(HIST029) Histories of Empire: Exploring Artefacts in a British Museum

Statue of Queen Victoria
In partnership with the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter.
Royal Albert Memorial Museum


Course start date: To be confirmed
Course end date: To be confimed
Price: £150

Tutor(s): Lynne Thompson and Tony Eccles
Course Code: HIST029
Level: Non-accredited, non-credit bearing
Assessments/Exams: None. Throughout the course you will be given ideas and questions to respond to in the online discussion area. Participation in online discussion is encouraged, but not compulsory. In addition to this, you will be given an optional essay of 1500-2000 words. If you choose to do this assignment you will not receive a mark or grade, but you will receive feedback from the tutor on your work.
Duration: 12 weeks
Estimated Student Study Time: 2 – 3 hours per week are recommended, but time spent is flexible and at your discretion.
Fee: £150.00
Pre-Requisites: None
Delivery: Online Distance Learning
Late Entrants: If this course is not full by the start date then late entrants will be accepted for up to two weeks after the start of the course. As a late entrant you can choose to catch up on the material you have missed or you can skip the missed weeks and concentrate on the material at the point where you join the course, but unfortunately we cannot offer fee reductions or course extensions for late entrants.
Recommended Reading**: A list of suggested books is provided within the course.
Required Reading**: None.

**Please note: All courses are subject to sufficient numbers of students registering before they are confirmed as running. Therefore, after booking your place you are advised not to purchase any texts until you have received confirmation that the course is running.

This course was previously taught by Lynne Thompson and Tony Eccles when it was offered by the University of Exeter*. If you studied it with the University of Exeter* you might not wish to study it again with Learn for Pleasure as although we have revised and updated our courses where necessary, it will likely be substantively the same.


Artefacts from the past have stories they can tell us, about:

  • how, where, when and by whom they were made
  • who discovered them
  • how they were acquired
  • how they were interpreted in the past – and how they are interpreted today
  • how and why they are currently displayed or stored
  • and what issues they present in the modern day

Join us as we explore the history of the British Empire in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Oceania, as told by the ‘voices’ of a variety of objects from those regions.

The course provides a background context of British imperial involvement in each object’s country of origin.

On this course you will also learn about the role of museums:

  • in nation-building and the formation of national identity
  • as repositories of cultures and colonial rule
  • how the buildings and their contents are said by some writers to reflect largely Westernised heritage discourses and cultural attitudes

We will consider how collections and curatorial practice influences how objects should be preserved and conserved, displayed and interpreted.

We will focus on the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter as a stepping off point on an historical and geographic journey that has implications for the way we see the world today. The museum was founded in 1868 during the period of British colonial expansion and so has chronicled in its collections the journey of the rise and decline of the empire.

Syllabus Plan

Week 01: The History of the British Empire: Change and Continuity
Week 02: What Are Museums?
Week 03: The History of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery in Exeter
Week 04: The British Empire in Africa
Week 05: Africa after 1914
Week 06: The British Empire and the Americas
Week 07: The British Empire and Latin America
Week 08: The British Empire in Asia
Week 09: The British Empire in South East Asia
Week 10: The British Empire in Oceania
Week 11: The British Empire in Australasia
Week 12: The End of the British Empire

Learning Outcomes

This course will help you to develop:

  • An awareness of alternative interpretations of the British Empire from the 17th century to the present day, through the medium of museum collections.
  • Understanding of the changing historical concepts and debates regarding the British Empire.
  • Understanding of the changing roles of museums at local and national levels.