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Race, Sex & Empire: India 1757-1929 - 30 credits (HS1855)

Module Tutor: Dr Padma Anagol Anagol, Feminism in India

Course Description

In recent years historians have made important moves towards integrating the study of Empire within the broader political, cultural and social history of Britain and its ex-colonies. As a consequence, they have treated the study of Britain and India since the eighteenth- to the early half of the twentieth century as an integrated dialogue between the ‘metropole’ or home country and the ‘periphery’ or colony by applying the new categories of historical analyses: race and sex alongside gender and class. Students will engage in a critical and  in-depth study of the history and politics of imperialism in this course. It will also provide multiple perspectives on the changing relationships between the coloniser and the colonised through several themes and topics which include: the nature and function of colonial knowledge of India;  theories of Aryanism, race and masculinity in the legitimation of empire; regulation of sexual behaviour between the Raj and its subjects; the role of the memsahib in the making and unmaking of empire; missions, missionary activity and the nature of Indian conversions to Christianity; the myth of ‘global sisterhood’ examined through the forging of imperial or Victorian feminism; and the attitudes of Indian women to Indian patriarchy and the Raj. Students will hone their historical skills by engaging with a wide variety of source materials drawn from social legislation such as the Contagious Diseases Act to key episodes such as the debates over Sati (widow burning), the Ilbert Bill and Child marriage controversies of the nineteenth century. Both Britons and Indians will figure in the historical analyses from soldiers and prostitutes to European housewives in India.

Credits: 30

Availability of module: Every year

Prerequisites: N/A

Teaching methods

A range of teaching methods will be used in each of the sessions of the course, comprising a combination of lectures, seminar discussion of major issues and documentary workshops for the study of source material. The syllabus is divided into a series of major course themes, then sub-divided into principal topics for the study of each theme.

Lectures and Film Workshops
The aim of the lectures is to provide a brief introduction to a particular topic, establishing the salient features of major course themes, identifying key issues and providing historiographical guidance. The lectures aim to provide a basic framework for understanding and should be thought of as useful starting points for further discussion and individual study. Where appropriate, handouts and other materials may be distributed to reinforce the material discussed. Film workshops are also an integral teaching strategy utilised here to provoke discussion on major themes such as class and race in Imperial Britain.

Seminar and Source Workshops:
The primary aim of the sessions will be to generate debate and discussion amongst course participants, focused in particular on primary source material. Seminars and source workshops for each of the course topics will provide an opportunity for students:
(a) to discuss topics or issues introduced by the lectures,
or (b) to discuss related themes, perhaps not directly addressed by the lectures, but drawing on ideas culled from those lectures.
and (c) to analyse different types of primary materials available, discussing the principal ways in which they can be used by historians.

Seminars and source workshops will provide the student with guidance on how to critically approach the various types of primary source material. Preparation for seminars and workshops will focus on specific items from the sources and related background reading, with students preparing answers to questions provided for each session. Both seminars and source workshops will provide an opportunity to discuss and debate the issues with fellow students. Classes will be divided into smaller groups for discussion purposes, with the results presented as part of an overall class debate at the end of the session.


Students will be assessed by means of a combination of one essay relating to primary sources [20%], an assessed essay [30%] and an examination paper [50%].

Course assignments:

The Assessed Essay relating to primary sources will contribute 20% of the final mark for the module and must be no longer than 1,000 words.

The Assessed Essay will contribute 30% of the final mark for the module. It is designed to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to review evidence, draw appropriate conclusions from it and employ the formal conventions of scholarly presentation. It must be no longer than 2,000 words.

The Examination will take place during the second assessment period [May/June] and will consist of an unseen two hour paper that will contribute the remaining 50% of the final mark for this module. Students must write 2 answers in total.

Summary of course content

Knowing the subcontinent: Colonial Constructions of India
Contextualising Race: Race and the distancing of India
Empire, Health and Sexuality: Military imperatives and morality legislation
Empire, Religion and Conversions
The reproduction of empire: European women in India
Imperialism, Social Legislation and Social Control: Debates on Child Marriage
The colonial state, Hindu tradition and Indian women: Debates on Sati
Imperialism, culture and colonial literature
Indian women on Patriarchy and the Raj: Tarabai Shinde’s ‘Women and Men: A Comparison’

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module a student will be able to:

  • Discuss in an critical and informed manner the impact of imperialism on Britons and Indians in colonial India;
  • Demonstrate an in-depth and critical understanding of a range of perspectives and debates within the secondary literature pertaining to race relations, class factors and gendered ideas of empire;
  • summarise the relative merits and demerits of alternative views and interpretations about Imperial British and gender history of modern India;
  • Construct, sustain and develop arguments about the interactive dialogue between Britain and India during the Age of Imperialism through an appropriate application of  sources and terminology;

Skills that will be practised and developed

Students will extend their ability to:

  • Acquire an ability to discuss in an informed and critical manner the history of the period of colonial contact with India;
  • Express their ideas and assessments of the history of imperialism and defend their position;
  • identify strengths, weaknesses, problems, and or peculiarities of alternative historical or/ and historiographical interpretations both independently and modified form via teamwork;
  • apply a critical approach to the nature of primary sources in the assessment of historical interpretations and methodologies on the history of imperialism;
  • To present accurately, succinctly and lucidly, and in written or oral form their arguments in accordance with appropriate scholarly conventions;
  • Garner effectively time management skills and an ability to independently organise their own study methods and workload.

Suggested book purchases


Suggested preparatory reading

Padma Anagol, The Emergence of Feminism in India, 1850-1920 (Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2006)
Antoinette Burton, Burdens of History: British feminists, Indian women and Imperial Culture (1995)
Thomas R. Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj (1995)
Lata Mani, Contentious Traditions: Debates on Sati (1998)
Jeffrey L. Cox, Imperial Fault Lines: Christianity and Colonial Power in India, 1818-1940 (2002).
Ronald Hyam, Empire and Sexuality (1990)
R O’ Hanlon, (tr.), Comparison between Women and Men: Tarabai Shinde and Critique of Gender Relations in India, (1994)
Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (2000)
Mary Procida, Married to the Empire: Gender, Politics and Imperialism in India, 1883-1947, (2003)
Margaret Strobel, European Women and the Second British Empire, (1997)