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Part I, Paper 23

World history since 1914


Photo credit: US Government / National Archives and Records Administration, 1951
This paper explores the climax and decline of Europe's older imperial systems during the first half of the C20, the emergence of new forms of imperial power, and the making of the modern 'postcolonial' world in the context of world war and global economic shifts. Central to the paper are themes of imperialism and nationalism, social and cultural change in colonial societies, the effects of world economic fluctuations and of two world wars on these imperial systems, western efforts at political and strategic adjustment including decolonisation, the emergence of new states and their evolution in the changing economic and political contexts of the later C20.

The first half of the paper thus focuses on older forms of imperialism and the powerful ways in which these shaped colonial societies, economies and cultures. The notion of a 'Third World' emerged very much as the legacy of these shaping influences, popularised in the debates of the 1960s and 1970s when the world's states and economies seemed to be very clearly divided between those of the advanced 'West' and the newly independent but still 'underdeveloped' Third World.

More recently, social change and economic advance in many of the world's postcolonial societies, particularly in east and southeast Asia, suggest now that we need new and more complex ways of understanding what have become in the later C20, global flows of capital and people, commodities and technologies. In these contexts, labels such as 'Third World', even the 'postcolonial' world, may no longer seem meaningful descriptions of what is a more complex and multicentred global society. Yet these very forces of 'globalisation', with the free play they create for unprecedented convergences of capital, technology and resources, seem to raise again issues of power and marginalisation, dominance and exploitation. As the legacies of older forms of imperialism and nationalism seem to recede into the historical past, categories such as the 'Third World' and the 'postcolonial' world may still therefore serve as important pointers to the inequalities of wealth and power that characterise the modern world.

Paper 23 reading list

Paper 23 course guide

Useful online resources

Past Papers:

Prelim (Paper 19)
Part I



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