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Empire and Post Empire: Anti-colonialism and Decolonization


Admission requirements

Required course(s):



The goal of this class is to understand the relationship between ideas and action in the undoing of overseas colonialism. We will explore how anticolonial ideas manifested in a spectrum of nationalist and internationalist worldmaking projects between the late eighteenth and the twenty-first century. In the process, we will gain knowledge about decolonization as an open-ended and contingent process involving both destruction and construction.

Our geographic scope is the overseas European empires of the “Atlantic world” – touching Africa, Europe, and the Americas – between the Age of Revolutions at the end of the eighteenth century and the denouement of the Cold War in the 1990s. Although decolonization is often taught as a “moment” centered on Africa and Asia in the decades after World War II, this class emphasizes the messy, incomplete, and non-linear aspects of the process of ending overseas colonial rule beginning in the early nineteenth century. We will also pay attention to how the meaning of decolonization itself has changed as recognition of the impact of colonial legacies on postcolonial societies has deepened.

Throughout the class we will track the emergence and development of a variety of concepts and tactics associated with decolonization, and reflect on how they changed over time and space. We will analyze how ideas and practices of social revolution, violence, self-determination, sovereignty, development, citizenship, and freedom catalyzed or manifested in specific events or projects including the Non-Aligned Movement, the New International Economic Order, négritude, Tricontinentalism; the Third and Fourth Worlds; and the Haitian, Cuban, and Algerian independence struggles. Emphasis will be placed on understanding the links between ideas and historical processes through close reading of primary sources, including speeches, declarations, constitutions, documentaries, posters, and pamphlets.

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 and connect decolonization events across time and space (focused on the ending of Spanish and French colonial rule in the Atlantic world, between the end of the 18th to late 20th century)


  • Understand how decolonization emerged and developed through an interplay of actions and ideas

  • Evaluate how decolonization shaped global integration (“globalization”) and the development of the international order

  • 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


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2023-2024 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

Class will begin with 20-30 minutes of lecture, followed by an interactive or reflexive activity. After a break, we will listen to the weekly presentation and conclude with group or small-group discussion.

Assessment Method

  • 15% - Active participation in classroom discussion and activities

  • 15% - One group or individual presentation on weekly readings

  • 30% - Two reflections (500-750 words), each on a set of weekly readings; the first is due within the first 6 weeks of the course and the final one is due before week 12

  • 20% - Midterm (in-class)

  • 20% - Final exam (in-class)

Reading: Each week has two scholarly readings as well as shorter primary sources. Refer to the Reading Guide on Brightspace for tips on what to consider in your reading.

Reading reflections: Critically engage with one or more of the main questions, sources, and/or ideas presented in the weakly readings. What is the author’s intention with this piece? Do they succeed? Why or why not? How does this piece connect to larger course themes? Please see Brightspace for examples.

Presentation: Maximum of 20 minutes. Critically evaluate the objectives, sources, and effectiveness of the weekly readings and offer an analytic response to the question: which definition of decolonization (among those presented in the first lecture) fits this week’s case?

Late policy: It is the student’s responsibility to be aware of and adhere to deadlines. There will be a reduction by one letter grade per day late.

Reading list

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


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. Joshua Mentanko,


Each class will begin with a lecture by the instructor intended to introduce students to the main themes and period under examination. Following this we will work collectively or in small groups on assignments related to the primary or secondary readings. After a short break, we will listen to a presentation on the weekly readings, followed by group or small group discussion.