What are the origins of Britain's long relationship with Asia? How did a trading company become a territorial power, with its own army and navy? What did people in Britain make of this phenomenon, and how did it influence their views of Britain's global empire? In this module, we consider the role of the East India Company in creating the British Empire in Asia. We explore the rise of the Company, from its modest origins as a small Elizabethan trading venture, to a corporate giant which controlled Britain's trade with Asia for nearly 250 years. The scale and impact of the Company's activities changed the lives of millions of people around the world. It is a story of wealth, adventure and the pursuit of power. But it is also one of conflict, conquest and piracy on the high seas; policy, politics and intrigue on land.
Aims and Objectives
Knowledge and Understanding
Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:
- key primary sources and literature, drawn from the history of the East India Company, that provide evidence for historians of the British Empire
- key examples from the history of the East India Company which you can use to explore a host of global and transnational phenomena
- the wider context of British political, military and commercial activities in the maritime space of the Indian Ocean
- the chronology, personalities and major events in the history of the East India Company, as well as the latest historiographical debates surrounding their interpretation
Transferable and Generic Skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:
- develop your time-management skills
- locate and use effective textual, visual and material culture sources in the library and on-line
- research historical questions and communicate your findings convincingly and concisely in written reports
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:
- structure your ideas and research findings into well-ordered presentations and essays
- analyse critically a variety of textual, visual and material culture sources
- engage with the large secondary literature on the East India Company and the British Empire, and contribute to the debates relating to the historiography of the British Empire
In 1861, the Illustrated London News called the East India Company ‘the most celebrated commercial association of ancient or modern times’. In this module, you will test that statement by considering the East India Company and the role it played in creating the British Empire in Asia. You will focus on the rise of the Company, from its modest origins as a small Elizabethan trading venture, to a global empire which controlled Britain’s maritime trade with Asia for nearly 250 years. It is a story of wealth, power and the pursuit of fortune. But it is also one of conflict, conquest and piracy on the high seas; policy, politics and intrigue on land. And, by introducing a whole host of coveted commodities to European consumers, the scale and impact of the Company’s activities changed the lives of millions of people around the world.
By studying primary sources – such as letters, journals, narrative accounts, drawings and prints – you will explore the maritime, commercial and cultural experiences of Company employees, its political supporters and its ideological enemies. You will also have an opportunity to consider how trade and empire developed together to make the East India Company one of the cornerstones of Britain’s maritime world.
In the second semester, you will explore the various and wide-ranging impacts of the East India Company: economic, cultural, social and even scientific. You will consider themes such as portraiture, commemoration, architecture, literature, and even museology, to investigate the ways in which the East India Company was represented to people in Britain and Asia. You will also examine at length the various factors that led to the ultimate demise of the Company in the mid-nineteenth century.
You will learn about the East India Company through the close study of a range of written primary sources including letters, journals and narrative accounts. You will also have an opportunity to bring detailed analysis of material culture and visual sources to bear on your understanding and interpretation of the history of the East India Company.
Topics that may be explored in the second semester:
1. Economies and the East India Company
2. Building up the Company: Architecture, power and rule
3. Representing India: images of Company power
4. The Company and its enemies
5. The Company’s Raj: India in the early nineteenth century
6. The collapse of the Company
7. Representing the Company
8. Potential (optional) visit to East India Company sites in London
Learning and Teaching
Teaching and learning methods
Teaching methods include:
- short presentations by students
- group discussions including feedback from the tutor
- detailed reading and analysis of the module texts
Learning activities include:
- preparatory reading, individual research and study prior to each class
- preparing and delivering short presentations relating to specific aspects of the module
- studying textual and visual primary sources
- participation in group and class discussion
In this module learning and teaching activities focus on helping you to explore and investigate the ideas and themes outlined above. Throughout the module you will also engage in directed and self-directed study, for example through pre-seminar reading and through library research. The presentations (by you and your fellow students) and your reading will provide you with a broad overview of the secondary literature, using the bibliography provided at the start of the module. The discussion generated by these presentations will provide you with the opportunity to explore the relevant major historical debates on a weekly basis. In addition, you will study in depth a range of primary written and visual sources, as well as surviving material culture. These sessions will allow you to prepare for the essay and examination exercises. Feedback on your progress and development will be given via seminars and group discussions. Responses from tutor and your fellow students to your presentation will also give you formative feedback.
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Resources & Reading list
H. V. Bowen (2005). The Business of Empire: The East India Company and Imperial Britain, 1756–1833. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
M. Ogborn (2007). Indian Ink: Script and Print in the Making of the English East India Company. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
P. Lawson (1993). The East India Company: A History. London: Longman.
P. J. Marshall and G. Williams (1982). The Great Map of Mankind: British Perceptions of the World in the Age of Enlightenment. London: Dent.
C. A. Bayly (1996). Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780–1870. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
P. J. Marshall (1987). Bengal, the British Bridgehead: Eastern India, 1740–1828. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
. V. Bowen, M. Lincoln, and N. Rigby (eds) (2002). The Worlds of the East India Company. Woodbridge: Boydell.
H. V. Bowen, J. McAleer and R. J. Blyth (2011). Monsoon Traders: The Maritime World of the East India Company. London: Scala.
A. Farrington (2002). Trading Places: The East India Company and Asia, 1600–1834. London: British Library.
K. N. Chaudhuri (1965). The English East India Company: The Study of an Early Joint-Stock Company, 1600–1640. London: Frank Cass.
P. J. Marshall (1976). East Indian Fortunes: The British in Bengal in the Eighteenth Century. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
A. Jackson and A. Jaffer (eds) (2004). Encounters: The Meeting of Asia and Europe, 1500–1800. London: V&A Publications.
K. N. Chaudhuri (1978). The Trading World of Asia and the English East India Company, 1660–1760. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
H. V. Bowen, E. Mancke, J. G. Reid (eds) (2012). Britain’s Oceanic Empire: Atlantic and Indian Ocean Worlds, c. 1550– 1850. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
C. A. Bayly (1988). Indian Society and the Making of the British Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
L. S. Sutherland (1952). The East India Company in Eighteenth-Century Politics. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Assessments designed to provide informal, on-module feedback:
- non-assessed oral presentations
- tutorials to provide consultation on assessed essays
- guidance and advice in class on preparation, completion and presentation of assignments
- regular work with primary sources to prepare for the essay and examination exercises
This is how we’ll formally assess what you have learned in this module.
This is how we’ll assess you if you don’t meet the criteria to pass this module.
An internal repeat is where you take all of your modules again, including any you passed. An external repeat is where you only re-take the modules you failed.
Repeat type: Internal & External