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Improvement, Modernization or Violence? 'Development' in Historical Perspective - HIS00054H

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

Module summary

The 1960s and 1970s have been described as the 'development era', when states in Latin America, Africa and Asia were subject to numerous interventions from the US and Europe, intended to modernise these countries. The failure of many of these projects to produce economic and social improvements for the countries concerned has produced an extensive literature that is often highly critical of the ideas and strategies promoted by advocates of development.

This course will examine the longer history of the idea of development and consider the different permutations of this idea across historical time and geographic space, relating the meanings given to the concept of development to social, political and economic contexts. It will examine the nature of development plans and schemes in practice during the 19th and 20th centuries, from the period of European Empires to the post-colonial world. In doing so it will consider such things as the ways in which development discourses and strategies have incorporated particular representations of peasants and tropical environments, the relationship between domestic issues and the overseas actions of European countries and North America, and the role of scientific and medical expertise in shaping development ideas and practices. Finally it will consider the responses of communities subject to European and American interventions as part of development.

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. The origins of the idea
  2. 'Developing the great estate': crisis in the British Empire in the late 19th century
  3. The rise of expertise
  4. Complementary economies
  5. The impact of the Great Depression
  6. Ideas of conservation and tropical arcadia
  7. British legislation and funding 1929-1962.
  8. Agricultural development: compulsion, negotiation and resistance.
  9. Agencies of development - UN, World Bank and NGOs
  10. The US and the significance of the Cold War context
  11. DDT and malaria
  12. Demography, Hunger, Development
  13. The Green Revolution
  14. Globalisation and development
  15. Contemporary debates and historical reflections

Indicative assessment

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.

Indicative reassessment

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:

Rist, Gilbert. The History of Development: From Western Origins to Global Faith. Zed Books, 1997.

Havinden, Michael and David Meredith. Colonialism and Development: Britain and its Tropical Colonies, chapters 1 and 2. Routledge, 1993.

Scott, James. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale University Press, 1998.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University constantly explores 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. In some instances it may be appropriate for the University to notify and consult with affected students about module changes in accordance with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.