MSt Global and Imperial History since 1400

The MSt in Global and Imperial History offers a nine month introduction to graduate research. It is open to all students who have the desire to explore the history of the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, East Asia, Australasia or the Americas (excluding the US) in a global perspective.

The course will encourage you to develop intellectual and practical familiarity with advanced research in the global history of the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, East Asia, Australasia and the Americas (excluding the US). Global and imperial history in this context implies transoceanic and transcontinental connections, comparisons, and exchanges between cultures, polities and societies. It also examines broad patterns and systems in history, whether religious, political, economic, cultural or ecological.

Global history, in other words, is history with a global scope (often including European dimensions) that emphasises comparative perspectives. You are not expected to master the histories of multiple regions, but to use a global approach to cast light on your own research area.

Please note that pre-modern study of Asia and the Middle East is covered by the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.

Course Organisation

This programme consists of:

Historical methodology class

Option Paper

It is complemented by the following tutorial streams for further in-depth study (please note that not every tutorial stream will be available each year, and that they are subject to change):


This option offers a continent-wide survey of decolonization in the second half of the twentieth century. In the wake of the Second World War the European Empires came to an abrupt end. Colonized peoples took advantage of metropolitan weakness to throw off colonial oppression. When last-ditch attempts to fall back on military suppression and economic development became costly and embarrassing they were sooner or later eclipsed by a policy of scuttle and within a decade the sun had all but set on Europe’s long age of empire in Africa. But the rapid spectacle of formal ‘flag decolonization’ belay the complexities of political, social, economic and cultural disentanglement. While the legacy of the colonial past continued to shape the post-colonial era, newly-independent nations found that they were vulnerable to ongoing influence from colonial metropoles and the new  Cold War superpowers. In areas of significant white settlement, particularly in southern Africa, meaningful decolonization remained a distant dream for many Africans. Across the continent politicians promised structural change but more commonly entrenched continuity.

This course considers the causes, process and impact of decolonization in Africa by considering a series of themes over the period 1956-1994: anti-colonial nationalist movements, late colonial wars and development, ethnicity and race, migration, the global Cold War, ‘neo-colonial’ economic and political influence, and culture and postcolonialism. Particular attention will be given to the interaction between local, regional and global dynamics.


This course is structured around two key questions: what can the study of global history bring to our understanding of the Middle Ages, and what can the study of medieval history bring to the evolving field of global history? Those taking the paper will be able to enhance their understanding of medieval history by thinking more about the history and culture of regions beyond Europe during medieval centuries, about parallels and contrasts between the approaches and evidence bases used by scholars of extra-European and European history in the centuries between 500 and 1500, and about the most productive ways to conceptualise that thousand-year period in global terms. 


The ‘globalization’ of history has been the most visible and significant development in historical scholarship of the past decade or so. Historians are increasingly aware of the need to place their work in a context that spills over national, regional, or civilizational boundaries.

Some of the most exciting work in global history has revolved around the question as to whether we can speak of an ‘early modern period’ for societies outside of the West. Were whole stretches of the world already on the march towards ‘modernity’ before the rise of European world domination? This course will introduce the two principal methodologies involved in doing this new large-scale history: the connective and the comparative. It will be taught through a series of seminars which will be led by a different guest expert in a non-European region or global theme each week together with the regular course leaders.

Why was it Europeans who began to use the seas and oceans to extend the reach of their trade, religion and military force across the world? How far is it helpful to see other regions of the world such as India and China through the lens of modernity? What allowed the rise of vast new empires across Eurasia and the Americas – and what did such empires have in common? What happens to the Portuguese church when you try to build it in the tropics? And why was it so common for Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist communities to become gripped by the sense that the end of the world was coming?

This course explores the role of disease and medicine in the development of empires, focused on the Americas. It begins with first contact between the Old World and the New and ends with American intervention in Latin America, allowing a long-term examination of early modern empires. It also delineates and probes the role of medicine and science in conceptual definitions of ‘the Americas’. The course provides a comparative overview of colonial experience and practice, examining the empires of Spain, France, and England/Britain. Medicine and other responses to disease are used to elucidate political and social structures of imperialism and examine the effect of the ‘New World’ on European thought and practice. Readings begin with the Columbian exchange, looking at the obstacles and opportunities that disease presented in the so-called New World. The readings also consider disease and medicine in the shaping of the Atlantic slave trade, as well as in the diversity of theories regarding race in Spanish America, the Caribbean, and the United States.


This course examines some of the major features of Empires in Global History, among them: the geopolitical context of empire-building; the emergence of imperial ideologies and the anti-imperial ideas, the economic development and/or exploitation of colonial regions and subjects; systems of colonial rule and collaboration; the role of migration and settlement; the importance of indigenous resistance and racial domination; the impact of world war and depression; the growth of anti-colonial nationalisms; the dynamics of decolonization and impact of postcolonial migrations; and “empire and empire” – namely, the many and varied legacies of empire as now manifested in our contemporary world.

The themes are studied in particular contexts. The course embraces both the ‘formal’ empire (coloured red or green on the map) and the informal zones where imperial influence predominated. It includes ‘settlement colonies’, colonies of rule in Asia, Africa the Pacific, and the Middle East, and empires ruled over by Asian and African peoples.

There is considerable freedom to select themes, topics and regions of particular interest. The main requirement is to gain a breadth of perspective by studying the experience of empire in particular contexts and the course of their change over time.


Venice and Istanbul are two of the most iconic cities of the early modern age. Traditionally regarded as irreconcilable opposites locked in mortal combat, they were in fact connected by all forms of contacts and, in all their differences, they also shared common challenges and surprisingly similar cultural characteristics. Using the methodology of connected and comparative history, this MA option has a double purpose. One is to build knowledge and research skills on specific themes in the early modern history of Istanbul and Venice. The other is to stimulate reflection on some of the most innovative research in urban cultural history by studying these two capitals cities. For this reason the module is built to explore themes and topics comparatively in both cities and each time to also draw on seminal works in cultural history and theory.



This Option Paper is designed to explore the global empires of Spain and Portugal in the early modern period through methodological issues raised by their archives. It focuses on the entangled interactions of the people who carried out, contested, and negotiated Iberian exploration and expansion from Africa to the Americas to Asia, and poses critical questions about how the production of knowledge about these people and processes is informed by archival practices (historical and present). A guiding aim of the course is to think about how our understandings of the Iberian empires change when we place at the center of our inquiry questions about the archive—not merely as a repository of historical texts and objects, but as a complex web of structures, processes, and epistemologies. 

 Special attention will be given to the many ways in which those living under the Spanish and Portuguese empires experienced, described, and opposed their rule, as well as to the external challenges that the Iberian powers faced in the age of Eurasian empires. Along the way we will ask: How might we define the archive(s) of the Spanish and Portuguese empires (as a concept, place, institution, practice)? How do our notions of archive affect our approach to the historical record? Where do Iberian archives begin and end? To what extent can we use them to reconstruct histories of race, slavery, and indigenous groups? How, and why, do certain archives and institutions collect what they do? How does belonging to a particular archive or collection change the meaning of an object, text, or piece of visual evidence as well as how we think about the people who used, produced, and preserved it? This paper combines a specific focus on the archive with the methods of comparative history and connected history to allow students to develop an appreciation of global trends across the Iberian world alongside a clear sense of the differences existing at local levels. 

This course is an introduction to the history of warfare since ca.1780, taking the emergence of revolutionary warfare and the military divergence between Europe and the rest of the world as its starting-point. The course is organised both thematically and chronologically. Students will be asked to assess whether the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries saw the emergence of a new epoch in warfare, one marked within Europe by the emergence of mass conscript armies, and beyond it by a recent but rapid European military divergence from the rest of the world. They will explore the topics of war and empire – wars of colonial conquest in Asia, America and Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries – and be encouraged to explore whether this was enabled or facilitated by the developments of the military revolution. They will explore the distinctive forms and functions of warfare which emerged in the 19th century, notably the relationships between war and the various nation-building projects at the time, and the racialized violence of colonial warfare. ‘War and Technology’ will look at how certain types of technological advance – notably rifled weaponry, steam-powered, iron-hulled armoured warships, and later air power and land armour – transformed the way wars were fought, and the international relations surrounding them, while also exploring the role of medical science in warfare. The topic of Life, Death and the experience of war will ask if historians can recreate the subjective experience of the battlefield, and the medical and psychological consequences of warfare. ‘Total War’ will explore the total mobilisation of societies to meet the demands of 20th-century warfare, focusing on the First and Second World Wars.

This option course examines the history of 20th-century political thought from a global perspective and focuses on a set of themes that have generated widespread discussion and controversy over the course of the last century.  Its aim to not to study any particular region or decade, but rather to explore how ideas and interventions related to the persistent problems of understanding violence, community, history, viable governance, and the paradox of the 20th century itself found resonance across continents in surprising ways.  Given the wide scope of the course, students will be expected to address questions of comparative interpretation.  The course is intended both for students who want an introduction to global intellectual history and for those who would like an opportunity to extend and reconsider their existing knowledge of it. 

Course aims and objectives

This course aims at providing students with a general understanding of the modern history of Latin America since independence; familiarizing them with some of the key debates in the academic literature; and enabling them to engage with their subject in an scholarly manner, both in their writings and in class discussion; and to relate the history of the region to other disciplines in the social sciences.


Course description

The course covers a selection of major themes, either generally applied to the whole region or to individual countries.  The topics covered include: independence; problems of state and nation building; the role of Britain in 19th century Latin America; liberalism and state-church relations; the abolition of slavery; the export economy and immigration in Argentina; elections, revolutions and democratization; relations with the United States and the Cuban revolution.


This graduate course offers a broad introduction to the socio-cultural and intellectual history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Japan in transnational and global perspective. The course introduces various methods, approaches, theories, and concepts that could be applied to re-examine the time and space of ‘modern Japan’, while also serving as an introduction to the transnational and intellectual history of Japan.

By the end of the course, you will have acquired foundational knowledge and skills to open up new directions in modern Japanese history writing. See the Nissan Institute website for more details.

You are also allowed to take units from other courses, as long as your supervisor agrees and they are compatible with your own course. Here are some examples that may be relevant:


A dissertation of up to 15,000 words on an agreed topic. The dissertation is submitted during Trinity Term, but students will begin to formulate and plan their dissertation in conjunction with their supervisors from the beginning of the course.

Please also explore the Oxford China Centre for further information.