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Approaches to Early Modern History - HIS00029M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Emilie Murphy
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

This core module explores the history of Britain, Europe and the world, c.1500-c.1800. It introduces students to key problems and debates in the existing scholarship, and to a range of methodological approaches taken by historians. The module allows students to read material from across geographical boundaries on topics such as crime and punishment, and religious and supernatural beliefs.

Students will explore the full range of primary sources available to historians produced by, and representing, early modern individuals from across the social spectrum, including popular song, art and material culture, alongside court records and other written sources in both print and manuscript. Finally, students will be encouraged to consider how this era has been periodised by scholars of differing traditions.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • Introduce students to key themes in the historiography of the early modern period from the perspective of Britain, Europe and the world;
  • Encourage students to consider how and why the history of this era has been periodised;
  • Introduce key methodological approaches to early modernity ;
  • Analyse and interpret a range of primary source material;
  • Provide opportunities for students to discuss, debate and write about what fascinates them most.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Be familiar with recent and classic debates in early modern history;
  • Have broad knowledge of the range of documentary and other sources available to early modern historians, and how they have been interpreted;
  • Have sharpened their skills of critical analysis and presentation.

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11 of semester 1. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW) during which there are no seminars. Students prepare for eight 2-hour seminars in all.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. Writing the Reformation: History and Memory
  2. (Singing the) News: History and Print Culture
  3. Early Modern History from Below: Legal Archives
  4. Early Modern Europe and the World
  5. Representing Power: History and Visual Culture
  6. The Lives of Things: History and Material Culture
  7. Early Modern History and the Senses
  8. What is Early Modern History?


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students submit a 2,000-word formative essay at the end of the first Reading and Writing week.
A 4,000-word summative essay will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will typically receive written feedback on their formative essay within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their seminars and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative essay during their tutor’s student hours—especially during week 11, before, that is, they finalise their plans for the Summative Essay.

For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 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 semester 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:

  • Brook, Timothy. Vermeer's Hat: the Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World. (London: Profile, 2008.)
  • Eire, Carlos. Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650. (London: Yale University Press, 2016.)
  • Wiesner-Hanks, Merry. What is Early Modern History? (London: Polity, 2021.)

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.