Decolonization Resource Collection: What is decolonization?

In terms of historical context, “decolonization” is most commonly used to refer to the transition from a world of colonial empires to a world of nation-states in the years following World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s, colonies in Asia and Africa began breaking away from French, British, Portuguese, and other empires that had long exploited lands, resources, and peoples across the world for imperial gain. Decolonization, however, is not confined to a single historical period: as this resource collection demonstrates, the history of decolonization is often as old as the history of colonialism. This collection includes sources covering hundreds of years of history and literature relating to decolonization, spanning from Native American religious and cultural resistance in the Ohio River Valley in the late 18th century to Namibian independence in southwestern Africa in the late 20th century.

Historiography is equally as important as history to the study of decolonization. Colonial influence transcends historical boundaries; as a result, much of the language we speak, the narratives we retell, and the approaches we take are still to some degree under colonial influence. Historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and other scholars of decolonization have contributed significant works to the field about the challenge of maneuvering around colonial bias. These sources, which can be found in the “further readings” category of this collection, may provide instructors with guidance on how to maximize their students’ takeaway from a course on decolonization.

These three brief introductions from leading scholars in the fields of imperialism, postcolonialism, and decolonization provide a fundamental overview of the origins of the study of decolonization and the current state of the field:

Jansen, Jan and Jürgen Osterhammel, Decolonization: A Short History, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017.

Kennedy, Dane, Decolonization: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford , UK: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Young, Robert, Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction, Wiley-Blackwell, 2016.