Module and Programme Catalogue

Search site

Find information on

2022/23 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

HIST2432 Lost Colonists: Failure and the Family in Southern Africa, 1880-1939

20 creditsClass Size: 28

Module manager: Dr Will Jackson

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

This module charts an intimate social history of colonial failure in Britain and southern Africa during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The module follows the lives of 'ordinary' British migrants whose travails in southern Africa were - in various ways - documented by the state: women abandoned by their husbands, men seeking repatriation back to Britain, children deemed to be in circumstances of hardship or neglect. By reconstructing individuals' life histories the module aims to shed new light on the social, cultural and political context of Britain and South Africa around the turn of the twentieth century. Students are encouraged to work closely with primary sources: throughout the module we try to connect our responses to primary sources with our understanding of relevant secondary literature (primary and secondary sources are all supplied). Students should not only gain a detailed knowledge of southern Africa during this period but should also have been helped to think about the ways in which colonial histories 'from below' can contribute to current debates about Britain and its / 'our' imperial past.


This module is designed to give students the opportunity to think critically and imaginatively about the British Empire. It does this through a social history of failed white settlers who migrated to southern Africa from the British Isles during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The module traces the life histories of human subjects captured in the case records of immigration departments, hospitals and asylums, charities and welfare organisations. The module also uses letters of petition from settlers seeking repatriation 'home' to Britain, letters from people seeking the whereabouts of family members and the case files of known 'undesirables' and prohibited immigrants. These sources, together with relevant historical scholarship, allows students to weave together an intimate social history of colonial migration across the life course, looking in depth at childhood, adolescence, family life and old age. The module's goals are described in more detail under 'learning outcomes'.

Learning outcomes
On completion of this module, students will:

1. Understand the complex history of Britain in southern Africa during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

2. Understand settler colonialism as a particular kind of colonial social formation and recognise the importance of the family as a site of social and political reproduction.

3. Be familiar with recent debates on the British Empire and will have explored the potential for social history approaches to contribute to these debates.

4. Have gained experience of particular kinds of colonial social history, including micro-history, the history of the emotions, and the history of the family.

5. Have considered methodological problems around veracity, interpretation and voice as well as the wider question of how we derive historical significance from historical evidence.

6. Have reflected on their own subjectivity in relation to histories of Britain and its empire.

Skills outcomes
Skills which are specific to the discipline and to the study of colonial South Africa include:

The ability to critically analyse primary sources. These have been gathered from a range of archives in South Africa and the UK during the past five years. They include hospital and welfare case records, letters of petition, police investigations and repatriation and deportation files. Students will confront the immediate challenge of reconstructing reliable narratives from these sources – what happened when and how and why? – before extrapolating wider significance in relation to relevant academic historiography.

Synthesising and evaluating academic historiography. Students are exposed to a series of contrasting interpretations of the social history of Britain and southern Africa during this period. Beside a longer reading list that students can use to explore topics in more depth (supplied), core readings supplied each week help to structure tutorial discussion and give students the analytical architecture needed to frame their understanding.

Communicating critical responses to primary and secondary sources clearly and coherently verbally and in writing. Seminar discussion will require all students to participate in commenting on and thinking through source material together. Students will also be required to prepare weekly notes in response to lectures and their own reading.
Integrating primary and secondary sources. Students are encouraged to respond to secondary sources using primary source evidence – and use secondary sources to help draw insight from primary sources. This is a constant feature of the module but is also structured round the first piece of formal assessment (see below). It gives students valuable experience of using primary and secondary sources together in advance of more independent research focused assessments in year 3.


The module will be taught across a programme of mutually complementary lectures and tutorials. The early part of the module introduces students to recent debates on the history of the British Empire and the challenges involved in writing an intimate social history of British colonial migration to Southern Africa. The module then brings to life the worlds of Britain and Southern Africa during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries - using primary sources relating to individual British settlers alongside relevant secondary literature. The module then focuses in depth on a series of topics that together build a picture of the lived experience of empire 'from below'. These are likely to include (amongst others):

Birth and infancy. Using child welfare records, we examine the politics of social and sexual reproduction, the normative construction of motherhood and the racialisation of childhood.

Distance and estrangement. Using case records pertaining to people seeking the whereabouts of family members, we chart the history of spousal separation, desertion and abandonment.

Criminality and deportation. Using immigration records we see how colonial authorities tried to manage the social, racial and geographical boundaries of the settler colony. Using case records allows students to build a picture of colonial 'undesirables', how they were documented and how they evaded state control.

Failure and the deserving / underserving poor. Using letters of petition, we chart the history of colonial failure and explore how colonial authorities judged the credibility of petitions and the deserving or undeserving status of those who wrote them.

Health and illness. Using records from hospitals and asylums, we examine the lived experience of physical and mental ill health and examine how ideas about race, class and gender permeated the treatment of those judged to be unwell.

Aging and the life course. Using case records relating to aged white settlers, students are enabled to use age as an analytical category for approaching the lived experience of colonial migration.

Across all of these topics, students are encouraged to think about the value of intimacy, the emotions, family history and gender analysis for writing social histories of British colonialism in southern Africa and elsewhere.

Teaching methods

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

Private study

Students attend a lecture every week during which they are directed towards key readings and primary sources (all available through an appropriate online platform such as Minerva or padlet). Students are expected to read all of the compulsory reading supplied each week. Though this will vary week on week, it will be equivalent to two academic essays (journal articles or book chapters) and a selected primary source (a letter sourced from an archive, for example, a sworn statement from a magistrate’s court, a police report, a newspaper editorial). Students are also encouraged to read more if they are able - using the longer reading list - and advice will be available from the tutor throughout the module on further reading.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

The students will have the opportunity to meet with the module tutor to discuss the first piece of work worth 40%

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay3000 word essay due 12 noon Monday of week 1260.00
Source Analysis1 x Primary source analysis of 2000 words due 12 noon on Monday of week 540.00
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: 27/01/2023


Browse Other Catalogues

Errors, omissions, failed links etc should be notified to the Catalogue Team.PROD

© Copyright Leeds 2019