Heritage, Colonialism, Decolonisation

The details
Philosophical, Historical and Interdisciplinary Studies (School of)
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 03 October 2024
Friday 13 December 2024
11 April 2024


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

This module explores how ideas about heritage are historically entangled with colonialism and its forms of knowledge. During the module, we will discuss the ways in which the fields of knowledge that have defined heritage—archaeology, anthropology, architecture, and preservation—have often been inseparable from colonial rule. We will also discuss the possibilities for decolonising heritage.

The module will provide a broad historical background to the development of heritage, examining heritage’s  connections with colonialism across global time and space. Teasing out these links, we will grapple with the very material ways in which this process has played out. Likewise, we will begin to understand the material possibilities for decolonising heritage.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To provide an introduction to the links between heritage and colonialism.

  • To understand the historical nature of those links across the globe.

  • To understand how some of those links continue to endure.

  • To ask whether heritage can ever be decolonised, how, and why.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students will be expected to be able to:

  1. Formulate a substantial understanding of the relationship between heritage and colonialism across time and space.

  2. Critically describe, analyse and interpret the historical links between heritage and colonialism.

  3. Write in a sophisticated and informed manner on the relationship between heritage and colonialism and to form an argument relating to various aspects of the topic.

  4. Maturely think about the place of heritage in the contemporary world, using wider scholarly and theoretical literature to understand heritage’s relationship with colonialism today.

Skills for your Professional Life (Transferable Skills)

By the end of the module, students should also have acquired a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to:Define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant;

  1. Define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant.

  2. Seek and organise the most relevant discussions and sources of information.

  3. Process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments.

  4. Compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure.

  5. Write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their resuppositions and implications.

  6. Be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them.

  7. Think laterally and creatively (i.e., to explore interesting connections and possibilities, and to present these clearly rather than as vague hunches).

  8. Maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position based on feedback

  9. Think critically and constructively.

Module information

The main objective of this module is to provide students with a solid grounding in the way that colonialism has shaped—and continues to shape—heritage and its connected practices. Doing so, students will begin to grapple with the consequences of this connection. They will also start to think through ways in which heritage work might (or might not) be decolonised.

During the module, students will be introduced to a global range of case studies connected to these historical issues. They will also discuss examples of decolonial heritage work, examining how and why the contemporary heritage world has sought to deal with these issues.

Indicative syllabus:

  • Discussing colonial heritage.

  • Imperial plunder.

  • Colonial high noon/the rise of the ‘heritage sciences’.

  • Anti-colonial heritage.

  • The Cold War and decolonisation: the development of World Heritage.

  • The rise of intangible heritage: a new settlement?

  • Repatriation and restitution.

  • The heritage of colonialism.

  • Decolonial heritage?

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via:

  • Nine one-hour lectures by the module leader
  • Nine one-hour seminars, in addition to an optional trip to a relevant museum outside the University of Essex.

There will be one Reading Week. The seminars will consist of a combination of contributions from students and classroom discussion. Students will read weekly assignments and additional readings. The module will also be available on Listen Again. Detailed information about the learning and teaching methods will be available in the outline on the Module Directory and from the full module description.



Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   2500-word Essay    100% 
Exam  Main exam: Remote, Open Book, 24hr during January 
Exam  Reassessment Main exam: Remote, Open Book, 24hr during September (Reassessment Period) 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
50% 50%


Coursework Exam
50% 50%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr William Carruthers, email:
Dr William Carruthers
PHAIS General Office, Room 6.130,



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
No lecture recording information available for this module.


* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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