Decolonization in History

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreX4

Course team Coordinator: Anil Persaud

Brief course description:

Decolonisation bears a close connection with the national independence of former European colonies. Insofar as decolonisation is understood as a unfinished and ongoing process, that process is associated with the freedom, independence or national movements that culminated in the raising of the flags of national independence. This third year course seeks to pick up the decolonisation story from there. Focused around the themes of reparations, repatriations, indigeneity, and the material and discursive division of the world into developed North and developing South, we will (re)evaluate the relevance of decolonisation from the vantage point of the early decades of the 21st century.

Rationale for the course :

  • Institutional vision: This is envisioned as an interdisciplinary course that is also being designed in a way that leaves room for pedagogical innovation and creativity in the semesters to come. It aims to develop students’ critical faculties, stimulate a historical interest in questions of social justice, foster an awareness of geographical and conceptual inter-linkages.
  • Programme fit: This course contributes to the comparative promise of AUD’s history programme. It also one part of an ongoing goal to highlight, historically, India’s place in an integrated world. As a history course it also aims to expose BA students to some primary source materials such as speeches and other writings of key players and thinkers of the period.
  • Availability of literature and resources: The required materials have been placed for order with the library staff several months in advance.
  • Expertise in AUD: The outline presented here is truly a work in progress; it stands to benefit immensely from contributions (both in class as well as through suggestions) by my colleagues from the several schools. While outside expertise is definitely available, the faculty at AUD are sufficient to fully develop and deliver a course such as this.
  • Benefit to students: This course may be a welcome alternative perspective on the important topic of decolonisation as an unfinished and ongoing process as opposed to a goal that was realised at the independence of the former colony.

Course Objectives: At the end of this course students should:

  • Have a basic understanding of the ongoing relevance of decolonization debates in various part of the globe.
  • Be aware if the connections between decolonization of the past and decolonization of the present.
  • Have an improved sense of geography.
  • Have improved their proficiency with reading and writing scholarly papers and advance their capacity for critical and conceptual thinking

Contents/Reading list: The readings are given in the ‘Note on each module’ section below:

Instructional design: lectures, class discussions, maps, films.

Schedule of course transaction: 4 classroom hours per week.

Note on each module:

Introduction - Decolonisation and its history.

Duara , Prasenjit (ed.). Decolonization: Perspectives from Now and Then. Routledge, 2003

Albert Memmi, Decolonization and the Decolonized. University Of Minnesota Press, 2006.

Achille Mbembe, “Decolonizing Knowledge and the Question of the Archive.” []

Marcus Rediker et al, (eds.), Many Middle Passages: Forced Migration and the Making of the Modern World. University of California Press, 2007. This groundbreaking book presents a global perspective on the history of forced migration over three centuries and illuminates the centrality of these vast movements of people in the making of the modern world. Highly original essays from renowned international scholars trace the history of slaves, indentured servants, transported convicts, bonded soldiers, trafficked women, and coolie and Kanaka labor across the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans.

2) Indigeneity

Andre Beteille, “The Idea of Indigenous People.” Current Anthropology , vol. 39, no. 2, pp. 187-192, 1998. AND the following response, John Brown Childs and Guillermo Delgado, “On the Idea of the Indigenous.” Current Anthropology, Vol. 40, No. 2 (April 1999), pp. 211-212


Adam Kuper, “The Return of the Native.” Current Anthropology Volume 44, Number 3, June 2003, AND the responses.

Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native.” Journal of Genocide Research (2006), 8(4), December, 387–409

Tomson Highway - The Rez Sisters: A Play.

Eve Tuck, K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization is not a metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society, Vol 1, No 1 (2012).

3) Reparations - An idea whose time has come?

Dr Shashi Tharoor MP, “Britain Does Owe Reparations.” []

Jon Miller & Rahul Kumar (eds.), Reparations: Interdisciplinary Inquiries. Oxford University Press (2007). [Reparations is an idea whose time has come. From civilian victims of war in Iraq and South America to descendents of slaves in the US to citizens of colonized nations in Africa and south Asia to indigenous peoples around the world--these groups and their advocates are increasingly arguing for the importance of addressing historical injustices that have long been either ignored or denied. This volume contributes to these debates by focusing the attention of a group of highly distinguished international experts on the ways that reparations claims figure in contemporary political and social justice movements. Four broad types of reparations claims are examined, those involving indigenous peoples, the legacy of slavery in the United States, victims of war and conflict, and colonialism.]

Angela Y. Davis, “The Meaning of Emancipation According to Black Women,” in Women Race & Class. Connects the past plantation to the present prison system in the USA.

David M. Anderson, “Guilty Secrets: Deceit, Denial, and the Discovery of Kenya’s ‘Migrated Archive’” (2015) History Workshop Journal, Issue 80. Focuses on the ongoing lawsuit brought by Kenya’s Mau Mau survivors against the British government for crimes against humanity.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Micere Mugo, “The Trial of Didan Kimathi”: A Play. Waveland Pr Inc, 1976 A powerful and challenging play about the circumstances surrounding the trial of one of the celebrated leaders of the Mau Mau revolution

4) Repatriation - Skulls and Artefacts

Mahmood Mamdani, “A Brief History of Genocide.” Transition, Issue 87 (Volume 10, Number 3), 2001. pp. 26-47

The Organization of African Unity, Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide. The Organization of African Unity initiated this study on the Rwandan genocide. It appointed an independent international panel to investigate the 1994 atrocities; the report was issued on July 7, 2000. The panel found the United Nations Security Council, France and Belgium, and the United States among the main parties responsible for failing to prevent genocide. The first three, short chapters of this report are excellent at historicising this genocide.

George Steinmetz and Julia Hell , “The Visual Archive of Colonialism: Germany and Namibia,” Photo Essay. Public Culture, 18:1, 2006. [This article introduces a fascinating story about the movement for the repatriation of skulls taken by the Germans for scientific study after the “first deliberate genocide of the twentieth century”.]

Moira Simpson, “Museums and restorative justice: heritage, repatriation and cultural education.” Museum International, Volume 61, Issue 1-2, pages 121–129, May 2009

5) Developed North and Developing South - Land Grabbing

Ieuan Griffiths, “The Scramble for Africa: Inherited Political Boundaries.” The Geographical Journal, Vol. 152, No. 2(July 1986), pp. 204-216

Adam Hochschild , King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa. Houghton Mifflin. 1999. (Excerpts).

Hochschild tells this story as a template of modernity, in terms of the great distance between the violence unfolding in the Congo and its instigators in Europe. Hochschild puts this bluntly, without oversimplifying: Leopold “never set foot in the Congo. There is something very modern about that, too, as there is about the bomber pilot in the stratosphere . . . who never hears screams or sees shattered homes or torn flesh.” He also argues, convincingly, that the story of the Congo was “the first major international atrocity scandal in the age of the telegraph and the camera.” The speed at which news could travel and the importance of the reconstituted image would both be crucial to another scandal in a distant part of the world that was relayed to our living rooms 80 years after Leopold’s spectacular land grab.

Ruth Hall, et al, “Resistance, acquiescence or incorporation? An introduction to land grabbing and political reactions ‘from below’.” The Journal of Peasant Studies, 2015
Vol. 42, Nos. 3–4, 467–488. [This article discusses the relevance of political reactions to land grabbing in light of social movements and critical agrarian studies. Future research on reactions ‘from below’ to land grabbing must include greater attention to gender and generational differences in both impacts and political agency. This article is a part of the JPS special issue on modern land grabbing, with various articles focused regional concerns as they relate to land grabbing, where useful examples will be drawn from these articles.]

Eduardo Galeano, The Open Veins of Latin America. Monthly Review, 1971. (Excerpts.)

Eduardo Galeano organises the various facets of Latin American history according to the patterns of five centuries of exploitation. Thus he is concerned with gold and silver, cacao and cotton, rubber and coffee, fruit, hides and wool, petroleum, iron, nickel, manganese, copper, aluminum ore, nitrates, and tin. These are the veins which he traces through the body of the entire continent, up to the Rio Grande and throughout the Caribbean, and all the way to their open ends where they empty into the coffers of wealth in the United States and Europe.

The Price of Sugar is a 2007 Uncommon Productions film directed by Bill Haney about exploitation of Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic involved with production of sugar, and the efforts of Spanish priest Father Christopher Hartley to ameliorate their situation. The documentary shows the poor working conditions in the sugar cane plantations, and political control exerted by the Vicini family to stifle efforts to change the situation. While the documentary highlights the efforts of Father Christopher Hartley to bring medicine, education, and human rights to Haitian workers, it also shows the widespread resentment of his actions held by Dominican people.

Assessment methodology: Class Participation 20%; In-class test 20%; Midterm Essay 30%; Final Exam 30%.