The MA in The Making of the Modern World explores the key question: How has the decline of European empires in the extra-European world shaped the 20th century – and beyond?

The MA in The Making of the Modern World is an innovative programme which addresses the legacies of decolonisation on contemporary nation and state-building around the world. During the degree, students examine the processes of democratisation and development which post-colonial states have pursued, and the international and national contexts in which they have undertaken these policies.

The degree offers:

  • A comparative perspective: Students will examine decolonisation processes across the British, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Belgian empires. 
  • Skills-building: Students will develop skills in understanding and analysing archival sources and undertaking archival and oral research. 
  • A strong foundation: Students expand their knowledge of international history, politics and society, ideal for those seeking to work for international organisations, the media, or other professional organisations. 
  • Upon graduating, students will receive a degree awarded by the University of London.


Entry requirements

The normal minimum entrance requirement is a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree from a university in the UK, or an overseas qualification of an equivalent standard (for example a Grade Point Average of 3.0 or higher).

We can consider applications from candidates who do not meet the formal academic requirements, but who offer alternative qualifications and/or relevant experience.

About the degree

This degree provides students with an understanding of the forces unleashed by the processes of decolonisation across the extra-European world. These forces have profoundly shaped the world as it is today and the processes of decolonisation have in large part contributed to the formation of the modern world – both its international context and domestic realities in former colonial and post-colonial states. By understanding these movements and critically analysing them, students gain an in-depth appreciation of the relationship between decolonisation and modernity. 

The MA in The Making of the Modern World primarily examines the political, developmental, institutional and social legacies of the decolonisation process. Unlike most existing degrees touching on these issues, our MA is not embedded within only one discipline. Although historical understanding is an essential component of the degree, we incorporate insights from international relations, politics, human rights, economic history, and development studies.

Students are encouraged to draw out connections between historical processes and the state of the world today, so encouraging them to develop a contextualised understanding of the states, national and international institutions and movements that underpin the contemporary world. This grounding prepares students for careers in international organisations, global diplomacy, journalism, and non-governmental organisations as well as developing them as scholars. 

Structure and Assessment

The degree comprises four compulsory modules, including a dissertation, and three optional modules from the range offered. 

Note: the following list of courses is indicative and may occasionally be subject to change according to availability.

Core Modules

  • Historical Research Skills (with the Institute of Historical Research)
  • European Decolonisation in the 20th Century
  • Ethnicity, Nationalism, Liberation and Identity: the view from the 
  • Extra-European world
  • Dissertation (15,000 words)

Optional Modules

  • Diplomacy and Decolonisation
  • Geopolitics and Decolonisation
  • Policing, Intelligence and Counter-Insurgency
  • Decolonisation, Nation-State Building and Development


The MA is assessed primarily through essays, although class participation also contributes towards assessment. Additional formative assessments include class presentations.

Mode of Study

Teachers are recognised experts drawn from the Institute, the British Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Lambeth Palace Library, and other institutions, at which some of the teaching takes place.

English Requirement

All students whose first language is not English must be able to provide recent evidence (gained in the last two years) that their written and spoken English language is adequate for postgraduate study. This requirement is specified in order to ensure that the academic progress of students is not hindered by language difficulties and that students are able to integrate socially while studying and living in the UK.

Further information can be found on the English language competency section of our Entry Requirements page.

Why study here?

Established expertise in the fields of imperial and decolonisation history. The Institute runs a termly Decolonisation workshop on various themes, which brings together researchers from across the UK and beyond.

The Institute prioritises small group teaching. Teaching is undertaken by core academic staff and will feature guest lectures from experts in the field for specific topics.

The Institute’s Library is a major resource for scholars and includes a mixture of secondary and primary sources, including 13,000 publications issued by political parties, trade unions, and pressure groups – resources students can draw on for their dissertations.

Students also have access to Senate House Library, providing access to millions of books and journals, digital resources, special collections, beautiful study spaces and laptop loans.

Join a vibrant academic community. The Institute hosts a range of events on European and British post-colonial history, development, and democratisation in various post-colonial states.

The Dame Lillian Penson Memorial Fund provides travel grants for current students registered at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.