SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

H353 The Creation of Modern Burma 1852-C.1941 (I)

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2019/2020
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Full Year

This course examines the negotiation of modern Burma from end of the First Anglo-Burmese War to the outbreak of the First World War. At the core of this examination is how Burmese and the British reacted to each other's efforts to establish the boundaries of Burma and Burmese-ness during the early years of British colonial rule. The boundaries referred to relate to:

  • ethnicity, 
  • religious identity, 
  • history, 
  • material and intellectual culture, 
  • medical traditions, 
  • gender, 
  • language, 
  • technology, 
  • law, 
  • political culture. 

The course will examine, through careful readings of indigenous (translated) and colonial primary documents, often juxtaposed against each other, the process of negotiating space, tradition, and identity. Ultimately, this process created the foundations of 'modern Burma' as we understand it today.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The objectives of this course are two-fold. The course is topically arranged so as to allow for a clear understanding of how competing interests and knowledge groups (colonial administrators, historians, and medical personnel, for example, as well as Burmese intellectuals and intermediary officials) contributed to colonial-era notions of what it was to be Burmese, what Burma was geographically, politically, and culturally, and the proper historical narrative of the pre-colonial era. 

The major institutions include amongst others, the colonial hospital, the geographical survey, the colonial prison, etc. The second objective, is to provide students with exposure to the key debates and central documents marking the emergence of modern Burma during the colonial period. In sum, by combining these two objectives, it is hoped that students will leave the course with a strong comprehension of how ruler and ruled interconnected and contributed together in shaping modern Burma.

At the end of the course, a student should be able to:

  • understand how the construction of modern Burma was a colonial-era project, but one informed by interaction between the Burmese and the British rather than unilaterally-directed,
  • have a strong understanding of the major institutional and intellectual structures of colonial society and develop independent perspectives based on primary source documents,
  • identify and compare differing cultural and political agendas within a range of documentation, in short to develop advanced skills in assessing primary evidence
  • write a competent well-structured essay making substantial use of documents provided in the course and secondary materials in a research library,
  • complete a meaningful unseen paper within a limited time period, on the major aspects of the colonial-era transformation of Burma.

Method of assessment

Exam (50%) and 2 x Coursework (50%)

Suggested reading

  • Michael Adas, The Burma Delta: Economic Development and Social Change on an Asian Rice Frontier, 1852-1941, Madison, 1974
  • John F. Cady, A History of Modern Burma, Ithaca, 1958
  • Michael W. Charney, Powerful Learning: Buddhist Literati and the Throne in Burma's Last Dynasty, 1752-1885, 2006
  • J. S. Furnivall, Colonial Policy and Practice: A Comparative Study of Burma and Netherlands India, Cambridge, 1948
  • Oliver Pollack, Empires in Collision: Anglo-Burmese Relations in the Mid-Nineteenth Century, Westport, 1979
  • Robert H. Taylor, The State in Burma, London, 1987
  • Thant Myint-U, The Making of Modern Burma, Cambridge, 2001


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