What is British identity? What does it mean to be British? This second-year module examines such pressing questions in our times by exploring how writers imagined the nation. On paper, the 1707 Act of Union joined England to Scotland. In practice and in print, political union did little to cement national values and voices. Between 1700 and 1830, authors returned insistently to the definition of Britishness, collating values and characteristics even as they debated whether a coherent national identity existed and ever could exist. It was a time of seeking identities—local, regional, national—and a time of national myth-making and story-telling. As Britain was revealed to itself by a developing network of roads and canals, and the flourishing of print culture facilitated the spread and exchange of ideas, the different languages within the country encountered one another: not just Welsh and Scots Gaelic, or Irish Gaelic or Cornish, but even regional dialects needed explaining and translating. Over the period, as Britons wandered the globe and read more about other nations, new notions of Britishness were placed in conversation and complicated by encounters with other countries and regions, such as France, India, China, the Ottoman Empire, the Americas and Africa. Toward the close of the period, the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars threw Britain into chaos, prompting stark questions about domestic liberty and rights.
This module digs deeply into past conceptions of Britishness in order to interrogate how writers grappled with social and economic trends that placed increasing pressure on notions of belonging and difference. Theories of civilisation were central to many visions of modernity at this time, but while some loved the sophistication of the city, others feared its corrupting sprawl. In this age of revolution, writers played a major role in writing and creating new ideas about the nation and its subjects.
We will investigate how a range of authors, from diverse backgrounds, imagined the nation in this vibrant and experimental age of print. Topics covered may include ‘Commercial Britain’; ‘Cosmopolitan Britain’; ‘Touring the Nation’; ‘Enlightenment Scotland’; ‘Human Rights’; ‘Bardic Nations.’ How did poetry and other writing display new labour relations in an age of increasing industrialisation? How did periodicals market new ideals of national taste? Can we identify an ‘English novel’? How did transnational authors and subjects shape the literary marketplace? How does a four-nation model reframe our understanding literature of the period? Why did some regard Britain as supremely civilized, uniquely Protestant, and possessed of the greatest literature in the world, while others saw it as a corrupt and dying empire, anticipating the demise of Britain in ways that chime with us again today? Ultimately this module demonstrates how these early conversations about national identities and the nation continue to shape discussions in our own time.
|A||Spring Term 2020-21|
This module aims to develop your knowledge of the competing meanings of British identity between 1700 and 1830, a period of enormous literary experiment and social change. You will become familiar with the dynamic print culture of this period—its appearance, genres, aesthetics, ideals—by reading both broadly and in-depth across a variety of genres. Lectures will contextualize the readings within the era’s history, culture, arts, science and technology.
On successful completion of the module, you will be able to:
Demonstrate an informed understanding of and engagement with a range of texts published between 1700 and 1830, in relation to the era’s concerns and conventions.
Demonstrate an informed understanding of and engagement with accounts of Britishness, national identity, and other cultural and political contexts.
Examine key debates and critical issues raised by the era’s writers, including advocating for marginalised social groups, abolition, gender equality and human rights.
Develop oral and written arguments which demonstrate a proficiency in critical thinking and research skills.
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1000 word Research/Analysis task
2500 word essay
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Reassessment - 3000 word essay
Key Texts for this module may include: