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The Rise and Fall of the British Empire – Tasks

Compare Video Presentations

Watch these two videos both presenting a brief history of the British Empire. Find similarities and differences. Explain which video you prefer and explain why. What did you learn from them?


  1. The Renaissance was an important period in British history. Why do you think it became possible for the people of the Renaissance to begin exploring the world around them?
  2. Decolonisation came quickly. Why and how was this process completed? Did Britain fare differently from other European countries?
  3. " Rule Britannia" is a patriotic song. Listen to it performed and discuss its implications. Lyrics
  4. Watch this video taking the English language on a "world tour" and discuss how the British colonies affected the English language and its vocabulary.
    English and Empire


Like most other European nations Britain has a population of mixed ethnic and national origin. Some of the largest ethnic minority groups come from countries very far away from Britain.

Write an essay in which you use British history – in particular the history of the British Empire and the history of British immigration – as a basis for explaining the present ethnic makeup of Britain's population.

What ethnic and cultural changes do you think may be expected in Britain over the next 50 years?

(from Exam 22 May 2009)

Further Research

  1. Google the British Empire and find a list of all the British colonies. Choose one of them, and give a short presentation of it. Include the following points:
    • when and how it was colonized
    • the kind of government which was imposed on it
    • in which ways it was exploited by the UK
    • how and when it gained independence
    • its relationship to the UK after gaining independence
  2. Make a digital presentation showing the development of British trade in the 17th and 18th centuries.
  3. Find out how the Victorians looked upon the idea of imperialism and colonialism. Which ideas at the time supported the Empire? Arrange a debate giving the participants different views.
  4. Explore the Raj and investigate how Britain administered India after the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Make a presentation.
  5. Read the article about British Slave Trade and focus particularly on Olaudah Equiano's biography. Based on his story, make a digital presentation, e.g. in Movie Maker.

Recommended Literature and Film

About Slavery and the Triangular Trade

In Lawrence Hill's novel Someone Knows My Name we meet Aminata who is kidnapped from her village in present-day Mali when she is a little girl. We follow her perilous voyage throughout the Middle Passage to an indigo plantation in South Carolina and follow her journey till she ends up as an abolitionist in London. Even if it is a fictional story it is inspired by the Book of Negroes - a record of names and descriptions of African American slaves. The link below provides you with information about the book and an excerpt. According to the teaching plan in this course, you are asked to study a novel or an extensive text. By reading this novel you will also get curricular information about slavery and the Triangular Trade. [i]Someone Knows My Name[/i]

Steven Spielberg's Amistad (1997) is a dramatized version of an uprising in 1839 among African slaves imprisoned on board the Spanish slave ship, La Amistad. In the film we meet President John Adams (see below) who contributes to their release. Watch the trailer. [i]Amistad[/i]

About America's Way to Independence

John Adams (2008) is an HBO produced mini-series based upon a book by the same name about the second American president who was in the driving seat when the USA chose to declare its independence from Britain. Watch the short trailer. [i]John Adams[/i]

About India's Way to Independence

In Julia Gregson's novel East of the Sun, India is perceived through the eyes of three young British women. More or less by coincidence the three very different girls get to meet each other and a continent that is foreign and alien to them. What it adds up to, is that this is 1928 and India is on the brink of war. Like Someone Knows My Name, this is a novel that highlights curricular issues in your teaching plan. Read about the novel and an excerpt from it. [i]East of the Sun[/i]

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Tasks and Activites