The British Army and Empire c.1750-1920 - HIST6002

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2022 to 2023
Autumn Term 5 30 (15) Peter 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, in providing it with sustained exposure to warfare and in enabling it to develop and refine its professionalism as an institution. This module will examine various aspects of the British army's imperial experience in the period 1750-1920. 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. Although the time period will run from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, the focus of the module will be on the Victorian and Edwardian periods, reflecting the current historiography on the topic. The extended date parameters will, however, allow for thematic studies of central issues such as army reform and civil-military relations to be placed in their wider chronological context.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 30
Private study hours: 270
Total study hours: 300

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods:

Essay 1 2500 words 25%
Essay 2 4000 words 40%
In-class test 20%
Presentation 15-minutes 15%

Reassessment methods:
Reassessment Instrument: 100% coursework

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List:

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)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 To provide students with the skills needed to understand, evaluate, contextualise and communicate effectively their knowledge of history.
2 To provide students with an understanding of the imperial campaigning of the British army in this period. In particular, the army's role in civil administration and policing as well as its purely military responsibilities and the impact the imperial experience had on the everyday lives of soldiers and the development of British army as a whole.
3 To expose students to the disciplines of political, social and economic history and their various methodological approaches.
4 Students will learn how to access a range of sources of information and present the results.
5 Students will acquire skills of conceptualisation, reflexivity, critical thought and epistemological awareness.
6 Students will acquire knowledge and understanding of the past and particular aspects of the historiography and methodology, assisting them in other courses.

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 To develop a critical understanding of different historical approaches and degrees of bias as well as of the methodological complexities in the historical record itself.
2 To further develop analytical and reflective skills and the ability to express complex ideas and arguments orally and in writing, skills which can be transferred to other areas of study and employment.
3 To further develop communication, presentation and information technology skills.


  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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