History Second and Third/Final Year Undergraduate module summaries

 

Second year

Group Research

  • 20 credits

This module provides students with an exciting opportunity to work in groups to design and execute a collaborative research project. The aim is for students to gain experience in the process of historical inquiry and develop their research skills in a supportive environment in advance of individual work for dissertations. Students also benefit greatly from the opportunity to work in teams and coordinate their own projects effectively.  Students enthusiastically pursue a range of presentational methods and styles to convey their ideas and research. In many cases students choose to learn and utilise IT presentational packages to support their work. There is also a requirement for each student to submit an individual essay on their research. By the end of the module all students will have enhanced their presentational skills, their skills as historians, developed their interest in a particular field of history, and be able to demonstrate to future employers that they have experience of working collaboratively and making professionally acceptable oral presentations.

Students are permitted to choose a project from a wide range of choices - see below. They work in teams of approximately 4-6 students under the supervision of a member of academic staff. The tutor helps the students to embark on the project by providing initial ideas and reading, but the students are then free to design their own projects according to the enthusiasms and capacities of the group. All groups make extensive use of primary source evidence as well as reviewing the secondary literature on their topic.  

Group Research example module summaries:

Kings and Propaganda: Power in the Islamic World  

From the earliest days of Islam until today, political power, most notably its relationship to religious power, is one of the most contentious issues in Islamic history.  The early Abbasid rulers of the 9th century, for example, carried out an inquisition against Islamic scholars who limited the powers of the caliph.  Muslim kings, caliphs and sultans of the 10th to the 16th centuries built or transformed some of the world’s greatest cities of their time – Samarqand, Bukhara, Isfahan, Constantinople, and Shahjahanabad, to name a few.  More recently, in the 1970s, the Shah of Iran was toppled in an Islamic revolution that paved the way for an Islamic Republic led by Islamic scholars.  

Primary sources will vary according to the time and place on which you focus.  In all cases, however, you will have both written (translated) and visual primary material to study.  These include chronicles, geographical treatises, ‘Mirrors for Princes’, biographies and memoires, administrative manuals, travel accounts, legal documents and letters, coins, ceramics, wall and miniature paintings, and buildings.  

The Early Modern Witch Craze

The late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries witnessed intense persecution and fear of witches, witchcraft and demonic power across Europe.  The degree of intensity was not consistent, however, with some of the most extreme hunts occurring in Germany while England saw comparatively few outbreaks.  Witchcraft and its meanings, manifestations, and consequences have been analysed in-depth by historians.  The literature of witchcraft is diverse and methodologically sophisticated with many conflicting interpretations, and many different approaches.  In this group research project, students will have the opportunity to engage with a rich and diverse range of source material to address key questions regarding our understanding of early modern witchcraft.  

Themes to consider may include: why the intensity of witch hunts differed across Europe; the role of gender in witchcraft accusations; the impact of religious and political change on persecutions; the contribution of demonology to contemporary understandings of witchcraft; the image of the witch in popular culture; the reasons for the decline of persecutions. 

Wheels of Fortune: the Bicycle 1885-1920  

The perfection of the modern bicycle in Coventry in the 1880s spelled the end to a world of personal mobility defined by horses and foot speed.   Faster and more convenient than horse travel and without the limitations of the railroad timetable, the bicycle was a technology intimately connected to liberation and freedom.  “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling” the American suffragette Susan B.  Anthony said in 1896.  “I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.  I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.”  By the 1890s men, women, and children were using the bicycle to commute, travel, and race.  In 1896 four million cyclists could be found on American streets spending 300 million dollars on bicycles and repairs.  In New York 14,000 cyclists used Broadway daily.  By 1900 American factories were producing one million bicycles annually.   

With a vast array of primary sources available online and in archives in London, Nottingham, and Birmingham, students will explore the history of the bicycle at its peak in popularity.  Students will not be limited to the history of bicycling in the UK and the United States but will be encouraged to trace its global history and significance.  Possible topics include: the bicycle and first wave feminism; industry; affects on city design; early racing; local and regional touring; and global circumnavigations. 

Women and the English Revolution

This course will explore the role of women in one of the most turbulent and dramatic eras of English history: the Civil War and the English Republic in the 1640s and 1650s.  For many this was a ‘World Turned Upside Down’ and this often applied particularly to women.   In the pre-civil war period the ideal woman was supposed to be silent, chaste and obedient, subservient to her husband in all things and confining her activities to the domestic sphere of household and family.  The circumstances of the war and the unprecedented religious liberty and freedom of political debate in the post war era challenged this ideal and provided all sorts of opportunities for women to empower themselves and participate in the public arena.  In the absence of husbands, some took on military roles, defending their houses and commanding troops.  Others began to write and publish to an extent which had never been possible before.   New religious freedoms allowed them to preach and prophesy.  They engaged in political demonstrations, debate and petitioning, often as part of the Leveller movement.   And all this provoked a moral panic and fierce backlash amongst men, often rooted in fears about womens’ supposed new-found sexual freedoms.  After 1660, with the Restoration of monarchy, many of these freedoms and opportunities were closed down.   But the ideals which inspired these women have been seen by historians as providing an example to later generations.   

This course will research the experiences of women in this era, using letters, autobiographies, dairies and, above all, the huge accumulation of womens’ writing.  It will examine the new roles experienced by women and the ideas used to justify these.  It will investigate the extent to which this was a dramatic departure from pre-civil war experiences or a development of these.  It will explore the extent to which these women can be regarded as proto-feminists or simply opportunists pushing particular religious and political agendas.   And it will assess how typical these women were and how profound their impact was on family structures and patriarchal relationships. 

The British Infantry Officer on the Western Front 1914-18

When the Great War broke out in August 1914 there were fewer than 10,000 Regular infantry officers serving with the British Army.  By the end of the war the Army had 67,000 infantry officers, composed of Regulars, Territorials, and the famous ‘Temporary Gentlemen’ who responded to Kitchener’s call to arms in 1914 and 1915.  The experience of the infantry officer on the Western Front has been obscured, rather than illuminated, by the disproportionate influence of a handful of famous memoirs, most importantly perhaps Robert Graves’ Goodbye to All That (1929) and Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930). 

In truth little is known about the majority of infantry officers.  Numerous questions offer themselves for research and analysis.  What happened to the cadre of Regular infantry officers with which the British Army began the war?  How was the officer corps expanded?  How were officers selected, trained and promoted?  What sort of men became ‘wartime’ officers?  What were their casualty rates?  What did infantry officers actually do (other than writing sonnets in some waterlogged shell hole in No Man’s Land)?  Were they any good (as soldiers, that is, not poets)?  What were the long-term effects of the survivors’ war experience?  Answers to these questions may be found in a much wider search of the memoir literature, in the Army List for the war period and in officers’ personal files in the National Archives: Public Record Office at Kew.  The project will lend itself to the study of the officers of a particular battalion (with c.1,000 to choose from!).  

While the Worst are Full of Passionate Intensity: Fascism and Communism in Interwar Britain  

The failure of political extremism in interwar Britain has long been the subject of historical debate. While the communist left and fascist or authoritarian right seized power in a plethora of European countries, Britain – alongside the Benelux and Scandinavian countries – appeared almost immune to the allure of political extremism.  Yet, despite the resilience of mainstream political parties, the communist left (in the form of the CPGB) and the fascist right (in the form of the BUF) were both movements of genuine significance at different points of the interwar years.  The organisations could, at their peak, claim memberships of tens of thousands, and were able to command considerable media attention.   This Group Research topic will examine the histories of fascism and communism in interwar Britain from a variety of different perspectives, exploring their origins, their ideology and political economy, and their legacies for postwar Britain.  The topic will also provide an opportunity to work with the Oswald Mosley papers held as part of the Cadbury Research Library (University of Birmingham) and the extensive CPGB archive at the People’s History Museum, Manchester.  

Atlantic Coastlines in British and Irish History  

This module will give you a different perspective on the history and geography of Britain and Ireland than you’ve ever had before.  Whether crofters eating puffins in the Orkney Isles, Irish ‘pirate queens’ raiding England from the hundred-and-sixty islands in Clew Bay, or regions of Shetland emptied of adult men for more than half the year by whaling voyages to Greenland, the Atlantic communities of Britain and Ireland have very different histories from landlocked cities.  Of the six thousand islands in this archipelago, more than two thousand were once populated; now only around three hundred are.  Despite the small size of Britain (only 800 miles north to south), the islands have a staggering 30,000 miles of coastline, and water was, until the middle of the nineteenth century, the major way by which the region was travelled.  But with the advent of rail and roads, seas ceased to be seen as things connecting different places and began to be looked at as barriers.  Much of the emptying of those coasts happened by force when wealthy urban landlords tried to make difficult land economically productive.  Local populations fought back, seeking to preserve their ways of life, in events with names like ‘the Battle of the Braes’ and ‘the Glendale Rising’.  Thousands of songs and stories record their actions.  Many were still shipped off to the Americas and Australia, some of whom recorded their experience of these traumas.  After two centuries of emptying, the coastlines are beginning to refill, thanks in part to tourist industries which promote particular ideas about coastal histories, culture and nature.  Whatever you decide are the histories that really matter for Britain and Ireland’s edges, their trajectories will inevitably be different from those familiar from British history textbooks.  

The American Occupation of Germany 1944-1949  

This module will allow you to investigate the post-war occupation of Germany from a (mainly) American perspective and how this occupation changed over the years.  Starting up from an initial punitive approach, you will be able to explore how and why American attitudes changed; how Germany was split in two with the creation of the Federal Republic in the West and the German Democratic Republic in the East.  Other possible topics are the American preparation (or lack thereof) for occupation; Relationships with the other 3 Powers; Aspects of Cold War Policy such as the Berlin Blockade and the Berlin Airlift; the decision by the Western Allies to establish a West German state; re-education policy; economic policies in the American and British zone of Occupation; How and why the Americans initiated the German currency reform; the Marshall Plan and Germany.  

Your research will be based mainly on unpublished primary documents held at the University of Birmingham Library (the only site in the country to have these!), as well as printed and online materials.  There are also documents in the Public Record Office in London which may be relevant for your research.  

The Dessert War in North Africa 1940-1943  

The Desert War in North Africa during the Second World War became a momentous struggle between the Axis forces, led by the legendary 'Desert Fox', Erwin Rommel, and the British Imperial and Commonwealth forces led successively by General Sir Archibald Wavell, General Sir Claude Auchinleck and General (later Field Marshal) Bernard Montgomery ('Monty').  The nature of the terrain, the overbearing heat and the remoteness from the main theatre of war in Europe presented challenges for both sides to overcome.  Logistics and Intelligence played important roles which, in combination with the survival of Malta, 'the thorn in Rommel's side', led ultimately to Allied victory.  Students will be expected to undertake some archival research at The National Archives in London.  

From Robin Hood to Game of Thrones: Medievalism in the Popular Culture of TV and Cinema  

Modern popular culture is saturated with representations of the ‘medieval’, whether this is in historical drama like Robin Hood, or Kingdom of Heaven; or in fantasy, from The Hobbit to Game of Thrones.  This topic invites groups to consider a whole range of questions within medievalism.  Does it matter if historical drama is not accurate?  How ‘historical’ is historical drama? What role does fantasy – like Game of thrones - play in ‘fictionalising the medieval, especially considering the plethora of ‘historical’ observations associated with Game of Thrones in particular, which led one journalist working for the Spectator to declare that ‘Game of Thrones tells the story of Britain better than most Histories’ (E.West, Spectator, 29 March 2014)?  How is the view of the past influenced by film?  What messages about the ‘medieval’ are being conveyed and why? Alternatively, one might ask why representations of the medieval, or the medieval has such enduring appeal to film makers and is sure to draw large audiences?  

Britain and Drugs in the Era of total War  

This topic affords the opportunity to explore both the military and civilian use of psychoactives in Britain in the era of the two World Wars, including the operational, political, social and ethical responses to drugs.  Potential approaches could consider the use of amphetamines in the context of Britain’s armed forces during the Second World War, including use in the land, maritime and air power environments.  This could also include a comparison with German and American amphetamine use. 

An examination of drug use in the First World War is another possibility, examining how military personnel utilised drugs – including cocaine, alcohol and tobacco – to endure and manage the experience of combat.  The topic can also include a more general focus on oral history, the experience of drug use and issues relating to masculinities.  Linking out to the wider contexts, other approaches could study the narratives around drug use as captured by the medical and lay press in interwar Britain and government attempts to legislate and control access to drugs, including the implications of the Defence of the Realm Act, the Dangerous Drugs Acts and the Pharmacy and Poisons Act.  While drawing on some fascinating secondary literature and autobiographical material, primary sources include material available via the National Archives at Kew, via the Imperial War Museum and via numerous online repositories.  

Lost in the Arctic: the English Search for a Northwest Passage 

Students taking this module, will make the decision, as a group, to focus on some aspect of the English search for the Northwest passage.  

In 1577 Sir Martin Frobisher effectively began English overseas expansion with the first of a series of searches for the Northwest passage.  It was the start of an obsession that was to consume lives, capital and interest for a further four centuries before the Norwegian, Raold Amundsen finally sailed through it in 1906.  It was not until 2006, that Global Warming finally made the passage a year-round open route through the arctic.  In the years between Frobisher and Amundsen, however, many of the most famous explorers became engaged in the search for the Northwest passage. They left a legacy of reports and tales, fact and fantasy which helped to build up the myth of the northwest passage but also helped to further navigational techniques and expand the bounds of knowledge.  There have been famous deaths and disappearances such as those of Hudson and Franklin, and discoveries such as those of Vancouver and Amundsen.  The long quest for the sea-route raises obvious questions, such as why it became such an obsession, what were the results expected from the search, how did people prepare for it, why did they think it might exist, what were the scientific gains? There are other more specific questions, however, such as what was the role of Lady Franklin in promoting arctic exploration, how did captain-crew relations play out in the searches eg. Cook, Hudson, Frobisher, Franklin?  What was the role of the Admiralty?  There are even questions as to who can really lay claim to having discovered the Northwest passage since though Amundsen was the first to survive the venture by sea, McClure had already completed the voyage by land.  There are a wealth of sources from the 16th- 20th century.  For his time, Frobisher's voyages are among the better documented with travellers reports, analyses, equipment lists and lists of contributors all available.  The later voyages are even better documented.  There are extant sources of every description from newspaper and admiralty reports to letters and accounts.   

Failed Colonies  

The European Empires which dominated the modern period had their origins in the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  These empires produced long periods of conquest and colonisation and the history of colonisation has often been written as a story of inevitability yet this is far from the case.  Environment, conflict, isolation, poverty and enmity ensured that virtually all countries began with colonial failure.   Research groups will have the opportunity of choosing and studying from a number of different colonies attempted by the French, English, Germans or Spanish during the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to examine the reasons for failure.  They can focus on a variety of subjects such as how success and failure can be defined, conflicts between settlers and investors, life in the early colonies and the dangers affecting settlement.  

Conversation and Mission in Early Medieval Europe  

The late antique world’s fundamental cultural legacy to early medieval Europe was the Christian church.  A consistent feature of Europe’s subsequent geographical expansion was the spread of Christianity to peoples and regions previously unacquainted with it.  Research groups will be invited to examine the conditions under which Christian institutional structures, beliefs and practices came into use at the boundaries of the early medieval kingdoms, in places like Ireland, the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Scandinavia and Germany (East Francia) and beyond from the fifth to the eleventh centuries.

History in Theory and Practice

  • 20 credits

This module addresses questions to do with the nature of history and historical knowledge. Topics covered include issues in the philosophy of history (explanation, causality, objectivity etc.); the characteristics of different kinds of history and major trends in historiography. This is not a standard history module with a definite period/place focus, but a broader reflective module designed to aid independent thinking and reflection by students.

Research Methods

  • 20 credits

This module is designed to support students as they develop a topic on which to write their dissertation in their final year. It not only marks a crucial stage in their degree as a whole, but is also an important module in its own right. The Research Methods module will give students firsthand experience of the work of a historian as they learn to identify and frame a valid, intellectually coherent research question; identify, find and consider what primary sources they will use and how they will use them. 

History in Public

  • 20 credits 

This module provides students with the opportunity to reflect on what it has meant (and still means) to do history in public, from the medieval world to the present day. It explores how the process of turning the past into history has been shaped by the competing demands of politics and profit, education and entertainment, nation-building and self-fashioning. Ranging across periods and places, it moves beyond chronicles and academic histories to consider the many ways in which history has been made in public. Films, folk tales, and family trees, music, museum exhibitions, and personal memories, rituals and performance, pedagogy and printing will analysed to this end.

*Professional Skills Module

  • 20 credits

This is a work placement module involving a minimum of 20 days in a work environment in the type of organisation or business sector to which history students might apply after graduation. It would provide an opportunity for a student to develop transferable skills such as team work, problem solving, and presentational skills and give them an opportunity to develop skills of self-reflection.

* Please note: places are limited on this module

History Option A

  • 20 credits

History Option A example module summaries:

Childhood and Adolescence in Medieval Europe

This course will explore the lives of young people in Medieval Society from ca. 1100 to 1500 focusing on western Europe with a special emphasis on England.  A society’s culture and a myriad of attitudes are revealed in the way it deals with its children and adolescents. In this course we will look at the way historians have examined childhood and explore and test the argument made by some that there was no real concept of childhood in medieval Europe.  In individual seminars we will explore various aspects of the lives of children, starting with pregnancy and birth over early childhood and infancy to adolescence and family formation, which usually occurred in the later teenage years. What was it like to grow up in a medieval city like London?  How would the experiences of boys and girls growing up in noble households have differed from those growing up in villages or towns?  What did young people learn and how were they viewed by adults?  We will also look at questions of socialisation and gender roles, so in what ways did experiences of girls and boys differ, what kind of schooling did children receive, if any?  The period covered saw some important and sweeping social and economic changes, so how did the Black Death impact on families? We will look at a whole range of primary sources, from poems to legal records to archaeological finds. 

Prophets, Rulers and Rebels of Early Islam

Islam is the newest of the great monotheistic religions.  Its Prophet Muhammad died in 632, and within just 100 years the Islamic caliphate extended from the Arabian Peninsula across thousands of kilometres to the frontiers with China.  How do we explain this success of Islam, known to some as the ‘second big bang’?  How did Islamic rule impact the medieval societies that were subjected to it?  How and why did people convert to Islam, and what was their relationship with Christians, Jews or Buddhists?  Who were the caliphs and sultans of specific regions in the Islamic world?  This course explores the early origins and development of Islam within the context of historical, social and cultural change in the Near East and Central Asia from late antiquity to the 15th century. Students will draw on a range of textual, archaeological and art historical evidence to examine the history of Islam in selected societies, and will gain an appreciation for the variety in experiences and strategies of those who joined and participated in the ‘House of Islam’ in the medieval period. 

Before Globalisation? Afro-Eurasian World History 500-1800 

This module puts European history in its place. An abiding theme of European world histories written between the eighteenth and the late twentieth century has been the West’s unique rise to global preeminence through a range of diverse but interlinked processes that might collectively be called modernization. The world’s assumption of a peculiarly ‘European’ modernity, and the dominant concepts and frameworks within which historians have traced this development, has left two significant areas of human history – medieval Europe and the non-West - out in the cold, the former seen as backward and contributing little to the story, the latter in terms of passive subjection to Western political and economic dynamism or as the exoticized ‘Other’. 

The ‘globalization’ of the world over the last few decades, has exposed the brittleness of ‘European modernity’ as an overarching theme in world history. Complex global trends are happening more quickly than historians can invent new frameworks and models to comprehend them. This module contributes to these new interpretive conditions by inviting you to consider the dynamics of human interaction across the Afro-Eurasian world system from 500 to 1800, before ‘European modernity’. An important aim of this module is critically to confront Eurocentric grand narratives that have inhibited the understanding of our own European past and prevented our better appreciation of historical agency in other parts of the world. It offers a comparative synchronic study of religious and political cultures and formations, economic and technological developments, and cross-cultural contacts and trends from West-Africa and Ireland on the East Atlantic seaboard, to Japan in the Far East. 

Reformation and Rebellion in Tudor England c. 1485-1560 

The reformation of the sixteenth century was a defining period in English history. Over the successive reigns of the Tudor monarchs, England was transformed from one of the most Catholic countries in Europe into a fully-fledged Protestant nation; from a remote Catholic backwater into Europe’s premier Protestant superpower. But even for the Tudors, the process of reformation was a difficult one, wracked by covert dissent, outright rebellion, and threats from overseas. This module will chart the turbulent course of religious change in sixteenth century England, from the settled rhythms of late-medieval religious life in the pre- reformation Church to Henry VIII’s intensely personal and idiosyncratic religious reforms, and from the revolutionary new practices introduced by the boy-king Edward VI to his elder sister ‘bloody’ Mary I’s burning of almost 300 Protestant men and women, ending with the accession of Elizabeth I.  Key moments of resistance will feature against a backdrop of political and religious turmoil, and the module will also explore the local impact of religious change in the parishes, as well as its personal dimension; its impact on the hopes, fears, beliefs and practices of ordinary lay men and women. We will explore a wide range of primary sources together, including liturgical texts, ballads, contemporary histories, plays, works of propaganda, state papers, woodcuts, and other printed and manuscript documents. 

Witchcraft in Early-Modern Europe 

This course aims to give students an understanding of the causes and courses of witch-hunting in early modern Europe. It will consider the intellectual background of the witch-hunt; the relationship of witchcraft to the Protestant and Catholic reformations; the diverse and changing legal and judicial arrangements; literary and feminist theories are compared with readings inspired by anthropology and psychoanalysis. We will also focus upon the cultural and social context of the witch-hunts: issues such as the high proportion of women who were accused and executed will be addressed. The literature of witchcraft is diverse and methodologically sophisticated.  There are many conflicting interpretations, and many different approaches. Students will be introduced to these approaches, and encouraged to engage with them critically. Students will also be introduced to primary source material from a wide geographical area, and a variety of genres, and encouraged to analyse these carefully.  

John Bull Against Napolean: Fighting the French, 1793-1815 

Between 1793 and 1815, Britain and France were locked together in a struggle for survival, a series of wars of a savagery neither country had known before.  In this module we will study how Britain fought these wars: how the country crafted a new sense of nationhood to mobilise her people; how both economy and industry were organised to produce the money, men and ships needed; how strategy was formulated and used skilful diplomacy and military force finally to help defeat and overthrow the genius that was Napoleon.  If you're interested in warfare, the Anglo-French relationship, European politics and/or the roots of modern Britain, this module is for you.  

Nationalism and Conflict in the Balkans and the Middle East 

The module aims to take students through an examination of: 

  • The transition from the Ottoman Empire to nations states by discussing the role of religion and nationalism in the Balkans
  • The different forms of involvement of the western powers in both creating and resolving regional conflicts in the Balkans and the Middle East
  • The role of nationalism, colonialism and international diplomacy in the East Mediterranean by focusing on the Greek-Turkish conflict and the Cyprus Question
  • The nationalist use of the past and its connections to issues of identity
  • The causes of conflict in the Modern Middle East and the inter-relationship between wars such as the Arab- Israeli wars
  • The resurrection of nationalism as a state tool in the Balkans during the 1990s 

Totalitarian Europe: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Stalinist Russia 

Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and Stalin’s Russia from the 1930s onwards attracted study, as regimes which though deeply divided on ideology seemed to share strikingly similar characteristics.  These features were seen as embodying an entirely new form of political rule defined as totalitarian. Totalitarianism as a concept experienced a huge growth in the period after 1945.  In the 1970s the concept came under attack. The module examines the development of this concept, its strengths and weaknesses, and seeks to determine how far the concept remains valid and how far it may need to be revised if not rejected completely.  It introduces students to the history of National Socialism, Fascism and Stalinism. 

Social Activism in Contemporary Britain 

The module explores the changing nature of political participation in Britain after the Second World War. Students will consider the historical forces which have encouraged citizens to look beyond political parties and trade unions as vehicles for their needs, and towards Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and social movements. Developments in the economy, the class and education system, the provision of welfare and the voluntary sector all have to be understood if students are to arrive at a broader view of political participation in post-war Britain. In order to confront these themes, the module focuses on the following case studies: human rights and civil liberties, international aid and development, the peace and women’s movement, environmentalism, poverty, race and sexuality and lifestyle politics. It concludes by examining the significance of activism and apathy in Britain today, the age of austerity and the so-called ‘big society’.  

From Division to Unification: a History of (West) Germany 1945-2000 

This course examines the development of post war (West) Germany and the changes which happened in economic, political and social relations in the period. Events such as the Marshall Plan and the Korean War and their impact on the German economy; the social changes during the “long 1950s”, and the myth of the social market economy are investigated in the first part of the module. In the second part, the post Adenauer era is examined as a period perceived of crisis and change. Here some of the key issues are the impact of the economic crises of 1966/7 and 1973-75, the changes in politics and political culture under Chancellors Brandt and Schmidt as well as the era Kohl. Besides political questions, economic aspects (Stagflation, constant high unemployment), the social consequences will be considered. Finally the module aims to scrutinise Germany, from an economic and political perspective, during the final years of the Kohl chancellorship and the aftermath of the unification of 1990. 

Occupation and the War on Terror in Iraq from its Origins to 2011: Examining the American and British Intervention 

This Option examines the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, the course of the occupation and war through its height in 2008, and the eventual American/British withdrawal by 2011. In addition to examining the history of the war itself, including the rise of the insurgency to the Surge, it will place this war in its broader context in terms of American foreign policy in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf War, as well as the Global War on Terror initiated in the fall of 2001. This Option seeks to also examine the pre-history of this intervention, its connection to transformations in international politics as well as defense politics in the 1990’s, but also the deeper memory of war within various Western militaries in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Once we turn to the war and occupation itself we will not only examine the high politics of the conflict, but also the conflict as viewed from level of the small units fighting the war. Though it will not be our primary focus, we will also pay attention to the dynamics of the insurgency itself and what proved so difficult for the military and policymakers to gain an understanding of it in order to defeat it. Since this is a very contemporary history, we will use a wide variety of sources for this Option, from traditional historical sources (books / articles) to blogs to oral histories. The Option will demand that you achieve a certain level of indifference to many of the current easy preconceptions surrounding the Iraq War in order to carry through a detached investigation of the conflict. 

History Option B 

  • 20 credits

History Option B example module summaries:

Crusading and Crusader Kingdoms

Few aspects of medieval history appear to have more contemporary resonance than the crusades, the so- called ‘wars of the cross’ that were fought by western Christians against a range of adversaries, including Muslims, pagans, heretics and Mongols.  In this module we will examine the origins and development of the crusading ideal in the central Middle Ages, from its formation in the late eleventh century through to its evolution and diversification in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.   Where appropriate, we will also study the nature of the frontier societies that were created by crusaders in the eastern Mediterranean, the Iberian peninsula and north-eastern Europe, and assess the impact that crusading had on the lives and mentalities of western Europeans in general. 

Reproduction and the Self: Gender, Family and Sexuality in the Early Middle Ages 

This module explores changes and continuities in the relationship between production and reproduction in the period between the collapse of the Empire in the West in the fifth century to the transformations of the year 1000. We will examine the ways in which families could be created (through marriage, adoption, fostering, amongst other methods) and regulated (in terms of size, shape and membership), how changes in tenure and inheritance customs affected relations within families, and the opportunities for opting out of family structures or creating alternative structures (such as same-sex unions).  We will also look at roles and expectations for individual men and women, the ways in which masculinity and femininity were performed, and the points at which such roles and expectations were questioned.  Finally we will explore ideas surrounding sexuality: was sexuality seen as a question of identity, or a question of practice?  This module will draw on a broad range of primary sources, from normative texts such as penitentials and lawcodes to narrative sources including saints’ lives, poetry and biography; we will also draw on visual sources and on archaeological material such as grave goods. 

Crime and Public Order in Medieval Europe 

Every society has to cope with internal conflict as well as with external threats.  Such conflicts take different forms, individual criminal activity caused by poverty or an unwillingness to respect norms, mass violence which can arise from a dissolution of social structures as social protest or legally legitimate and organised violence in the context of external threats: war.  These phenomena will be studied in their different contexts. There will also be an analysis of the mechanisms produced by medieval societies to deal with conflict and to combat crime and disorder.  This will include a study of different types of norms (“laws”) and a survey of different legal mechanisms to preserve the peace. 

A great variety of late medieval sources offer information on crime and disorder, on events, on their causes and on attempts to preserve peace.  They include records from criminal trials which reveal bits of the medieval underworld and describe the procedures followed by the courts, normative sources like laws and statutes, records from towns with descriptions of unrest and spectacular criminal cases, books written by contemporary legal scholars trying to discuss legal and to define procedure as well as narrative sources giving accounts of popular rebellions and warfare.  Apart from the extensive literature on the subject, extracts from such sources will also be consulted. 

Toleration and Persecution in Early Modern Europe 1500-1700 

Early modern Europe was an era steeped in violence and marked by the forceful restraint of groups and individuals deemed seditious, revolutionary or perceived to be threats to social order and stability.  The religious reformations coincided with – indeed, accelerated - the growth of the early modern state and authorities keen to consolidate their increasing power took steps to neutralize threats to their political ambitions.  Yet, amongst the condemnation and bloodshed, research has demonstrated the tentative yet growing concept of peaceful co-existence within and between localities, religions and nationalities.  This module will explore the various manifestations of ‘toleration’ at both an intellectual and practical level and assess the ways in which the nature of persecution responded to changing social, religious and political outlooks.  Underpinned by close analysis of primary source material, this module will focus particularly on how society dealt with the tensions caused by the development of the early modern state, opposing religious groups, as well as explore responses to undesirable outcasts - including the disabled, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, the elderly, cunning folk, prostitutes. 

Religion and Religious Change in England during the Reign of Elizabeth I 

As recently as fifty years ago, historians believed that the English reformation stopped dead with the accession of Elizabeth I in 1559.  What we know now is that by 1559 the process by which England was becoming a Protestant nation had really only just begun.  Looking back at the long and prosperous Elizabethan ‘golden age’, it is easy to forget that the last Tudor inherited a kingdom wracked with religious tensions, and a people struggling to come to terms with the traumatic events of the previous half century.  The age of Shakespeare was also an age of bitter division, simmering religious hatreds and titanic battles over the heart and soul of the English Church.  This module will look at the reformation during the reign of Elizabeth I, from two main perspectives.  It will adopt a broadly chronological approach, looking at key moments and events in the reign, such as the vestiarian controversy, the northern rising, the admonition controversy, the Spanish armada, etc., and considering their relevance in terms of religious identity and change.  It will also look at key themes, such as popular religion, puritanism, and Catholicism, in order to highlight some of the main areas of historiographical interest in this period.  We will explore a wide variety of primary sources together in depth, from official publications such as homilies, sermons, liturgies and religious articles, to descriptions of martyrdom, educational and devotional texts, works of propaganda and persuasion, musical compositions, court records, parochial accounts, diaries, and other printed and manuscript materials. 

Military Revolutions and the Conduct of War c.1300-1650 

This module provides an opportunity to study the military, political, social and cultural history of warfare in Europe from the Hundred Years War to the Thirty Years War and the English Civil War.  The main questions explored will relate to the way in which technical developments, such as the introduction of gunpowder weapons and new style fortifications, affected the conduct of battles and warfare, and whether these changes constituted a series of ‘Military Revolutions’.  But it will also investigate the social and economic effects of warfare, particularly for civilian populations, the political implications of larger and more complex armies, and the impact of chivalry and ideals of masculinity on the psychology and sociology of combat. Students will analyse and study these themes using primary source accounts of combat and military ideals as well as a rich literature of secondary works. 

Fashion and Fighting: Status and Social Conflict in Tudor and Stuart England 

In this course we will explore how people in Tudor and Stuart England wanted to be seen by others, examining the various ways in which visual and material display, and what we might consider rude, quarrelsome or excessive behaviour, could help individuals to show off and compete for status in social situations. 

In 1638 at the mayor’s feast in Taunton, Somerset, one George Searle, who was a merchant and then mayor of the town, insulted Robert Browne, a gentleman, by saying that he “was an unworthy man and that the Brownes his ancestors were but shepheards”.  This glimpse into the social rivalry between the newly elevated and the gentry is provided via a court case – Searle was made to pay damages to Browne and to apologise publicly at the next mayor’s feast, where he promised “to behave myself ever after towards all the gentry of this kingdome, and in particular to Mr Browne, with all due observance and respect.”  This is just one example of how social competition between people of different degrees of status in Tudor and Stuart England sometimes bubbled to the surface, but attempts to achieve rank, reputation and recognition took many forms, which we will examine through this course. 

Social change is one of the major themes in studies of early modern England, but we will focus on evidence about how this was actually experienced by people in their daily lives.  We will explore the various ways in which people within the lesser gentry and middling ranks of society attempted to construct identity and gain status in their local communities through, for example, investment in land, domestic building, church monuments, clothing and other material possessions, education, profession, marrying well, but also through the everyday pulling of rank recorded in fights over seating in churches or the insults shouted in the street or tavern.  We will engage with a wide range of sources including the material evidence of early modern buildings and artefacts (including surviving portraits, funeral monuments, clothing, crafted objects), studied alongside primary texts such as conduct literature, court records, inventories, wills, diaries, letters, pamphlets and drama. 

Islamicate Empires: the Ottomans, Safavids and Mughals in the Early Modern World 

In the period before Europe dominated the globe, several powerful empires expanded and thrived across Eurasia.  This module introduces you to three of the most significant of these empires whose impact remains with us today.  In the sixteenth century, the central lands of Islam emerged from a prolonged period of political, social, and religious upheaval through the establishment of three massive, stable land-based empires: the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals.  These empires - all of which shared a common Turco-Mongol and Perso- Islamic heritage - produced innovative and lasting approaches to governance that facilitated the control of expansive swaths of Eurasia.  We will approach these three pre-modern societies on their own terms by examining the particular dynamics that informed political, social, religious, and cultural life across this vast space stretching from the Balkans to Bengal.  We will study these empires individually and comparatively and consider their establishment and development in a global context. 

The Good War? A Cultural and Military History of Britain and the Second World War 

The Second World War is often called ‘the good war’ – a black and white conflict where good triumphed over evil.  But was it?  Can a war ever be cast in such simplistic terms?  We will consider these questions, along with wider cultural, social and military considerations in order to understand how British and Commonwealth participants (in the broadest sense of the word) experienced the Second World War and how they made sense of those experiences.  While the module will consider some of the key campaigns of the Second World War, such as the Fall of Singapore, the Desert War, the Normandy campaign, and the war in the air and at sea, this analysis will not be limited to an overview of the Allies’ campaigns in the war.  Instead, it will position these campaigns within a broader context, and will include the cultural, ethical, industrial, sexual and social aspects of war.  We will explore whether there really was a ‘Blitz Spirit’ on the British home front, or whether the war served to exacerbate already existing tensions.  We will also consider how Britain and the Allies won the war in a military sense.  Was it through luck, through combat effectiveness and experience or a combination of multiple factors?  By using a variety of primary sources, including oral history, official papers, diaries, and letters, we will explore the experience and impact of the Second World War on Britain at home and overseas. 

The African-American Experience since 1945 

This module offers students the opportunity to study the political, social and cultural experience of African- Americans since 1945. It includes the study of important events in the civil rights movement, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Mississippi Freedom Summer, and the rise of Black power. The course allows students to critically assess the role of leaders such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, and the work of civil rights organizations such as the Student Nonviolence Co-ordinating committee.  The course examines the impact of the civil rights movement, studying post-civil rights themes such as Black Poverty and access to justice.  The course will be delivered by a one hour lecture and a two hour seminar, which will give students the opportunity to engage with primary texts. 

The Sixties: "Years of hope, Days of Rage" 

This module takes as its basis the decade that defined the society, culture, and politics of the postwar United States. From the Civil Rights Movement to the Stonewall riots we trace the history and consider the legacies of the Sixties’ “rights revolution.” We look at the people and cultural movements that shaped the period from the hippies, drug and counterculture to JFK and Richard Nixon. The module also pays close attention to the increasing dissatisfaction of many Americans with the new spirit of liberalism and the rise of a new conservatism and “silent majority.” Lastly, the module examines how United States’ foreign policy, particularly in the case of Vietnam, had a profound influence on both foreign and domestic politics. This module aims to provide nuance and clarity to a decade often remembered through a haze of nostalgia. 

Rebellious Women and the Latin American Nation 

Latin American cultures are frequently thought of as limiting women’s movements and rights. Yet, many of the historical iconic women of Latin America were rebellious, strong, bold, and untameable.  They intimidated the men and women around them and stood defiant in the face of societal norms.  They defied not only gendered expectations, but those expected of their race, class, region, and nation.  In this module, we will study Latin American history through the region’s iconic women—from La Malinche (the often villainised indigenous woman who translated for the conquistador Hernán Cortés) to popular prophetesses, from comic strip heroines to the recently impeached Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff. We will seek to understand how these women - nonfictional and literary - have been represented throughout Latin American history. Gender, sexuality, race, and class will be key concepts that guide the course.  Why have Latin American journalists, artists, historians, and social movements drawn upon these particular women as symbols of their nations at different historical moments and to what effect?  Why is it, specifically, women that are conjured in Latin American discussions of colonialism, imperialism, dictatorship, and/or globalization?  How and why have the narratives around them changed over time? 

Staggering Growth, Feeding the World: International Development from Colonial Empire to Neoliberalism 

“Development” has been the watchword of schemes to increase human prosperity for many decades. Today, in a world gripped by political and financial crisis, it remains the dominant recipe for ending poverty and hunger.  In this module, we will discover the history of development as an idea and a practice.  What are its roots in colonial empire, and how has its meaning and impact shifted over time?  Across the twentieth century, we will examine different case studies - focusing notably on projects to feed the world in new ways – and on different theories in order to understand where ideas about development came from. How did such ideas become entrenched in institutions and policies, and what criticism and resistance have they provoked? 

Before Brexit: Histories of European Integration, 1945-2016 

In 1957, six European countries pledged to work towards an ever closer union in the Treaty of Rome. It is one of many certainties that have come under scrutiny in recent years, and Britain’s Brexit vote on 23 June 2016 is a good opportunity to take stock of narratives about European integration.  The module looks at the long history of the idea of Europe and then turns to how a united Europe became a political reality in the years after 1945.  It will look into the gap between ideas and realities, explores selected fields of policy, and traces the institutional evolution and its discontents.  The module offers a broad introduction into key fields of European post-war history, and it shows the power of history.  After all, everything about Europe bears the imprint of the past: its borders, rules for conflict resolution, its identity (to the extent that it has one) and its relationship towards the rest of the world.  But does the troublesome past of a divided Europe really matter in the twenty- first century?  What is our vision for Europe – or do we need one at all?  There are multiple histories of European integration, and the module reflects on which ones we should embrace and what they mean for the continent and for ourselves. 

Finding a Role: Britain and the Global Economy since 1870 

Brexit has reopened the debate about Britain’s place in the wider world. But while some aspects of the debate are new, in another sense it is a continuation of a theme that has been running on and off since the late nineteenth century.  This was when policy makers first realised that the global dominance that had personified Britain in the Victorian era could not be maintained as other nations industrialised and developed.  Britain, it seemed, needed to be part of something bigger than itself if it was to maintain its global economic influence. At various times subsequently national destiny was held to lie with either a more unified Empire (and then later the Commonwealth); or as a junior partner to the USA in a new global order; or through being part of a European project; or through some combination of all three. These changing perceptions occurred against a backdrop of a rapidly evolving global economy, fuelled in part by war, depression, financial crises and the rise of multinational economic institutions.  This course will examine how, within this context, policymakers have tried to redefine Britain’s place in the global economy, focusing particularly on the issues of international trade, currency and finance (with particular reference to the role the City of London has played in Britain’s international story).  It will consider critically the choices made by successive governments and thereby help explain how Britain has arrived at the position it finds itself in today. 

  

Third/Final year

History Dissertation 

  • 40 credits

Students complete research and focus their energies on preparing drafts of chapters for their dissertations. Students undertake a wide range of research activities enabling them to engage directly with contemporary debates in history and examine and interpret diverse sources such as letters, diaries, newspapers, government, business, church and parish records, statistical sources and media representations of varying kinds etc...

Students studying this module are required to prepare a 12,000 word dissertation within the broad field of History and students choose to study diverse regions and periods. Some students elect to research an area to which they have already been introduced via a taught module, others develop themes initiated in Group Research Projects, and some students seize the opportunity to pursue a research interest that they have been unable to develop elsewhere in the curriculum.

Some examples of topics recently researched by students on this programme include:

  • The Kushan military relationship with Han China: A First Analysis
  • Representations of gender and sexuality in the trial of Joan of Arc
  • The Portrayal of Richard III in historical and fictional works, plus his modern perception in popular culture
  • Urban Encounters: economic and social aspects of daily life in York and London in early medieval England
  • Disunity of Islam: the impact of the Assassins on the Crusader States, c. 1090 to c.1190
  • The impact of the First World War on the working lives of Birmingham’s female working-class munitions workers
  • Downton Abbey - Fact, Fiction or Fantasy? An investigation of servant-master relationships in the early 20th century
  • How did British business interests shape imperial maritime policy in the Middle East: 1900-1918?
  • Thoroughly Modern Witches: The Transmutations of Enchantment 1870-1930
  • A journey of division: An analysis into the changing portrayal of the Berlin Wall in the British press
  • The Black Legend of Borgia: Creation of a Myth
  • The Gin Craze and Crime in Eighteenth Century London
  • Change and Continuity: developing discourse on the plague in seventeenth century England
  • The Tudor Sisters: The Role of Religion in the Relationship between Mary and Elizabeth
  • Appropriating Camelot in nineteenth century culture

Special Subject: Sources (A) and Essays (B)

  • 20 + 20 credits

Special Subject example module summaries:

In the Garden of Truth: Warriors, Saints and Spies in Afghanistan and other Eastern Islamic Lands 

“How can we build our future when we don’t even know our own history?”  With these words the Director of the National Museum of Afghanistan emphasized the urgency of a historical study of Afghanistan some years ago. This man single-handedly rescued thousands of shattered remains of third-century Buddhist statues that were bombed by the Taliban in 2002.  He was referring to the “history vacuum” that resulted from the massive brain drain of Afghan historians and cultural heritage workers.  Attaining a historical narrative that is evidence- based is a matter of peace and development. This module aims to fill this gap through a comprehensive, diachronic, multilingual and inter-disciplinary study of the evolution of Islam in Afghanistan, Central Asia, northern India and Iran. It examines the administrative, socioeconomic, and cultural and religious impact of Islamic rule from the Arab conquests of 709 A.D. to the beginning of the modern nation-state of Afghanistan in 1747 A.D.  We will draw on newly accessible historical evidence, such as a set of translated early Islamic documents from northern Afghanistan, local histories and archaeological material.  We will study the way in which scholarship in Islamic history is researching questions on the origin and transmission of ideas that led to the formation and development of Islam as a political, socio-economic, religious and cultural force.  Situated at crossroads of the “silk routes,” Afghanistan was a melting pot of religions.  Afghanistan holds a key to understanding the spread of Islam, and this module intends to probe its mysteries. 

Treasure in Anglo-Saxon England, 400-1000 

From the ship burial at Sutton Hoo to the Staffordshire Hoard, treasure forms a significant part of the surviving material culture of Anglo-Saxon England.  Treasure also looms large in many of our written sources: the halls of Beowulf are filled with tales of noble warriors and their glittering weapons and Bede’s kings are gift-givers, distributing plunder to their followers and bestowing costly plate on religious communities.  

In this module we will look at different types of treasure – physical artefacts as well as descriptions and depictions of valuable items – to explore the ways in which value attaches to objects. Some media, particularly gold and silver, were more valuable than others, a distinction preserved and perpetuated in the Treasure Act (1996).  But whilst all that glittered was not gold, value could also attach to everyday objects: old clothing or drinking vessels took on additional significance if they had belonged to a saint, and pieces of the saints themselves - relics - were fought over, sometimes literally.  Other items might become more valuable in particular contexts, through scarcity or changes in fashion; they could also gain additional significance from their provenance or association with important figures.  

We will also look at the different ways in which treasure was acquired and deposited, and what these methods can tell us about broader economic trends and processes of exchange and economic stability.  Valuable items could be acquired through commerce as well as gift-giving; they might be deliberately deposited or passed on as part of a particular ritual, or lost through accident or theft. 

Game Withouth Thrones: Saga Age Iceland C.900-C.1250 

How would you organise a brand-new society set up by people drawn from diverse geographical and social backgrounds? How would that society function if it were remote from other places and where material conditions were poor?  What would you make of this society if the major written sources it produced were soap-opera-like stories dominated by tales of bloodfeuds, zombies, and where people fought not only with weapons but with sexual insults?  Questions like these are key when we consider early Iceland, one of the world’s most distinctive societies in one of the world’s most unusual physical landscapes.  

The ‘viking’ colonisation of Iceland is one of the most unusual events in world: in the late ninth century a society was established from scratch in a country which had never been inhabited before.  Why people went to Iceland, and how this new society of migrants evolved, forms the first part of the course.  Equally intriguing is how this society functioned in later centuries.  Iceland had no king, just a series of public assemblies where legal and social business was carried out.  It was materially poor and political power was weak. The most important figures were often local or regional leaders (chieftains) whose charisma and personal qualities mattered as much as their wealth and military muscle.  While Christianity officially arrived in Iceland in c.1000, the country was arguably slow to become fully Christianised.

1066: Epic Tales of Saints, swordsman and Scribes 

This Special Subject offers a chance to explore one of the most colourful and formative periods of English history both as a subject of historical enquiry and a product of historiographical invention.  The century after Duke William’s famous conquest of England saw an explosion of historical writing - largely in the cultural context of monastic-centred religious reform - aimed at interpreting and inventing new accounts of the past to make sense of the startlingly dramatic developments of the present.  Warriors and warfare, sex and marriage, saints and miracles, honour and humiliation, violence, insurgency and subjection were all subjects in the narration of a new Anglo-Norman history of England that grappled with the consequences of a small alien force of Normans and French that completely subdued and supplanted the English ruling elite.  Such a wholesale regime change was rare even in medieval history, and seems to have shocked the native culture into stunned silence for at least a generation.  When English and mixed birth scribes finally broke that silence, they unleashed a torrent of narrative designed to make sense of events set in train by 1066.  As we shall see, their answers to questions of continuity and change have shaped the way subsequent English history has been written and read to this day.  

Age of Discovery  

The focus of this module is the period of European discovery and encounter with the wider world beyond the confines of Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa. Between c.1400 and c.1600 Europeans passed the tropic of Cancer, hitherto seen as a complete barrier to expansion, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, sailed through the Straits of Magellan, circumnavigated the world and founded the first large international trading monopolies.  In this period, the Atlantic seaboard ceased to be a periphery region and became a key region of European power. This period led, amongst other matters, to the foundation of the first large international trading monopolies, the wide transfer of animals, plants, humans and cultures between the two hemispheres, the global mapping of the world and a new world-view, and the rise of colonial empires.  

This module examines the politically-laden term of discovery, and debates its suitability.  We shall discuss and evaluate some the principal technological and intellectual developments that needed to occur to bring about an age of discovery, examining some of the practicalities involved in exploration and encounter, important voyages of exploration, and the main implications for the political, social and intellectual history in Europe.  We shall discuss the role of both institutions such as trading companies, national governments and the church, and individuals in furthering European exploration and discovery in the newly-encountered regions of the world. These regions include not only the New world, but also regions of Africa and Asia.  We will focus on the countries directly involved in expansion, particularly England, France, Spain and Portugal.  A wide range of historical sources will be analysed, including ships papers, official and personal papers, memoirs, journals, letters, maps, navigational instruments and cosmographical treatises.  

Histories of Hate: Fear and Loathing in Early Modern Europe 

The early-modern period was marked by ferocious persecution of many groups perceived to be in some way threatening, deviant or simply different from the established social order.  Islamophobia was rife, as was anti- semitism, with the Jews of Europe being subject to inquisition, expulsion, ghettoisation, exploitation and execution.  Within Christianity, the tumult of the reformation led to religious division and difference that resulted in outbreaks of vicious sectarian mob violence bolstered by unbending state persecution of confessional minorities, while those who were seen as racially or physically different, deformed or simply female (!) could also be subject to harsh treatment.  Sexual behaviour was also a matter of public concern rather than private predilection, with the criminalisation of acts seen as immoral, such as adultery and sodomy.  Lastly, this was an age in which the devil was believed to walk the earth; as a result, prosecutions for witchcraft soared in the period, with tens of thousands of women and sometimes men tried and executed for their suspected diabolism.

The religious changes of the period acted to a large extent accelerant, intensifier and legitimiser of all of these manifestations of persecution.  Scholars have, however, suggested other reasons too, including apocalypticism, confessionalization (the development of the early modern state), class tensions (the view of Marxist historians), the dissemination of propaganda thanks to the spread of print, environmental and climactic concerns (the sixteenth century saw the peak of the so-called Little Ice Age), and valuable insights drawn from the fields of anthropology and psychology on how people behave in groups against perceived enemies or 'pollutants'.  You will be invited to consider the value of all of these explanations, allowing you to come to your own conclusions about the origins of persecution, not only in early-modern Europe but in the broader past and indeed present. 

A History of the Tudors in 100 Objects 

In this course we will examine a rich body of surviving objects from the Tudor period to explore how major themes in the study of early modern history were experienced by people in everyday life.  Each week we will discuss the ways in which a particular object - including the legendary ‘Round Table’ of King Arthur, a nit-comb from the wreck of the Mary Rose warship, a defaced religious icon, a ‘witch-bottle’ to fend off evil charms, a codpiece and a ring decorated with a skull - might inform our understanding of, for example, dynastic and religious change; social mobility; superstition and popular belief; domestic and family life; the life- cycle; gender; health and hygiene.  We will investigate and vote for additional objects each week to arrive collectively by the end of the course at our own version of a history of the Tudors in 100 objects.  

In the last two decades there has been a turn towards the study of ‘material culture’ in historical studies.  The sixteenth century in England is often identified with the start of a commodity culture and a pronounced increase in the production and consumption of a wide range of material goods. Yet the artefactual evidence presented by the objects themselves and the micro-histories they open up is often neglected or buried within broader narratives.  This course will engage with a range of objects, primary texts and secondary readings to identify the material, economic and symbolic meanings of ‘things’ for early modern people, as well as the different approaches to the study of material culture offered by disciplines such as art history, archaeology, anthropology and literary studies.  We will also ask questions about the ways in which historic objects are presented in museum and heritage contexts. 

The English Civil War and Local Society  

The civil war that ripped England apart in the 1640s was one of the most devastating conflicts in its history.  It destroyed families and towns, ravaged the population and led to the execution of King Charles I and the establishment of the only republican regime in English history.  Its causes can be traced back to the social, cultural and political upheavals of the previous 50 years, as England became divided by a series of religious ‘culture wars’ and parliament and the people turned against royal government.  Its consequences were felt for decades, as the new opportunities afforded by print culture and the radical ideas of groups like the Levellers and Quakers opened up opportunities for ordinary English men and women to debate and change their society.  The nature of the conventional family was challenged, England was subjected to an experiment in ‘Puritan rule’ and the divide between Royalist and Parliamentarian introduced a new partisanship in politics.  The aim of this course is to study the English Civil War from the perspective of those who lived through it, in the towns and villages, from the gentry and social elite down to the ordinary men and women of the freeholder and artisan classes.  The first term will focus on the lead up to the Civil War, exploring the ‘culture wars’ and social tensions that divided local communities, the growth of opposition to the crown and ideological conflict, and how and why people sided with Parliament or the King in 1642.  The second term will focus on the war itself: the battles and sieges which often laid waste local communities, the experience of soldiering and the disruption of the family, and debates about the destructiveness of a war which killed as many of the British people as World Wars I and II.  There will also be an investigation of the consequences of the war, opening up new opportunities for empowering women and radical religious groups, but also producing a conservative backlash in favour of the patriarchal family and traditional royal government.  These topics will be explored through a rich mix of primary sources, consisting of diaries, correspondence and visual material which reveals, through their own words and images, how the English people experienced civil war. 

The American Civil War 

The American Civil War (1861-65) was a seminal event in American history.  The secession of the Confederate states in 1861 opened the way to four years of bloody conflict: it is the deadliest war in US history, and its legacy remains bitterly contested.  This special subject will allow students the chance to explore this conflict in depth. The module will consider a wide range of significant historical debates relating to the war.  Why did the war happen?  Could the Confederacy really have won it?  How much of a difference did the leadership of President Abraham Lincoln make to the result?  Why did Britain and France stay neutral?  Was the American Civil War the first ‘modern’ war?  Did brother really fight against brother?  Was slavery the root cause, and how and why did it come to an end?  What were the consequences of the war?  Students will get the chance to consider all of these questions, and more. 

The Weary Titan: Britain and Imperial Strategy, 1897-1919 

Great Britain at the dawn of the twentieth century appeared to many the only global superpower, unassailable at home and unstoppable overseas.  To others, this was a mirage.  For instance, in 1902 Joseph Chamberlain described Britain as 'a weary Titan staggering under the too-vast orb of its fate', already suffering from a bad case of what would later be termed 'imperial overstretch'.  Which view is right?  We will examine British foreign and defence policy in peace and war to explore this and to address four main historical debates.  First, how Britain moved, within just twenty years, from being a maritime power which stood aloof from European entanglements to sending her largest ever army to fight and win a terrible war in the heart of Europe.  Secondly, her role in the origins of that war.  Thirdly, how she addressed new strains on civil-military relations within a democracy and built the professional machinery to manage defence.  Lastly, how she managed - or failed to manage - her own decline amidst new challenges to her power in a newly multilateral world. This module should appeal to students interested in international relations, war, and the growth of the modern British state.  

British Women and Internationalism in the Twentieth Century  

David Low’s 1929 cartoon “The Saner Sex” paid affectionate tribute to the Women’s Peace Crusade, a cross-party organization of British women committed to securing collective security and international peace through the League of Nations.  Low’s juxtaposition of an army of bellicose old men and a bored peace-loving woman underscored the prevalent notion of sexual difference in attitudes towards war and peace.  Women, as mothers and nurturers, were, it was argued, inherently more pacific than men, and many women used this logic of sexual difference to justify their participation in international affairs.  If women’s voices could only be heard, the world would be a more peaceable place.  

Not all women who became involved in international affairs did so because they were feminist pacifists.  Some were revolutionaries or militant nationalists.  Some were interested in international civil society or humanitarian relief, and comparatively unconcerned with issues of war and peace.  Some were pacifists, but understood their pacifism in socialist or humanist terms, and not as a product of their gender.  This course looks at the history of women’s involvement in the international sphere, from the nineteenth century through to the present age.  The primary sources give voice to women who devoted their time and energy to work in the international sphere, and shed light on the way in which these women understood their connection to the broader world, how they sought to influence the world outside their own borders, and how those around them responded to their international activism. We will look at the multiple arenas in which British women engaged with men and women outside Britain’s borders, including: 19th century campaigns for the abolition of slavery; Florence Nightingale and the Crimean War; The International Council of Women, established in Washington, DC, in 1888; Transnational cooperation between suffrage activists; The International Conference of Women for a Permanent Peace held at The Hague in 1915; Women and the international socialist movement; Comintern Women; Dorothy Buxton, Eglantine Jebb and the Save the Children Foundation; The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, peace and social reform; Women and the British League of Nations Union; Women in the League of Nations administration and the International Labour Organization; Gender and fascism; The United Nations, gender and human rights; Women within the diplomatic service; The transnational dimension of Second Wave Feminism; Is there such a thing as a feminist internationalism? 

The Human Shore: People and Nature on British and Irish Coasts, 1700-2000 

Britain and Ireland are made up of thousands of islands, of which 267 are permanently populated, yet only two of them - the British and Irish mainlands - receive much attention in general histories.  Britain is a small place (only 800 miles from south to north), yet the islands have a staggering 30,000 miles of coastline.  And water was, until the middle of the nineteenth century, the major way by which Britain was travelled.  Long coasts and small islands are enormously significant in Britain’s past, and their histories are far more diverse than is often recognised.  Today, the language of a large proportion of these coasts is not English (islands and peninsulas are strongholds of Welsh, Irish Gaelic, Scots and Scottish Gaelic as well as rich dialects such as Shetlandic), while gender norms have worked differently in societies such as Shetland where men spent much of the year seafaring so women shaped social life.  These coasts have also changed dramatically since 1700 as old coastal trades collapsed and new pursuits - from leisure and tourism to environmentalism and conservation - emerged.

This special subject explores these roles of coasts and the sea in British and Irish histories and identities.  It will introduce you to an entirely different geography of these islands, and to a richness and diversity in British and Irish cultures that is rarely acknowledged.  It will reveal ways in which the histories of humans, animals and landscapes are perpetually interlocked. Only by giving coasts the place they deserve in history can we understand that history on its own terms, rather than reflecting the landlocked nature of modern British life back onto the past; and no-one can claim to know British and Irish history till they’ve seen it from coastal perspectives.  

The Russian Revolution, 1917 

The module examines the events in Russia from the February Revolution to the October Revolution of 1917.  It analyses the factors shaping the political crisis that gripped the country in this period, the dynamics in the development of the popular responses to the crises, and the way in which different political parties sought to control and lead events.  These events are studied against the background of the collapse of the tsarist regime, the problems created by the Great War, and by the international situation and Russia’s relations with its allies. 

Semester I. This deals with the chronological sequences of events, from February to October 1917, based on a close reading of primary documents - including statements by the government, soviets, political parties, and press articles.  This aims is to develop in the students an ability to critically read and evaluate testimony and the way in which events are explained and described by contemporaries.  This is intended to highlight the problem for historians in evaluating the use of such documents, identifying problems of inbuilt bias, and developing strategies to cope with these problems. 

Semester II. This involves a thematic exploration of developments in Russia from February to October 1917.  In this part of the course attention will be focused on the scholarly literature dealing with the political parties, individual personalities, foreign relations, the armed forces, the agrarian question, the workers, centre and periphery.  This is intended to explore the different schools of thought amongst historians concerning the interpretation of these events. 

The British Army and the Western Front, 1914-1918 

'Mud, blood and endless poetry': is that all there was to the First World War?  This most controversial of wars has become surrounded by stereotypes and myths.  The aim of this module will be to analyse the British Expeditionary Force’s response to the challenge of the Western Front.  Was it just an army of ‘lions led by donkeys’, endlessly blundering through the mud in a sterile and senseless conflict?  Or a highly effective institution which faced and eventually overcame extreme difficulties and created modern warfare as we know it today?  This analysis will not be limited to an overview of the BEF’s battles on this front.  Instead, it will place the BEF’s response to the Western Front into a wider context, and will include, inter alia, the global, political, strategic, industrial, social, and cultural aspects that affected its ability to wage modern war.  It will also invite students to consider the lasting legacy of the First World War through an analysis of the historiography surrounding the conflict and the nature of its commemoration.  By considering the BEF in this manner, it is hoped that students will be able to understand how the army developed as an organisation, the external and internal factors that influenced its development, and how such lessons helped or hindered its military performance during the First World War. 

The Nazis at War 

War was the essence of National Socialism.  The movement was born out of war, it created a warlike society, it saw its fulfilment in war and it ultimately went down in war.  It is not surprising that most of the research on Nazi Germany of the last two decades revolved around war. 

The aim of this module will be to familiarise the student with this recent research and engage them with the key debates as well as with the key primary sources on National Socialism and its peculiar relationship to war. Arguably, nothing is more crucial to understanding its ideology and the reality of the Third Reich than this relationship.  To better situate National Socialism in its time, we will compare the regime with similar regimes, notably fascist Italy.  

Facing the Fuhrer and the Duce: British Foreign and Defence Policies 1931-1940 

Neville Chamberlain is a hugely controversial figure, being consistently rated one of the worst British Prime Ministers of the Twentieth Century.  The popular image is that of an umbrella-toting pacifist, intent on peace with the fascist dictators at almost any price.  This belies the much more complex reality and the underlying calculations and constraints that drove the policy of appeasement.  Chamberlain pursued that policy to its apogee at Munich, but did not invent it.  Moreover, there was an aftermath to the failure of appeasement, for which reason the module ends in December 1940 when the Battle of Britain had been won and the Italians driven out of Egypt.  These latter successes reflected the successes of the rearmament programmes which dovetailed with appeasement, lest it were to fail.  But there were also failures, such as with the failure to create an army to defeat the Wehrmacht, leading to the Norway disaster and the Fall of France. 

The History of Grand Strategy 

This course, based on Yale University’s Grand Strategy Seminary and the U.S. Naval War College’s Strategy and Policy course, examines the creation and functioning of grand strategy of great powers from Thucydides to the present.  It considers strategy to be the calculated relationship between means and ends.  We will examine the historical creation of strategy in a broad variety of cases from a range of analytic perspectives.  We will roughly have one to two class sessions on the grand strategies of different great powers.  Though we begin with Thucydides and will proceed chronologically, the majority of cases that we will examine are centred on wars from the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  At its base, this is a history course that considers the implications, seen and not foreseen, of decisions by policymakers on the development of wars.  Beyond policymaker’s decisions, we will also consider the role of social, political, cultural, and international factors that shape outcomes of wars as well as the role of contingency in this.  In turn, we will consider the extent to which policymakers were cognizant of these broader factors and the extent to which they attempted to shape or react to these factors.  This course adopts a broad perspective and will encourage students to reflect on how the practice of strategy in relationship to war has changed over time.  Finally, we will also consider if there are particular strategic practices and perspectives that are transhistorical in nature.  

Strategy, however, is not only limited to the period of wars themselves.  It is firmly embedded in a broader approach to international politics among great powers.  While we will examine individual conflicts, we will also be examining broader approaches to strategy taken by groups of powers. For example, we will look at the approach to geopolitics undertaken by the authoritarian and fascist countries in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  Of course, the Second World War and its events will play a role in discussions of authoritarian geopolitics.  Yet, this will not be a class that concentrates on creating a narrative of the Second World War, so students need not be concerned that they will need to have or develop an extensive knowledge of individual conflicts in order to succeed in the class. Rather, we will examine the grad strategic approach of powers in broad terms throughout the course. 

Where is Discord: Making Thatcher's Britain 

In remarks made on the steps on 10 Downing Street on her first morning as Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher quoted the words of St Francis of Assisi: ‘Where there is discord, may we bring harmony’.  Yet Thatcherism provoked much discord and little harmony.  The policies of her governments inspired enormously strong reactions among both her supporters and her critics, her personality contributed to the febrile political atmosphere of the 1980s.  Where There Is Discord will explore these polarised reactions by examining the policies and politics of the Thatcher governments, and by placing Thatcherism in political and historical perspective.  The module will draw on the huge repositories of material on the 1980s made available online by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation Website and the National Archives, and on the popular responses to Thatcherism - the songs, the comedy, the films, the novels, the poetry - that were a feature of British culture in the 1980s and after. 

The Revolting Right: Conservative Activism in Post-war Britain 

In light of the success of UKIP and the anxieties about nationalist populism across the globe, it seems an appropriate moment to reflect on the history of activism from the right within the UK.  What happens to the history of political activism and Britain if we look at voices which might otherwise be dismissed as ‘cranky’, ‘backwards-looking’, ‘marginal’ and ‘peripheral’?  In examining the history of non-party mobilizations from the political right from the end of the Second World War to the rise of UKIP, this module questions how citizens have been political in the post-war and the extent to which activists brought about and resisted political, economic, cultural and social change?  The module uses the extra-parliamentary right to ask big questions about political mobilizations in the twentieth century and how to historicize these.  What did conservative mobilizations find so objectionable about immigration, homosexuality and feminism and how do we as historians understand these ideas, responsibly engage with them while critiquing such notions? 

Taking this module, you will consider what conservatism look like when we observe it from outside Parliament and explores the ways which Thatcherism become ‘ordinary’ through activist spaces including the Neighbourhood Watch, the individual share owners or the University campus.  You will reflect upon the histories of conservatism, ethnic populism, neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism.  By offering broad conceptualization of the political, you will assess a range of mobilizations stretching from elite think tanks (such as the Mont Pelerin Society), to grass roots social movements (including Mary Whitehouse’s National Viewers and Listeners Association), campaigning organizations (like the National Association for Freedom) while also assessing the individual life-stories of some less conventional political activists. 

You will be introduced to a range of sources including unpublished oral histories, archival papers from obscure activists and never-before seen collections of letters reflecting public concerns about race, empire and immigration, permissiveness, students and protestors. In so doing, you will seek to understand the networks which connected Cold War and security NGOs with, for example, those opposing lesbianism from a shed in Newbury, Berkshire.  The module will help you reflect on whether late twentieth century see a new world order created along neo-liberal or neo-conservative lines, how did this play out within the British state, and what forms of activism articulated and drove such shifts?  It will also provide historical context for the rise of UKIP, assessing its similarities and distinctiveness from older forms of protest. 

Terrorising History: Terrorist Motivations, Methods and Meyhem

Terrorism is constantly in the news and is widely viewed as a scourge of the 21st century.  Yet, political violence in many different forms and locations and for various different reasons has existed for hundreds of years.  One reason for the perception of terrorism being a modern problem is that the scholarship around it tends to be dominated by political scientists and the end result is work that is often ahistorical and event driven. 

This Special Subject module will challenge this skewed perception by examining in historical context the phenomenon of terrorism.  It will do so by looking at the evolution of the historiography around terrorism, exploring and challenging key concepts in the field, and by making a case for the importance of historical scholarship in understanding terrorism.  Most importantly, through secondary and primary sources, the module will study the motivations of terrorists, including David Rapoport’s four waves of modern terrorism theory, their methods, such as suicide bombings, car bombings, aircraft hijackings, assassinations, and lone-actor attacks, and their actions through specific case studies of major attacks like the 1972 Munich Olympics, 9/11, and 7/7. 

History Advanced Option A 

  •  20 credits

History Advanced Option A example module summaries:

The Black Death in Medieval Europe: Disaster, Change and Recovery 

What happened when the Black Death arrived in Europe?  How did people react to the disease, and what impact did the Black Death have on society?  We will explore the arrival of the Black Death, the manifestation of the disease, death rates and the resultant population decline.  We will also explore how people in the 14th century tried to explain and make sense of the disease, so we will look at religious responses, including the movement of the flagellants, as well as scientific explanations.  These include medieval ideas about how the disease spread, and how some authorities tried to enact regulations in attempts to halt the spread of the plague.  We will then move on to exploring the various and multifaceted consequences of the plague on the men and women of the 14th century, including rising wages and changes in land values and resultant regulations of wages and labour contracts.  We will explore whether women and men were affected differently by the post plague economic climate and we will also ask if later medieval revolts can be linked to the effects of the Black Death.  These issues will be examined in the wider context of how historians have studied the Black Death and its effects. We will explore how medieval people felt about the plague and its effects through a variety of primary sources, including letters, chronicles and court records. 

After the Mongols: Political Authority in Islamic Lands, 1200-1600 

How do ruling elites cope when they are conquered by people whose world views are so different from their own?  This module examines the bases of political authority in Islamic lands between the 13th and 16th centuries to try to answer this question.  The Mongol elimination of the Abbasid Caliphate in the 13th century posed fundamental challenges to Islamic notions of rule.  For the first time in its history sedentary Islamic society was faced with the reality of non-Muslim rule and the pre-eminence of Turko- Mongol political culture with its emphasis on a pastoralist ethos.  Over the course of the next three centuries Muslim scholars and rulers struggled to develop new ideas of political authority which could address the shifting political realities of their day.  Such ideas ranged from resistance to accommodation and, over the centuries, they resulted in new ways of doing things.  A consideration of these changes allows us to understand the ideological foundations of the early modern empires which dominated West and South Asia into the modern era.

‘A Holiday from Reality’: A History of Drugs and Drug Use in the Modern Era 

In his novel A Brave New World (1932), Aldous Huxley declared that consuming the mythical drug ‘soma’ was to take a ‘holiday from reality’.  While the module is not quite this break from reality, it does seek to examine the history of drugs in the modern era in a broad and imaginative manner; moving beyond narratives of substance abuse and addiction to consider concepts of functional drug use and the role of human agency in the process of consuming psychoactives.  The module explores broad historiographical themes and historical case studies, which focus on a particular drug, a group of substances or a specific historical moment.  Based around a loose chronology that spans the Victorian era to the Cold War and beyond, the module will include global narratives relating to the trade and regulation of drugs through to national and regional studies, This includes a particular focus on Britain in the era of the two World Wars; drug use in times of conflict; the political, legal, social, medical, cultural and ethical responses to drug use; and the use of drugs in everyday life.  By so doing, the module aims to understand humanity’s enduring and symbiotic relationship with psychoactives. 

Russia in Revolution 1900-1939 

The module examines the history of Russia (and the Soviet Union) from 1900 to 1939.  It approaches this from the perspective of modernisation.  It examines two models of modernisation: the first the tsarist model of capitalist development, and the second the Soviet model of socialist development.  In the tsarist period the task of modernising the country was embodied in the industrialisation policies of Sergei Witte and the agrarian reforms of Pyotr Stolypin.  In the Soviet period the strategy of modernisation was associated with the very different policies pursued by Lenin and Stalin: War Communism, the New Economic Policy, and the Command–Administrative Economy which saw the drive to industrialise the country during the First, Second and Third Five Year Plan and the effort to transform agriculture through Collectivisation.  The module looks at these different strategies of economic modernisation, their achievements and costs, their social impact and their consequences for the political order in terms of the resort to methods of coercion and repression. The module examines the relationship between the economic modernisation of Russia and political revolution, as demonstrated by the upheavals of 1905, 1917, the civil war, the ‘revolution from above’ and the terror of the Stalin era.  The Russia experience of modernisation is set in the context of the strategies pursued by other countries to modernise, and the implications of modernisation for the security of each state. 

The Good War? A Cultural and Military History of Britain and the Second World War

The Second World War is often called ‘the good war’ – a black and white conflict where good triumphed over evil.  But was it?  Can a war ever be cast in such simplistic terms?  We will consider these questions, along with wider cultural, social, and military considerations in order to understand how British and Commonwealth participants (in the broadest sense of the word) experienced the Second World War and how they made sense of those experiences.  While the module will consider some of the key campaigns of the Second World War, such as the Fall of Singapore, the Desert War, the Normandy campaign, and the war in the air and at sea, this analysis will not be limited to an overview of the Allies’ campaigns in the war. Instead, it will position these campaigns within a broader context, and will include the cultural, ethical, industrial, sexual and social aspects of war.  We will explore whether there really was a ‘Blitz Spirit’ on the British home front, or whether the war served to exacerbate already existing tensions.  We will also consider how Britain and the Allies won the war in a military sense. Was it through luck, through combat effectiveness and experience or a combination of multiple factors? By using a variety of primary sources, including oral history, official papers, diaries, and letters, we will explore the experience and impact of the Second World War on Britain at home and overseas.

Conflict in the Modern Middle East

The course considers the origins and outcomes of conflict in the Modern Middle East (1914 to the present).  It does so against the background of the international setting and the intervention in the region of outside Powers. The internal causes of particular conflicts are married with external factors bearing on events leading up to the outbreak of war. The internal dynamics of a war, the reasons for victory or defeat and the ramifications are considered in the light of changing interpretations emerging from the continued historical debates.  During the modern period the Middle East has been a cauldron of conflict.  The collapse of the Ottoman Empire imposed Anglo-French hegemony on the region, which was increasingly challenged as another world war loomed.  The Palestine problem in particular exercised the minds of British decision makers.  In the aftermath of the Second World War Israel was born, provoking the first of four Arab-Israeli wars. Another ramification was the United States and the Soviet Union supplanting Britain and France as the dominant external powers with interests in the Middle East with the Suez Crisis demonstrating that traditional imperialism did not work in the postwar international environment.  With Egypt making peace with Israel in 1978-79 the problem of Iraq began to dominate culminating in the Iran-Iraq war and the two Gulf wars.  The Palestinian problem remains unresolved despite many efforts to reconcile the Israelis and Palestinians. The course considers conflicts both from external and internal perspectives.  It also incorporates the influences of wider events, such as the world wars and 9/11, on the dynamics of the Middle East. 

The Deep South: From Pantation to Nascar 

In the eyes of many the United States’ southern region stands apart from the rest of the nation.  Its institutions’ have been described as “peculiar,” its culture lacking, and its people a “problem.”  At the same time, “the South” is not an easily definable place.  This Advanced Option Module examines southern identity and history from the antebellum period (1820-1861) to contemporary debates over the “Global U.S. South.”  Using the insights of cultural, social, political, and economic history it will ask students to think of the South as a specific place as well as a national construction.  Using traditional primary sources alongside works of fiction, film, and music, students will explore the often-complicated relationship between the U.S. South, nation, and world.  Each week students will use the assigned readings and primary documents to evaluate the ways white southerners, African Americans, and recent immigrants shaped the region’s history. 

Latin American History Through Film 

In this course, we will watch and analyse key Latin American films and read texts about their context to understand critical moments of Latin American history.  The module format and course readings facilitate learning about Latin American history from the Conquest to the contemporary moment, while the films invite us to analyze aesthetics, representation, and the creation of historical memory.  We will watch and analyse one film per week, study the historical context of some of the region’s most popular and/or controversial films, and learn how to read each film critically as a cultural product and historical text.  The course includes films from Mexico, Cuba, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, along with one documentary made in Latin America by Orson Welles. 

The Cost of War 

As events in the last two centuries have shown, the outcome of conventional wars is very much dependent on the economic strength of the belligerents; and in case of asymmetrical warfare on the question if the economical ‘superior power’ is willing to make the economic sacrifices necessary to winning a war.  The module will introduce students to the economic problems of warfare since the Napoleonic era; issues investigated will include war finance; (industrial) production of war materials; organisation of wartime economies, including raw material provision, interruption of enemies’ economic systems; the ‘military-industrial complex’ and its influence; the impact political decisions do have on the effectiveness and efficiency of armed forces; the impact of spiralling procurement costs. 

Punks, Queers and Migrants: Diversity and Subculture in Modern Britain from 1945 to the Present Day 

How far has modern Britain been defined by its minority cultures?  Some of these cultures were created by choice: for example, punks, teddy boys, and skinheads whose art remade British culture in the 1950s and the 1970s.  Others were created by circumstance: for example, the communities of Jewish, Irish, Caribbean, African, and South Asian migrants whose presence transformed British society.  In this module, we will traverse the decades after the Second World War, exploring the experiences, triumphs, and sorrows of some of these subcultures.  Taking a comparative approach, the module will consider points of similarity as well as important differences between the minority cultures under discussion.  Our sources will include music, literature, film, and oral testimony as well as traditional historical scholarship.  For example, we’ll listen not only to punk classics like the Sex Pistols but to lesser-known bands like the Raincoats, who challenged patriarchy through music.  The film My Beautiful Laundrette (1985; directed by Stephen Frears and written by Hanif Kureishi) will be screened, offering the chance to consider what happens when multiple minority identities (gay, Asian, skinhead/punk) intersect. We will examine theories of diversity, of community, of subcultural formation, and of multiculturalism. We will consider how the distinctive claims to legal rights and cultural survival made minority groups.  And we will explore how the intersections of sexual, racial, religious, and other elements of identity have helped to define the experience of living in Britain from 1945 to today. 

From the OSS to Snowden: the Hitorical Evolution of American Intelligence Agencies Since 1945 

‘I remember a senator once asked me. When we talk about "CIA" why we never use the word "the" in front of it. And I asked him, do you put the word "the" in front of "God"?’  -The Good Shepherd (2006) 

Spy agencies occupy a special place in the popular imagination.  The most famous of these, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has made numerous appearances in popular culture over the years.  But what is the real history behind the CIA and its partner agencies in the American intelligence community?  This module will examine that history from World War Two and the first US foreign intelligence service, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the birth of the CIA and the national security state in 1947, its central position as an instrument of American foreign policy during the Cold War, its relationship with various US presidents, its struggles after the end of the Cold War, and its new purpose as the chief tool of American counter-terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11.  Along the way, we will look at historical writing about the CIA, the nature of intelligence as a practice, and the records of the CIA itself.  

History Advanced Option B

  • 20 credits

History Advanced Option B example module summaries:

Evolution and Continuity - Structures of the Medieval Economy 

This module will combine two approaches to the medieval economy.  Taking a long-term view from the early middle ages to the sixteenth century it will firstly offer a survey of economic structures, agricultural  production  and  its  organisation  in  different  regions,  including  the  management  of woodland and fishing, the re-emergence of an urban economy and its features, including an assessment of the importance of textile production and the role of markets as well as the role of mining and salt production.  Underlying social structures will be studied as well as technical aspects of production, trade and transport.  Secondly the course will focus on historical change, the evolution of long-distance trade, banking and finance, including state finance, and the links between economic systems in the Mediterranean and in Northern and Western Europe.  This will include the analysis of economic growth, of crises as well as models for the interpretation of economic change. Modern studies of the medieval economy as well as different types of medieval sources will be taken into account.  The latter will include both texts as well as images of artefacts and material derived from archaeological work.

Toleration and Persecution in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1700 

Early modern Europe was an era steeped in violence and marked by the forceful restraint of groups and individuals deemed seditious, revolutionary or perceived to be threats to social order and stability.  The religious reformations coincided with - indeed, accelerated - the growth of the early modern state and authorities keen to consolidate their increasing power took steps to neutralize threats to their political ambitions.  Yet, amongst the condemnation and bloodshed, research has demonstrated the tentative yet growing concept of peaceful co-existence within and between localities, religions and nationalities.  This module will explore the various manifestations of ‘toleration’ at both an intellectual and practical level and assess the ways in which the nature of persecution responded to changing social, religious and political outlooks.  Underpinned by close analysis of primary source material, this module will focus particularly on how society dealt with the tensions caused by the development of the early modern state, opposing religious groups, as well as explore responses to undesirable outcasts - including the disabled, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, the elderly, cunning folk, prostitutes. 

Give Me Liberty: the Meaning of Freedom in the United States, 1776-1870 

For a nation founded on the idea of liberty, the United States has had a troubled relationship with the concept and its implications. This course offers an intellectual and political history of the ways in which the United States has struggled to define freedom and defend its commitment to liberty. It is primarily a course about ideas, but it is also about how contradictions can emerge when ideas are put into practice. We will look at the concepts of liberalism and republicanism, democracy and civil disobedience, slavery and independence, among others. We will also learn how some Americans, including slaves themselves, developed powerful abolitionist ideas, and how the idea of freedom faced the challenge of emancipation during the Civil War of the 1860s. Drawing on the thought and writing of marginalised people as well as famous white men, this course grapples with the ideas that still shape our modern world, and with political problems we still face today. 

Reasons and Romance: the cultural History of 19th Century Britain 

Simultaneously one of the most vibrantly radical periods in British history and an era of prudish conservatism, the nineteenth century is best characterised by its contradictions.  This module explores these paradoxes, investigating the cultural history of the new urban streets and the ideas of literary and scientific thinkers from Dickens to Darwin.  The emphasis in this module will be on discovering how nineteenth-century Britons saw themselves, and investigating how their ideas on themes such as the arts, gender, empire, religion, crime and class were part of lived experience.  Seminars follow a broadly chronological structure, beginning in the eighteenth-century ‘age of revolutions’ and ending with the outbreak of the first world war, introducing the most important themes in this period’s history along the way.  For each seminar there will be focused ‘essential reading’ (all available electronically) as well as more expansive ‘further reading’ that will allow you to explore these themes in greater depth. 

Warfare at Sea from the Armada to D-Day 

We will study the history of warfare at sea from the Armada to the end of the Second World War, and explore three major themes.  First, and most obviously, we will trace the influence of sea power upon history.  How did naval warfare shape both European and world history?  Secondly, throughout this period, preparing for and waging war at sea was the most complex and expensive challenge faced by modern states.  How and why they built, maintained and used navies, and their ability to adapt to rapid technological change while keeping sight of enduring strategic truths, tells us much about the societies and cultures which did so.  Thirdly, we will study the influence of history upon sea power, analysing the long tradition of the use (and abuse) of naval history to address latter-day concerns. 

America in conflict: from Civil War to the War on Terror 

American dominance of the world stage is a comparatively recent phenomenon.  Only from its intervention in the Second World War did the United States fully assert its latent potential to act as a world policeman protecting its interests and its allies and projecting its values as it emerged as a political, military and economic superpower to rival the polar opposite Soviet Union in what became known as the Cold War.  Before that America had abdicated as a world power following its decisive intervention in the First World War after purifying itself of slavery through the civil war to give itself a moral licence to rise above great power rivalries and become the ‘shining city on the hill’ conceived by the founding Puritans.  The course considers the emergence of America as a world power from the civil war to 1914, the consequences of its involvement in two world wars, the Cold War and American military intervention in the Middle East.  American identity has been forged by war. The civil war, which remains the conflict in which more lives were lost, was an essential preliminary to America asserting itself on the world stage. Subsequently, American political, military, financial and economic might played critical roles in determining the outcomes of the world wars.  Although the Cold War never became hot, the Cuban Missile Crisis almost resulted in nuclear war.  Soon afterwards America suffered its first outright military defeat after becoming embroiled in Vietnam. The Gulf War presented an opportunity to expunge the Vietnam syndrome.  The 9/11 attacks led on to military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq but despite promising beginnings became controversial as decisive victory proved elusive. 

Russia in Revolution 1900-1939 

The module examines the history of Russia (and the Soviet Union) from 1900 to 1939.  It approaches this from the perspective of modernisation.  It examines two models of modernisation: the first the tsarist model of capitalist development, and the second the Soviet model of socialist development.  In the tsarist period the task of modernising the country was embodied in the industrialisation policies of Sergei Witte and the agrarian reforms of Pyotr Stolypin.  In the Soviet period the strategy of modernisation was associated with the very different policies pursued by Lenin and Stalin: War Communism, the New Economic Policy, and the Command–Administrative Economy which saw the drive to industrialise the country during the First, Second and Third Five Year Plan and the effort to transform agriculture through Collectivisation.  The module looks at these different strategies of economic modernisation, their achievements and costs, their social impact and their consequences for the political order in terms of the resort to methods of coercion and repression.  The module examines the relationship between the economic modernisation of Russia and political revolution, as demonstrated by the upheavals of 1905, 1917, the civil war, the ‘revolution from above’ and the terror of the Stalin era. The Russia experience of modernisation is set in the context of the strategies pursued by other countries to modernise, and the implications of modernisation for the security of each state. 

‘A Holiday from Reality’: a History of Drugs and Drug Use in the Modern Era 

In his novel A Brave New World (1932), Aldous Huxley declared that consuming the mythical drug ‘soma’ was to take a ‘holiday from reality’.  While the module is not quite this break from reality, it does seek to examine the history of drugs in the modern era in a broad and imaginative manner; moving beyond narratives of substance abuse and addiction to consider concepts of functional drug use and the role of human agency in the process of consuming psychoactives.  The module explores broad historiographical themes and historical case studies, which focus on a particular drug, a group of substances or a specific historical moment.  Based around a loose chronology that spans the Victorian era to the Cold War and beyond, the module will include global narratives relating to the trade and regulation of drugs through to national and regional studies,. This includes a particular focus on Britain in the era of the two World Wars; drug use in times of conflict; the political, legal, social, medical, cultural and ethical responses to drug use; and the use of drugs in everyday life. By so doing, the module aims to understand humanity’s enduring and symbiotic relationship with psychoactives. 

Gender and Sexuality in the 20th Century United States 

This module traces the changing definitions of gender and sexuality across the twentieth century United States. Students will explore how gender and sexuality have both shaped and have been shaped by the politics and society of the United States.  It places particular emphasis on the intersections of gender, race, class, and sexuality in shaping identities across a broad scope of American men, women, and trans people.  Gender and sexuality are not fixed categories but identities that are constantly constructed and performed, controlled and subverted.  Students will leave the module with a keen sense of how Americans understood themselves to be male or female, gay or straight, across the twentieth century. 

France at War - From the First World War to the Wars of Decolonisation (1914–1962) 

The history of France in the first part of the 20th century was deeply shaped by war.  As Great Britain, France went through two world wars and two major wars of decolonisation within less than 50 years. 

In the first part of the course, we will analyse France’s performance and suffering in the trenches as well as on the home front of the First World War and France’s remarkable recovery in the 1920s.  After the turmoil of the 1930 and the rise of fascism, we will discuss France’s calamitous collapse in the so-called “Blitzkrieg”, which stunned the whole world in 1940. Occupied by Nazi Germany, the authoritarian Vichy Regime under First World War hero Marshal Pétain was established.  A Resistance movement against  the  occupiers  and  Vichy  took  shape,  which  ultimately  took  power  once  the  country was liberated  in  1944.   Immediately  after  the  Second  World  War  France  is  not  only  involved  in  the occupation of Germany, but also in the first major war of decolonisation in Indochina. France’s most important and most traumatic war of decolonisation was, however, the Algerian war of Independence, which France dominated militarily, but lost in the arena of international policy. 

The historiography of all these wars has recently been radically revised in France, but also in Germany, Britain and Algeria, after the declassification of substantial archival material.  The aim of the module is to understand these recent debates, analyse French military, domestic, and diplomatic politics and to get a better understanding of the impact of the wars under consideration on France as a society and a nation.  In order to achieve a better understanding the course will systematically compare the developments in France to those in the UK. 

Occupation and the War on Terror in Iraq from its Origins to 2011: Examining the American and British Intervention 

This Option examines the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, the course of the occupation and war through its height in 2008, and the eventual American/British withdrawal by 2011.  In addition to examining the history of the war itself, including the rise of the insurgency to the Surge, it will place this war in its broader context in terms of American foreign policy in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf War, as well as the Global War on Terror initiated in the fall of 2001.  This Option seeks to also examine the pre-history of this intervention, its connection to transformations in international politics as well as defense politics in the 1990’s, but also the deeper memory of war within various Western militaries in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.  Once we turn to the war and occupation itself we will not only examine the high politics of the conflict, but also the conflict as viewed from level of the small units fighting the war.  Though it will not be our primary focus, we will also pay attention to the dynamics of the insurgency itself and what proved so difficult for the military and policymakers to gain an understanding of it in order to defeat it.  Since this is a very contemporary history, we will use a wide variety of sources for this Option, from traditional historical sources (books/articles) to blogs to oral histories.  The Option will demand that you achieve a certain level of indifference to many of the current easy preconceptions surrounding the Iraq War in order to carry through a detached investigation of the conflict. 

Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now: Britian in the 1980S 

When thinking about the 1980s, Thatcherism and the politics of the New Right often come to the forefront of academic debate.  This is, perhaps, unsurprising give the divisive nature of politics at the time, and the convenient fact that Margaret Thatcher held the position of Prime Minister for the entire decade.  However, for the so-called ‘ordinary’ person, what was life in the 1980s like?  How did the politics of the day filter down into everyday life and culture? 

This module aims to explore the 1980s in Britain from the perspective of the people who lived through it.  Largely using popular culture, it will consider how identities based on class, race, gender, sexuality, consumption and ownership, amongst other things, played out in the politics of the day, and also how the politics of the day played out in these different places and spaces. 

This was a period of often rapid and violent change from the beginning of the 1980s aids crisis in 1981, through the miners’ strikes and record-breaking privatisation of British Telecom in 1984, to Live Aid in 1985 and the financial crash of 1987.  This module allows students to encounter the defining moments of this decade in terms of how they were configured in the popular imagination and what they can tell us about living in 1980s Britain.