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

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Miles Taylor
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20
    • See module specification for other years: 2018-19

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 Autumn Term 2019-20

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 historical study of an unfamiliar period and/or approach to the study of 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 practiced core skills identified in the Autumn Term Making Histories module, including historical analysis, note-taking, essay writing, presenting to groups, and leading discussions in seminars: and,
  • Have delivered advanced level historical work in essays, demonstrating a thorough understanding of the module topics.

Module content

Teaching Programme:
Teaching will be in weekly 2-hour seminars taught over eight weeks. Each week students will do reading and preparation in order to be able to contribute to discussion.

The provisional outline for the module is:

  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
2000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

During the autumn term students will be tasked with finding and researching their own primary source or sources in pairs or small groups, on which they will give a group presentation for formative assessment in one or more sessions during weeks 4-7.

Students will then submit 2,000-word assessed essay for summative assessment in week 10.


Task Length % of module mark
2000 word essay
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. 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.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): changes to courses

The 2020/21 academic year will start in September. We aim to deliver as much face-to-face teaching as we can, supported by high quality online alternatives where we must.

Find details of the measures we're planning to protect our community.

Course changes for new students