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Representing Women in 18th Century Britain: Ideas, Images & Texts - HIS00018M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Elizabeth Spencer
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21
    • See module specification for other years: 2019-20

Module summary

In a century that witnessed the rise of a so-called ‘public sphere’ of ‘rational men’ in its opening decades and the publication of ‘feminist’ tracts at its close, how were women perceived and portrayed? Looking to contemporary representations from the ‘long’ eighteenth century (c.1688-1832), this course explores the main characteristics attributed to eighteenth-century women and considers the extent to which women of different ages and backgrounds identified with, or denied, the responsibilities ascribed to them by contemporary ideology. It pays particular attention to the (often conflicting) ways in which women were represented and the ways they represented themselves.

Through this investigation, the course will also consider the extent to which a history of women has been circumscribed by academic traditions. Why, for example, has it been claimed that there were no ‘great’ women artists or no ‘great’ women philosophers? Have their contributions have been lost, or were they never able to participate in certain aspects of the cultural and political past? Although women’s history has flourished, debates continue about the appropriate theoretical and intellectual approaches that should be taken. Are women fully integrated into historical narratives or is work still to be done? Should the traditions of women’s history be revised as gender history? Does the development of a history of masculinity challenge or support a study of the history of women?

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2020-21

Module aims

The module aims to:

  • Develop skills of source analysis and interpretation;
  • Assess a range of source material and relevant secondary works; and
  • Develop students’ powers of evidence-based historical argument, both orally and in writing.

Module learning outcomes

•         Have a deep understanding of the history of women in eighteenth-century Britain

•         Have an extensive knowledge and thorough understanding of secondary literature from a range of disciplines including history, English literature and history of art

•         Understand the traditions of women’s history and its relationship to histories of masculinity and gender

•         Understand the meaning and methodology of interdisciplinary scholarship

•         Be able to locate and interpret relevant primary sources drawn from text, object and image collections

•         Be able to carry out a close critical reading of primary and secondary textual material

•         Be able to assess different historical arguments from different academic disciplines

Module content

Teaching Programme:
Students will attend eight weekly two-hour seminars in weeks 2-9.

Seminar topics are likely to include:

  1. Historiography: Categories and analysis
  2. Public women: Actresses and prostitutes
  3. Women artists and women in art
  4. Comments: letters, diaries and spoken words
  5. Printed words: by, for and about women
  6. The political lady: representations of gender and politics
  7. Fops and rakes: representing men
  8. Philosophy, politics and public spheres: ‘enlightened’ men and ‘feminist’ women


Task Length % of module mark
4000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will complete a 2,000-word procedural essay for formative assessment, due in week 6 of the autumn term, for which they will receive an individual tutorial. They will then submit a 4,000-word assessed essay for summative assessment in week 2 of the spring term.

For further details about assessed work, students should refer to the Taught Masters Degrees Statement of Assessment


Task Length % of module mark
4000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive written feedback consisting of comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

Nochlin, Linda. "Why have there been no great women artists?" in Women, Art and Power and Other Essays. London: Thames and Hudson, 1989. Also available online.

Tague, Ingrid. Women of Quality: Accepting and Contesting Ideals of Femininity in England 1690-1760. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2002.

Vickery, Amanda. The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England. London: Folio Society, 2006.

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.