Spring 2021 - HIST 438W D100

Problems in the History of the British Empire (4)


Class Number: 5721

Delivery Method: Remote


  • Course Times + Location:

    We 9:30 AM – 12:20 PM

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units including 9 units of lower division history.



An investigation of advanced concepts and methodologies in the history of the British empire. Content may vary from offering to offering; see course outline for further information. HIST 438W may be repeated for credit only when a different topic is taught. Writing.


The “Problems in the History of the British Empire” seminar chooses a theme related to the history of the British empire and explores it in depth.  The theme this term is "Decolonization."  In this course we will explore the politics and culture of the end of the British empire both in colonial situations and in the imperial metropole.  In our readings and seminar activities we will explore how anti-colonial movements confronted the British empire and envisioned a world after empire.  We will consider how colonial states and imperial authorities in Britain reacted to anti-colonial movements and attempted to manage the pace of decolonization and to cover up the history of colonial-state violence and political repression.  We will think about the reverberations of the events of decolonization in the British metropole and about the legacies of colonial rule in former colonies.   

What to expect with remote instruction/learning:

Our seminar will meet synchronously once a week on Blackboard Collaborate Ultra.  We will discuss readings for the first two hours of the three-hour block assigned to the course.  The third hour will usually be reserved to watch and discuss film clips and/or to workshop assignments.


  • Participation: 20%
  • Canvas discussion posts and pre-seminar questions on each of our three monographs (Ghosh, Getachew, and Bailkin) and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's memoir: 30%
  • "The Problem of Colonial Archives" essay: Over two weeks of the term the seminar works with a set of colonial-state records that (like a lot of official documents chronicling the activities of colonial states during the final decades of British rule) were long suppressed and only recently disclosed. The particular files we will work with document an episode of "Emergency Rule" aimed at defeating a rising anti-colonial movement in late-1940s/early-1950s Uganda. Using these records and supplementary readings to help contextualize and interpret them, students write an essay that explores the archive's potentials and limitations as source material for illuminating the history of decolonization. 3-4 pages: 10%
  • Final book review essay: Choose three books and review them together to either a) explore the end of the British empire in a single colony or b) explore a problem/theme related to decolonization in comparative perspective. Approximately 12-15 pages: Draft: 15% | Final: 25% 40%



Durba Ghosh, Gentlemanly Terrorists: Political Violence and the Colonial State in India, 1919–1947 (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

Adom Getachew, Worldmaking after Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination (Princeton University Press, 2019).

Jordanna Bailkin, The Afterlife of Empire (University of California Press, 2012).

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, In the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir (Random House, 2012).

Other readings will be distributed via CANVAS.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Teaching at SFU in spring 2021 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).