The British Army and Empire c1750-1920 - HI6002

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2020 to 2021
Spring 5 30 (15) DR P Donaldson checkmark-circle


Between 1815 and 1914 Britain engaged in only one European war. The Empire was, therefore, the most consistent and most continuous influence in shaping the army as an institution and moulding public opinion of the army. This module will examine various aspects of the British army’s imperial experience between 1750 and 1920 (although the focus will fall, for the most part on the small wars of the Victorian period). The central focus will be on the campaigning in Africa and India, exploring how a relatively small number of British soldiers managed to gain and retain control of such vast territories and populations. Through an examination of a wide range of literary and visual primary sources, the module will also explore how the imperial soldier specifically and imperial campaigning generally were presented to and reconfigured by a domestic audience.

Topics covered will include:
The everyday life of the imperial soldier
Representing the imperial hero: Henry Havelock and Charles Gordon
The portrayal of imperial campaigning in contemporary popular culture
The legacy of the Boer War: commemoration, doctrine and reform
The modern memory of colonial warfare: from Lives of a Bengal Lancer to Zulu


This module appears in the following module collections.

Contact hours

Hours of study: 20 hours per week (300 hours total)
Contact hours: 10 lectures and 10 two-hour seminars (3 hours per week)

Method of assessment

The module will be examined by 100% coursework, made up of a presentation (15%), one 2,500 word essay (25%), an in-class test (20%) and a 4,000 word essay (40%).

Indicative reading

I. F. W. Beckett, The amateur military tradition, 1558-1945
Peter Boyden, Alan J Guy and Marion Harding (eds.), ‘Ashes and Blood’: the British Army in South Africa, 1795-1914
David Chandler and Ian Beckett (eds.), The Oxford History of the British Army
J. E. Cookson, The British Armed Nation, 1793-1815
David French, Military Identities: The Regimental system, the British army and the British people, c. 1870-2000
Richard Holmes, The British Soldier in India
V. G. Kiernan, Colonial Empires and Armies, 1815-1960
Hew Strachan, The Politics of the British Army
E. M. Spiers, Army and Society, 1815-1914
E. M. Spiers, The Scottish soldier and Empire, 1854-1902
E. M. Spiers, The Victorian soldier in Africa

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)


  1. Credit level 5. Intermediate level module usually taken in Stage 2 of an undergraduate degree.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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