Short Course Online

Empire: 1492-1975

The Open University UK

8 months
3168 GBP/full
3168 GBP/full
Tuition fee
Apply date
Start date


Empires have had a remarkable impact on world history over the last five centuries. The six blocks of this Empire: 1492-1975 course from The Open University UK focus on a particular question, from ‘What are empires?’ to ‘Why do empires end?’ You'll consider the British Empire in detail before drawing comparisons with others, including those of France, the Netherlands, Russia, China and Spain. 


What you will study in the Empire: 1492-1975 course from The Open University UK 

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. English became an official language in countries as far apart as Botswana, India and Jamaica, because it was the language of the largest empire the world has ever known, rather than due to any intrinsic communicative merit.

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, you'll consider the history of empires over a long period of time. This is from Christopher Columbus’ first journey to the Americas in 1492 to the Portuguese withdrawal from its African colonies in the mid-1970s. Although you'll not look at this entire period in the same level of detail, this broad time span enables the consideration of a variety of fascinating issues. These range from the role of germs in the European conquest of South America to the armed struggle by which Algerians won independence during the 1950s. This 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?

This module places a lot of emphasis on the use of original primary-source materials. 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 website 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.

Programme Structure

  • 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.

Key information


  • Part-time
    • 8 months

Start dates & application deadlines




60 alternative credits



Academic requirements

We are not aware of any academic requirements for this programme.

English requirements

We are not aware of any English requirements for this programme.

Other requirements

General requirements

  • 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.

Tuition Fee

To alway see correct tuition fees
  • International

    3168 GBP/full
    Tuition Fee
    Based on the tuition of 3168 GBP for the full programme during 8 months.
  • National

    3168 GBP/full
    Tuition Fee
    Based on the tuition of 3168 GBP for the full programme during 8 months.


Studyportals Tip: Students can search online for independent or external scholarships that can help fund their studies. Check the scholarships to see whether you are eligible to apply. Many scholarships are either merit-based or needs-based.

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Empire: 1492-1975
The Open University UK


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