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The British Atlantic World, 1576-1692: From Roanoke Colony to the Salem Witch Trials - HIS00053I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. John Cooper
  • Credit value: 30 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22
    • See module specification for other years: 2019-20

Module summary

In 1577 the astrologer and alchemist Dr John Dee published an appeal to Queen Elizabeth to establish a ‘British Empire’ in the new world. English navigators were already exploring the coastline of North America and Canada, plundering Spanish settlements and searching for the North-West passage to the riches of China. Collected by Richard Hakluyt, their stories were now edited into a manifesto for the plantation of the new world on the same model that English were attempting to impose on Ireland.

Starting with the Elizabethan sea-dogs like Martin Frobisher and Francis Drake, this module follows the fortunes of British efforts to explore, to settle and to understand America. In the century following John White’s pioneering colony on Roanoke Island, British settlement expanded from Virginia to New England, New York and Pennsylvania. Freedom of religion and commerce co-existed with indentured servitude and slavery, while relations with the indigenous population turned from curiosity towards conflict. Using primary sources as well as the rich historiography of the British Atlantic world, we examine the identity and beliefs of the British settlers in America, their enduring links to the old world and their responses to the new. The module concludes with the Salem witch trials of 1692, a turning-point in the history of colonial America.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2021-22 to Summer Term 2021-22

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To provide students with the opportunity to study particular historical topics in depth;
  • To develop students’ ability to examine a topic from a range of perspectives and to strengthen their ability to work critically and reflectively with secondary and primary material; and
  • To combine seminar preparation and discussion of the topic being studied with extended independent work on a project devised by the student.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will: 

  • have acquired a deep knowledge of the specific topic studied
  • have developed their ability to use and synthesise a range of primary and secondary sources
  • be able to evaluate the arguments that historians have made about the topic studied
  • have developed their ability to study independently through seminar-based teaching
  • gain experience of working collaboratively through an assessed group project 

Module content

Teaching Programme:
This 30-credit module is taught through a weekly two-hour seminar run from weeks 2-10 in the spring term and a four week period of project work undertaken in weeks 1-4 of the summer term. Students will complete their group project work within that period and tutors should arrange to be available for consultation with students twice during that time. There will be no formal seminar teaching during this period.

The seminar programme will deal with the following:

  1. Elizabethan sea-dogs and the North-West Passage
  2. John Dee, Richard Hakluyt and the idea of ‘British empire’
  3. Conquest and colonisation in Ireland
  4. John White’s drawings and the ‘lost colony’ of Roanoke
  5. Settling down: the plantation of Virginia
  6. A city on a hill: Puritanism in England and America
  7. A new world? British folkways in America
  8. A changing landscape: Indians and ecology
  9. Witchcraft, pestilence and the New England mind

The group project is likely to consist of an analysis of a primary source chosen by the student in consultation with the tutor (e.g. Richard Hakluyt’s "Discourse on Western Planting," John White’s drawings of Indian culture, printed records of the Salem witch trials).


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 33
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
24-Hour Open Exam
8 hours 67

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative assessment will be a group presentation between weeks 5 and 7 of the spring term.

For summative assessment students take a 24-hour open exam in the summer term assessment period, usually released at 11:00 on day 1 and submitted at 11:00 on day 2. For those taking two Explorations modules the 24-hour open exams are held on consecutive days, with both papers released at 11:00 on day 1 and both due for submission on 11:00 of day 3.

Students also submit a piece of written work for their group project of no more than 3,000 words in week 5 of the summer term.

The exam carries 67% of assessment and the project element 33% for this module.

Students who need to be reassessed in the project component of this module (for example due to Exceptional Circumstance) will be required to submit in the summer reassessment period a shorter individual project (2,000 words) which should include a short reflection (500 words max) on group work, considering how this project could be expanded if a team of three to four people were working on it. Students should consider how they would divide up the research tasks, and reflect briefly on problems which might arise and how they would manage them. Module tutors will advise on the content and design of this project. 


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 33
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
24-Hour Open Exam
8 hours 67

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will typically 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:

Armitage, David., and Michael J. Braddick. The British Atlantic World, 1500-1800. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Hackett Fischer, David. Albions Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989.

Cressy, David. Coming Over: migration and communication between England and New England in the seventeenth century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

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.