BA Art History and History

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Imperial Nation: Empire and the Making of Modern Britain, 1783-1902

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST10191
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


Britain lost its first empire in 1783, yet by 1902 had amassed its second and made it the largest in history. This course explores the relationship between this changing nation and its new empire: who were nineteenth-century Britons and how did their empire shape them? How did they see themselves, each other and the wider world? What were their values? And how did colonised subjects intervene in the British nineteenth century to shape its global history? 


The course is structured thematically, introducing students to key historiographical debates about, race, class, resistance, gender, national identity, pan-Africanism, colonialism and the lived experience of empire, imperial legacies, and the relationship between the growth of liberal democracy and colonial governance.  


Individual lectures and seminars will address topics ranging from anti-slavery campaigns to urbanisation, from colonial scandal to Black Victorians, from the rise of public parks to mass Irish immigration, and from criminal gangs to colonial exhibitions.   


This module is only available to students on History-owned programmes; and History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas. Available to students on an Erasmus programme.


The aims of this course are: 

  • To provide a general introduction to key themes in modern British history. 

  • To understand the emergence of new categories of identity in nineteenth-century Britain and the Empire. 

  • To consider how looking at identities can uncover broader chronological shifts in British history.  


Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to: 

  • Analyse key historiographical debates on nineteenth-century Britain. 

  • Produce coherent and well-researched pieces of academic prose, which conform to the conventions in style as used by historians and sociologists. 

  • Understand the need to attend and participate in lectures and seminars and be more creative and co-operative individuals.  

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will: 

  • Have an awareness of key concepts in modern British history (e.g. separate spheres, class formation, race)  

  • Be familiar with key approaches applicable to modern British history and history more generally (e.g. gender, national identity). 

  • Have an understanding of continuities and changes in British society in this period  

  • Have a broad chronological understanding of key factors such as urbanisation, industrialisation, liberal governmentality, imperialism. 

  • Understand the particular role of cities and urban space in modern British history. 


Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to: 

  • Conduct critical analysis of primary and secondary source materials. 

  • Understand, assess and summarise historical debates and arguments. 

  • Make connections between overarching historical explanations within modern British history and detailed case studies in a comparative context. 

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to: 

  • Exercise strategic and critical reading. 

  • Locate and analyse appropriate historical evidence. 

  • Write short, insightful primary source analyses. 

  • Write essays which organise research into a coherent argument. 

  • Demonstrate enhanced verbal communication skills. 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to: 

  • Exercise appropriate time management. 

  • Communicate ideas orally. 

  • Work effectively as part of a team, e.g. in discussion with other students. 

  • Communicate ideas in writing, both in long and short forms. 


Employability skills

The course will help students to develop and to improve several important workplace-relevant skills. These will include, but are not limited to, time management skills; oral and written communication skills; skills in critical analysis, an ability to work effectively both as a self-motivated individual and as part of a team, and skills in understanding and acting upon detailed feedback.

Assessment methods

Source analysis 35%
Essay 65%


Feedback methods

  • Written feedback on source analyses and on essay
  • Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hour or by making an appointment)

Recommended reading

Examples of general reading: 

Colin Matthew, ed., The Nineteenth Century: The British Isles, 1815-1901 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) 

Anindita Ghosh, ‘'Confronting the "White Man's Burden" in India: Indigenous Perceptions of a Colonial Cultural Project,' in Eschment, Beate und Hans Harder (eds.), Looking at the Coloniser: Cross-Cultural Perceptions in Central Asia and the Caucasus, Bengal, and Related Areas (Berlin, 2004). 

Susan Kingsley Kent, Gender and Power in Britain 1640-1990 (London: Routledge, 1999) 

Shompa Lahiri, Indians in Britain: Anglo-Indian Encounters, Race and Identity, 1880-1930 (London: Frank Cass, 2000).  

Martin Pugh, State and Society: A Social and Political History of Britain 1870-1997, (London: Bloomsbury, 2012). 

Sadiah Qureshi, Peoples on Parade: Exhibitions, Empire, and Anthropology in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Chicago, 2011). 

Andrew Thompson, The Empire Strikes Back: The Impact of Imperialism on Britain from the Mid-Nineteenth Century (Harlow: Pearson Longman, 2005) 


Examples of specific reading for seminars or essay topics: 

Hannah Barker, ‘ “Smoke Cities”: Northern Industrial Towns in Late Georgian England’, Urban History, 31 (2004), 175-90. 

Louise Carter, ‘British Masculinities on Trial in the Queen Caroline Affair of 1820’, Gender and History, 20 (2008), 248-69. 

Judith R. Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London (London: Virago, 1992) 

Leila Koivunen, Visualizing Africa in Nineteenth-Century British Travel Accounts (New York and London: Routledge, 2009). 

Seymour Drescher, Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery (Cambridge, 2009). 

Andrew Davies, ‘Youth Gangs, Masculinity and Violence in Late-Victorian Manchester and Salford’, Journal of Social History, 32 (1998), 349-69 

Catherine Hall and Sonya O. Rose, eds, At Home with the Empire: Metropolitan Culture and the Imperial World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Christopher Loughlin Unit coordinator
Lewis Ryder Unit coordinator
Jack Webb Unit coordinator
Lily Pearson Unit coordinator

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