BA Modern History with Economics

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Collecting and Exhibiting the Empire in Britain, c.1750-1939

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST32212
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course examines the ways in which objects, animals and people from across the empire were collected and exhibited in Modern Britain (c. 1750-1939). During this period, private and public collections of art, artefacts, and living things grew exponentially as Britain’s empire expanded across the globe. Soldiers, diplomats, missionaries and archaeologists looted, bought and received gifts in the empire, and their acquisitions were used and displayed in innovative ways in Britain. Objects were used to construct class and gender identities in homes, whilst the objects on show at public museums, zoos and world fairs promised to transport ordinary Britons to the far corners of the world. With varying motives, government officials, commercial entrepreneurs and scientists organised exhibitions, but there was no guarantee the public would get the exhibition’s intended message. In this course students will examine the collection and exhibition of the empire to investigate Britain’s imperial relationships, contemporary attitudes toward empire and foreign cultures and the emergence of modern exhibitionary culture.  



This module is restricted to History programmes and History joint honours programmes (please check your programme structure for further details).


  • encourage students, through the case study of collections and exhibitions, to develop nuanced understandings of British imperialism
  • enable students to analyse how class, gender and race influenced people’s engagements with collections and exhibitions
  • introduce students to different approaches to the study of collections and exhibitions: for example, collections as symbols of identity, museums as tools of social control, social life of objects, and exhibitions as expressions of contemporary attitudes

Teaching and learning methods

1 x 3-hour Seminar per week  

Seminar reading lists and sourcebooks will be made available on Blackboard, as will links to digitised material and other online source/databases

Lecture slides will be uploaded onto Blackboard.

All Coursework will be submitted and returned via Turnitin 

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able

  • to explain why, how and what Britons collected and exhibited and how this reflects contemporary attitudes to empire
  • to assess how the expansion of and challenges toward the British empire shaped British culture and society
  • outline and explain the rise of exhibitionary culture in Britain

Intellectual skills

  • to evaluate the relationship between empire, collecting and exhibitions
  • to critically assess the purpose of collecting and exhibiting
  • Identify and evaluate the major historiographical debates underpinning the topic.

Practical skills

  • Research, planning and essay writing
  • Analysis of primary and secondary sources to construct independent argumentation
  • Master online databases and internet resources appropriate to the module.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Present nuanced interpretations via advanced written and oral communication
  • Accomplish independent research projects
  • Work collaboratively as part of a team
  • Critical thinking and analysis

Employability skills

Students can expect to develop an important set of skills which will be highly valued in the workplace: 1) Object biography research and exhibition analysis skills valuable for work in museum and heritage sector 2) To convey complex ideas via written and verbal communication skills 3) The ability to collaborate in team-work settings. 4) Acting autonomously and taking leadership (through independent research, seminar preparation and contribution, assessment activities) 5) Critical thinking and analysis 6) Locating, organising and interpreting large quantities of evidence.

Assessment methods

Source Analysis - 40%

Research essay - 60%

Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative
Verbal feedback on group discussions/in-class tasks Formative
Written feedback on coursework submissions via turnitin Summative
Additional one-to-one feedback (during office hour or by making an appointment) Formative


Recommended reading

Tim Barringer and Tom Flynn (eds.), Colonialism and the Object: Empire, Material Culture, and the Museum (London, 1997) 

Sadiah Qureshi, People’s on Parade: Exhibitions, Empire and Anthropology in Nineteenth-century Britain (Manchester, 2011) 


John McAleer and John M. MacKenzie (eds.), Exhibiting the Empire: Cultures of Display and British Empire (Manchester, 2015) 

Louise Tythacott, The Lives of Chinese Objects: Buddhism, Imperialism and Display (Oxford, 2011).  


Saloni Mathur, India by Design – Colonial History and Cultural Display, (London, 2007) 


Sarah Longair and John McAleer (eds.) Curating empire: Museums and the British imperial experience (Manchester, 2016) 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Lewis Ryder Unit coordinator

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