Studies: 19th C Literature

19th-Century Empire

A popular truism in the second half of the nineteenth century was that the sun never set on the British Empire. This phrase emphasized the vast amount of territories held by the British and signaled the far reach of its empire. This larger project was fueled by the slave trade, which wasn’t abolished until 1807, with slavery itself abolished in 1834. For many, the imperial and colonizing missions were part of “The White Man’s Burden,” the belief that the British had a moral responsibility to “civilize” those in what they saw as “uncivilized” spaces such as India, Africa, and the Caribbean. For others, this was an attempt to subjugate other peoples and unfairly take their land and resources. As such, the British Empire is an ideal space for examining the racial politics of the nineteenth century and the larger Western construction of racial identity.

This class will explore in detail how major novelists and thinkers responded to and represented ideologies perpetuated by the British Empire, and how those from the empire responded to such ideologies. We will read a variety of primary texts, from novels to travel narratives, and will discuss larger British and non-British ideas about race, gender, and culture from both Western and Non-Western perspectives. Alongside our primary texts, we’ll read postcolonial theory and secondary sources on our texts. As this is a writing intensive course, you will develop your writing skills through short writings and a longer research project. Students taking this class may be interested in taking it alongside ENG 335, which will examine the British empire in the 20th and 21st century British novel.

Possible Required Texts (please note these texts are not finalized):

Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone

Olive Schreiner, The Story of an African Farm

Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines

Course Reader Available for Purchase: Primary readings may include work by Thomas Macaulay, J.S.Mill, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens, Behramji Malabari, George Salmon, Isabella Bird, Mary Kingsley, Queen Liliuokalani, Alexander Liholiho, Sol Platjee, R.L. Stevenson, Cecil Rhodes and Olive Schreiner. Secondary readings may include work by Edward Said, Ania Loomba, Leela Gandhi, Mary Louise Pratt, Coll Thrush, and V.Y. Mudimbe.

Films to be shown in class:  

Victoria and Abdul (2017)

King Solomon’s Mines (1937)


Short writings (3)

Research Project (including rough draft and presentation)

Protocol (2)

Reading Journal

Attendance and Participation