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Imperialism and Postcolonialism

Course Overview

In this course students will explore imperialism, colonialism, and decolonization, interlinked historical processes that have profoundly shaped the world they live in today. While the  course covers a broad swath of time—the late fifteenth century to the present—we will  focus especially on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as we look at how modern empires were created, negotiated, contested, and formally dismantled. Some of our core themes include the continuities and discontinuities of imperial systems over time; the layers of economic, military, and political power that facilitated imperial expansion; the varied forms of colonial control and anti-colonial resistance; the role of culture and ideas in interactions between colonizer and colonized; and the transformation of the world order into a system of nation states. As we examine our themes in a global context, we will also pay particular attention to how indigenous and local peoples experienced and responded to colonial rule. Given the range and diversity of these experiences, we will take a case study approach, drawing on examples from regions such as Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. In the final unit of the course, we will use the lens of postcolonial studies to consider the legacies of imperialism and colonialism, as well as the ongoing struggles of decolonization, in our contemporary global society. As an advanced high school history course, this class is structured around the goals of not only helping students deepen their critical and historical thinking skills, historical knowledge, and civic engagement, but also preparing them for the types of requirements and assignments they might encounter in undergraduate history courses.

Course Content

Unit 1: Emerging Imperial Systems and Colonial Societies, 1480–1880

The first unit in this course introduces students to some of the major terminology that they will be using throughout the year. They will work to define terms such as empireimperialism, and colonialism, and they will be reminded that as they develop the skills of historical inquiry, interpretation, and production, they will also need to incorporate concepts such as multiperspectivitymultivocality, and complexity. Students will also refresh their understanding of primary, secondary, and tertiary historical sources. Along with creating working definitions and setting norms and expectations for the course, the first unit will introduce students to the major Eurasian empires of the early modern period. Students will explore early encounters between the European empires and the Iberian empires in the Americas and discuss the consequences of the Columbian Exchange. They will also study mercantilism in the New World and the interplay between the importance of sugar and the rise of the slave trade. The students will discuss the concept of race and how it was utilized throughout the early colonial period in the Americas. Along with an exploration of empires in the New World, students will also investigate the challenges of the Mughal, Qing, Russian, and Ottoman empires. They will briefly study the Opium Wars and the impact of industrialization on imperialism. The unit will end with students creating connections between the imperial struggles of the Seven Years’ War and the outcome of the American and Haitian Revolutions and the rebellions in Spanish Latin America. Students will work through the content of this unit through asynchronous work that will be available on the learning management system, and via twice weekly live sessions hosted on videoconferencing software. The students will become familiar with the expectations for their weekly discussion boards and will be introduced to the concept of using maps as historical sources, a skill they will return to frequently throughout the course.

Unit 2: Era of the New Imperialism, 1870–1920

The second unit of the school year focuses on “New Imperialism” and the intensifying global contest for empire. Students will examine the acceleration of imperial expansion, starting in the last third of the nineteenth century in Africa, Asia, North America, and the Pacific regions. Some factor spurring this expansion will be explored, including: new technologies and medicines; continued industrialization and growing search for raw materials and markets; extraction of new mineral sources; solidifying of racist ideologies of superiority/inferiority and use of science/technology to justify rhetoric of “civilization”/“civilizing” mission. Students will also look the responses to colonialism and various methods of resistance enacted by local populations. Specific points of interest in this unit include the Berlin Conference and the scramble for Africa, the role of women in British imperialism, and the Dutch Missionary Society’s presence in Sumatra. The students will also be introduced to scholarly journal articles during this unit, including their purpose, structure, and elements. Since students may not have previously read an academic publications of this  kind, they will receive scaffolding as they deconstruct articles and examine the rhetoric of academia. Finally, students will prepare for the semester final exam, which will ask them to synthesize the course material they have worked with thus far.

Unit 3: War and Decolonization, 1914–1975

During the third unit, students will explore the ways that imperialism and global conflict intersect. Focusing largely on the world wars of the 20th century, students will study shifting territorial boundaries, discuss the rise of nationalism, and track the aftermath of large-scale global conflict. In particular, students will examine the interactions of the major world empires and will compare and contrast the holocaust, the Japanese war atrocities in Nanjing, and the Armenian genocide in Turkey. Students will make heavy use of maps and photographs, thus developing their ability to analyze visual resources. After a close study of World War I and World War II, students will explore the aftermath of these conflicts, zeroing in on the structuring of Africa, the partitioning of India, and the Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya. The unit ends with an exploration of the Cold War. Students will discuss whether it can be described as an era of imperialism and will debate whether cultural hegemony can function as a form of colonialism. During the live sessions, which will continue to take place twice weekly on videoconferencing software, the students will discuss the texts; collaborate on map, song, and photograph analyses; and engage in research on the topics at hand. The students will also start working on a larger research project, which will serve as the final for this course.

Unit 4: A Post-Colonial World?

The final unit of the school year focuses on the concept of Postcolonialism and asks students to consider whether there can truly be an end to empires. Students will work to define postcolonialism through readings, discussions, and debates. Students will be both looking back to the historical items they studied in previous units, and will examine the ways that Postcolonialism is felt by nations and discussed in modern media and journalism. Literature will be used extensively in this unit, with students reading and studying the novel Lost Names by Richard Kim, along with the short stories of Chinua Achebe and Leslie Marmon Silko. Students will also examine historical narratives and will analyze the way the world remembers empires, especially British, Dutch, and Italian empires. Along with literature, students will continue their study of film with Maya Newell’s 2019 In my Blood it Runs. Students will participate in warm-ups, reflections, and discussion boards throughout the week on the learning management system before taking their ideas to their twice weekly live sessions, hosted on videoconferencing software. The final for this course will consist of a research project that the students have been slowly working on all semester. They will compile and annotated bibliography on an issue related to imperialism or postcolonialism, will synthesize that information in an effective way, and will create an informative and persuasive presentation for their classmates. Finally, the students will complete a reflection of the course and will write letters to future students, describing their experiences and offering recommendations.