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Empire and Post Empire: Colonial Reformers




Admissions requirements

Birth of the Modern World and/or a relevant 200-level course from the same track.


Colonial history used to focus on the impact European imperialism had on former colonies. In recent decades historians have pointed out that the colonial experience fundamentally altered Europe too. In this course we will explore the impact of the colonies on Europe, more specifically Britain and The Netherlands.

During the 19th century large groups of British and Dutch citizens were involved in the colonial project in different ways. They consumed colonial products of course: tea, coffee, sugar, cotton. But they also consumed stories and images of life in the colonies, and encountered people who had lived there and shared first-hand information. These representations of the colonies inspired them to act in ways that would either reinforce or challenge these representations: they established countless missionary societies and other initiatives because they wanted to ‘civilize’ the inhabitants of the colonies. They protested against slave trade, slavery; the practice of sati (widow burning) in British India; and the Cultivation System in the Dutch East-Indies. These campaigns inspired remarkable cultural, political and social changes: women started carving out a more public and activist role for themselves, political debates engaged more with moral issues, and many people who would normally not get involved with politics now spoke out in political protests such as mass petitions. What were the stories and images that spurred them to action? What (counter-) narratives and images about the colonies did they produce themselves? And what did the colonies mean to them that they would challenge existing social conventions?

In searching for answers we will analyze several nineteenth-century narratives and images of the colonies based on a wide variety of secondary and primary sources (including for instance novels, abolitionist propaganda, missionary letters). We will also explore the complex process of identity formation in relation to the colonies. European individuals started to develop new social identities based on their self-image as civilizers of the world, much the same way that British and Dutch national identity was in important ways shaped by the possession of overseas colonies. In studying the roots of Modern Imperialism we will be able to recognize and critique patterns and attitudes that still shape the relationship of Europe to the wider world. Insights in how the legacy of colonialism is deeply engrained in national self-image also allows a better understanding of dynamics between different social groups in our current society, especially when it comes to sensitive topics relating to colonial history. At the same time it will also allow us to reflect on our own ideas about humanitarianism and reform, and place them in a long historical trajectory.

Course objectives


  • Critically engaging with primary sources, here: 19th century representations of the colonies in written text and image.

  • Identifying and critiquing patterns and attitudes that still shape the relationship of Europe to the wider world and dynamics between different social groups.

  • Writing a clearly reasoned historical essay, based on primary sources and existing historiography.


  • Understanding how colonialism affected European societies, specifically in Britain and the Netherlands.

  • Relating representations of the colonies to processes of (national) identity formation.


Once available, timetables will be published here.

Mode of instruction

In the first weeks the lectures will introduce the students to the history of the British and Dutch Empires. Secondary literature on specific case studies and a close reading of primary sources connected to these case studies will deepen the students’ understanding of the interaction between colonial representations and identity formation. Towards the end of the course we will examine the impact of these historical processes on current global and social relations.

Students play an important role in class as several seminars are predominantly student-led. These start with a group presentation (15-20 minutes). These same students will then lead the group discussions that follow. Every student participates in 2 group presentations. One on historical texts, and another on a current issue. As this is a history course, the final essays will have to include a major historical component.


  • Actively engaging in-class discussions: 15% (ongoing, weeks 1-7)

  • Two group presentations (one historical, one contemporary): 35% (between weeks 1-7)

  • Two 500-750-word critical analyses on the readings: 20% (weeks 2 & 3)

  • Final essay 3000 word on a historical topic, based on primary sources and existing historiography: 30% (week 8)


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

Reading list

  • Bhambra, Gurminder K., ‘Locating Brexit in the pragmatics of race, citizenship and empire’, in: William Outhwaite (ed.), Brexit: Sociological Responses (London, New York: Anthem Press 2017) 91-100.

  • Cole, Teju ‘The White Savior Industrial Complex’, The Atlantic, 21 March 2012.

  • Drenth, Annemieke van and Francisca de Haan, The Rise of Caring Power: New Perspectives on the History of Gender, Care and the 19th Century Women’s Movement (Amsterdam University Press, 2000) 11-50.

  • Grant, Julie, ‘Live Aid/8: perpetuating the superiority myth’, Critical Arts 29 (2015) 3, 310-326.

  • Hall, Catherine, Going a-Trolloping: Imperial man travels the Empire’, in: Clare Midgley (ed.), Gender and Imperialism (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press 1998) 180-199.

  • Hall, Catherine, Civilising Subjects: Colony and Metropole in the English Imagination, 1830-1867 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002) 1-22

  • Janse, Maartje, ‘Representing Distant Victims: The Emergence of an Ethical Movement in Dutch Colonial Politics, 1840-1880’, BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review 128 (2013) 53–80.

  • Jones, Guno, ‘Dutch politicians, the Dutch nation and the dynamics of postcolonial citizenship’, in: Ulbe Bosma (ed.), Post-Colonial Immigrants and Identity Formations in the Netherlands, (Amsterdam University Press 2012) 27–47.

  • Lambert, David, and Alan Lester, ‘Geographies of Colonial Philanthropy’, Progress in Human Geography, 28 (2004) 320–341.

  • Midgley, Clare, Women against Slavery: The British Campaigns, 1780-1870 (London; New York: Routledge, 1992) 91-116.

  • Midgley, Clare, ‘Anti-slavery and the roots of “Imperial Feminism”’, in: Clare Midgley (ed.), Gender and Imperialism (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press 1998) 161-180.

  • Raben, Remco, ’A New Dutch Imperial History? Perambulations in a Prospective Field’, BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review 128 (2013) 5-29.

  • Ryder, Phyllis Mentzell, ‘Beyond Critique: Global Activism and the Case of Malala Yousafzai, Literacy in Composition Studies 3 (2015) 1 175-187.

  • Twells, Alison, The Civilising Mission and the English Middle Class, 1792-1850: The ‘heathen’ at Home and Overseas (Basingstoke [England]; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) 1-24.

  • Wekker, Gloria, White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race (Duke University Press, 2016) 1-29; 139-167.


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact


Dr. Maartje Janse