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Year One Modules – University of Reading

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Year One Modules

Experience a variety of historical periods and themes, and pursue your own interests.

You will be introduced to the full range of history you can study at Reading. The core modules cover thousands of years of historical change, focusing on power, people and revolution, culture and ideas and also include an individually-supervised project on a topic of your choice.

You can choose the rest of your modules from our options or complement your study by taking modules in other subjects such as politics, archaeology or ancient history or you could even learn a language.

 "I decided to pick several modules I had prior knowledge of and I wanted to learn more about, and the rest were things I had never had the opportunity to study at A-level. This allowed me to study genocide in Africa; famines in the contemporary world; and the experience of family life in eighteenth century Britain, amongst other fascinating topics. "

Abbie Tibbott

BA History

core modules

Journeys through History 1: Power and People

The module is designed to give an introduction to the political and social history of Europe and the world in the last millennium. Pairs of weekly lectures focusing on 'Power' and 'People' explore the sources of power among dynasties, states and empires, as well as the popular pressures among societies at large. Revolution will be a common theme, tracing developments from riots, revolts, rebellions to full-scale revolutions.

Journeys through History 2: Culture and Concepts

This module provides a basic introduction to the intellectual and cultural history of Europe and the wider world in the last millennium. The first half of the term will consider cultural movements (e.g. Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Enlightenment and Modernism) in chronological order. The second half of the term focuses on concepts discussed in relation to each other (e.g. Magic and Medicine, Childhood and Gender, Democracy and Nation, Science and Race).

Research Skills and Opportunities in History

Running across both the terms, this module is designed to develop your research, presentation, organisation and essay skills, foster awareness of different types of history and emphasise the importance of making career planning integral to your progress through the degree programme.

optional modules

Exclusive to Single Honours History students, year one options allow you to sample a variety of more specialised historical topics. Choose up to six from the list below. If you prefer, you may select four options from this list, plus a 20-credit module from outside the Department.



Sample modules are provided as a taster of some of the modules that may be available on the courses described on this website. The sample modules listed may be compulsory (core) or optional modules. The University cannot guarantee that a module appearing in this list will definitely run. Optional modules vary from year to year and entry to them will be at the discretion of the programme director.


Birth Control in Modern Britain: an Intellectual History

This module studies the history of the idea of birth control in modern Britain, from the publication of Thomas Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) through to the decision in 1974 to make contraceptive advice and prescriptions available to all on the NHS, regardless of age or marital status. The module focuses on how arguments for and against the use of contraception related to broader intellectual movements - including those in religion, science, economics, and women’s rights - and how these arguments changed over time. The aim is to demonstrate how an apparent problem of medical knowledge - the practicalities of contraception - can only be fully understood within a broader framework of cultural and intellectual ideas about birth control.


Childhood and Family Life in the C19th & early C20th

This module will consider the changing perceptions of childhood and the development of the modern family unit in Britain from the C19th to 1945. The module will explore how the family and the lives of children have changed under the influence of social and economic conditions but also in relation to government policies. We will also look at what happened when all parental rights and responsibilities were suspended during the evacuation of British children to the countryside in World War Two. A wide variety of primary and secondary sources will be used including oral memories of childhood and the written evidence left by children themselves.


Noise Annoys: a Soundtrack to British History, 1976-84

This module focuses on the 1970s and 1980s during which Britain’s post-war settlement gave way to Thatcherism. Through seven songs of this era, we shall consider the social, political and economic transformations that redirected British history into the twenty-first century. The aim of the module is to use popular music and youth culture as a historical lens. Subjects covered will be: the socio-economic and political crises of the 1970s (‘Anarchy in the UK’), race and racism (‘White Riot’), gender (‘Fairytale in the Supermarket’), unemployment and the riots of 1981 (‘Ghost Town’), Thatcherism (‘Town Called Malice’), the Falklands War (‘How Does it Feel’) and the Cold War (‘Two Tribes’). Beginning with the song itself, the seminars will consider the lyrics, artwork and artists. Attention will then turn to the wider historical context, before we explore to what extent (youth) culture and popular music may function as both historical resource and political space.


Western Imaginaries of the Middle East

This option allows the exploration of the single most important debate in Middle Eastern studies from a multidisciplinary perspective. It examines how the West has ‘imagined’ and depicted the Middle East and the contested debate about how elite and popular knowledge about the region has entered the Western psyche. The work of one particular author, Edward Said, brought this issue to the world’s attention with the publication of his landmark book, ‘Orientalism’ in 1978. This text argued that Western elites had constructed a fictional ‘East’ that was fundamentally inferior to an imagined ‘West’ in order to justify political and cultural domination of the region. The aim of this option is to develop an appreciation of Orientalist stereotypes in a range of texts and media and critically analyse the arguments of Said and his critics.


Exploring the Atlantic World, 1450-1800

The aim of this module is to study and interpret the emergence and development of an ‘Atlantic world’ from the late fifteenth to the late eighteenth century, formed by exchanges and interactions between the peoples of Africa, the Americas, and Europe. In particular, it focuses on encounters between cultures and the growth of imperial and trading networks, and their impact on the inhabitants of the Atlantic. It will begin with a survey of the societies which existed around the Atlantic basin before regular contact was established, and consider early encounters between European travellers and African and American communities, together with their consequences for both indigenous and alien participants. We will then look at the growth of European commercial and imperial interests in South and North America and the Caribbean, and the interactions between these newcomers and the resident populations of these regions, before turning to one of the defining features of this world, the transatlantic slave trade, to consider its impact upon societies in Africa and the Americas. The module will conclude with the ‘age of revolutions’, when political upheaval in France, Haiti, and North and South America broke apart the Atlantic empires of the previous few centuries.


Black Britain: Race and Migration in Post-war Britain

This module will analyse the experiences of migrants, many of whom found Britain to be far from the ‘tolerant nation’ that it so often imagined itself to be. This module will examine the political responses of both the white population to migration, and how black communities organised against racism in various civil rights and black power groups. It will ask how black British and ethnic minority identities have developed and explore the politics of blackness in Britain, where, uniquely, many in the Asian community identify as black. Furthermore, it will challenge students to ask how race and ethnicity are discursive constructions rather than being biological ‘facts’, how it is that migrants so often came to be posed as a ‘problem’, and examine the knowledge systems through which these understandings are produced.


Revolutionary Cities

This module seeks to re-imagine, explore and understand one of the high points of human experience: the euphoria of the revolutionary moment. Many revolutions generate a passionate upwelling of hope, idealism and enthusiasm. This has occurred across a wide range of time and space, in many different places and periods. This euphoria seems to arise most readily in an urban context. The module therefore focuses on urban revolutions. It takes a comparative, diachronic approach, seeking to assess how far there are genuine similarities in the popular experience of urban revolutions across time and space and to identify continuities and changes. The module uses a wide range of visual and aural material to find a way into the elusive and evanescent character of the ‘what it was like’ of the revolutionary moment. Among the cities we will consider are Florence in 1494, Münster in 1534-5, Paris in 1789, 1871 and 1968 and Barcelona in 1936.


The Rwanda Genocide

The purpose of this module is twofold. It introduces students to the definition and historical problem of genocide. At the same time it examines closely the causes, course, and effects of the Rwanda genocide of 1994, when during the course of one hundred days about 800,000 people were killed by their neighbours, government militia, and soldiers. How was it possible for a ruling clique to mobilize the majority of a nation’s population to strike out in this manner against family and neighbours? What was the role of the colonial legacy? How has Rwanda succeeded in retaining peace and reconciliation since 1994? Overall, the module will provide insight into major themes of African History such as the creation of tribes, the effects of colonialism, the challenges of the postcolonial state, and post-conflict reconciliation.


Women in American History: From Slavery to 'Second Wave'

This module considers changes and continuities in the lives of American women using a case-study approach in order to compare and contrast different women’s lives across time and space. Topics to be covered include the idea of ‘Republican motherhood’ that arose out of the US revolution, black and white women in the slave South, women’s fight for suffrage and other reform movements, and the lives of immigrant women. We will also explore women’s changing role in the workplace from the Civil War to World War II and women’s roles in the social protest movements of the second half of the twentieth century (including Civil Rights, Black Power, and ‘second wave’ feminism). We will also address the ways in which ethnicity and class have often served to divide – rather than unite – women in the USA.


Anti-Semitism: Medieval Christian-Jewish Relations and the Concept of ‘Anti-Semitism’

The module examines the concept of anti-Semitism in relation to one particular period of History: the High Middle Ages (1095-1291). The module aims to examine the story of a key contemporary idea (anti-Semitism) by setting it in its long-term historical context. Hence the core of the course will remain medieval but will also bring in a comparative contemporary element. Themes to be explored will include the impact of the crusades on medieval Jewish communities, the rise of charges of blood libel, ritual murder and host desecration during the period, the imposition of anti-Jewish legislation by both the medieval Church and secular authorities, the motif of the Jewish moneylender, and the use of rhetoric and imagery to portray Jews and Judaism in medieval preaching and polemic.


Belonging: Architecture and Identity in Renaissance Florence Professor Paul Davies

The aim of this Option is to introduce you to the idea that architecture can be used as a source for the understanding of history. Indeed, architecture can be explored as a way of investigating a wide range of historical ideas, but this option considers just one – the notion that buildings act as a means of reinforcing our sense of identity. Focusing on Renaissance Florence, the module will consider how architecture made a Florentine feel Florentine. It will explore how buildings were used as tools to represent sets of ideas, in particular the concepts of national identity, of family and individual identity, of the city’s place in history and its sense of self-importance, and of Aristotelian magnificence.


From Berlin to Baghdad: The origins of the War on Terror

The aim of this module is to obtain an understanding of US foreign policy in the post-Cold War world. In particular, it focuses on how the tragedies of 9/11 and the subsequent “War on Terror” have provided the clear organizing principle lacking in US foreign policy since the containment of communism became an irrelevant notion in 1989.


Hunger and Famines in History

It is often shocking to realize that many people in the twenty first century continue to live without access to sufficient food and healthy water. Indeed, chronic hunger, malnourishment and famines are among the most serious problems that plague the contemporary world. These issues have attracted the attention of economists, journalists, policy makers, and international aid agencies. This seminar series situates contemporary food crisis in historical perspective. It explores certain critical moments in the history of hunger across different cultures. In the process, it examines some of the causes of famines; the social and demographic impacts of famines; efforts of various governments and international organizations in providing relief; and the strategies adopted by people to negotiate and resist hunger. It also focuses on hunger strikes and ritual fasts to analyse why the refusal to eat has remained a persistent feature of political protests and religious practice. Ultimately this seminar series suggests ways in which insights of historians might inform policy makers in solving the problem of hunger in the contemporary world.


Radicalism and Protest in Britain: from the Levellers to Occupy

The module will look at radicalism and protest in Britain from the early modern period to the twenty-first century through a series of case-studies. We will begin with the Levellers during the English Civil War in the 1640s and the Diggers under the republic which followed the execution of Charles I, asking both how these groups protested, and how it was possible for them to do so at this time, and why they developed their radical ideas. We will then move on to a series of case-studies of radicalism and/or protest, asking whether a radical tradition developed in Britain, or whether radicalism appeared afresh as a response to historical circumstances in different periods. Case-studies will vary from year to year but may include: Levellers, Diggers, Ranters and religious radicals of the English Revolution; seventeenth- and eighteenth-century ‘Commonwealth's men’; John Wilkes; British responses to the French Revolution; Chartism; the suffragettes; radicalism and protest in the twentieth century, including left-wing radicalism and specific causes such as the peace movement, anti-racism, gay rights, environmentalism; radicalism and protest on the right; the Occupy movement. Throughout the module we will consider continuity and change, and ask whether and how radicals and protesters have looked back to earlier periods, and whether there is such a thing as an English or British ‘radical tradition’.


Insidious Ideas: “Race” in Europe and America, 1770-1945

This module begins by examining the social construction of ‘race’ in the modern Western world; exploring the roles of the Enlightenment, and modern science in creating ‘racial categories’. Students will then examine how ideas of ‘racial difference’ have been developed in different historical contexts. Seminars focused on the study of slavery in the nineteenth century United States will explore the development of a racialized system of slavery, its underpinning ideologies, and how these proliferated in southern culture and influenced the lived experiences of enslaved women and men. Seminars focused on Europe in the late nineteenth century and twentieth century will examine the rise of imperialism in political and popular culture, the growth of eugenics, and the racialized policies of Nazi Germany. The module will also introduce students to the key theoretical approaches to race, while utilising primary sources from the 18th to the 20th centuries in weekly readings.


The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Protest, Reform and the Government Response in 1960s America

The module will explore the theme of social protest and the response of various governmental institutions. Students will examine the major reform and protest movements of the period such as the civil rights movement, the New Left etc and their impact on American contemporary society and politics. The methods of protest, their results, and the reaction of the ruling elite, will contribute to the students’ understanding of the social upheaval that occurred in the United States during the 1960s. In seminars students will also question the impact of such movements on the modern day United States. Seminars will involve discussion of primary sources and major historiographical thesis, and the screening of a documentary.


Warfare in Early Modern Europe

The purpose of this module is to introduce students to the advances of the New Military History and explore the ways in which warfare impacted on early-modern society. While the technical aspects of warfare are not neglected, the module will look at broader themes, including the causes of war, the impact of warfare on civilians, the systems of recruitment, the experience of life in armies for the rank-and-file soldier, the importance of logistics for the conduct of war, and the role of warfare in the development of the state. The module concentrates upon the experience of warfare in Western Europe; and although the main focus is upon armies, navies too come in for scrutiny.


Year Two Modules

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