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Module Details

Aims and Objectives

This module is designed to introduce students 1) to the contours of colonial and postcolonial modern South Asian history, 2) to key institutions and experiments in the twentieth-century history of international development as experienced in South Asia, and to introduce students to interdisciplinary critiques of development.


This option is normally available to students in their first and second years. It complements the first year History core module by providing the opportunity for students to study in greater depth the processes by which colonial and postcolonial South Asia mediated its relationship with modernity through a paradigm of 'development'.


In the twentieth century, 'development' –its institutions, practices and ideas—accounted for some of the most ambitious experiments in social engineering that the world has ever witnessed. In this module we will investigate key experiments in development—from attempts to transform farming and end world hunger via the 'Green Revolution' to attempts to transform sex and end world hunger via population control—and ask: To what degree was development in the twentieth century the emancipatory product of a post-war and postcolonial world order, and to what degree was it merely the heir to colonialism?

In the first term, we will focus on the colonial history of development in its iteration as colonial projects of 'improvement' during the latter decades of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. We will investigate the official world of the management and design of colonial projects from London and Calcutta, as well as study key areas of colonial development initiatives including: farming and environmental/resource management, health and medicine, and urban housing. We will conclude mid-century with a look at nationalist critiques of colonial economic development.

In the second term, we will address how formal political independence in South Asia as well as World War Two and decolonisation reformulated the terrain on which development schemes could be imagined and implemented. We will investigate the relationship between international development and Cold War politics, and we will address the formation and transformation of key development institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. We will continue to look at specific development campaigns such as the Green Revolution, mega-dams and population control and ask questions regarding their similarities with their antecedents within colonial development. Additionally, we will investigate Soviet models of development as they played into, and often set, an agenda for international development. Finally, we will investigate how ideas of development informed relationships between late-and post-colonial states and their subjects.

Teaching and Learning Methods

The module will be taught through weekly hour-long lectures, weekly hour-long seminars of 8-16 students, and individual tutorials to discuss and provide feedback on essays. Students are provided with a list of seminar questions in advance (see below) and are expected to participate actively in discussions. Ground rules for participation in seminars will be discussed during the first seminar meeting. From time to time students may be presented with pop quizzes.

Workload and Assessment

First year (and Part-Time Level One) students are assessed on the basis of the best two out of three short (maximum 2000 words, excluding footnotes and bibliography) essays (50%) and one long (maximum 4500 words, excluding footnotes and bibliography) essay (50%). Failure to submit a third short essay will result in a 5 mark deduction from your overall mark for the course.

Second year (and Part-Time Honours-Level) students may choose between a 3-hour, three question exam paper, OR a 2-hour two question paper plus a 4500 word essay.

Sample past paper

Another past paper


Intended Learning Outcomes

The course has five key learning outcomes: 1) The further development of study, writing and communication skills detailed in the Undergraduate Handbook; 2) The opportunity, through the composition of a 4500 word essay, to develop skills of comparative analysis; 3) The development of critical analytical skills through the assessment of competing scholarly approaches to modern South Asian history; 4) An awareness of interdisciplinarity and its uses for the historian; 5) The development of an historical and reflexive perspective to situate contemporary debates about colonialism and international development.