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The University of Southampton

HUMA3017 Music and the British Empire

Module Overview

The structures that later formed the formal British Empire started to emerge around 1600 and have persisted even in the years since the return of Britain’s last major possession, Hong Kong, to China in 1997. This module engages with the question of how the British Empire sounded, and more particularly with how Britain’s often violent global projection of political and economic power impacted musical practices of all kinds, both in areas of British imperial domination and at home in Britain. It will focus on a series of historical case studies, starting with musical practices and encounters in the era of the East India Company, continuing through the major colonial expansions of the eighteenth century and then proceeding through the zenith of formal Empire in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries right up through the era of decolonisation to the present day. We will examine a wide variety of music found in cultures across areas of British influence including folk song, opera, and sacred, ceremonial and popular forms. We will also listen for the Empire’s echoes in historical and present genres back in Britain, such as symphonic music, chamber music, jazz, pop (including the music of migrants from the Empire to Britain) and film music.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • Documents and interpretations of how the British Empire shaped and continues to shape music and musical practices around the world
  • Relevant theoretical approaches to the study global music history, imperial history and postcolonial studies
  • The ways in which the music histories of Britain and much of the rest of the world are interconnected through the common historical experience of Empire
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Assemble case studies under a thematic umbrella and apply a unified theoretical approach
  • Gather information independently from a cross-section of interdisciplinary resources
  • Transfer knowledge from one area of study to another
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Identify and discuss critically a variety of ways in which the historical experience of the British Empire has impacted music and musical practices
  • Discuss how music affects our current understanding of the history of the British Empire
  • Discuss how the British Empire might “live on” in today’s music and musical practices


No technical knowledge of music is required to take this module. The module will consist of a series of case studies, for example (but not limited to): - Music on East India Company ships - The music of the American Revolution - The slave trade and the music of the Black Atlantic - The sound of Imperial diplomacy - Anglo-Indian Musical Encounters - The birth of ethnomusicology in colonial and imperial encounters - The Empire in the Victorian music hall - Music and Christian mission in the British Empire - Edward Elgar’s Imperial music - Jazz and Empire - Film music and the British Empire - Echoes of Empire in global pop music (Afropop, Hip-Hop, Rap, Grime etc.)

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: - Lectures - Discussion - Sharing of ideas and materials via Blackboard and other electronic resources Learning activities include: - A wide range of reading (certain books and articles will be required reading) - Study of selected audio and video recordings - Individual research - Use of online resources

Wider reading or practice42
Preparation for scheduled sessions24
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Radano, Ronald and Tejumola Olaniyan (2016). Audible Empire: Music, Global Politics, Critique. 

Woodfield, Ian (2000). Music of the Raj: A Social and Economic History of Music in Late Eighteenth Century Anglo-Indian Society. 

Gilroy, Paul (1995). The Black Atlantic. 

Conrad, Sebastian (2016). What is Global History?. 

Irvine, Thomas. Listening to China: Sound and the Sino-Western Encounter, 1770-1839. Manuscript. 

Said, Edward (1993). Culture and Imperialism. 

Atkins, E. Taylor (2003). Jazz Planet. 

Radano, Ronald M. and Philip V. Bohlman (2000). Music and the Racial Imagination. 

Woodfield, Ian (1995). English Music in the Age of Exploration. 

Beckles Willson, Rachel (2013). Orientalism and Musical Mission: Palestine and the West. 


Assessment Strategy

Differentiation between 2nd and 3rd level work: The assessment of skills will be the same as for 2nd level students taking HUMA2XXX. For 3rd level students expectations will be higher than those for 2nd level students, and the assessment criteria will be accordingly stricter. In particular: - Topics chosen should allow a greater degree of focus and detail, whether of analysis, examination of and commentary on facts, critical insight, independent argument, or other factors. - Conversely, assignments should demonstrate a broader knowledge and understanding of context, a more confident use of analytical and critical tools, and a more mature handling of argument, etc. Optimal standards of presentation are required, in terms of spelling, punctuation, and grammar; sophistication of vocabulary; provision of footnotes; inclusion of full bibliographic and related details; physical appearance of work, etc. In short, 3rd level students should aspire at all times to the highest possible levels of undergraduate work.


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 60%
Essay  (2000 words) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:


No additional costs have been associated with this module.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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