HENK00023U  English, 2013 curriculum - Free topic 13: Life Writing After Empire

Volume 2017/2018

The decolonisation of the British Empire has often been studied through public archives and the papers of political actors. However, studying the end of empire through life writing may offer access to a more intimate level of experience. In this course, we will study how individuals have responded to and articulated decolonisation in their autobiographies and memoirs.

A particular focus will be on memory: how reliable are these sources? What can they tell us about the imperial past and the postcolonial context of writing? How do the memories of individuals relate to the way societies commemorate the empire? What is the moral economy of traumatic memories? We will consider the importance of the context and get a sense of the differing experiences of decolonisation in various parts of the former empire, including the Caribbean, Australia and Southern Africa.

We will investigate the texts as at once literary texts with aesthetic qualities and historical sources that reveal much about their postcolonial time of writing and consider how this literary genre is harnessed to a project of personal and political positioning.

Main reading list

  • Jill Ker Conway, The Road from Coorain (1989)
  • Russel Ward, A Radical Life (1988)
  • Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Solid Bluestone Foundations (1983)
  • Austin Clarke, Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack (1980)
  • Joyce Gladwell, Brown Face, Big Master (1969)
  • George Lamming, The Pleasures of Exile (1960)
  • Alexandra Fuller, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight (2002)
  • Peter Godwin, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun (2007)


Additional readings:

Various extracts and articles – supplied online.

Classes, with particular emphasis on reading primary and secondary texts, oral discussion and developing proficiency in English.
Objectives: To give students a working knowledge of memory theory relating to individual and collective memory and how it may be applied to postcolonial autobiography and memoir; to give students the tools to study life writing as literary as well as historical sources; to familiarise students with decolonisation in several parts of the former British Empire and the individual and collective narratives in its wake; to hone skills in analysis of texts and presentation of academic arguments.

Content: Each session introduces a historical context or theoretical concept and then proceeds to examine a memoir or autobiography through that lens. The areas under scrutiny will be: Australia, the Anglophone Caribbean and Zimbabwe.

Learning: By critical analysis of autobiographies and memoirs (sometimes extracts); by student and tutor presentations of contexts and concepts; by group and class discussions.

Life Writing After Empire will be taught in weeks 44-50, four hours/week.
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Criteria for exam assesment


  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Preparation
  • 176,75
  • Total
  • 204,75