HST3127/3128: Contested Visions: Imagining an Empire in mid-nineteenth century Britain

40 credits (semesters 1 and 2)

Module Leader: Dr Esme Cleall 



To Follow.


Module Summary

British expansion did not result from a single, coherent imperial strategy, or a fit of ‘absence of mind’; it developed from specific cross-cultural encounters and competing colonial visions. Some saw the Empire as a place of adventure, others an opportunity for Christianisation, still others as a ‘New World’ in which to build a Greater Britain. These visions were always contested and challenged both overseas and in Britain. This module explores these contested visions and the impact of empire at home. It is structured around different ‘visions of empire’ including those of humanitarians; missionaries; settlers; travellers; scientists and the British public.


Module Aims

  • To gain a detailed understanding of both Britain and the overseas Empire.
  • To explore the competing colonial visions for Empire in the mid-C19, and how they were formulated in relation to different colonial sites.
  • To engage with different perspectives on Empire including those from the colonies and the metropole, men and women.
  • To introduce students to the recent historiography of colonial projects and to a range of historiographical perspectives on empire, including those of postcolonial, and feminist historians and the intense debate about whether or not empire had an ‘impact’ back in Britain.
  • To engage closely with a wide range of primary materials on this subject.



The course will be organised thematically around different visions of Empire (e.g. humanitarianism; emigration; scientific; and ‘civilising’ visions). Each week, one seminar will be led by a student based on an individual research topic. The other weekly seminar will be focussed around primary source analysis (sources will include: parliamentary debates; missionary periodicals; sermons; travel-writing; novels; newspapers and maps). Students will be encouraged to learn through their own research, identifying primary sources through literature and digital sources, as well as analysing the texts that I provide for their analysis.



Students are assessed by means of a three hour unseen examination testing their command of the secondary literature and their ability to contextualise and analyse primary source material. An informal record of their oral performance will be given to each student and recorded in their files. Students also write essays and complete written gobbet exercises during the course as part of their personal preparation for the examination; although not included in the final assessment, the marks awarded for these, together with the tutor’s comments, are recorded in students’ files.


Selected Reading
  • To Follow.


Intended Learning Outcomes
Plus Icon