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The University of Southampton

HIST2039 Imperialism and Nationalism in British India

Module Overview

How did less than two thousand British officials rule an Indian population of three hundred million? Why did the words gymkhana, bungalow and shampoo enter the English language? What was the significance of the British constructing clock towers in numerous Indian towns and cities? How did the diminutive and scantily clad figure of Gandhi emerge as an international symbol of resistance to the trappings and power of the British Raj? Why did the British divide the Subcontinent when they left in August 1947? This module aims to explore such questions as these in the last century or so of the British ruling presence in India.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • the main political, social and economic transformations brought about by British rule in India.
  • changing British perceptions of Indian society and religion.
  • the way the British lived and spent their leisure time in India.
  • the different phases of nationalist struggle in India and the way Gandhi transformed the freedom movement.
  • the rise of Muslim separatist sentiment and the genesis of the Pakistan demand.
  • the background to the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • critically assess a range of historiographical arguments in the literature of this subject.
  • engage in questions of tradition and modernity and of the politics of identity.
  • evaluate concepts and theories of representation, knowledge production and colonial rule.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • gather and critically analyse information.
  • co-operate with other members of the unit in group work.
  • develop oral and presentational skills as a result of class discussions.
  • display effective time management in planning and completing tasks and assignments
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • utilise different types of historical sources and critically assess them.
  • perform electronic bibliographic searches.
  • work with a range of Indian philosophical terms and concepts


This unit covers the last century and a half of the British presence in India, although the main focus is on the period 1857 until the British departure in 1947. We will consider how the British understood Indian religion and society and why this changed from the early nineteenth century onwards. The way the British worked and spent their leisure time will also be investigated. We will investigate the different understandings of key events in the British-Indian relationship such as the 1857 revolt and the 1919 Amritsar massacre. The unit will also explore the different phases in the Indian nationalist movement with particular focus on the changes which arose from Gandhi’s rise to prominence at the end of the First World War. Indian Muslims, who comprised around a quarter of the population, increasingly stood outside the Indian National Congress which had been founded in 1885. The movement towards a separate Muslim political platform will be investigated. Finally the unit will focus on the background to the British decision to divide and quit India in 1947.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • lectures (one hour, twice a week). • group seminars (one hour, once a week). • feedback on presentations. Learning activities include • preparation for weekly seminars by reading and interpreting a variety of primary and secondary sources. • guided independent study in preparation for the formal essay assessment. • group and individual seminar presentations. Innovative or special features of this unit • bringing together aspects of social, intellectual and political history of British India. The lectures will both provide key evidence and introduce major concepts and historiographical debates. The seminars will further develop the themes and issues outlined in the lectures as well as providing the opportunity to critically assess a range of secondary and primary source material. Group study will encourage team working. Students will also be able to develop their presentational and oral skills through leading and contributing to discussion. The seminars will also allow students to focus on Indian philosophical terms and concepts. The essay will test the ability to analyse and assess information as well as develop organisational skills. The examination will test writing and communication skills.

Independent Study126
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

R Thapar (1983). A History of India. 

Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics. 

Modern Asian Studies. 

S Bose and A. Jalal (1998). Modern South Asia: History, Culture, and Political Economy. 

I. Talbot (1999). Pakistan: A Modern History. 

J.M. Brown (1995). Modern India: The Origins of an Asian Democracy. 

Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. 

S Wolpert (1993). A New History of India. 

Asian Survey. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 50%
Timed Assignment 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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