The Global Eighteenth Century - ENG00012C

« Back to module search

  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Jim Watt
  • Credit value: 10 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20

Module summary

‘The single Dress of a Woman of Quality is often the Product of a hundred Climates’, Joseph Addison wrote in 1711. This module starts from the assumption that eighteenth-century Britons understood themselves as above all a commercial people, at the centre of world trade. It investigates the representation of acts of consumption, focusing on the ways in which such behaviour may have been gendered (as in the quotation above), but also considering textual and visual treatments of the pleasures, the consequences and the ethical implications of particular forms of consumerism.

We will approach this question of consumption by looking at four commodities with sometimes interconnected histories - coffee, tea, sugar, and opium. The first three of these commodities have long since been naturalized in British society, to the extent that it is possible to buy something called 'Yorkshire Tea', but for much of the eighteenth century these commodities were in different ways coded as foreign and 'luxury' items: odd though it may now seem, it was possible for some to see tea-drinking, for example, as a threat to the moral fibre of the nation.

For writers such as Addison the produce of the rest of the world was somehow providentially 'available' to Britons, the most fortunate people in the world. Commercial prosperity and material plenty could also be understood as inversely related to public spirit and social cohesion, however, and - as was the case during the anti-saccharite boycotts of the late-eighteenth century - Britons could be spurred to action when challenged to reflect on the human suffering which produced the slave-grown sugar on which they had come to rely. We will conclude the module by looking at Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821), in which addiction can be read as a metaphor for Britain’s connection to its expanding Eastern empire.


Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Summer Term 2019-20

Module aims

This module aims to introduce you to a range of texts and images which represent Britons as they consume exotic commodities and reflect upon (or otherwise) the wider implications of their behaviour. It does this in order to help you to think about the broader and enduringly topical question of Britain's relationship with the rest of the world.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a basic understanding of and engagement with issues at stake in eighteenth-century representations of consumer behaviour
  2. Engage with comparative and interdisciplinary approaches, and relevant critical vocabulary and contexts, for example relating to ideas of globalization, empire, luxury, and consumer ethics
  3. Successfully manage a collaborative project, making use of digital tools where appropriate.
  4. Deliver a presentation, demonstrating appropriate oral, written, performance, and/or digital skills.


Task Length % of module mark
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Reassessment: Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

  • You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours .
  • For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment

Indicative reading

Key texts may include:

The Tatler, Spectator, and Female Spectator (selected essays);

Abolitionist poetry by William Cowper and others;

Timothy Touchstone, ‘Tea and Sugar, or the Nabob and the Creole: a Poem’ (1792)

S.T. Coleridge, ‘Lecture on the Slave Trade’ (1795);

Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.