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Empire and Decolonization




Admission Requirements

Transnational History or permission from the instructor.


This course takes a comparative approach to the twentieth century decolonization in Asia and Africa. Soon after the colonial empires had reached their apex in the early twentieth century, they started falling apart. Why was that? Decolonization was never a sudden event, but often a long, and in many cases violent, process. In this course we will look at decolonization as a process rather than a political or military event in history. The course focuses on the relationship between the colonial and postcolonial state: did the nature of the late colonial state influence the course of the decolonization processes? And to what extent were post-colonial states built on colonial structures? What determined success or failure of the post-colonial state?

In class we will jointly be reading and discussing general literature on colonial empires, decolonization and postcolonial state formation. Students will do research on different regions in Africa and Asia and compare their findings in class. For their research they will make use of primary sources, such as published diplomatic papers, political speeches and newspapers and engage with current scholarly debates on decolonization processes.

Course Objectives

Students will acquire/improve the following skills:

  • The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question

  • The ability to independently identify and select primary sources

  • The ability to analyse and evaluate literature and primary sources for the purpose of producing an original scholarly argument

  • The ability to provide constructive academic feedback

  • The ability to engage in scholarly debate on theory as well as case studies

  • The ability to co-operate with fellow-students

Mode of Instruction

This course will be taught through two-hour interactive seminars. Seminars will generally include a short introduction by the instructor, after which students will be asked to actively reflect and discuss the literature and the themes of the class in question. Seminars will focus on historic processes, concepts, theories, and empirical case studies. Students are expected to come to class prepared in order to be able to participate actively in the discussion in class.


  • 2×2-hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays

  • Seminars and the required assignments provide the students the opportunity to apply the newly gained knowledge, as well as train their academic skills.


Martin Thomas, Bob Moore and L.J. Butler, Crises of empire. Decolonization and Europe’s Imperial States (Hodder Education : London 2008)