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Empire and Post Empire: Colonial Reformers




Admissions requirements

This course builds on 100 and 200-level courses in the 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 secundary and primary sources (including novels, abolitionist propaganda, missionary letters). We will also explore the complex process of (national) 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 posession 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

Successful completion on the course will enable student to:

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

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

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

  • Identify and critique patterns and attitudes that still shape the relationship of Europe to the wider world and dynamics between different social groups

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


Once available, timetables will be published here.

Mode of instruction

In the first weeks some 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 (national) identity formation. Towards the end of the course we will examine the impact of these historical processes on current global and social relations. Still, this is a history course, and the essays will have to include a major historical component.


  • Students are expected to play a very active role in seminars. They will be graded based on:

  • Actively engaging in class discussions (15%)

  • Their contribution to two group presentations (one historical, one contemporary) (20%)

  • Write two 750-word critical analyses of the readings (20%)

  • Present an ‘elevator pitch’ about your essay topic (5%)

  • Write a 3,000 word essay on a historical topic, based on primary sources and existing historiography (40%)


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

Readings will be made available on Blackboard.


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


Dr. Maartje Janse,