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The University of Southampton

HIST1125 When an empire falls: Culture and the British Empire, 1914-1960

Module Overview

The twentieth century witnessed a significant change in Britain’s relationship with the rest of the world. In 1914, Britain controlled the largest empire the world had ever seen. By 1960, the majority of Britain’s colonies were independent, or on the verge of independence. This has been examined in a good deal of detail. What has been less explored is what the people of Britain made of this change. How did they respond? The module examines a wide range of primary sources, including novels, the press, exhibitions and films in an attempt to evaluate public attitudes in the last stages of a collapsing empire.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • you will be familiar with a variety of twentieth-century primary sources, including books and newspapers, films and adverts
  • you will have a sense of how cultural works reflect, and do not reflect, the society in which they were created
  • you will have developed a sense of how historians have grappled with the question of what the empire meant to Britain
  • you will have considered some of the events that helped shape modern Britain, such as the World Wars and postwar immigration
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • find and analyse primary source materials
  • develop your time management skills
  • debate with others in small and large group discussions
  • develop your communication skills
  • structure and produce coherent pieces of work
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • work effectively within set guidelines on how to produce essays at undergraduate level
  • weigh up the relative merits of different ways other historians have approached the topic
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • analyse primary and secondary sources and discuss and present your ideas cogently in class discussions and written exercises
  • adopt a clearer approach to concepts that are sometimes difficult to negotiate, such as race, nation and empire
  • think more critically about the ways that culture and a broader society interact with one another


If the story of the nineteenth century was the expansion and consolidation of Britain’s global status, the story of the twentieth century was of challenges to this status that she found it increasingly difficult to contain and manage. The development of more popular forms of anti-colonial nationalism, the effects of fighting two World Wars, and the rise of other global powers, most notably the United States and the Soviet Union after 1945, contributed to the fragmentation and eventual dismantlement of the empire. How did British society respond to this change in status? In this module, you will use a wide variety of primary sources, including newspapers, novels, and films to assess what Britons thought about the world in which they lived and the challenges they faced. Did Britons respond by facing up to such challenges, or by failing to do so? How did the end of empire affect British identities? How much did Britons invest in the notion that the Commonwealth would see to it that Britain’s global pre-eminence was perpetuated by another means? Looking at the period from the First World War, through the troubles of the Depression and the Second World War and out into the postwar period, this module will afford a look at a rapidly changing cultural environment and how popular culture sought to make sense of the end of an era.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: - weekly one-hour lecture and one-hour seminar, - lecturer-led examination and discussion of sources, - short presentations by students, and - small and large group discussions, which will involve feedback from the tutor Lectures are there to provide general knowledge. They will help you orientate yourself, giving you a sense of the chronology of the era, as well as introducing you to some of the debates that surround how such events should be understood. You will then be expected to consolidate this introductory work through your own reading of primary and secondary source material. This will then lead to in-seminar discussions, which will help you develop your own ideas about a topic and pursue hypotheses that will inform your formally-assessed written work. You will receive feedback on your progress throughout the semester. Verbal progress will be given via seminars and group discussions. Responses from the tutor and from your fellow students will help you develop and refine your work.

Independent Study126
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

W. Webster (2007). Englishness and Empire 1939-1965. 

L. J. Butler (2002). Britain and Empire: Adjusting to a Post-imperial World (ch.1). 



MethodPercentage contribution
Commentary  (1000 words) 20%
Essay  (2000 words) 40%
Exam  (3 hours) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Assessment 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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