MSt Global and Imperial History since 1400

The MSt in Global and Imperial History offers a nine month introduction to graduate research. It is open to all students who have the desire to explore the history of the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, East Asia, Australasia or the Americas (excluding the US) in a global perspective.

The course will encourage you to develop intellectual and practical familiarity with advanced research in the global history of the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, East Asia, Australasia and the Americas (excluding the US). Global and imperial history in this context implies transoceanic and transcontinental connections, comparisons, and exchanges between cultures, polities and societies. It also examines broad patterns and systems in history, whether religious, political, economic, cultural or ecological.

Global history, in other words, is history with a global scope (often including European dimensions) that emphasises comparative perspectives. You are not expected to master the histories of multiple regions, but to use a global approach to cast light on your own research area.

Course Organisation

This programme consists of:

Historical methodology class

Option Paper

It is complemented by the following tutorial streams for further in-depth study (please note that not every tutorial stream will be available each year, and that they are subject to change):


The ‘globalization’ of history has been the most visible and significant development in historical scholarship of the past decade or so. Historians are increasingly aware of the need to place their work in a context that spills over national, regional, or civilizational boundaries.

Some of the most exciting work in global history has revolved around the question as to whether we can speak of an ‘early modern period’ for societies outside of the West. Were whole stretches of the world already on the march towards ‘modernity’ before the rise of European world domination? This course will introduce the two principal methodologies involved in doing this new large-scale history: the connective and the comparative. It will be taught through a series of seminars which will be led by a different guest expert in a non-European region or global theme each week together with the regular course leaders.

Why was it Europeans who began to use the seas and oceans to extend the reach of their trade, religion and military force across the world? How far is it helpful to see other regions of the world such as India and China through the lens of modernity? What allowed the rise of vast new empires across Eurasia and the Americas – and what did such empires have in common? What happens to the Portuguese church when you try to build it in the tropics? And why was it so common for Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist communities to become gripped by the sense that the end of the world was coming?


This graduate course offers a broad introduction to the socio-cultural and intellectual history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Japan in transnational and global perspective. The course introduces various methods, approaches, theories, and concepts that could be applied to re-examine the time and space of ‘modern Japan’, while also serving as an introduction to the transnational and intellectual history of Japan.

By the end of the course, you will have acquired foundational knowledge and skills to open up new directions in modern Japanese history writing. See the Nissan Institute website for more details.




This option offers a continent-wide survey of decolonization in the second half of the twentieth century. In the wake of the Second World War the European Empires came to an abrupt end. Colonized peoples took advantage of metropolitan weakness to throw off colonial oppression. When last-ditch attempts to fall back on military suppression and economic development became costly and embarrassing they were sooner or later eclipsed by a policy of scuttle and within a decade the sun had all but set on Europe’s long age of empire in Africa. But the rapid spectacle of formal ‘flag decolonization’ belay the complexities of political, social, economic and cultural disentanglement. While the legacy of the colonial past continued to shape the post-colonial era, newly-independent nations found that they were vulnerable to ongoing influence from colonial metropoles and the new  Cold War superpowers. In areas of significant white settlement, particularly in southern Africa, meaningful decolonization remained a distant dream for many Africans. Across the continent politicians promised structural change but more commonly entrenched continuity.

This course considers the causes, process and impact of decolonization in Africa by considering a series of themes over the period 1956-1994: anti-colonial nationalist movements, late colonial wars and development, ethnicity and race, migration, the global Cold War, ‘neo-colonial’ economic and political influence, and culture and postcolonialism. Particular attention will be given to the interaction between local, regional and global dynamics.


This optional paper is designed to explore the global empires of Spain and Portugal in the early modern period as an entangled history that led to the emergence of the Iberian world. This approach allows for the study of interaction, emulation, and competition in the process of empire-building, as well as for a better understanding of the multiple reactions to the Iberian exploration, from coastal Africa to Central and South America, and South and East Asia. Special attention will be given to the many ways in which those living under the Spanish and Portuguese empires experienced, described, and opposed their rule, as well as to the external challenges that the Iberian powers faced in the age of Eurasian empires. The methods of comparative history and connected history will allow students to combine an appreciation of global trends across the Iberian world with a clear sense of the differences existing at local level.


This course will explore the role of warfare and the military in the course of Africa’s history, from the fourteenth to the early twentieth century.  It aims to place the organisation of armed conflict and the evolution of military culture at the centre of the analysis, and posits the need for a long-term understanding of both.  In approaching the topic from a longue durée perspective, the paper will explore the extent to which organised violence in Africa has deep historical roots.  Students will therefore be encouraged to consider the key drivers of Africa’s developmental trajectory, and to think of warfare in constructive as well as destructive terms. 

The course will combine broad themes as well as specific case studies from across the continent.  It will explore the manner in which warfare has shaped Africa in socio-economic, political and cultural terms, and specifically the role which warfare has played in the emergence of a range of state and non-state systems, and in the development of military cultures, across the continent.  Key topics for study will include changing social formations; the growth of identities based on violence and militarism; the relationship between military and political administration; the economics of African war; and the range of technologies developed and employed across the continent.  Throughout, the course will consider the global context within which conflict in Africa occurs, exploring external factors whether in the form of commercial linkages or imperial intrusions.


The course explores the interaction between African decolonisation and global superpower rivalries, from the late 1950s until the end of the Cold War. As much of the continent emerged from European colonial rule in the late 1950s and 1960s, the development of African independent nation-states interacted with the unfolding of the Cold War, on both a global and local stage. Both superpowers officially supported decolonisation, but the United States was sometimes persuaded by its European allies that African self-determination might open the door to communist influence on the continent. The Soviet Union’s vocal support for African liberation was only occasionally matched by a willingness to provide logistical and military backing to such efforts.

Many African political actors sought to remain neutral and ‘non-aligned’ in the Cold War, but others deliberately portrayed local conflicts in Cold War terms, so as to persuade reluctant superpowers to intervene in African contexts that they barely understood and which were usually not a high priority in Washington or Moscow. The ending of the Cold War brought some African conflicts to a close, but the continuation of others suggests the limited relevance of global ideological affiliations to wars that resulted from a complex interaction of global, national and local factors.

The course will explore the extent to which African states and political movements were the subject of manipulation by the superpowers. It will analyse the motivations underlying the policies of the United States and the Soviet Union (and their respective allies) in sub-Saharan Africa. It will also examine the role of other powerful states in Africa’s Cold War: the European colonial powers, China and Cuba. It will critically examine Westad’s ground-breaking approach, emphasising the agency of non-western actors in shaping the form and extent of superpower intervention (or the lack of it) in African contexts and conflicts.

It will also explore a range of source material including state documents, memoirs and film, to assess what we know (and still don’t know) about Africa’s Cold War.

You are also allowed to take units from other courses, as long as your supervisor agrees and they are compatible with your own course. Here are some examples that may be relevant:


A dissertation of up to 15,000 words on an agreed topic. The dissertation is submitted during Trinity Term, but students will begin to formulate and plan their dissertation in conjunction with their supervisors from the beginning of the course.

Please also explore the Oxford China Centre for further information.