Southern Spaces

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Centre for English Studies

Module overview


It is recommended that students take a literature course from their programme of study syllabus in the year before taking this course.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  • an advanced level of understanding of literary and critical representations of land, literature, and history in South Africa, Australia and the Indian Ocean (particularly Sri Lanka)
  • the ability to undertake independent research and complete it successfully
  • an advanced level of expression of his/her views both orally and in written form


This course will be taught over 10 weeks with 2 hour seminars/tutorials and 1 hour essay tutorials, research skills, library excursions and film screenings classroom contact per week.

Scope and syllabus

This course takes its name from a London conference that led to the landmark publication, Text, Theory, Space, edited by Kate Darian-Smith, Liz Gunner and Sarah Nuttall in 1996.  Focussing on land, literature and history in South Africa and Australia, and hosted by SOAS and the Sir Robert Menzies Centre for Australian Studies in 1993, the conference aimed to look at the similarities of these two ‘settler sites’ from different disciplines and included a contribution from the spatial historian Paul Carter whose seminal work, The Road to Botany Bay, is also seminal to this course.  Taking these two critical works as a starting point, together with J. M. Coetzee’s White Writing, the course consider issues of landscape, travel, and textuality in prose from South Africa and Australia, as well as the Indian Ocean more widely: in particular there will be a focus on Ceylon as an imperial outpost and the literary output in present-day Sri Lanka. Examining ideas of ‘networks of empire’, the course will consider questions of ownership and belonging, cultural identity and issues of migration, in relation to landscape as well as coastlines.  The course is suitable for students of anglophone literature, history and geography.

Method of assessment

  • One 750 word creative-critical travelogue - 30%
  • One 1,500 word archive story - 50%
  • One 750 atlas notebook - 10%
  • Regular attendance and seminar participation - 10%

Suggested reading

Key primary texts:

  • Stan Grant, Talking to My Country
  • Michelle de Kretser, The Hamilton Case
  • Michael Ondaatje, Running in the Family
  • Ishtiyaq Shukri, The Silent Minaret
  • Sophia, Klaase, Hanging on a Wire
  • Zoë Wicomb, October

Key critical reading:

  • Antoinette Burton (ed), Archive Stories
  • J. M. Coetzee, White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa
  • Paul Carter, The Road to Botany Bay
  • Kate Darian-Smith, Liz Gunner & Sarah Nuttall (eds), Text, Theory, Space
  • John Mack, The Sea: A Cultural History
  • Minoli Salgado, Writing Sri Lanka
  • Kay Schaffer, In the Wake of First Contact:  The Eliza Fraser Stories
  • Sujit Sivasundaram, Islanded: Britain, Sri Lanka and the Bounds of an Indian Ocean Colony
  • Kerry Ward, Networks of Empire: Forced Migration in the Dutch East India Company

See also:

  • Ocean Archive
  • Gutted: The Fight of Kalk Bay Fishers
  • Patyegarang (Bangarra Dance Company)
  • The First Australians

Further reading

  • Jennifer Beningfield, The Frightened Land: Land, Landscape & Politics in South Africa in the Twentieth Century (London: Routledge, 2006).
  • Alison Blunt and Gillian Rose (eds), Writing Women and Space: Colonial and Postcolonial Geographies (New York: The Guilford Press, 1994).
  • Elleke Boehmer, Indian Arrivals, 1870-1915: Networks of British Empire (Oxford, 2015).
  • James S. Duncan, The City as Text:  The Politics of Landscape Interpretation in the Kandyan Kingdom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
  • James S. Duncan and Derek Gregory (eds), Writes of Passage: Reading Travel Writing (London and New York: Routledge, 1999).
  • Katherine Frank, Crusoe: Daniel Defoe, Robert Knox and the Creation of a Myth (London: The Bodley Head, 2011).
  • Richard H. Grove, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600-1860 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
  • Catherine Hall (eds), Cultures of Empire: Colonizers in Britain and the Empire in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 2000).
  • Graham Huggan, Extreme Pursuits: Travel/Writing in an Age of Globalization (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2009).
  • Sue Kossew, Writing Woman, Writing Place:  Contemporary Australian and South African Fiction [Routledge Research in Postcolonial Literatures], (London and New York: Routledge, 2004).
  • Alan Lester, Imperial Networks: Creating Identities in Nineteenth-Century South Africa and Britain (London and New York: Routledge, 2001).
  • Kirsten McKenzie, Scandal in the Colonies: Sydney & Cape Town, 1820-1850  (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2004).
  • Christopher Ondaatje, Woolf in Ceylon: An Imperial Journey in the Shadow of Leonard Woolf, 1904-1911 (The Long Rider’s Guild Press, 2006 [2003]).

Student profile

Poorna Swami

Study-abroad student from Mount Holyoke College (USA), 2014.

Awarded the Anne Singer Memorial Prize for "promise of a gift for writing and dedication to craftsmanship’ at Mount Holyoke for her SOAS coursework on Southern Spaces.

I came to SOAS to both widen and nuance my study of literature. And “Southern Spaces” helped me do exactly that. The course introduced to me to a boldly interdisciplinary approach to literature, and encouraged me to trace maps, unearth archives, and converse with historical moments to understand a single literary text. I was able to integrate creative writing into my critical course work—my own experiences as a South Asian traversing distant continents inflected my responses to archival materials and theories on history, cartography, imagination, and home. Studying historians and critics such as Antoinette Burton, and authors such as J.M. Coetzee, Amitav Ghosh, and Michael Ondaatje defined my academic and creative pursuits. My dissertation was a book-length creative writing project inspired by Ondaatje’s Running in the Family and also contained critical work on post-colonial notions of history, memory, and translation. But these studies did not only affect me academically; I see the world very differently since going to SOAS.

Graduate destinations: Editor-at-Large (India), Asymptote


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