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
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.