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Empire and Post Empire: Anti-colonialism and Decolonization


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

None, but it is recommended that the student has completed Birth of the Modern World.


The goal of this class is to understand the relationship between anticolonialism as an idea and decolonization as a process. Rather than working with a static or singular definition of anticolonialism and decolonization, we will explore how anticolonial ideas manifested in a spectrum of worldmaking and unmaking projects between the late eighteenth and the twenty-first century. This class is less about the mechanics of imperial rule and more about how their undoing was conceptualized and actualized.

Our scope is the “Atlantic world” – Africa, Europe, and the Americas – between the Age of Revolutions and the end of the Cold War. New scholarship has highlighted the need to consider the history of this region through more “global” paradigms, including colonialism and decolonization. We will assess this new scholarship, using case studies from the French and Iberian empires and their successor states to explore the undoing and legacies of colonialism in the western hemisphere.

Over the course we will consider how efforts to undo colonialism led to the mobilization and transformation of a variety of concepts and tactics, including social revolution, violence, self-determination, sovereignty, genocide, resource extraction, economic development, internationalism, citizenship, democracy, and freedom. Students will explore these complex transitions through specific events or projects like the Non-Aligned Movement, New International Economic Order, négritude, Tricontinental Continence; and the Haitian, Cuban, Mexican, and Algerian revolutions. Emphasis will be placed on understanding larger processes through close reading of primary sources.

Instead of seeing formal decolonization as preordained by the violence and exploitation of empire, historians have emphasized the uneven, disjointed, and contingent nature of the decolonization process as well as its enduring impact on European societies. At the same time, the meaning of decolonization has itself expanded to include culture and the production of knowledge, including knowledge about global history. Global history perspectives on decolonization are especially highlighted in this class, and we will finish by assessing efforts to decolonize the writing of global history itself.

Course Objectives


  • Compare and contrast anticolonial thinkers and thought and evaluate the circulation, transformation, and impact of anticolonial thought across time and geographical context

  • Through written work and class discussion and presentations, show links between primary sources and decolonization as a political and economic process

  • Learn how to compare decolonization across time and space (Spanish and French in the Atlantic world, end of 18th to late 20th century)


  • Define how decolonization emerged as a practice and idea that transcended the end of formal empire and continues to shape society, both in independent states and former metropoles

  • Evaluate how decolonization shaped global integration and new systems and processes of global governance

  • Identify the convergences, contradictions, and interconnections among anticolonial thinkers and thought and their relationship to political events

  • Identify projects of post-imperial “worldmaking” and evaluate the reasons for their success or failure

  • Ability to make comparisons and connections between two waves of decolonization through knowledge of their political and intellectual fields


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2022-2023 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

Lectures, seminars, group presentations, general debates.

Assessment Method

  • 15% - Active participation in classroom discussion

  • 15% - One group presentation on weekly readings

  • 30% - Two reading responses; 500-750 words each (week 2 and 3)

  • 40% - One scholarly book review of three to four books (or equivalent) on a chosen topic 3,000 words (week 7 – book list to be provided within first 2 sessions)

Reading list

Readings open access or available digitally to LUC students; some primary sources will be provided by the instructor directly.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Josh Mentako