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Empire: 1492-1975

Empires have had a remarkable impact on world history over the last five centuries. The six blocks of this module each focus on a particular question, from ‘What are empires?’ to ‘Why do empires end?’, considering the British Empire in detail before drawing comparisons with others, including those of France, the Netherlands, Russia, China and Spain. You’ll study a wide range of primary sources, including letters and diaries, newspapers, political papers, paintings, photographs and newsreel footage. The module is a natural choice if you have already studied Exploring history: medieval to modern 1400-1900 (A200), and can be included in a range of degree programmes.

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Module code
Study level
3 10 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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A good course and certainly one that broadened my understanding of empires and not just the British. There is a...
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What you will study

The development of the modern world has been shaped to an astonishing degree by empires. By the 1930s, for example, colonies and ex-colonies covered around 85 per cent of the land surface of the globe. Empires have precipitated some of the most brutal violence ever recorded, and yet the world as we know it would be unrecognisable without them. After all, English is an official language in countries as far apart as Botswana, India and Jamaica, not because of any intrinsic communicative merit, but rather because it was the language of the largest empire the world has ever known.

In this module, you’ll undertake comparative study of a range of empires. The history and significance of the British Empire is a thread running throughout the module, but you will also encounter the empires of France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, China and Russia. This comparative perspective will enable you to think analytically about what exactly constitutes an empire, and why they have proved such an enduring way of arranging human affairs.

In addition to this geographically comparative approach, the module considers the history of empires over a long period of time – roughly speaking, from Christopher Columbus’ first journey to the Americas in 1492 to the Portuguese withdrawal from its African colonies in the mid-1970s. Although you will not look at this entire period in the same level of detail, this broad time span enables the consideration of a range of fascinating issues – from the role of germs in the European conquest of South America to the armed struggle by which Algerians won independence during the 1950s (which proved to be beneficial for France but a disaster for Algeria).

To enable a valid comparative approach over such a broad geographical and temporal range, the teaching materials are tightly structured around a series of key questions – What are empires? How do empires begin and end? How are empires experienced? How do empires ‘work’? What are their legacies? The module also considers the ‘experience’ of empire and asks: what is (or was) it like living in an empire?

A326 places a lot of emphasis on the use of original primary-source materials. As you study this module, you will be provided with (and guided through) sources as diverse as personal diaries, journals and letters, government papers, newspaper articles, and visual material such as paintings, photographs and newsreel footage. In addition, a module DVD contains original archive footage of twentieth-century events such as the wars of decolonisation in Algeria, colonial exhibitions in Britain and interviews with those experiencing empire in Africa.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material, and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance at any point in the module. There will also be structured tuition (a mix of face-to-face and online tutorials, and face-to-face day schools) that you are encouraged, but not required, to participate in. The location of the day schools and the mix of online/face-to-face tuition may vary according to the distribution of students taking the module. Your nearest regional or national centre can also provide you with both general and specialist help with your studies.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

Your end-of-module assessment (EMA) must be submitted online.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2015. We expect it to be available once a year.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from previous studies at OU levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject.

To study this module you require sound skills in analytical thought and essay writing, and the ability to assimilate and critique a diverse range of source materials. These skills are all taught in OU level 2 history modules such as Exploring history: medieval to modern 1400–1900 (A200). There is no requirement for you to have completed OU level 2 study prior to taking A326, but it’s highly recommended. 

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

There is no prescribed preparatory work. However, you might wish to have a look at some of the popular treatments of the British Empire aimed at a general reader, such as Niall Ferguson’s Empire, or John Darwin’s After Tamerlane: The Global History of Empire. Alternatively, David Day’s Conquest tackles the topic from a narrower, settlement empire perspective. You will find helpful advice on study skills in The Arts Good Study Guide (E. Chambers & A. Northedge, The Open University).


Start End England fee Register
03 Oct 2015 Jun 2016 £2700.00

Registration closes 10/09/15 (places subject to availability)


You may need to apply for some payment or funding options earlier. Please check the Fees and Funding information or contact us for information.

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2020.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

If you're on a low income you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after you register.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or book a call back at a time that is convenient to you.

Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2016. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

This information was provided on 29/07/2015.

What's included

Module books, other printed material, DVD and audio CD.

You will need

You will need access to DVD and audio CD players (or a computer with DVD and CD drives) at various points during the module.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as the study materials and activities are accessible via a web browser. Any other computer-based activities you will need to carry out, such as word processing, using spreadsheets, taking part in online forums, and submitting files to the university for assessment, are specified in the module materials. If any additional software is needed for these tasks it will either be provided or is freely available.

We recommend either of the following:

  • Windows desktop or laptop computer running Windows 7 or later operating system
  • Macintosh desktop or laptop computer running OS X 10.7 or later operating system.

A netbook, tablet, smartphone or Linux computer that supports one of the browsers listed below may be suitable. The screen size should be at least 1024 (H) x 768 (W) pixels. If you intend to use one of these devices please ensure you have access to a suitable desktop or laptop computer in case you are unable to carry out all the module activities on your mobile device.

We recommend a minimum 1 Mbps internet connection and any of the following browsers:

  • Internet Explorer 9 and above
  • Apple Safari 7 and above
  • Google Chrome 31 and above
  • Mozilla Firefox 31 and above.

Note: using the latest version for your browser will maximise security when accessing the internet. Using company or library computers may prevent you accessing some internet materials or installing additional software.

See our Skills for OU study website for further information about computing skills for study and educational deals for buying Microsoft Office software.

If you have a disability

In addition to the teaching and ancillary materials, one of the distinctive features of A326 is the online provision of a wide range of primary source materials (copies of original historical documents). It is intended that these documents will be available in Portable Document Format (PDF), as will any printed study materials. Some PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and musical notation and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. 

Descriptions will be supplied for most images in the teaching units and the visual sources book. However, the module will include the study of a number of maps and, due to their complexity, audio descriptions of these cannot be provided. In addition, some exercises in the module will be based on viewing footage on the module DVD. However, the parts of the module involving viewing maps and the module DVD are sufficiently few to ensure that students who are unable to complete these sections of the teaching materials will still be able to complete the module successfully. Written transcripts of any audio and DVD components will be available and other alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.