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Empires: power, resistance, legacies

Empires have had a remarkable impact on world history over the last five centuries. This module explores empires thematically, looking at their origins, rule, the experiences of imperialists and their subjects, forces of resistance, and imperial decay and legacies. The British empire is covered in detail along with its European counterparts and Asian empires: Ottoman, Mughal, and China. You'll use module textbooks and online teaching material and sources – including personal journals, oral histories, court records, film and photographs – to explore the perspectives of a wide range of people: from rulers and resisters to ordinary subjects.

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Module code




  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.

Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study
3 10 6

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

This module covers three main themes in the history of empires, namely power, resistance, and legacies from the fifteenth century to the present day. In doing this, it helps you to access the voices, perspectives, agency and documents of contrasting groups of subjects and imperialists, so you can understand them on their own terms.

Block 1: What are empires?
This block gives you the frameworks and tools needed to compare and contrast different peoples, places and empires across the centuries. The main themes are outlined, and it shows you the overarching chronology and shape of empires through looking at mapping. You'll also begin to learn about the key concepts, tools and historiography.

Block 2: How do empires begin?
You’ll look at contrasting examples of how empires, and imperial systems of power, begin. You'll also consider ‘the conquest after the conquest’: that is, how imperial power is consolidated. Examples range from British and European maritime expansion to the land empires of the Mughals and Ottomans. In doing this, you'll also look at the role played by African kingdoms in the formation of the ‘Atlantic World’ and at the nature and fate of the ‘Aztec’ empire.

Block 3: How do empires work?
In this block, you'll probe deeper into the ‘sinews of power’ that sustain empire: coercive, economic, cultural and bureaucratic. Three units will each take a distinctive theme, while the fourth brings these and more together in looking at how one empire, the Qing Chinese, operated from its origins to its ending.

Block 4: How are empires experienced?
The focus of this block is on groups and individuals. How did individuals – from imperialist ‘explorers’ and missionaries to First Peoples and the enslaved – experience empire? What methods do we have for recovering the voices of different classes, genders and ethnicities, including the nonliterate? In asking these questions, our exploration of the legacies of empire will be taken further, asking about the impact of empire on different groups and how the experience of empire is inscribed on particular locations.

Block 5: How do empires decline, end and persist?
Earlier blocks will have introduced you to examples of different types of resistance to empire. You'll now be shown how such resistance, combined with metropolitan and international factors, corroded imperial power. This involves looking at the rise of colonial nationalism, for instance, in India and Africa, the impact of global wars, and changing attitudes to power and freedom. A final unit takes this up to present day, by looking at the question of how, how far and in what ways we can talk of the metropolis (the imperial centre, notably in the UK) ‘decolonising’ itself.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • facilitating online discussions between your fellow students in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.


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

Future availability

Empires: power, resistance, legacies starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2034.


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

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on the skills and subject knowledge acquired from studies at OU levels 1 and 2.

Although no particular modules are required before studying this one, we advise that having taken at least one arts and humanities module at OU levels 1 or 2 would be advantageous.

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

Preparatory work

We recommend reading one or more overviews of empire, such as:

  • John Darwin, After Tamerlane (London: Allen Lane, 2007), a very readable and broad-ranging overview of global empire.
  • Krishan Kumar, Empires: A Historical and Political Sociology (Cambridge: Polity, 2021), for a shorter and more sociological approach.
  • Philippa Levine, The British Empire: Sunrise to Sunset (London: Routledge, 2019 or later edition) is good if you want to start with the British empire only and get a mixture of chronology and themes.
  • Ashley Jackson, The British Empire: A Very Short Introduction. is ideal if you don’t have time for a more global or comprehensive work.

Once you have access to the module you'll be able to be watch a 40-minute video lecture by Andrew Thompson on approaches to studying empire.


Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Jun 2025 £3636.00

Registration closes 05/09/24 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2034.

Additional Costs

Study costs

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

If your income is not more than £25,000 or you receive a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

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.

Joint loan applications

If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

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

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. 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 module 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 module.  

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, Mastercard, Visa 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).

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 fee information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2025. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules

This information was provided on 23/04/2024.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of less than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

The module is presented through a blend of printed and online material. You will be provided with two module textbooks and have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module materials and study guide
  • audio and video content
  • assignment details and submission section
  • online tutorial rooms and forums
  • interactive activities.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying A328 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our disability support pages.