This module is part of a growing body of work that seeks to address the neglect in the study of the British Empire of the role of colonized and colonizing women in developing and sustaining the empire. Part of this neglect has been because of the lack of written sources, especially those written by indigenous women. To help compensate for this lack, a number of the sources are images. When "reading" images with students, always ask them to describe what they see before moving to think about the different ways the image can add to an understanding of women and empire. There is also an emphasis in the module on the mid-19th century through the 20th century, when an increasing range of written sources were produced.
As the range of primary sources selected for this module demonstrates, women moved about the Empire for a number of personal and family reasons, which included economic necessity, a desire to seek a better life for themselves and their family, and to escape gender expectations—especially those of Victorian Britain. The voices of colonized women are silent in most literature on empire. Seacole’s autobiography allows students to question this silence and to think about the ways individual agency could allow a women to escape the expectations that usually defined the lives of women—especially colonized women. Looking at Sale and Kingsley, the module helps students to think about the way empire opened up opportunities for British women by allowing them to escape the restrictions of life in Britain. Buchi Emecheta’s autobiography highlights the changing demographics in Britain today and the specific difficulties facing women in adapting to life in Britain. An excellent movie to supplement this text is Bhaji On the Beach. Produced in 1993, the movie depicts a group of Asian British women visiting the English beach resort town of Blackpool for a day of fun. The movie would help students discuss cross-cultural conflict, sexism, racism, and the generation gap in Britain today.
- What do the sources suggest about the way the lives of women, both colonized and colonizers, varied across different sites of empire?
- What can we learn from these sources about the ways that the British Empire shaped the lives of colonized and colonizing women? How did women shape the empire?
- What do the sources suggest about the relationship between different women in the empire?
- What kind of connections did women help to establish between Britain proper and the rest of the British Empire?