What was the relationship between British rule in India and the partition of 1947?
First Edition. August 2013. 2014 Franklin Buchanan Prize Winner.
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The partition of 1947, which led to the creation of India and Pakistan, was one of the most volatile events of the twentieth century. Partition coincided with the end of British colonial rule over the subcontinent, and Indian independence was overshadowed by violence, mass displacement, and uncertainty. This unit examines the history leading up to 1947 and the legacies of partition that remain today. The experience of one province, Bengal, is discussed in depth. The unit is divided into three parts. Each part includes:

  • Student readings
  • Accompanying study guides, graphic organizers, and key terms
  • Lessons aligned with the readings that develop analytical skills (including at least one that focuses on building geographic literacy) and can be completed in one or more periods
  • Videos that feature leading experts

This unit also includes an Options Role Play as the key lesson and an additional synthesis lesson that allows students to synthesize new knowledge for assessment. You do not need to use the entire unit; feel free to select what suits your classroom needs.

“The materials leading up to the simulation in this unit really help the students see the complexity of the problem. The census material works really well, along with the Calcutta/Bengal threads through the readings. I pair the unit with a screening of ‘Gandhi,’ and the unit helps me teach the difference between narrative history and laudatory bio-pic.” – Mary Ellen, History and Social Studies Teacher, Massachusetts

Part I: Empires in India

Part I traces the transformation of the British East India Company from a trading company operating in the Mughal Empire to a colonial power. There is one lesson aligned with Part I: The Great Revolt of 1857: Source Analysis.

Part II: Indians Challenge the British Raj

In Part II, students read about British colonial rule on the subcontinent and the Indian resistance movements that grew in response. Students then examine the negotiations following World War II that led to partition and independence. There are two lessons aligned with Part II: 1) Mapping Religion in Bengal, and 2) Satyagraha: Gandhi, King and Mandela.

Part III: Epilogue: The Effects of Partition

Part III provides an overview of the aftermath of 1947 and the continuing challenges from partition. There are two lessons aligned with Part III: 1) Remembering Partition, and 2) Looking at Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan Today.


The Great Revolt of 1857: Source Analysis

Students examine excerpts from history books, photographs, and literature from Indian and British authors to see the different ways the Great Revolt of 1857 has been portrayed.

Mapping Religion in Bengal

Students analyze data from the 1931 All-India Census. Using a map of Bengal, students calculate and mark the major religious groups in the province.

Satyagraha: Gandhi, King, and Mandela

Students explore primary sources from Mohandas Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela to learn about satyagraha and consider its international impact.

Role-Playing the Four Options

The Options Role Play: is the key lesson in the unit. Students simulate the debate in Bengal in 1947 between local political groups and the British over the fate of the province: unity or partition.

Remembering Partition

Students examine the human toll of partition through oral histories and diary entries.

Looking at Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan Today

Students analyze photographs from the present to learn about life and society on the subcontinent and weigh the benefits and limitations of using photos to learn about the subcontinent.

Assessment Using Documents

Synthesis Lesson: Students read eight documents pertaining to India's post–1947 foreign policy strategy and answer a series of documents-based questions.

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