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2019/20 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

HIST3738 The Hungry Empire: Indian Commodities That Built Britain's Global Empire, c.1750s-1930

20 creditsClass Size: 14

Module manager: Dr Devyani Gupta

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2019/20

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

Western imperialism was propelled by Europe’s seemingly insatiable hunger for natural produce from the colonies. The role of commodities such as sugar, cotton, tea and opium, to name a few, has been recognised as central to any historical discussions on trade and conquest in the colonial world. This module seeks to go beyond these traditional areas of enquiry and investigate the role of commodities in shaping the global political economy of the British Empire, through its engagement, monopolisation, exploitation and politicisation of agrarian produce of the Indian subcontinent. These commodities, which were exchanged across large parts of the world from at least the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, transformed the ideology of not just imperialism, but also shaped the political, economic and especially, the social organisation of distinct parts of the Empire such as South Asia, at a time when modes of communication were maturing rapidly in a fast-globalising world. Through an analysis of the local context of goods which had a transnational flow, this module will explore the local context of modern India vis-à-vis the expanding scope of global history of the Empire.


1. To examine the conquest and consolidation of colonial rule in India through the prism of extraction of natural commodities.
2. To explore the creation of a global political economy of extraction by the British State, which was founded upon the excessively exploitative agrarian and technological regime inaugurated within the Indian subcontinent.
3. To identify the ramifications of colonial intervention not just on political and economic life, but also on social organisation in the colonial world.
4. To unearth junctures of resistance, subversion and appropriation, that might have weakened the completeness of British control over India’s fortunes.
5. To critically analyse a range of primary and secondary sources, both written and visual, relating to these issues, and to formulate sophisticated and nuanced arguments in written and verbal form.
6. To further develop generic, transferable and subject specific skills.

Learning outcomes
1. Identify long-term economic trends and the role of trade and commodities in shaping histories of imperialism and global history.
2. Understand the local, regional as well as transnational impact of commodity exchange, and its effect on the Indian subcontinent.
3. Gain an understanding of the continued role of commodities in shaping not only geopolitics, but also the socio-economic impetus behind everyday culture in the colonised world(s).
4. Develop critical familiarity with some key primary texts relating to these issues and a sophisticated knowledge of the relevant historiography.
5. The ability to communicate complex ideas through oral & written communication, honed through independent research & study skills.
6. The ability to locate, comprehend and contextualise large amounts of information, and to develop the ability to critically analyse historical and contemporary developments.


The module will explore social, economic, and political issues relating to a range of colonial commodities, through a weekly focus on specific products and the questions they raise. These may include: Pepper/ Spices, Indigo, Tea, Opium, Saltpetre, Quinine, Sugar, Jute, and Cotton.

Teaching methods

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours178.00
Total Contact hours22.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

1. Preparatory reading for seminars
2. Preparing presentations
3. Essay

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Preparation for and participation in weekly seminars; assigned assessed presentations; one 3500-word essay.

Methods of assessment

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay1x 3500-word essay due by 12 noon Monday week 1170.00
PresentationVerbal presentation combined with poster presentation, to take place as directed by tutor30.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

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: 30/04/2019


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