Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST30Z3: An Animal History of Colonial Asia

Department: History

HIST30Z3: An Animal History of Colonial Asia

Type Open Level 3 Credits 60 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap 18 Location Durham


  • A pass mark in at least TWO level two modules in History.


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To provide a thorough grounding in the emerging field of animal history, and familiarity with the historiographical debates within it;
  • To teach about the impact of colonial rule in transforming local cultures, societies, economies, and ecologies;
  • To encourage critical thinking about post-colonial legacies;
  • To inform knowledge of the history of imperialism in Asia;
  • To introduce the wider methods and debates within environmental history;
  • To enable the confident use of the critical methodological tools of post-colonial theory;
  • To facilitate engagement with the interdisciplinary debates within animal studies


  • European colonisation had a profound impact upon wildlife in Asia. It brought about the migration of animal populations into new ecological systems. It contributed to the extinction and endangerment of entire species, directly through hunting and indirectly through environmental change. At the same time, animals were used to maintain colonial rule. Working elephants, war horses, pack mules and many other beasts of burden were essential to colonial rule and its allied commercial activities. As well as being threatened and used by humans in colonial contexts, animals were themselves a danger to life, and to colonial interests. Rats and mosquitoes were vectors of disease. Tigers and other predatory animals came into conflict with human settlements, particularly as agriculture began to encroach into their habitats. In this module we will study the impact and legacies of modern imperialism by focusing on the histories of animals, from the mosquito to the elephant. Overall, the module traces the emergence of global environmental problems and assesses the role that colonisation has had in bringing them about. We will read books and articles that draw on examples from across colonial Asia, but we will be grounded in the particular case of colonial Burma through a range of primary sources, including novels, natural histories, film, photography, and government records. Through this, students will be able to see how global processes worked out in a local context.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Ability to engage critically with the history of human-animal relationships in colonial contexts;
  • Ability to assess the impact that colonial rule had on animal populations, and the wider environment;
  • Develop the analytical skill to deconstruct and re-interpret imperial texts;
  • Identify anthropocentric and humanistic biases and assumptions in primary and secondary sources;
  • Understanding of the ways in which global processes and local contexts shaped one another;
  • Sensitivity to the challenges to researching across different cultures in the past.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Reading and use texts and other source materials critically and analytically, addressing questions of content, perspective and purpose at an advanced level;
  • Handling and critically analysing varying interpretations of a given body of historical evidence;
  • Managing a body of evidence or information, particularly gathering, sifting, synthesizing, organising, marshalling and presenting information consistent with the methods and standards of historical study and research;
  • Assembling evidence to address issues, constructing an argument and supporting it with evidence to permit and facilitate the evaluation of hypotheses;
  • Intellectual independence and research, including the development of bibliographical skills, the ability to research, use, evaluate and organise historical materials, and to present independent research in written form.
Key Skills:
  • Self-discipline, self-direction, initiative, the capacity for extended independent work on complex subjects, the development of pathways to originality, and intellectual curiosity;
  • Ability to gather, organise and deploy evidence, data and information, and familiarity with appropriate means of identifying, finding, retrieving, sorting and exchanging information;
  • Analytical ability, and the capacity to consider and solve complex problems;
  • Structure, coherence, clarity and fluency of written expression;
  • Intellectual integrity, maturity and an appreciation of the validity of the reasoned views of others;
  • Imaginative insight.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Student learning is facilitated by a combination of the following teaching methods:
  • seminars to allow students to present and critically reflect upon the acquired subject-specific knowledge, methodologies and theories, and to identify and debate a range of issues and differing opinions. The seminar is the forum in which students are given the opportunity to communicate ideas, jointly exploring themes and arguments. Seminars are structured to develop understanding and designed to maximise student participation related to prior independent preparation. Seminars give students the opportunity to develop oral communication skills, encourage critical and tolerant approaches to reasoned argument and historical discussion, build the students' ability to marshal historical evidence, and facilitate the development of the ability to summarise historical arguments, think in a rapidly changing environment and communicate in a persuasive and articulate manner, whilst recognising the value of working with others and, occasionally, towards shared goals;
  • tutorials either individually or in groups to discuss topics arising from prepared work, allowing students the opportunity to reflect upon their personal learning with the tutor.
  • Assessment:
  • Unseen Examinations test students' ability to work under pressure under timed conditions, to prepare for examinations and direct their own programme of revision and learning, and develop key time management skills. The unseen examination gives students the opportunity to develop relevant life skills such as the ability to produce coherent, reasoned and supported arguments under pressure. Students will be examined on subject specific knowledge;
  • Summative essays remain a central component of assessment in history, due to the integrative high-order skills they develop. Essays allow students the opportunity to recognise, represent and critically reflect upon ideas, concepts and problems; students can demonstrate awareness of, and the ability to use and evaluate, a diverse range of resources and identify, represent and debate a range of subject-specific issues and opinions. Through the essay, students can synthesise information, adopt critical appraisals and develop reasoned argument based on individual research; they should be able to communicate ideas in writing, with clarity and coherence; and to show the ability to integrate and critically assess material from a wide range of sources;
  • Assessment of Primary Source Handling Students are assessed on their understanding of original primary sources, usually in print, their character varying according to the nature of the subject, and the students' ability to bring that knowledge to bear on 'cutting edge' research-based monographs and articles. Students are given the opportunity to discuss and articulate an understanding of changing interpretations and approaches to historical problems, drawing evidence from a body of primary source materials. Students are required to demonstrate skills associated with the evaluation of a variety of primary source materials, using documentary analysis for a critical assessment of existing historical interpretations.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 19 Weekly Terms 1 & 2 3 hours 57
Tutorials 2 Termly in Terms 1 & 2 0.5 hours 1
Revision Sessions 1 Revision 2 hours 2
Preparation and Reading 540
Total 600

Summative Assessment

Component: Essays Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 maximum of 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 34%
Essay 2 maximum of 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 34%
Source Analyses maximum of 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 32%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Unseen examination 3 hours 100%

Formative Assessment:

One formative essay of not more than 2500 words (not including footnotes and bibliography), submitted in Term 1. This will be returned with written comments and a standard departmental feedback sheet. Coursework essays are formative as well as summative. They are to be submitted in two copies, of which one will be returned with written comments and a standard departmental feedback sheet. Preparation to participate in seminars and tutorials. At least one oral presentation in each term, and at least two practice sources/gobbets in each term.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University