Fictions of Empire

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Monday 13 January 2020
Friday 20 March 2020
18 December 2019


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA QV21 History and Literature,
BA QV22 History and Literature (Including Placement Year),
BA QV2C History and Literature (Including Foundation Year),
BA VQ12 History and Literature (Including Year Abroad)

Module description

How many of you know that the racist chanting once prevalent at British football matches draws upon idioms and images produced during the imperial age? And are you aware that even Hollywood blockbusters (for example, 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom') owe part of their appeal to their ability to draw liberally from themes and figures in the cultural ragbag of empire?

This module takes as its starting point the fact that our visions of the world, our very sensibilities, have been fashioned to some degree by the imperial experience, and yet we are often unaware of this. By taking five works of fiction - some famous, some less well-known - and considering them in their historical and biographical contexts, the module seeks to explore key aspects of the imperial experience.

The module introduces history students to the interface between history and literature. It seeks to demonstrate the richness of novels and other fictions as ways into history. At the same time, it seeks to show how works of fiction are embedded in particular historical and personal contexts. How does history condition literature? What insights does literature provide that works of history cannot? How does an ahistorical reading of fiction mislead the reader? How can an overly-historical approach distort, or fail to appreciate, key elements of a novel? These are some of the guiding questions of the module.

We use a range of fictions to explore colonial attitudes and policies, and to investigate the experience of colonisers and colonised, mainly in the British Empire. The period covered is from the latter half of the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century when popular mobilizations sounded the death knell of empire. Students should leave this module with a sense of the complexity of imperialism and its cultural legacy.

Module aims

The module aims to introduce students to the interface between history and literature. It seeks to demonstrate the richness of novels and other fictions as ways into history and to show how works of fiction are embedded in particular historical and personal contexts. Likewise, students are expected to develop an understanding of the dangers of reducing creative works to mere illustrations of historical phenomena. The module also aims to deepen students’ understanding of key facets of imperialism, such as racial attitudes or anti-colonial rebellions in diverse regions of empire.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, students will be able to:

1. utilize fiction as a historical source and understand the problems and opportunities of approaching novels and short stories in this way;

2. have a deeper understanding of particular imperial phenomena (for example, racial attitudes) and introduce students to important aspects of the history of imperialism or resistance to it in various regions of Africa and in India.

Through a historically-grounded study of fiction, students will gain an expanded sense of how the historian can find evidence in unusual places.

Module information

General Reading List:

Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart.

H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon's Mines.

Rudyard Kipling, Plain Tales From the Hills.

Doris Lessing, This Was The Old Chief's Country.

Sembene Ousmane, God's Bits of Wood.

Learning and teaching methods

Lectures and seminars.


This module does not appear to have any essential texts. To see non-essential items, please refer to the module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Document Analysis (1500 Words)   26/02/2020  30% 
Coursework   Essay (3500 Words)   11/05/2020  70% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Jeremy Krikler, email:
Dr Jeremy Krikler
Belinda Waterman, Department of History, 01206 872313



External examiner

Dr Rachel Rich
Leeds Beckett University
Senior Lecturer
Available via Moodle
Of 29 hours, 29 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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