Unit 1, Option C: the British Empire: Colonisation and Decolonisation

This Unit focuses on the growth of the British Empire in Africa and its ultimate demise 100 years later.  You will be investigating the importance of economic and cultural factors as well as identity and rights, both in the expansion of and challenges to imperial expansion, consolidation and retreat.

Click here to see your essay assignments for 2014

Syllabus Outline & sample questions

C6: Britain and the Scramble for Africa, c1875-1914

  • Britain’s growing interest in North Africa: acquisition of Suez Canal shares and its significance; the concept of an ‘informal’ empire.

· How far was Britain’s colonisation of North Africa driven by her desire to limit the expansion of other European powers in the region?

· How far was Britain’s invasion of Egypt caused by Disraeli’s acquisition of shares in the Suez Canal in the 1870s?

· To what extent is it true to say that Britain replaced an informal empire with a formal one in the years 1882-1902?

  • Nature and extent of imperial acquisitions in Africa in this period.

· How far was Britain’s acquisition of (North/West/East) Africa primarily driven by (strategic concerns/economic considerations/attitudes within Britain/the actions of “men on the spot”)? (and anything else that you can think of)

  • Conflict in Southern Africa: Reasons for and consequences of the two Boer Wars.

· To what extent was the British government’s interest in Southern Africa caused by (Cecil Rhodes/economic concerns/a desire to exploit raw materials/a fear of increasing German influence in the region)?

· How far was the 2nd Boer War a turning point in Britain’s relationship with Southern Africa?

· To what extent did British greed and arrogance cause the 2nd Boer War?

  • The development of imperial attitudes: British perceptions of the Empire for indigenous peoples; advantages and disadvantages of the Empire for the British in this period.

· How far can Britain’s involvement in the partition of Africa be explained in moral terms?

· How far did the British public support imperial expansion in Africa in the years 1882-1914?

· “Jingoism was a major driving force behind Britain’s expansion into Africa” How far do you agree with this statement?

C7: Retreat from Empire: Decolonisation in Africa, c1957-81

  • Reasons why the British Empire was difficult to sustain: Costs of maintenance; impact of WWII; Britain’s declining influence in world affairs.

· To what extent was the impact of World War the key reason for the dismantling of the British Empire in Africa in the years 1957 to 1965?

· How far were (economic weaknesses/international pressure/the cold war/African nationalism/changing moralities…..etc!) (the decisive/a key/the main) factor in explaining the British withdrawal from Africa in 2nd half of the 20th Century?

  • Reasons for, and nature of, independence movements in Africa in the 1950s and early 1960s: reasons why decolonisation in British colonies in Africa came about so quickly.

· How far did British actions cause the rise in African nationalist movements in the 1950s and early 1960s?

· “The main obstacle to British decolonisation in Africa was the existence of White settlers in Kenya and Southern Rhodesia” How far do you agree?

· To what extent did decolonisation in the British colonies in Africa come about so quickly because of (the actions of the British/ the existence of African nationalism/the Suez crisis/ the role of individual leaders)?

  • Extent to which decolonisation was accompanied by an orderly transmission of power.

· To what extent was the British withdrawal from Africa achieved in an orderly manner?

· “The British were chased out of Africa with their tails between their legs” How far do you agree with this statement?

· “The reality is that they left behind an unstable and dangerous legacy” How far do you agree with this assessment of the British withdrawal from Africa?

  • Attempts at decolonisation in Southern Africa: the cases of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), 1960-81.

· How far do you agree that it was the involvement of South Africa that caused Ian Smith’s government in Southern Rhodesia to survive so long?

· “The British refusal to fully support majority rule in Southern Rhodesia was the reason why Smith’s regime lasted until 1980.” How far do you agree?

And here are the bibliographies as suggested by Edexcel (If I have the book and will be giving you photocopies of the relevant pages, I will put an asterisk * next to the title)

Topic C6: Britain and the Scramble for Africa
* Aldred J —British Imperial and Foreign Policy, 1846-1980 (Heinemann, 2003)
* Chamberlain M E — The Scramble for Africa (Pearson Education Ltd, 1999) This is the book that I used as the basis of my notes
Ferguson N — Empire, How Britain Made the Modern World (Allen Lane 2003)
* Judd D — Empire: The British Imperial Experience, from 1765 to the Present (Fontana, 1997)
Kennedy D — Britain at the Height of Empire, 1880-1945 (Longman, 2002)
* McDonough F — The British Empire, 1815-1914 (Hodder Murray, 1994)
Pakenham T — The Scramble for Africa (W&N, 1991)
Porter A (editor)— The Oxford History of the British Empire: the Nineteenth Century (Oxford
Porter B — The Lion’s Share: Short History of British Imperialism, 1850-1995, Third Edition
(Longman, 1996)
Scott-Baumann M — Years of Expansion, Britain, 1815–1914, Second Edition (Hodder and
Stoughton, 2002)
* Smith S — British Imperialism 1750–1970 (Cambridge, 1998)

Topic C7: Retreat from Empire: Decolonization in Africa c1957-81

* Aldred J — British Imperial and Foreign Policy 1845-1980 (Heinemann Histories 2004)
Brown J M and Louis W R (editors) —The Oxford History of the British Empire: the Twentieth
Century (Oxford, 1999)
Chamberlain M E —Decolonization: Fall of the European Empires (Blackwell, 1985)
Holland R F — European Decolonization, 1918-81 (Palgrave Macmillan, 1985)
Lapping B — End of Empire (St Martins Press, 1985)
* Thorn G — End of Empires, European Decolonisation, 1914–1980 (Hodder Murray, 2001)
* White N — Decolonisation the British Experience since 1945 (Addison Wesley Longman, 1999)
* Murphy D (editor) — Britain 1914–2000 (Collins Educational, 2000)


Guiding Principles of British Foreign policy in 19th Century

Conclusions on the Scramble for Africa This is a vital read. Chamberlain looks at the whole period and tries to see whether there are any common threads or whether the British interests in each part of Africa have to be looked at separately.

An Introduction to the British Empire (Chapter on Africa)  This is a very simple outline of the main events/issues

The Partition of Africa Chapter 3 from Frank McDonough’s excellent The British Empire 1815-1914

The Partition of Africa Chapter 4 in Aldred, the textbook that most of you have got in hard copy.

3 Men on the Spot A brief summary of the roles of Goldie, Peters & Mackinnon.

British foreign and imperial policy 1865-1919 Ch 3. New Imperialism An excellent summary of the factors and historiography.

McDonough Boer War This is essential reading. You cannot expect to do well on a Southern Africa question without having read this.

British foreign and imperial policy 1865-1919 Ch 4. BOER WAR

A New Age of Empire Saul Dubow’s article in the Sussex alumni magazine in which he draws parallels between Britain in Africa at the turn of the 20th century and America in the Middle East at the turn of the 21st century (sorry, it is sideways!)

Chapter from The Rise and Fall of the British Empire Lawrence James’ chapter on East and West Africa

Empire, Politics and Popular Culture Chapter from McDonough

Imperial expansion and National Foreboding (part 1) Excellent contextualisation of the stuff about popular culture, plus an interesting look at gender and empire

Imperial expansion and National Foreboding (Part 2) Part 2…obviously

How Long Before the Sunset Article from History Review (a magazine written for A level students) about attitudes to war and Empire 1870-1914.

The Boer War and British Society Another article from History Review

Click here for a link to download a video on the causes and early campaigns of the Boer War

These videos are from the  Historical Association. They are a couple of minutes each and provide an excellent summary of the issues.

Notes on Egypt & the Sudan

Ferguson Maxim Force Part 1 p.221-243

Notes on West Africa

Notes on East Africa

Extracts from the Berlin Conference

Excellent set of links to sites about the empire

MATERIAL for Decolonisation

ASSIGNED READING 1: Gary Thorn ‘European Decolonisation’ Chapter 3

ASSIGNED READING 2: Empire to Commonwealth I do not believe that you can get an A or a B in this section without having read through and taken notes on this chapter, at least up to p.214 (use the key questions for guidance). 

Suez and moral bankruptcy A useful introduction

Decolonisation in British Africa Absolutely essential reading for an overview of the period

Kenya & the legacy of Empire

End of Empire An interesting review of a TV history of the ‘End of Empire’

Decolonisation in W. Africa

A very British massacre A look at the Hola camp Massacre in the context of British Imperialism as a whole

Rhodesia war for Independence Vital reading on one of the syllabus bullet points

What has the Empire ever done for us A lovely summary of some of the major issues to think about when assessing the British empire.

African Nationalism Not all relevant, but if you take the time you will find some gems that will help you assess the impact of nationalism and the impact of the British in Africa

Notes on the impact of WWII

Decolonisation in Africa student resource An electronic copy of the Edexcel published handouts.

23 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Myriam
    Nov 16, 2009 @ 07:40:30

    hey sir! it’s myriam ..I am freaking out about the exam..do we have to know only unit 1 ? scramble for africa? …I have trouble memorizing dates…do we really have to know all the dates? thnks


    • historyslc
      Nov 16, 2009 @ 08:30:58

      Yes you only have to know unit 1. We haven’t done anything else! As for dates, write out a timeline and try to remember the key dates first (Suez shares, Invasion of Egypt, Conference of Berlin, Boer War, Khaki election and 1906 election!) then try to fit other dates in between. The improtant thing is not the actual date, but the chronology, i.e. what else was happening around the time, what order did stuff happen in, etc


  2. Myriam
    Nov 17, 2009 @ 06:35:45

    For the Boeur wars? We only need to know the 2nd Boeur war in detail ..right?


    • historyslc
      Nov 17, 2009 @ 09:05:28

      Yes, for the BOER wars, you need to know the causes and consequences of the 2nd one in more detail than the 1st, but you still need to know why the first happened (as part of the whole story of Anglo-Boer rivalry).


  3. Taylor
    Oct 30, 2010 @ 09:13:37

    I found it!


  4. 2010 in review « A level History at St.Lawrence College
    Jan 02, 2011 @ 22:26:56

  5. Katy
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 16:52:29

    sir, the second essay question for colonisation, “the acquisition of shares of the Suez canal” does it mean that specifically or does it mean the broader picture, the strategic value of the Suez?


  6. historyslc
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 19:29:36

    Good question. you would have to discuss the wider significance, but you would also have to discuss the actual ownership of the shares. 1. how that led to the canal being a direct economic asset and 2. how it upset the French and helped set off the whole rivalry in West Africa (not the only reason, but certainly a factor).


  7. Josip
    Apr 12, 2011 @ 02:21:15

    To whom it may concern,

    I am resetting my unit 1 history c6 and c7. I found this specification very useful. However do you know where I can find the official edexcel specification and broken down topics online?

    Thank you!


  8. Emily
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 19:29:22

    I am having problems writing essays, the structure more specifically.
    Also, i am revising for the unit 1 test and find it is becoming chaotic.
    Any advice?

    Thank you


  9. Eirini Geleklidis
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 19:53:56

    Hi sir! how does this sound for the Indian feast? http://www.tarladalal.com/Bikaneri-Bhujia-3860r


    • historyslc
      Dec 13, 2012 @ 22:11:35

      Looks very nice. Don’t forget I want information about it as well i.e. where it comes from etc.


  10. Eirini Geleklidis
    Dec 16, 2012 @ 12:18:59

    This is what I’m making for the Indian Feast, i think its gonna be easier to get the ingredients for this one than the other one http://www.indianholiday.com/best-of-india/cuisine/mughlai-paratha.html


  11. Mark Jardine
    Aug 21, 2013 @ 12:09:41

    Hi. I am teaching this course at a school in Qatar (Al Khor International School) These resources are a great help – especially as we have had difficulty getting all the texts. I have summarised some Pakenham ‘Scramble’ chapters to make them more accessible, and drawn up short questions for guided reading. If you would like copies email me: mark.jardine@akis.sch.qa I grew up in Zimbabwe and South Africa and now teach with black and white south african and zimbabwean colleagues so we might be able to add to the insight on southern africa. I have also been to all the relevant battlefields.


  12. jack
    Sep 30, 2014 @ 22:37:26

    what book is the African Nationalism link from


  13. misfit999
    Dec 19, 2015 @ 23:49:01

    Sir, I need help with the histiography of the Suez leading to decolonisation in Africa. I’m really stuck and I’m not sure how to integrate historians views in a sustained and coherent way. That being said, I don’t know how to get straight to the point of the Suez signifance without narrating it.
    It would be nice if I could send you a copy of my paragraph so far. Your help would be really appreciated.


  14. misfit999
    Dec 19, 2015 @ 23:49:31

    Sir, I need help with the histiography of the Suez leading to decolonisation in Africa. I’m really stuck and I’m not sure how to integrate historians views in a sustained and coherent way. That being said, I don’t know how to get straight to the point of the Suez signifance without narrating it.
    It would be nice if I could send you a copy of my paragraph so far over WordPress. Your help would be really appreciated.


    • historyslc
      Dec 20, 2015 @ 00:41:59

      I am flattered that you ask, but I am not allowed to comment on drafts of coursework essays. Sorry. My advice is that you make your arguments as you would an essay which did not include historiography, but that you use the historians’ views to introduce arguments. Remember, a historian’s opinion is just an opinion, that is there to be debated by other historians, but also by you.


  15. Charlotte
    Mar 22, 2016 @ 15:56:38

    I’m retaking my exam and was wondering if you had any powerpoints with the course material on them? Last year I struggled with revision as my notes weren’t very good and I couldn’t find any revision guides. If there’s anything you could recommend it would be greatly appreciated! thank you 🙂


    • historyslc
      Mar 23, 2016 @ 14:22:46

      Everything I have that would be useful to you is uploaded here. There is no revision guide I am afraid, but feel free to use everything here. If you want to send me an essay to look at I will try and find time to give you some feedback.


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