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2019/20 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

HIST2308 Life and Death in British India, 1690-1871

20 creditsClass Size: 28

Module manager: Dr Ria Kapoor

Taught: Semester 1 View Timetable

Year running 2019/20

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

What was life like for Britons living in India under the Raj? The subcontinent represented a site both of financial, social and sexual opportunity, and of physical and 'moral' peril for eighteenth and nineteenth century Britons. Large fortunes, military reputations and political careers could all be made there, but only if you survived the long sea voyage, enervating climate and deadly tropical diseases of the subcontinent. Beginning with the founding of the colonial capital, Calcutta (Kolkata) in 1690, and ending with the inauguration of the period of 'high imperialism' epitomised by the accession of Queen Victoria to the title of Empress in India in 1871, this module explores the emergence, development and functioning of British colonial society in India during the period of imperial expansion and consolidation. It places a particular focus on Britons' everyday encounters with India, and the physical experience of empire - places and spaces, social and sexual intimacies, climate, environment, disease and death - using these issues to investigate how ideas about 'race, place and bodily difference' played out in British India. Drawing heavily on colonial accounts, memoirs, travel narratives and other primary sources, it will analyse both official policy and public perception in order to assess the various ways in which social, ideological and political imperatives of empire were reflected in the spatial ordering, physical experience and personal performances of identity in a colonial setting.


The objectives of this module are:
1. To explore the nature and functioning of British colonial society in India through a focus on the physical experiences of empire.
2. To examine how Britons in India experienced, understood and represented physical and metaphorical spaces, social relationships and sexual intimacies, climactic and environmental conditions, and illness and death in the colonial context.
3. To understand how attitudes to these issues intersected with wider debates about race, gender, empire and identity.

Learning outcomes
On completion of this module, students will demonstrate:
1. An understanding of the physical challenges and experiences of empire in India, and the ways in which colonial society was structured to deal with them.
2. A nuanced appreciation of British experiences of and attitudes to India, especially as they relate to wider issues of race, gender and identity in colonial society.
3. A close critical familiarity with some key primary texts relating to these issues.
4. A sophisticated knowledge of the relevant historiography, including the most recent developments in the field.

Skills outcomes
- in-depth study and interpretation of primary sources
- thorough understanding of historiographical debate
- development and substantiation of own arguments
- historical comparison


1 - Introduction: India and the British Imagination
2 - Sojourners not Settlers: Colonial Society in British India, 1757-1947
3 - 'In the Style of an Asiatic Prince': Encounters on the Colonial Frontier
4 - 'White Town': Sahibs, Memsahibs and the Development of Colonial Society
5 - Wilderness, Wildlife and Weather: Encountering the Indian Environment
6 - A Time of Cholera: Epidemic Diseases and Mortality in British India
7 - No seminar. Lecture replaced with a short film screening and discussion and/or essay clinic.
8 - Dangerous Liaisons: Soldiers, Sex Workers and the Colonial State
9 - Under Siege: Conflict, Captivity and Violence
10 - Conclusion - High Imperialism, Decolonisation, and Raj Nostalgia. No seminar.
11 - Summing up, exam discussion, revision

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours180.00
Total Contact hours20.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Preparatory reading for lectures and seminars
Preparing presentations
Exam revision

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Preparation for and participation in seminars, submission of 10% element, performance in the essay and exam.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay1 x 2,000-word essay, due by 12 noon Monday of teaching week 840.00
PresentationVerbal presentation with accompanying handouts and script10.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)50.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Exam typeExam duration% of formal assessment
Standard exam (closed essays, MCQs etc)2 hr 00 mins50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Exams)50.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 19/09/2019


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