Skip to main content


FRE2014 : How to Build an Empire (Inactive)

  • Inactive for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Elizabeth Marcus
  • Owning School: Modern Languages
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


- To provide students with a broad knowledge of the varied and long history of French imperialism.
- To introduce students to the vast array of texts -political, cultural, scientific, legal, and economic - that both help narrativize and gave intellectual ballast to the project of building an empire.
- To provide students with an understanding of the historical and contemporary stakes of conversations around nation and citizenship, changing discourses of race, the role of religion in the nation-state, and postcolonialism.

Outline Of Syllabus

How to Build an Empire will look at the many ways the French empire built itself as one of the world’s foremost imperial powers. We will travel to North Africa, South East Asia, the Caribbean, the Middle East and West Africa, to understand the specificity of the French Empire vis-à-vis the history of other European empires. What different methods were used to conquer people across the non-European worlds? What is the difference between a settler colony, a protectorate and a mandate? What did the French consider a “successful” empire and what attempts were made to undermine or resist it, and how might we judge their successes or failures?

We will use primary and secondary source materials, and will draw from political, literary, archival, philosophical, anthropological texts, and use a range of visual sources like photography, film, maps/plans, to look at the key notions and concepts debated in the imperial history of France and the francophone world. Readings bear on the nature of nation and citizenship, the tension between republic and empire, the dynamics of universalism and particularism, changing discourses of race, the role of religion in the nation-state, and the stakes of postcolonialism today.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials90:456:45Recorded lecture videos per teaching week for students to listen and respond to before PIP class
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion341:0034:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical12:052:05Film Screening
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching91:3013:3016: 30 hours of PIP seminars
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities220:4014:40Key reading tasks with questions to prepare each week.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops21:002:00Assignment workshop (online)
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery41:004:004 hours of drop in surgery offered both PIP and on Zoom. 2 hours in person, and 2 hours online
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1001:00100:00Free reading on topic with peers. Student-led discussion. Other independent research and study
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study221:0022:00Guided independent study themed to the week’s lecture and seminar topic.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesModule talk11:001:00Introductory recorded module talk. Activity: Familiarise yourself with the module.
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

This module will run for 11 weeks, and will consist of a 1.30 minute seminar, one 45 minute weekly lecture, 2 workshops and 1 film screening.

-Lectures (in the form of video recordings) will provide the essential historical context and introduce students to the context of the texts they will read for that week’s seminar. Evaluation from last year showed that a majority of students appreciated the online elements as part of the module contact hours. This mode of teaching showed to be very effective as it allowed students to reflect in their own time, and students can replay the recording. The lectures contain a lot of material and the students will need to review It before their final assessment.
-Lecture materials will model engagement with different materials and the application of historical and theoretical knowledge to the study of the period at hand. The seminar is based on the systematic study of primary sources (archival, legal, literary, visual, etc) prepared in advance and will involve student-led discussions in order to enhance team-working, presentational and interpretative skills. In seminars, students will analyse the materials in detail, working through the issues raised by the lectures with support and added clarifications or examples where needed. Some weeks, students will lead the discussion of a small section of the primary reading materials. This is not a presentation, per se, but rather an invitation to think critically about the text and to ask questions of it (how it was prepared, the context, the structure, what its motivating questions are, etc) and to invite their classmates into discussion. Seminars might consist of small group breakouts where students can road test ideas before sharing them.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written exercise2M40Source analysis
Design/Creative proj2M60Group project: digital gallery (see below for details)
Formative Assessments

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

Description Semester When Set Comment
Reflective log2MWeekly Reflection Questions/Perusal Annotations
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Digital Gallery (60%)
For this class, we will be building our own museum about French imperialism. This assignment is broken into two parts: collecting items and designing an exhibit. This project has three goals: First, to do the work that historians do of finding, describing, and analysing historical items. Second, to create a collaborative educational resource from your research. And third, for us to reflect on the close history between imperialism and museum collecting. We will work with Omeka - it’s amazingly easy to use, so no digital humanities/CS experience is required. For most of our course weeks, we will be working on collecting items for the gallery. Students will find objects they think might be interesting to the history of French imperialism. These objects might be texts, posters, artworks, sculptures, films, advertisements, material culture. Since this is for a gallery space, students will add short, powerful descriptions and basic information about the object’s creation (1-2 paragraphs in French). During the semester, I will prompt students to think about shaping these items into specific exhibitions within the museum via a topic, theme, or type of source that seems interesting and historically important. What do we learn by grouping these items together? What perspective do they give us on the history of French imperialism? What aspects of history do these items leave out or whose voices do they suppress? Students will write a 700-1000 word description that will act as the written text, introducing the exhibition, which will address the idea behind the exhibit. This assessment will be given a group mark for the overall work, and an individual mark for the sections written and conceived alone.

Source Analysis (40%)
In addition, there will be an assessment which entails annotations of one of the weekly sources using online platform hypothesis. Students will be expected to write a source analysis (1000 words) of one the sources covered in class but, ideally, a source chosen with my guidance. The weekly writing will have prepared students for this work. This exercise is to develop students’ research skills, and a close reading of one source in the context of the secondary material read in this course. The idea is to encourage focused engagement and critical reading and argument skills.

Weekly Reflection Questions/Hypothesis/Annotations
Formative assessment will take the form of the submission of weekly 150-200 word responses.
Sometimes this writing is a matter of routine—a time to settle the mind, a much-needed moment of individual focus in students’ socially and intellectually saturated lives, a time to develop a close relationship with a detail in the text. Often it goes further: students are taken aback not only by how much they have to say about a few lines, but also by how much their thinking changes as they write, beginning with impressionistic evaluation and ending with an excursus on a single word. In addition to habituating writing as a mode of thinking—something I ask classes of all sizes to do when a tricky question or passage comes up—this practice also challenges each person to find meaning in the text on the basis of its language in odd or oblique ways, rather than trying to speak collectively toward consensus or a “main idea.” Weekly writing frequently can demystify the process of writing and it can also create an enormously inspiring archive of nuanced paper topics.

Reading Lists