Accessibility statement

Possession: Objects & Ownership in Early Modern England, c.1650-c.1750 - HIS00043H

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Elizabeth Spencer
  • Credit value: 40 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22
    • See module specification for other years: 2022-23

Module summary

Between 1650 and 1750 English society saw the emergence of a new world of goods which transformed many areas of people’s lives. Some even say that this period saw the birth of the consumer society. This field has inspired exciting and innovative research and this period is at the forefront of work incorporating analysis of material culture into accounts of ordinary people’s lives.

Drawing on this work we will explore the buying, stealing, borrowing, inheriting, giving and display of objects in England in 1650-1750. The seminars focus not only on the ways in which objects were acquired, but also at the ways they were adapted and used, at patterns of ownership in different social groups, and at what objects and their acquisition can tell us about the ties between people, the history of comfort, and notions of luxury, necessity and connoisseurship.

The sources drawn upon will be very diverse, and we take full advantage of the extraordinary range of primary material available in York. We will draw on diaries and letters, on printed texts (through Early English Books Online and Eighteenth Century Collections Online) as well as newspapers and tradecards (available online). We will also work with court records (in particular the Proceedings of the Old Bailey online), and with original inventories and wills through seminars in the the Borthwick Institute. We will consult the collections of National Museums using their websites, and we will hope to work with objects in the Castle Museum in York.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2021-22 to Spring Term 2021-22

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to in depth study of a specific historical topic using primary and secondary material;
  • To enable students to explore the topic through discussion and writing; and
  • To enable students to evaluate and analyse primary sources.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Grasp key themes, issues and debates relevant to the topic being studied;
  • Have acquired knowledge and understanding about that topic;
  • Be able to comment on and analyse original sources;
  • Be able to relate the primary and secondary material to one another; and
  • Have acquired skills and confidence in close reading and discussion of texts and debates.

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1 of the autumn term, and a 3-hour seminar in weeks 2-5 and 7-9 of the autumn term and weeks 2-5 and 7-10 of the spring term. Both the autumn and spring terms include a reading week for final year students and so there will be no teaching in week 6. Students prepare for and participate in fifteen three-hour seminars. One-to-one meetings will also be held to discuss the assessed essay.

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

1: People.

2: Introducing approaches and debates.

3: Books

4: Shops, pedlars, auctions, markets.

5: Patterns of ownership.

6: Clocks and mirrors.

7: Wills and probate inventories.

8: Thieving.

9: Clothing.

10: Material culture of the coffee house.

11: Representing the domestic interior.

12: Chinoiserie.

13: Contemporary attitudes to consumption.

14: York Castle Museum (to be confirmed).

15: Gifts, collecting and display


Task Length % of module mark
Essay : 4,000 words
N/A 50
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Online Exam
8 hours 50

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students will be given the opportunity to do practice gobbets and then required to write a 2,000-word procedural essay relating to the themes and issues of the module in either the autumn or spring term.

For summative assessment, students complete a 4,000-word essay which utilises an analysis of primary source materials to explore a theme or topic relating to the module, due in week 5 of the summer term.

They then take a three-hour closed examination for summative assessment in the summer term assessment period comprising: one essay question relating to themes and issues, but showing an awareness of the pertinent sources that underpin these AND one ‘gobbet’ question (where students attempt two gobbets from a slate of eight).

The essay and exam are weighted equally at 50% each.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay : 4,000 words
N/A 50
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Online Exam
8 hours 50

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive written feedback that will include comments and a mark 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 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 unless submitted in week 5 of the summer term, in which case these are available within 25 working days. 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:

Hamling, Tara and Catherine Richardson, eds, Everyday Objects: Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture and its Meanings. Farnham: Ashgate, 2010.

Overton, Mark. Production and consumption in English households, 1600-1750. London: Routledge, 2004.

Weatherill, Lorna. Consumer behaviour and material culture in Britain, 1660-1760. London: Routledge, 1996.

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.