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HIST3181 The Rise and Fall of the British Empire in Africa: Part 2

Module Overview

This module furthers the analyses undertaken in HIST3180, considering the period from the outbreak of the Second World War through to the end of Britain’s colonies in Africa. What caused the collapse of British control? How did Britain respond to challenges to its imperial authority? Amongst other topics, this module considers the outbreak of violence in Kenya during the Mau Mau insurgency of the 1950s, British policy towards the first generation of postcolonial national leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah and Nnamdi Azikiwe, and the transition from empire to commonwealth.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• introduce you to the interactions between the British imperial state and African communities in the twentieth century • help develop insights into British ideas about governance, duty, race, and authority, among others, and the degree to which these shaped the look and feel of the imperial state at a local level • get you thinking about the processes and limits of coercion and accommodation at work in the colonial encounter • provide a sense of the historical debates surrounding the policies that underpinned the British Empire, and surrounding the empire’s disintegration • introduce you to a diverse range of primary sources

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • you will have developed a sense of the chronology, personalities and major events in the history of the British Empire in Africa
  • you will be familiar with a variety of primary sources, including diaries and letters, official governmental papers, and anti-colonial nationalist texts
  • you will have developed a sense of how historians have grappled with the question of the interactions between Briton and African
  • you will have considered some of the events that helped shape modern Britain and modern Africa, such as the Second World War and the conflicts of decolonization in the 1950s
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research 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 and tribe
  • think more critically about the ways by which one community studies and attempts to understand another, and the application of any resultant knowledge to the act of maintaining and scaling back an empire
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


This special subject will examine a topic that remains contentious: imperialism in Africa. Taking the British colonies as case studies, this Special Subject will focus on two things. Firstly, it will examine the means by which the British gained and maintained control of such vast territories. How did the British establish coercive and collaborative mechanisms, and how enduring were these? Secondly, it will look at the impact of such imperial rule upon African societies: how it did (or did not) alter the way African communities ran politically, economically and socially. How did the British presence alter what it meant to be African? The Special Subject will take in a variety of case studies, from Nigeria and the Gold Coast in the west, to Sudan and Kenya in the east, and a broad cross-section of British and African life, from the elite officials in London and the governors in colonial capitals, to the administrators, missionaries and anthropologists on the ground, as well as African peoples from chiefs to anti-colonial nationalists. The course will include seminars on processes common across all of British Africa, such as the management and disintegration of networks of collaboration with chiefs, with the emphasis being on comparative study as a means of assessing how far local conditions on the ground affected the implementation of policies as devised by central authorities in London and colonial capitals. The course will also consider particular case studies. The second semester will consider the gradual dismantlement of the colonial state. It will examine British postwar hopes for their colonies, the rise of constitutional and violent opposition to the colonial state, and the countdown to the transferral of power to independent African nation states. Was there a ‘loss of will’ to govern on the part of the British government and colonial officials, or did they only concede governmental power with much resistance? The course will examine these processes against the backdrop of the Cold War and Britain’s relationship with both America and the Soviet Union. How did the British colonial state manage the transition of power? For instance, how did the fracturing of British power in the face of an increased nationalist voice in Africa affect the established governmental relationships officials had established with indigenous ‘traditional’ elites? How far did emergent nationalist figures co-opt institutional mechanisms and the rhetoric of governance used by the colonial state? During the second semester, the course will include seminars on the following topics: The Second World War: Protest and governance The Labour Party and development: The Groundnut Scheme The Conservative Party and the 'Fourth British Empire'? The Cold War and the timetable for decolonization Mau Mau (1): The build-up - Kikuyu and settlers Mau Mau (2): Emergency and violence The birth of political parties: Sudan in the 1940s and 1950s 'Africanization' and 'staying on' Nigeria in the 50s: Azikiwe and federalism The Gold Coast/Ghana: Kwame Nkrumah

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include:  large and small group discussions, including feedback from the tutor  close reading and analysis of primary texts Learning activities include:  developing research skills, including the undertaking of preparatory reading and individual before seminars  preparing and delivering short presentations in response to particular questions raised by the historiography surrounding the module topic  studying textual primary sources, including memoirs, novels, government papers, and missionary and anthropological texts  viewing of Pathé newsreels and other archival footage  participating in small-group and full-class discussion During the undertaking of this Special Subject, learning and teaching activities will focus on helping you to explore and investigate the topics and historiographical issues raised by scholars of the British Empire in Africa. In addition, you will also engage in directed and self-directed study. This will involve undertaking pre- seminar reading and conducting library research, as well as delivering class presentations based on your own research. You will use the bibliography provided as a starting point for such research. In-class discussions will help develop a sense of the debates that have surrounded the topic. You will study a range of primary written sources created by both Britons ‘on the spot’ in Africa and back in London, and by Africans impacted upon by the advent of colonial rule. All of these activities will facilitate preparation for the essay and examination exercises. Feedback on your progress and development will be given via seminars and group discussions. You will also receive formative feedback from your tutor.

Independent Study260
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Cooper, Frederick (1996). Decolonization and African Society. 

Daly, Martin (1991). Imperial Sudan: The Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, 1934-1956. 

Darwin, John (1991). The end of the British Empire: The historical debate. 

Hargreaves, John (1988). Decolonization in Africa. 

Hargreaves, John (1979). The end of colonial rule in West Africa. 

Lewis, Joanna (2000). Empire state-building: War and welfare in Kenya 1925-52. 

Smith, Anthony D (1983). State and nation in the Third World. 

Hodgkin, Thomas (1956). Nationalism in colonial Africa. 

Kedourie, Elie. (ed.) (1974). Nationalism in Asia and Africa. 

Rathbone, Richard (2000). Nkrumah and the chiefs: The politics of chieftaincy in Ghana, 1951-60. 

Reid, Richard (2008). A history of modern Africa: 1800 to the present. 

Freund, Bill (1984). The making of contemporary Africa: The development of African society since 1800. 

Anderson, David and David Killingray (1992). Policing and decolonization: Politics, nationalism and the police, 1917- 65. 

Davidson, Basil (1992). The black man’s burden: Africa and the curse of the nation-state. 

Iliffe, John (2007). Africans: The history of a continent. 

Jackson, Ashley (2006). The British Empire and the Second World War (ch.9 ). 


Assessment Strategy

Assessments designed to provide informal, on-module feedback:  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


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 50%
Examination  (3 hours) 50%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Linked modules


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