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Honour and Shame

Tutor: Jasper Heinzen (tutor for 2018-19) / Craig Taylor

Module type: Comparative Histories

Module code: HIS00003H

Few societies have lacked notions of precedence (honour) and social failure (shame), though these issues have been particularly prominent in cultures such as ancient Greece and Rome, the chivalric communities of medieval Europe, Japan and various Mediterranean societies. Why were knights, Samurai and Mafia gangsters so obsessed with notions of honour, shame and social precedence? How do the ‘rules’ determining an individual’s reputation and sense of self-worth develop within societies? What role do literature and culture play in their dissemination, and what kinds of rituals serve to cement the claims to honour and shame? Are agrarian societies more likely to worry about notions of honour and shame than industrial ones, or should we see the crucial factor as the lack of a legal system to enforce and maintain the rights of the individual? How far do the reputations of individuals depend upon their moral and ethical qualities rather than their inherited social rank? What role does honour play in either creating or restraining violence, particularly with regard to duelling and the notion of the archetypal ‘man of honour’, always alert for any insult or challenge? Why is female honour usually associated with sexuality and in particular, virginity and chastity? Under what circumstances do such attitudes extend to the horrors of honour killings of individuals who have ‘defiled the family's honour’ by marrying against the family's wishes, or even by being the victims of rape.

Seminar topics are likely to include the following:

    • Anthropological, sociological & historical approaches 
    • Gendering honour & shame  
    • Writing and performing honour 
    • Warrior honour and shame  
    • Honourable warfare 
    • Courtesy and civility 
    • Feuds and duels  
    • Honour and memory 
    • Gang cultures


For more information, please visit the module catalogue.