Help Me Research My Curriculum
May 16, 2008 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone know of concise histories of imperialism and/or colonialism? These will be used for developing a 12th grade history/literature curriculum, so extra credit is available for those who can make a literature connection. Plus, books focusing on India and Africa will be appreciated.
posted by partner to Education (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
a good general survey of the era is Eric Hobsbawm's three volumes (very easy to read and chock full of information: a historical survey). They cover from late 1700's to mid 20th century, basically start of british empire to end of colonialism.
"Age of revolution"
"age of capital"
"age of empire."

by literature, do you mean you want literary works that are set in empire or have empire as their backdrop? Or do you mean literary analysis that critiques such books?
posted by jak68 at 10:37 AM on May 16, 2008

(Oh, he has a fourth volume that brings the story up to 1991: Age of extremes)
posted by jak68 at 10:38 AM on May 16, 2008

Without being pedantic, imperialism predates European imperialism in Africa/ India. You only need to look at the Roman or Ottoman Empire, for example.

For a non-traditional view of the impact of the latter imperialism though I'd recommend Empire by Niall Ferguson. You could use it to encourage students to critically analyze tertiary sources - Ferguson presents imperialism in a less negative context than many writers.
posted by prentiz at 10:54 AM on May 16, 2008

King Leopold's Ghost is one of the most harrowing, involving non-fiction books I've ever read, chronicling Belgium's genocide of 10-20 million Congolese, and it ties in historically with Heart of Darkness. Conrad's accurate accounts of bloodthirsty colonialism are often overlooked in classrooms focused on Freudian undertones and imagery.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:54 AM on May 16, 2008

I recommend two books:
1. Michael Gorra's After Empire: Scott, Naipaul, Rushdie
2. Edward Said's Orientalism
posted by mattbucher at 11:38 AM on May 16, 2008

If you want quick, dirty, and bibliographically useful, "Empire: A Very Short Introduction" is probably a good place to start (also "Postcolonialism: A V. S. Introduction). Nowhere near exhaustive, but concise - good for establishing big picture in two hours or less.
posted by puckish at 12:07 PM on May 16, 2008

This website might be useful for collecting sources.
posted by phunniemee at 1:53 PM on May 16, 2008

The fiction book Things Fall Apart (1958) by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe is an excellent read appropriate for that age group. It deals with colonialism in Africa from the perspective of an African man.

An interesting detail to note: the narrative progressively changes from focusing on a group/tribe of people to being focused specifically on the "main" character's perspective. This mirrors the change from the non-Western ideal of group first/person second to the Western ideal of person first/group second which occurs in the colonized society.
posted by tinatiga at 1:54 PM on May 16, 2008

George Orwell wrote a short essay entitled "Shooting an Elephant" that is considered one of the best accounts of imperialism. It isn't a survey of the period, but a reflection on imperialism based on Orwell's time as a British policeman in India. It should make an excellent literary supplement for other history survey books.

Plus 12th graders will enjoy it because it's short, witty, involves an elephant, and superbly written.
posted by boubelium at 3:59 PM on May 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Cracking India is a great novel about the partition of India and Pakistan in the wake of colonialism, from the perspective of a little girl in Lahore. It could be a good book to wrap up the course, by showing the lasting effects of colonialism that still exist today.

(Things Fall Apart is hard to read, because the narrator comes across as kind of an asshole. No one in my tenth grade English class really enjoyed it.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:24 AM on May 17, 2008

Sven Lindqvist's Exterminate All the Brutes is an extraordinary (and very readable) deconstruction of Conrad's Heart of Darkness and, by extension, of the entire idea of "bringing civilization to the savages" - part travelogue, part history, part journalistic investigation. I think 12th graders will find it pretty accessible.

I'm assuming you've prepped them for the horrors they will face...
posted by jammy at 9:52 AM on May 17, 2008

If I were to do a crash self-read course on colonialism, I would avoid polemical single author volumes (that is, those seeking to promote a particular interpretation - they are important for debates in the field, but can be both misleading and confusing for someone just coming into it), and look for books which are more trying to be summarising recent research (which will still likely have a thesis or interpretation, but not be as polemical) or collections of chapters by different historians each writing in their own specialities - like the Oxford History of the British Empire. Obviously, those volumes are only the British Empire (and you really can't generalise from the Brits to anyone else; like unhappy families, each colony was "unhappy in its own way") -- but a university library may have similar series or single books which cover colonialism in general. (I know there are various "Cambridge History of" series which also follow the chapter collection format; don't know the title of any general imperialism/colonialism one, if it's been done.)

For Africa, there is an excellent book called African Perspectives on Colonialism, which covers the basic history from an African centred perspective. We've been using it as supplementary reading in the African history class I've been TAing.

We've also been using some literature - Things Fall Apart as mentioned above, but also Sembene's God's Bits of Wood (about the railroad strike in Senegal and Mali in 1947 - but if you set it as a reading there is also an article which explains how it messes with the history), Ngugi's A Grain of Wheat (about Kenya's Mau Mau crisis), and Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (which covers gender and race relations in independent but white ruled Rhodesia, later Zimbabwe). The main character of Things Fall Apart isn't very likable, but the style is very engaging and readable - I liked it best, along with A Grain of Wheat (which is more complex in plot, etc). It apparently was written as an answer back against novels like Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
posted by jb at 8:10 PM on May 19, 2008

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