A rare collection of films made in India during the final years of the British raj is to be developed into a new teaching course by Cambridge University.

A spokesman said the university’s Centre of South Asian Studies had a ``remarkable’’ archive of some 500 colonial amateur films, 300 of which had already been digitised. It planned to create a series of short documentaries and a supporting web resource to make this material available to students, historians and anyone with an interest in the raj.

Dr Kevin Greenbank, the Centre’s archivist, said it aimed to give people ``a deeper and more informed perspective’’ on the history of the empire, its legacy in the subcontinent, and current debates about multiculturalism in Britain.

“It is a story we should not just discuss at school, but in wider society as a whole. The current British view of countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh emphasizes specific aspects of those societies; the cultural and social details that strike us as different and, sometimes, exotic. These films offer a more investigative perspective on how these countries emerged in the twentieth century, and why so many people from that part of the world emigrated to Britain. By understanding that historical relationship we can replace a rather jaundiced view with an account of shared history and shared presence,” he said.

In a statement, the university said the films spanned the period from the 1910s to the 1960s. They included “harrowing’’ scenes shot during the Partition besides images of labourers working on railways and dams.

“The potential value of this collection extends far beyond students of history. For example, people researching gender studies, and in particular fields of feminist scholarship, will find rare visual resources in scenes of British, Indian and Burmese women unwittingly commenting on British rule from informal, personalised perspectives,” said Dr. Annamaria Motrescu, an affiliated scholar at the Centre.

The Centre hopes to raise about £200,000 for the project to go ahead.