MA History / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Race, Migration & Humanitarianism: Legacies of Slavery & Colonialism in the Modern World

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST64101
Credit rating 30
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


Encounters between European countries and the peoples of other regions of the world have left a lasting impact on the world we live today. In the modern age, interlocking phenomena such as colonial expansion and the trans-Atlantic slave trade contributed to the rise of industrialized capitalism, potent racial ideologies, Global North/South inequalities, unprecedented migrations of peoples, and a set of new humanitarian discourses and movements for change. 

This module explores the multiple legacies of slavery and colonialism within the framework of postcolonial politics, emphasizing themes of race, migration, and humanitarianism. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it will be argued, have fundamentally and violently transformed societies, cultures and peoples across the world and raise critical questions therefore about our present: How do racial categories which emerged under slavery and colonialism continue to shape politics and culture? In what ways can our historical past account for the spread and distribution of world populations and cultures today? To what extent has the rise of humanitarianism cloaked new colonial relationships? How have challenges posed by the postcolonial present reshaped dominant understandings of non-European cultures in more recent times?

The course will engage with both theoretical and empirical approaches, and students will be introduced to a range of textual, visual and oral primary sources from across the world. In this the course will particularly benefit from the existence of rich digital and physical collections in Manchester and the North-West (e.g., the International Slavery Museum, the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre and the Manchester Museum), which will lend local weight and relevance to the module.


  • Enable students to acquire a comprehensive knowledge of the major theoretical debates surrounding the issues of slavery, colonialism, race and humanitarianism currently raging across major disciplinary areas;  

  • Introduce and/or enhance their knowledge of the cultural workings of non-Western societies;  

  • Develop fuller abilities to engage with historical sources and historiographical debates related to the core themes of slavery and colonialism; and  

  • Equip students with independent research skills and the capacity for critical assimilation of primary and secondary source material.  


Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit successful students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the complex legacies of both slavery and colonialism in modern societies
  • Analyse and use a varied range of historical documents and sources relating to the above themes ranging from the eighteenth century to the contemporary age
  • Critically approach related fields, equipped with a thorough knowledge of both relevant historiography and key methodological debates
  • Handle independent research, having acquired skills relating to oral and written presentation, primary and secondary literature surveys, as well as archival searches.


Teaching and learning methods

The course will be taught by means of three hour seminar sessions in one semester. Students would be required to prepare on the basis of their readings of key historical texts and documents – both primary and secondary – and discuss them during these seminars. All students will be expected to participate in rigorous methodological as well as historiographical discussions covering the relevant topics. The classroom teaching will be supplemented by visits to local galleries, museums and archives for object handling and study sessions.  

All compulsory seminar readings will be posted on Blackboard; there will also be glossaries, maps, information on material and textual primary sources and bibliographies.   

1 x 3-hour seminar and 1 course unit office hour per week. 

Knowledge and understanding

Students will gain familiarity with:

  • debates and trends revolving around the key issues of slavery, colonialism, and humanitarianism
  • a grasp of fundamental developments in the modern world as legacies of the historical past shaped by empires and slavery
  • a general understanding of world history through the examining of transnational systems and phenomena related to slavery and colonialism such as displacement and migration, war and trade, and colonial and humanitarian networks


Intellectual skills

  • Undertake wide-ranging and sophisticated critical reviews of scholarly literature and develop an independent and comparative perspective;
  • Select insights and approaches from one period, region or discipline and apply them to another, encouraging independent thinking and interdisciplinary approaches;
  • Formulate an individual research question based on scholarly literature and primary sources, and adopt an appropriate method for addressing and answering that question;
  • Develop analytical skills which can be applied to primary or secondary source material;
  • Synthesize and interpret in an incisive manner a wealth of information gathered and analysed through independent research;
  • Identify and assess the significance of historical context for contemporary debates and issues;

Practical skills

  • Apply and evaluate modern approaches to historical research;
  • Acquire practical experience in the use of primary sources, and understand how historians examine and critically engage with different materials;
  • Develop oral and written presentation skills to facilitate the effective communication of ideas;
  • Develop key skills in research preparation and career development, including organisational planning and self-management of goal-directed work.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Develop and apply oral and group study skills by participating in seminars and taking an active role in group discussions & assignments [verbal communication skills and teamwork skills];
  • Engage in the critical evaluation of a range of primary source materials [analytical and critical reasoning skills];
  • Write reflective and well-structured pieces of work thereby demonstrating evidence of an ability to frame and develop an argument in a sustained manner appropriate to Masters level [written communication skills];
  • Work independently, both within seminars and through individual research [independent study skills].

Employability skills

The module draws upon the diverse expertise of Manchester’s world historians. It is designed to equip students with techniques & approaches that form the essential building blocks for undertaking independent research &produce analytical writing & discussion useful in a wide range of future types of employment, including journalism, law, public or social policy research, teaching, & academia. Students will also develop transferable employment skills through the unit’s public history component, which explores ways in which the curriculum engages with the region’s cultural institutions.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 25%
Written assignment (inc essay) 75%

Literature Review (Summative)

Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback (BlackBoard/Tii) on literature review

Written feedback (BlackBoard/Tii) on final assignment (essay)

Additional one-to-one feedback (provided during office hours or by appointment)

All summative


Recommended reading


John K. Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)

Madhavi Kale, Fragments of Empire: Capital, Slavery, and Indian Indentured Labor in the British Caribbean (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010)

Carter, Marina. "The transition from Slave to indentured labour in Mauritius." Slavery and Abolition 14.1 (1993): 114-130.

Cooper, Frederick, Thomas C. Holt, and Rebecca J. Scott. Beyond Slavery: Explorations of Race Labor, and Citizenship in Postemancipation Societies.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.


Kim D. Butler, “Defining Diaspora, Refining a Discourse,” Diaspora 10:2 (2001): 189-219.

David Northrup, Indentured Labor in the Age of Imperialism, 1834-1922 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995)

Carter, Marina. "Strategies of labour mobilisation in colonial India: the recruitment of indentured workers for Mauritius,” The Journal of Peasant Studies, 19:3-4 (1992): 229-245.

Ballantyne, Tony, and Antoinette Burton. Bodies in Contact: Rethinking Colonial Encounters in World History.  Durham: Duke University Press, 2005.

Ward, Kerry. Networks of Empire: Forced Migration in the Dutch East India Company.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.



Gyan Prakash (Ed.), After Colonialism: Imperial Histories and Postcolonial Displacements (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).

Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (Routledge, 2013)

Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper. Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.

Anupama Rao, The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.



Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 2006).

Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993)

Dipesh Chakravarty, Provincialising Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009)



Michael Barnett, Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism (Cornell University Press, 2011)

John Hutchinson, Champions of Charity: War and the Rise of the Red Cross (Oxford: Westview Press, 1996).

Mark Mazower, No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (Princeton University Press, 2009).

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 267

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Kerry Pimblott Unit coordinator
Peter Gatrell Unit coordinator
Steven Pierce Unit coordinator

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