British Empire
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What is in the British Empire exhibition?
This exhibition is intended for students of the History National Curriculum at Key Stage 3-4.

The National Archives holds a wealth of original papers, letters, posters, photos, maps and other material that records important moments in the history of the British empire. Because the empire lasted so long and covered so much of the world, we haven’t even tried to study everything about the empire in this exhibition. Instead, we’ve picked out some of the most interesting original sources and put them online.

We’ve grouped sources according to time and place.
  • Gallery 1 The Rise of the British empire asks: why did the British become empire builders? It looks at 4 case studies: North America, Africa, India and Australia.
  • Gallery 2 Living in the British empire asks: How should we remember the British empire? The first case study in this gallery has sources that show how the British viewed their empire. The next 4 case studies look at North America, Africa, India and Australia. The final case study on migration looks at people who moved to a different part of the empire.
  • Gallery 3 The end of the British empire asks: what factors caused the end of the empire? It looks at 4 case studies: The Dominions, Ghana, India and Ireland.
Each case study contains a selection of original sources. The empire is a controversial subject and some of these sources are on difficult topics. Some sources contain views that we may strongly disagree with. Some sources contain information that still has the power to anger and shock. We have tried to present each source with some background information that gives it historical context. We have also provided discussion questions that we hope will encourage classroom debate and help students to critically examine these sources. The British empire is a sensitive topic for study, but also a fascinating one, and a significant era in British and world history.

Students can examine one or many original sources and answer questions about each source. There are useful notes to help with answering the questions. Where the original source is difficult to read or understand, we have provided transcripts. For the older and most difficult documents, there is also a simplified transcript in modern English.

Each gallery has a selection of activities or quizzes, and worksheets to help students organise their study. Background pages give an introduction to the historical background and the themes that run through each case study. A glossary and a simple set of world maps can be accessed from the links at the foot of each page.
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