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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 1

Organiser: Dr Lowri Ann Rees

Overall aims and purpose

The aim of this module is to explore the development of the British Empire from the loss of the American colonies to the eve of the First World War. Britain emerged from the American War of Independence having suffered a heavy blow, losing several of its oldest colonies. From this point on, British imperial expansion focused on Africa, Asia and the Pacific. The period following the war with France, and up until the outbreak of the First World War, was known as Pax Britannica. Over the course of Britain's Imperial Century, significant territorial acquisitions were made, and Britain grew incredibly wealthy from the Industrial Revolution. Imperial expansion opened up new markets and access to resources. The module draws to a close with the British Empire nearly at the height of its power, when nearly a quarter of the world was under British rule - it was famously said that the sun never set on the British Empire. However, Britain was facing challenges to her economic might from the rival powers of Germany and the United States. Over the course of the module, students will have the opportunity to engage with primary sources, current historical debates and published research on imperial history.

Course content

Topics explored over the course of the module may include, but will not be limited to: the American War of Independence and loss of the thirteen colonies; Pacific exploration; transportation of convicts to Australia and Tasmania; war with France; the Transatlantic slave trade and Abolition; the rise of the East India Company and emergence of the British Raj; anti-imperial protest; rivalries between imperials powers; creation of dominions; the Boer War; Irish home rule; prelude to the First World War.

Assessment Criteria


Good students (B- to B+) will demonstrate a solid level of achievement and depth of knowledge in all the criteria in the C- to C+ range, and will in addition exhibit constructive engagement with different types of historical writing and historiographical interpretation. Ideas will be communicated effectively and written work will include a good range of sources/reading and demonstrate a clear understanding of the issues and of the existing interpretations expressed in a well-structured, relevant, and focused argument. Students at the top end of this band will engage with and critique the ideas that they come across, and synthesise the various interpretations they find to reach their own considered conclusions. Written work will be correctly presented with references and bibliography where appropriate.


Excellent students (A- and above) will show strong achievement across all the criteria combined with particularly impressive depths of knowledge and/or subtlety of analysis. In written work, they will support their arguments with a wealth of relevant detail/examples. They will also demonstrate an acute awareness of the relevant historiography and give an account of why the conclusions reached are important within a particular historical debate. They may show a particularly subtle approach to possible objections, nuancing their argument in the light of counter-examples, or producing an interesting synthesis of various contrasting positions.

C- to C+

Students in this band (C- to C+) will demonstrate a satisfactory range of achievement or depth of knowledge of most parts of the module, and will make successful, if occasionally inconsistent, attempts to develop those skills appropriate to the study of History at undergraduate level. In the case of the written assessments, the answers will attempt to focus on the question, although might drift into narrative, and will show some evidence of solid reading and research. The argument might lose direction and might not be adequately clear at the bottom of this category. Written work will be presented reasonably well with only limited errors in grammar, punctuation, and referencing, and not to the extent that they obscure meaning.


Threshold students (D- and D) will have done only a minimum of reading, and their work will often be based partly on lecture notes and/or basic textbooks. They will demonstrate in their written assessments some knowledge of at least parts of the relevant field, and will make at least partially-successful attempts to frame an argument which engages with historical controversies, but they will fail to discuss some large and vital aspects of a topic; and/or deploy only some relevant material but partly fail to combine it into a coherent whole; and/or deploy some evidence to support individual points but often fail to do so and/or show difficulty weighing evidence (thereby relying on unsuitable or irrelevant evidence when making a point). Alternatively or additionally, the presentation of the work might also be poor, with bad grammar and/or punctuation, careless typos and spelling errors, and a lack of effective and correct referencing.

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

The essay will focus on the broad themes and issues relating to the British Empire explored over the course of the module.


Students will answer two essay-based questions in two hours, one historiographically focused essay, and one based on themes and issues explored over the course of the module.


Teaching and Learning Strategy


3 lectures a week until 7th week. Lectures will explore the historical significance of key topics, themes and issues, and present an overview of related historiography.

Private study

Students must dedicate time to private study whilst enrolled on this module, to build on knowledge gleaned in class and work on their assignments.


During this 2-hour workshop (7th week), students will get the opportunity to engage with the historiographical issues and approaches linked to 'orientalism'.


Weekly 1-hour seminar during 8th-12th weeks of term. Seminars will be an opportunity to explore themes and topics introduced in lectures in greater depth and detail by focusing on primary source analysis.


Drop-in tutorials will be timetabled (2nd, 5th and 10th week) to give students the opportunity to discuss their assignments, their progress on the module and any other module related issues.


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: