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Empire, Welfare & Citizenship in Britain, 1870-1914 - HIS00031C

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Vic Clarke
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22
    • See module specification for other years: 2019-20

Module summary

As the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth, Britain, along with other European countries, extended the responsibility of the central state for more aspects of social welfare than ever before. By the end of the First World War, pensions, national insurance and occupational welfare, primary education, and, infant and maternity care had all been made the subject of state intervention to the extent that we can talk of the modern welfare state having its origins in this period. Why this has happened has long perplexed historians, and a variety of explanations have been put forward: the threat of socialism, fears of imperial decline, racial ‘degeneration’ and economic competition from Germany and the USA, humanitarian responses to poverty, ideological attempts to create worthy ‘citizens’, as well as a fight between the political parties for working-class votes.

This module explores new ground by examining the links between the growth of the welfare state and Britain’s status as the world's foremost imperial power. To what extent did anxieties about the future of the imperial ‘race’ contribute to the sea-change in policy? How much did Britain learn from the social reform experiments being carried out in the white settlement colonies? And to what extent did the experience of famine, migration, epidemic disease and environmental pollution in the empire accelerate intervention at home?

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2021-22

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To give an intensive introduction to an unfamiliar period and/or approach to the study of history;
  • To offer experience in the use of primary source materials;
  • To develop skills in analysing historiography; and
  • To develop core skills such as: bibliographical search techniques; source analysis; essay writing; giving presentations; and, undertaking independent research.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Acquire an insight into an unfamiliar period and/or approach to history through intensive study of an aspect of the period and/or an approach to it;

  • Gain experience of analysing primary source materials;

  • Be able to evaluate an historical explanation;

  • Have further developed work undertaken in the Autumn Term lecture courses and skills portfolios, including historical analysis, note-taking, using primary sources, presenting to groups, and leading discussions in seminars;

  • Be able to construct a coherent historical argument in oral and written forms

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Teaching will be in weekly 2-hour seminars taught over nine weeks, plus an overview and revision session in Week 2 of Summer Term. Each week students will do reading and preparation in order to be able to contribute to discussion.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

  1. Introductory: a British way of welfare? Empire and social reform before 1914
  2. The heart of the empire: urban life and the idea of degeneration
  3. A race apart: poverty in the midst of plenty
  4. Dangerous disease: public health panics at home and abroad
  5. Modelling imperial families: maternity, childcare and education
  6. From subjects to aliens: race, immigration and rights
  7. Empire and environment: planning the new world
  8. The legacy of empire: warfare and welfare after 1914


Task Length % of module mark
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
24-Hour Open Exam
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative work:

During the Spring Term students will prepare a presentation in pairs or small groups. Tutors will determine the formative work for the course: all groups will present either on a primary source or on an assigned historiographical question. Formative work will be completed in one or more sessions at the tutor’s discretion.

Summative assessment:

An open exam in the Common Assessment Period, comprising one essay question chosen from five options.


Task Length % of module mark
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
24-Hour Open Exam
N/A 100

Module feedback

The formative assessment is a group presentation and verbal feedback will be provided by the tutor in class followed by a written summary to each student within 10 working days. Students will have a 15 minute one-to-one tutorial to discuss the formative assessment and prepare for the summative assessment. 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 on Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Should you wish to do any preliminary reading, you could look at the following:

Harris, Bernard. The origins of the British welfare state : society, state, and social welfare in England and Wales, 1800-1945. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

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.