History modules - Final year

Compulsory 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 

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 without 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 & Nature on British & 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 Duce: British Foreign 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 There 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 Activisim 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 Mayhem

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 Plantation 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 Historical 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. 

Reason and Romance: the Cultural History of Nineteenth-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 the 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: Britain 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.