Empire’, in D. Read (ed.) Edwardian Britain (1986) —, The Lion’s Share: a Short History of British Imperialism, 1850-1990 (1995) —, The Absent-Minded Imperialists: Empire, Society and Culture in Britain (2006) P. Readman, ‘The place of the past in English public culture, c.1890-1914’, Past & Present clxxxvi, 1 (2005) P. B. Rich, Race and Empire in British Politics (1990) J. Sampson, The British Empire: An Oxford Reader (2001) B. Semmel, Imperialism and Social Reform: English Social-Imperial Thought, 1895-1914 (1960) S. Smith, British Imperialism (1998) S. E. Stockwell (ed.), The British Empire: Themes and Perspectives (2007) A.S. Thompson, Imperial Britain: The Empire in British Politics (2000) —, The Empire Strikes Back?: The Impact of Imperialism on Britain from the Mid-Nineteenth Century (2005) J. M. Ward, Colonial Self-Government: the British Experience, 1759-1856 (1976) P. Warwick (ed.), The South African War: the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902 (1980) W. Webster, Englishness and Empire (2005) K. Wilson, A New Imperial History: Culture, Identity and Modernity in Britain and Empire 1660-1840 (2004) M. E. Yapp, Strategies of British India: Britain, Iran and Afghanistan, 1798-1850 (1980) R. J. C. Young, Postcolonialism: A Very Short Introduction (2003)

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: