Your feedback is important to us
Please take two minutes at the end of your visit to help us improve our information and services.
Skip to content The Open University

Empire: 1492-1975

On this page

Empires have had a remarkable impact on world history over the last five centuries. The six blocks of this module each focus on a particular question, from ‘What are empires?’ to ‘Why do empires end?’, considering the British Empire in detail before drawing comparisons with others, including those of France, the Netherlands, Russia, China and Spain. You’ll study a wide range of primary sources, including letters and diaries, newspapers, political papers, paintings, photographs and newsreel footage. The module is a natural choice if you have already studied Exploring history: medieval to modern 1400-1900 (A200), and can be included in a range of degree programmes.

Modules at Level 3 assume that you are suitably prepared for study at this level. If you want to take a single module to satisfy your career development needs or pursue particular interests, you don’t need to start at Level 1 but you do need to have adequately prepared yourself for OU study in some other way. Check with our Student Registration & Enquiry Service to make sure that you are sufficiently prepared.

Register for the course


Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£775.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2020.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£775.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2020.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£1625.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2020.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£775.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2020.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£775.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2020.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£1465.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2020.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£2632.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2020.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£2632.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2020.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£775.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2020.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£2632.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

See below for information about part time tuition fee loans available for study towards a qualification.

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2020.

*Fees may vary by country.

What you will study

The development of the modern world has been shaped to an astonishing degree by empires. By the 1930s, for example, colonies and ex-colonies covered around 85 per cent of the land surface of the globe. Empires have precipitated some of the most brutal violence ever recorded, and yet the world as we know it would be unrecognisable without them. After all, English is an official language in countries as far apart as Botswana, India and Jamaica, not because of any intrinsic communicative merit, but rather because it was the language of the largest empire the world has ever known.

In this module, you’ll undertake comparative study of a range of empires. The history and significance of the British Empire is a thread running throughout the module, but you will also encounter the empires of France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, China and Russia. This comparative perspective will enable you to think analytically about what exactly constitutes an empire, and why they have proved such an enduring way of arranging human affairs.

In addition to this geographically comparative approach, the module considers the history of empires over a long period of time – roughly speaking, from Christopher Columbus’ first journey to the Americas in 1492 to the Portuguese withdrawal from its African colonies in the mid-1970s. Although you will not look at this entire period in the same level of detail, this broad time span enables the consideration of a range of fascinating issues – from the role of germs in the European conquest of South America to the armed struggle by which Algerians won independence during the 1950s (which proved to be beneficial for France but a disaster for Algeria).

To enable a valid comparative approach over such a broad geographical and temporal range, the teaching materials are tightly structured around a series of key questions – What are empires? How do empires begin and end? How are empires experienced? How do empires ‘work’? What are their legacies? The module also considers the ‘experience’ of empire and asks: what is (or was) it like living in an empire?

A326 places a lot of emphasis on the use of original primary-source materials. As you study this module, you will be provided with (and guided through) sources as diverse as personal diaries, journals and letters, government papers, newspaper articles, and visual material such as paintings, photographs and newsreel footage. In addition, a module DVD contains original archive footage of twentieth-century events such as the wars of decolonisation in Algeria, colonial exhibitions in Britain and interviews with those experiencing empire in Africa.

Entry

This is a Level 3 module. Level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from previous studies at Levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject.

To study this module you require sound skills in analytical thought and essay writing, and the ability to assimilate and critique a diverse range of source materials. These skills are all taught in Level 2 history modules such as Exploring history: medieval to modern 1400-1900 (A200). There is no requirement for you to have completed Level 2 study prior to taking A326, but it’s highly recommended. 

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.

Preparatory work

There is no prescribed preparatory work. However, you might wish to have a look at some of the popular treatments of the British Empire aimed at a general reader, such as Niall Ferguson’s Empire, or John Darwin’s After Tamerlane: The Global History of Empire. Alternatively, David Day’s Conquest tackles the topic from a narrower, settlement empire perspective. You will find helpful advice on study skills in The Arts Good Study Guide (E. Chambers & A. Northedge, The Open University).

Regulations

As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

If you have a disability

In addition to the teaching and ancillary materials, one of the distinctive features of A326 is the online provision of a wide range of primary source materials (copies of original historical documents). It is intended that these documents will be available in Portable Document Format (PDF), as will any printed study materials. Some PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and musical notation and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. 

Descriptions will be supplied for most images in the teaching units and the visual sources book. However, the module will include the study of a number of maps and, due to their complexity, audio descriptions of these cannot be provided. In addition, some exercises in the module will be based on viewing footage on the module DVD. However, the parts of the module involving viewing maps and the module DVD are sufficiently few to ensure that students who are unable to complete these sections of the teaching materials will still be able to complete the module successfully. Written transcripts of any audio and DVD components will be available.

Other alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future. Our Services for disabled students website has the latest information about availability.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Visit our Services for disabled students website for more information, including:

  • help to determine your study requirements and how to request the support that you need  
  • Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs)
  • using a computer for OU study
  • equipment and other support services that we offer
  • examination arrangements
  • how to contact us for advice and support both before you register and while you are studying.

Study materials

What's included

Module books, other printed material, DVD and audio CD.

You will need

You will need access to DVD and audio CD players (or a computer with DVD and CD drives) at various points during the module.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this course as it includes online activities, which you can access using a web browser.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer since 2007 you should have no problems completing the online activities.
  • If you’ve got a netbook, tablet or other mobile computing device check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you use an Apple Mac you will need OS X 10.6 or later.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information including the details of the support we provide.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material, and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance at any point in the module. There will also be structured tuition (a mix of face-to-face and online tutorials, and face-to-face day schools) that you are encouraged, but not required, to participate in. The location of the day schools and the mix of online/face-to-face tuition may vary according to the distribution of students taking the module. Your nearest regional or national centre can also provide you with both general and specialist help with your studies.

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.

Assessment

The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

Your end-of-module assessment (EMA) must be submitted online.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2014. We expect it to be available once a year.

How to register

To register a place on this course return to the top of the page and use the Click to register button.

Student Reviews

“Great course. Much better than I anticipated. Really enjoyed it. It is a great way to learn about modern problems ...”
Read more
“One of the best OU courses I have had the pleasure of doing. The tutor was extremely helpful and knowledgable. ...”
Read more

Distance learning

The Open University is the world’s leading provider of flexible, high quality distance learning. Unlike other universities we are not campus based. You will study in a flexible way that works for you whether you’re at home, at work or on the move. As an OU student you’ll be supported throughout your studies – your tutor or study adviser will guide and advise you, offer detailed feedback on your assignments, and help with any study issues. Tuition might be in face-to-face groups, via online tutorials, or by phone.

For more information read Distance learning explained.

Are you already an OU student ? Go to StudentHome for information on choosing your next module.
Course facts
About this course:
Course code A326
Credits 60
OU Level 3
SCQF level 10
FHEQ level 6
Course work includes:
6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Your questions

Try our frequently asked questions.

Come and meet us at an event near you.

Or contact an adviser by Email or call +44(0) 845 300 60 90 +44(0) 845 366 60 35

Employers' questions

Contact Corporate Enquiries
Visit our website for employers or Email us

Get a prospectus

Download or
order