MSt Global and Imperial History since 1400

Course Structure

The course comprises:

Historical methodology class


Like all branches of history global and imperial history must be approached through concepts and with a sense of awareness of the methods of historical inquiry that are being used. Indeed, anyone reading an historical account of the rise and impact of, for instance, the British or of any other European or indeed non-European empire will be struck by the way that certain key ideas and arguments frame the discussion. The fact that the role of imperialism and colonialism in world history has been intensely controversial has made the meaning of the terms used to describe them all the more contested. This course is designed to encourage debate and discussion of some of the key concepts in global and imperial history (including ‘race’, ‘class’, ‘nationalism’, ‘Orientalism’, and ‘imperialism’ itself) as well as exploring the contribution that gender, economic and social, environmental, and transnational history or international relations and human geography can make to the understanding of global and imperial history.


The training seminar considers various approaches to global and imperial histories, and to the range of histories with which they intersect, including gender, ecological, post-colonial, and trans-national histories, as well as issues of race, conquest, and material culture. By actively engaging with key texts from contrasting historical perspectives, students will develop their understanding of the dynamic nature of historical thought and practice, and be encouraged to think critically and laterally about the relevance of these approaches to their own research.

Advanced Option

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.




Decolonisation in Africa is most often studied from a political perspective, but had crucial cultural dimensions. This course considers culture as a field in which decolonisation was campaigned for, debated, and experienced. Through a focus on culture, it explores how a wide range of people, elites and non-elites, engaged with decolonisation.

The course focuses particularly on relationships between the high politics of decolonisation and its cultural and quotidian dimensions, exploring how they were mutually constitutive. Weekly classes focus on different aspects of culture, while revisiting major themes, which include the changing objectives of anti-colonialists from the 1920s to the 1970s, and the interaction of local, national, and international contexts in shaping cultures of decolonisation. Throughout the course we will consider the cultural ramifications of late colonial state-building: how new constitutions and institutions helped to shape innovative cultural forms and practices, and vice versa. The course also addresses the politics of ‘standards’ during decolonisation, examining how colonial officials prepared African states for selfgovernment using standards that they had largely defined. It studies the challenges faced by anticolonialists in articulating a culture suitable for independent African nations, drawing on cutting-edge historical research and a wide range of primary evidence.


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 option offers a global survey of European decolonisation in the mid-twentieth century. The European Empires came to an abrupt end in the wake of the Second World War. Colonised peoples took advantage of metropolitan weakness to throw off colonial oppression. Last-ditch attempts to fall back on military suppression and economic development became costly and embarrassing and were sooner or later eclipsed by a policy of scuttle. Within two dramatic decades the sun had all but set on Europe’s long age of empire. But the rapid spectacle of formal ‘flag decolonisation’ belied the complexities of cultural and economic disentanglement and the vulnerability of newly independent nations to political influence from the colonial metropole and the new superpowers of the Cold War. In many areas of white settlement, not least the United States, decolonisation seemed a distant dream to indigenous peoples. Across the global south politicians promised structural change but more commonly entrenched continuity.

This course is concerned with the causes, process and impact of decolonisation. It is structured around a series of themes over the period 1945-1980: the global Cold War, anti-colonial nationalist movements, late colonial wars and development, ethnicity and race, neo-colonial economic and political influence, culture and postcolonialism, and mass immigration to Europe. Particular attention will be given to the comparative study of colonial rule and experience and the global nature of anti-colonialism.


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.


This course will explore the history and character of India's democracy by focussing on the way it has been shaped by a number of constitutional and other crises. These include struggles over executive power, separatism, caste reservations, a uniform civil code and religious nationalism. Each of these critical events will be examined through a variety of primary and secondary sources, as well as from more than one disciplinary perspective, to provide a rich and complex understanding of India's democracy in action.

From the narratives of high politics to ethnographic description and popular culture, students will have the opportunity to engage with the logic and contradictions of the defining events in India's independent history.


Gender relations and identities were of great symbolic, as well as practical importance, in colonial India. British missionaries, reforming colonial officials, Indian social critics and Indian nationalists all found in the status of Indian women a ground on which wider questions about Indian identity, civilizational values and fitness for political freedom could be discussed. Theories about India's 'martial races' brought Indian understandings of masculinity and the body into the political arena in new ways. Gender likewise came to be important in the construction of religious community identities, with new regimes of bodily strengthening coming to the fore in early Hindu revivalist organisations. Changes in colonial law helped to reshape the Hindu joint family, with important consequences for marriage law and property rights. For India's Muslims, a separate realm of Muslim 'personal law' came to stand as an important marker of a distinctive Indian Muslim identity. Using records of the colonial state, legal records, contemporary periodical literature and autobiographies, students will explore the history of these shifts in colonial gender relations, and their longer term consequences for the gendered construction of citizenship in independent India. 8 weekly tutorials or classes of 90 minutes will be offered, during the Hilary Term. In addition, each student will be required to write two tutorials essays during the term, and will receive individual feedback on their work.


Settler societies could be found in every part of the world and were drawn from many different ethnicities, European, African, Indian, Chinese and Austronesian. This course takes a long view of the worlds that settlers made. It considers the ventures of medieval Europeans, the differences between European societies that were prone to settle, like the British and Spanish, and those that weren’t, and the divergent patterns of settlement in the American West, the British settlement colonies, Siberia and Latin America. The distinctive experience of Chinese settlers and migrants will also be discussed.


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.


This paper will cater to students whose main interest lies in South Asia's early modern, rather than its colonial history. The paper will pay particular attention to India's economic dynamism in the centuries before the coming of colonialism, and the way in which the imperial and regional states of the subcontinent encouraged and facilitated openness to increasingly global networks of trade and cultural exchange. New and mobile classes of scribal specialists, bankers, merchant and military entrepreneurs played a key role in opening the states and societies of the subcontinent up to these new forces of early globalisation. Students will be encouraged to consider how far South Asia developed in these centuries some of the attributes of 'modernity' usually associated only with the coming of colonialism.

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:

Topics in Global Economic History (from Economic and Social History)

Latin America since Independence (MSc Latin American Studies)

Disease, Medicine and Colonialism in South Asia (from History of Science, Medicine and Technology)

Options from the MSc in Modern South Asian Studies (Oriental Studies)


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.
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