History modules - Final year

Optional modules 

History Dissertation

  • 40 credits 

Students work to complete research undertaken 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 BA Joint Honours History who choose to study a 40 credit dissertation in History in their final year are required to prepare a 12,000 word dissertation within the broad field of History.  Students choose to study diverse regions and periods and 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 researched for a Dissertation 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 (A) and (B)

  • 20 + 20 credits 

Students who take at least 60 credits in History may chose an Advanced Option (20 credits) from either the Autumn (A) list or the Spring (B) list (see below).  

Special Subject example module summaries:

1066, 1099: Chronicling Conquest on the Frontiers of Medieval Europe 

In September 1066 an army of warriors from Normandy crossed the Channel and embarked on the conquest and colonisation of England; thirty years later, an army of crusaders from across Latin Europe set out to reclaim the Holy Land for Christendom, culminating in the capture of Jerusalem in July 1099. Both these events prompted an immediate and sustained outpouring of historical writing, as participants and observers alike sought to make sense of and celebrate the conquerors’ achievements. 

In this module students will explore the theory and practice of medieval historiography through analysis of a range of narrative histories produced in the wake of the conquests of England in 1066 and of the Holy Land in 1099. During the Autumn term you will be introduced to our canon of texts, finding out about our authors, the educational backgrounds they shared, and the institutions and environments in which they produced their works; and about the subject matter, genre, and rhetorical features of their texts, and the audiences at which they were aimed. In the Spring term we shall then look at key historical moments and themes treated across the range of these sources, doing close readings of particular texts, and investigating their reception in subsequent moments of historiographical reflection.

Piracy, Plunder and Exploitation: English Exploration in the Tudor Period

The Tudors are perceived as the instigators of the British Empire but by the end of their rule the English had become world-renowned pirates, smugglers and slave traders but held no colonial empire. All attempts at a colonial empire ended in failure. They had, however, begun to establish the first big monopoly companies which were instrumental in the formation of English empire. Piracy, trade and exploitation were pivotal aspects of Tudor expansion. Most of the migrants and travellers were people of limited means, and were often unwilling participants in Tudor expansion. The course will also look at the discrepancy in experience and ideas between these people and the monarchical and merchants sponsors who, using the work of academics and intellectuals, planned and promoted English expansion.

The course will examine a range of sources from maps and navigational instruments to see shanties, letters and proclamations to introduce students to England’s relationship with North America and Asia in the Tudor period.

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.

Land, Law and Violence in the American West 

This Special Subject is about the Native Americans, white settlers, and powerful social forces that transformed half a continent between about 1840 and 1890: the invasion and settlement of the American West, from the Great Plains to the California coast. Taking ideas about home and migration, nature and civilisation as our themes, we look at primary sources like early settlers’ diaries, guide-books for gold-rushers, cowboy memoirs, and treaties with indigenous nations—and we read historians like Richard White, Patricia Limerick, Ned Blackhawk, and Nell Irvin Painter. Our aim is to understand the processes and forces that transformed the West, how they helped shape our world today, and what this history might have to tell us about our own future.

Global Cities and Urban Lives, 1690 - 1914

The Covid-19 crisis deeply impacted cities. Shutting shops and closing bars and restaurants, cities changed from places of bustle and noise to quiet, little visited spaces. What then might the crisis and its economic fall-out mean for cities longer term? How might it change our understanding of what cities are? In this module we reflect on these questions by considering how ‘modern’ cities came to be. The module will explore how the bustle, lights and spectacle of city life emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and how imperial and global forces shaped these phenomena. The module primarily focuses on the imperial city of London, but also looks to Calcutta, Paris and New York to better understand the processes that created ‘modern’ cities. 

In the Autumn Semester we will begin by exploring who lived in cities and how this changed as global trade and imperial processes took hold. We will then examine how people came to know and envision cities which were ever-increasing in geographic and demographic terms. We will study maps, guidebooks, prints and photographs to understand the changing ways in which people came to see cities. One of the major preoccupations of guidebooks in this period was crime and how to avoid it. In response, we will go on to explore everyday experiences of the city by looking to crime. Court cases, crime reports and crime literature will help us understand what crime did and meant in cities. We will look to the relationship between crime and poverty and how people coped in the city. Finally, in the autumn semester it will further examine how people living at the margins of power understood the city by studying the importance of servants and ayahs to the workings of everyday city life.

In the Spring Semester we will look to city as a site of spectacle and delight: examining how streetlights and illumination came to change cities by allowing night life and leisure to grow. Shops became important sites of spectacle, but they also provided sites of economic exchange, social conflict and new understandings of gender. Alongside shops, coffee houses, clubs and finally restaurants also emerged. Here people ate and drank, but they also engaged in discussions, sampled international cuisines and commodities and read papers. Made possible by global trade and imperial projects new culinary cultures emerged in cities. Nevertheless, cities did not become sites of leisure over night, they required important changes: for animals to be moved out, for water supplies and sewer systems to move underground, for cemeteries to be established at the city’s limits. Cities were equally shaped by what was moved underground and to its hinterlands. The module ends then by considering these underworlds and their impacts on city life. By looking to these different topics, the module will encourage you to consider the nature of urban life and the ways in which it changed in social and cultural terms over the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

Making the Modern U.S.: The Gilded Age and Progressive Era 

In 1877, the United Sates was an agricultural nation twelve years removed from the bloodiest civil war in modern history. By 1900, twenty-three years later, the United States was the world’s industrial powerhouse. Its factories produced more than Great Britain, Germany, and France combined. With the conclusion of the 1898 Spanish-American War, the United States would own territory around the globe, joining the ranks of the European imperial powers. This transformation from an agricultural nation to a global power was bloody, brutal, and destructive. Immigrants, racial minorities, indigenous peoples, working-class Americans, and new colonial subjects suffered from extreme racism, intense inequality, and poor living standards. The gilded surface of the age hid a troubling rust. At the start of the twentieth century, a wide group of Americans sought a solution to these problems of industrialization. The Progressive Era promised greater quality of life through reformist movements that aimed to tame and soften unbridled capitalism. Other Americans looked for more profound answers in the intellectual avant-garde, radical politics, and jazz music. In the end, their worlds fell apart with the 1929 financial crisis and Great Depression that ushered in the worst economic and social crises in the nation’s history.

This special subject examines the making of the modern United States through the lens of culture. While not ignoring social, political, and economic histories of the period, we will use primary sources – novels, advertisements, images, films, radio broadcasts, songs – and a wealth of historiography that has focused on mass culture, fashion, music, the arts, and entertainment to explain the social, artistic, and political changes of the 1877-1939 period. The focus on mass culture will allow us to explore transformations in gender, racial and class relations, the impact of business and advertisement, notions of femininity and masculinity, and ideas of empire. Ultimately, this special subject will explore how the concept of a modern America was radically reinvented by both newly arrived immigrants and American citizens between the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of the Second World War.  

Women and Social Movements in Brazil

The role of women in Brazilian society is marked by extremes and contradiction. Brazilian women were integral to maintaining colonial and slave society, but were also rebellious slaves and vocal abolitionists. Women were held back from important political and leisure activities, but fought for and gained voting rights by 1932. Women were fervent activists and guerrilla fighters against Brazil’s dictatorships, but also rallied in favour of state oppression, in the name of Christian values and the family. Reproductive rights in Brazil continue to be limited, despite pressure by social movements; yet, famously, Brazilian women are international sex symbols, known for an obsession for beauty and plastic surgery. This dynamic is not unique to Brazil, but due to its societal extremes, Brazilian history offers a unique case study for the role of women in colonial and modern societies. Students do not need knowledge of Brazilian history or Portuguese language.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich 

The Third Reich stands at the epicentre of what Mark Mazower has termed Europe's 'dark' twentieth century- a regime that instigated the most devastating war in human history,  murdered millions of those it considered racial enemies, and left the continent in ruins at the point of its own destruction in 1945. Many historians, from Germany and beyond, have sought over the decades to comprehend how all of this was possible. How could a small fringe party in the early 1920s- the NSDAP- seize control of the German state and create a dictatorship one decade later? Did 'ordinary Germans' support the Nazi regime after 1933, or were they intimidated into acquiescence by its security services and concentration camps? Why did the Nazi regime assign such crucial importance to the 'Jewish Question' and ultimately decide to embark upon the 'Final Solution' during the Second World War? And why did German society keep fighting until spring 1945, long after defeat became inevitable, and at great cost to itself? Despite the emergence of a large historiography since the 1970s, the answers to these crucial questions remain contested and up for debate. We will seek to develop our own responses to them over the course of this special subject.

The first semester in the autumn explores Nazism's origins, rise to power, and the pre-war phases of its dictatorship between 1933 and 1939. The second semester in the New Year focuses on the period of the Second World War and Holocaust between 1939 and 1945.

Gross Indecency to Gay Marriage: Gender and Sexual Minorities in the British World 

The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it,” wrote Oscar Wilde in 1891. Less than a decade later, the Irish poet and playwright was dead, having never recovered from his prison term for gross indecency with men. This module takes up Wilde’s challenge and explores the queer history of modern Britain. Beginning in 1885, when the Labouchère Amendment made gross indecency a crime, the module traces the emergence of queer identities and practices from sexological debates and criminal codes. It covers the politics of gay activism in the 1970s and 1980s and the development of modern identity categories, often grouped in the acronym LGBTQI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex), and protected by the 2010 Equalities Act. Defining ‘Britain’ broadly, we will ask how empire and colonialism shaped queer historical experience, and we will explore the intersections of race, class, and gender within the worlds of sexual and gender minorities. Queer history challenges us to read between the lines and to unsettle established categories. Ultimately, we will ask how the tools and methods of queer studies can help us to rewrite the history of modern Britain.

The Revolting Right: Conservative Activism in Late Twentieth Century 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 mobilisations 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 modules uses the extra-parliamentary right to ask big questions about political mobilisations in the twentieth century and how to historicise these. What did conservative mobilisations 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 looks like when we observe it from outside Parliament and explore the ways in 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 conceptualisation of the political, you will assess a range of mobilisations 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.

Where there is Discord: Making Thatcher's Britain 

Few politicians have polarised opinion in quite the same way as Margaret Thatcher. For her supporters, Thatcher was ‘the Iron Lady’ – the Prime Minister who arrested thirty years of economic decline and re-established Britain as a major player on the world stage. A remarkable series of successes – victory over Argentina in the Falklands War; victory over the NUM in the Miner’s Strike; victory over inflation in the battle for economic stability; her victories over the Labour Party in 1979, 1983, and 1987 – have made Thatcher a living legend for many on the Right. For her detractors, by contrast, Thatcher has become a political bogeyman: the embodiment of outdated 'Victorian values', and responsible for the slow decline of British society and British industry. Her declaration that were was 'no such thing as society' was seen by many of the Left as evidence of her wilful disregard of those less fortunate than herself, and the restrictions her governments imposed on trade unions have been understood as an attack on the rights of ordinary working people. Even thirty years after her resignation, the visceral reactions she provokes on both Left and Right are unmatched by almost any other politician.

Whichever view one takes, it is hard to deny the impact that Thatcher – and Thatcherism – has had on contemporary British politics. Many historians have come to regard the Conservative Party's victory in the 1979 general election as a crucial turning point in the direction of British politics, the moment at which the post-war settlement was abandoned in favour of the neoliberalism that would dominate the following thirty years. This module will place Thatcherism in historical perspective, observing the evolution of the ideology from its genesis in the ‘crisis’ of the 1970s, through to its influence on New Labour, on David Cameron and Theresa May, and on Brexit, via a study of a decade of Thatcherism in practice. You will study in detail the reforms that Thatcher implemented in a range of key policy areas, the impact of her policies on British society, and depictions of Thatcher in popular culture, in order to discover why so many on Right have worshipped her while so many on the Left have wanted - to quote Morrissey - to see 'Margaret on the guillotine'.

History Optional modules

  • 20 credits

History example optional module summaries:

US South: From Plantations 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.

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. The module explores the myths surrounding a range of drugs – from opium and alcohol, to LSD and amphetamines – placing drugs and their users in historical, social and cultural contexts. As we will see, drugs are very often used as vehicles to articulate social or cultural anxieties relating to ‘deviant’ groups defined by their race, gender or class. Via weekly sessions that focus on a particular drug, a group of substances or a specific historical moment – including teaching based on original research – we will explore these shifting contexts and the manner in which drugs very often transition from ‘angels’ to ‘demons’.

Based around a loose chronology that spans the Victorian era to the Cold War (and beyond), the module includes a particular focus on Britain in the era of the two World Wars; drug use in times of conflict; the political, social and cultural responses to drug use; and the use of drugs in everyday life. The module includes reflections on the role of the press and the extensive use of primary sources. We will also have class debates and small group work that seeks to link the history and historiography to modern attitudes and approaches to drugs. By so doing, the module aims to understand humanity’s long-standing and synergistic relationship with drugs.

Give Me Liberty: The Meaning of Freedom in American History, 1776-1900

This Advanced Option is more than a history module—it is also a political and philosophical discussion about freedom. The course is centred on primary sources, from Judith Sargent Murray’s case for women’s equality and David Walker’s call for Black insurrection, to Thomas Skidmore’s scheme for radical equality and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s philosophy of individualism. We use those texts to open up questions that still need answering today. What’s the relationship of freedom and equality? Is violence justified in overthrowing tyranny? Should the state seek to shape its citizens through education? Are you really free if you have a husband, or a boss? By approaching these questions in their contemporary context we’ll uncover a history of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century ideas. But by addressing them for our own time as well, we will use history to sharpen the tools of the present.

Terrorism in the USA: From the Klan to Al Queda to White Power 

Although associated with the 21st century, including the 6 Jan 2021 storming of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., acts of terrorism in the United States of America date from at least the 19th century. These have come in a variety of forms, including racist terrorism, right-wing terrorism, anti-government terrorism, anarchist terrorism, left-wing terrorism, ethno-nationalist terrorism, environmentally motivated terrorism, religiously motivated terrorism, misogynist-motivated terrorism, and state terrorism, particularly by the police. This module provides an in-depth examination of various types of terrorism that have occurred in the United States through specific acts; it does so by studying the groups and individuals who have carried out the acts, including their motivations and methods and the wider context at the time, and how the American state has responded to them. It will do so through a theoretical, thematic, and chronological approach from the 19th century to the 21st century. Finally, the module will reflect more broadly on the construction of “terrorism.” Why are certain acts of violence labelled as “terrorism” while other forms of violence escape such categorisation?  

The Mess We're In: Towards a History of Our Times

You do not need your history tutor to learn that you live in a time of crisis. But what can historians contribute towards understanding the twenty-first century world? This module focuses on a number of key crises that come together in Britain and other Western countries nowadays: democracy and right-wing populism, Brexit and the crisis of international cooperation, migration and minority rights, the visual media, the promise and the perils of economic globalization, the crisis of the welfare state, the transformation of the working classes, and, last not least, activism from Extinction Rebellion to Black Lives Matters. For each of these developments, we inquire about the path that we have taken, about key actors, interests and mindsets, and about what, if anything, we have learned in our engagement with these challenges. But we will also inquire in the opposite direction: do received wisdoms in the scholarly literature still make sense in a rapidly changing world? Conceived in the best spirit of contemporary history, this open-minded module may not find definitive answers on how to deal with the mess we’re in. But maybe looking back will make us a bit smarter and more sophisticated as historians and as citizens of a global age.

Professional Skills Module

This is a work placement module involving a minimum of 10 days in a work environment in the type of organisation or business sector to which students might apply following successful completion of their undergraduate programme. The module will provide students with an opportunity to develop transferable skills, including team working, problem solving and communication skills, as well as allowing the development of the ability to self-reflect on activity undertaken.