The British Empire: A Short Historical Introduction


Course description

What do a western Canadian provincial capital, a harbour on the South China coast, a state in Australia, a large lake in east Africa, and a memorial in the Indian city of Kolkata, have in common? They are all named after a nineteenth century British monarch who, as it happened, ruled over all of them during her long reign. How this came to be is the story of the British Empire, which at its height in 1919, encompassed nearly 21 million square kilometres and about 500 million peopleat that time, about 1/5th of the earth’s total population.

For good or ill, the British Empire has shaped the modern world, from language-use and geographical boundaries to racial demographics, economic networks, and international norms and laws. It was a major force in the creation of the modern international “order”, and a potent force of globalization. This course is a brief introduction to the British Empire. Through readings, video presentations, and class discussions, we will explore certain facets of this phenomenon, such as: its key characteristics, its expansion strategies and mechanisms, imperial/colonial encounters, its decline, and finally, its legacies.

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