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Political Communities in World History - HIS00084C

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Lawrence Black
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

This introductory course surveys global political history from around 500CE right up to the present day. But this is no simple narrative of political events leading from the classical world to Western democracy. On the contrary, this course challenges students to understand political history through its most important concepts, such as states, power, identity, and conflict. The course proceeds on a broad chronological basis, introducing students to some crucial structures in the history of political formations – from the complex early states of medieval Europe to the persistence of monarchy across the modern world – and to moments of decisive change in the form of rebellions, revolutions, and wars.

The primary focus will be on the conceptual underpinnings of politics and the way that historians should attempt to understand political history. How do we understand power? What was government for? Why do we (still) write histories of nation-states? How do we know when a revolution has taken place? How do gender and race challenge our understanding of politics? The course helps students to think more expansively about political history and, in doing so, aims to unsettle assumptions about how the modern world, its politics and states, came to look the way that they do.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2022-23

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To help students understand the major themes of political history over the past 1500 years
  • To encourage students to explore a wide range of political formations and ideas, both Western and non-Western, across time and place
  • To familiarize students with the ways in which historians understand political structures, thought, and action in past societies
  • To introduce students to many of the different areas of study available to them in Stages 2 and 3

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will have:

  • Acquired a broad knowledge of, and some of the scholarship relating to, political history in Western and non-Western societies;
  • Demonstrated an ability to analyse critically, and make connections between, focussed studies from across time and place;
  • Practiced core skills necessary to a history degree, notably note-taking, critical analysis, and the ability to form arguments orally and in written work, through effective contributions to seminar activities, oral presentation, essay-writing, and group work
  • Demonstrated understanding of, and the ability to construct arguments about, political changes and continuities

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Teaching will be in 2 x 1 hour lectures each week in Weeks 2-9. There are 1-hour seminars in Weeks 2, 4, and 6 and 8, and 2 hour discussion seminars with formative work sessions in Weeks 3, 5, 7, and 9. Each week students will do reading and preparation in order to be able to contribute to discussion and complete the formative skills tasks.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

Block 1. Cities, kingdoms, and empires

Lecture 1: Violence, debt, and documents: states before 1450

Lecture 2: “Man is a political animal”: early modern government and society

Lecture 3: Monarchs and constitutions after 1789

Lecture 4: Global city-states in the modern world

Seminar 1: Who participates in “politics”?

Seminar 2: What was the “state”?

Block 2. Power and legitimacy

Lecture 1: Sovereignty, justice, and representation: ideals of government in the pre-modern world

Lecture 2: “L’etat, c’est moi”: people and rulers in the early modern world

Lecture 3: Democracy and authority after 1789

Lecture 4: Challenging the nation in the modern world

Seminar 3: The good life: What was government for?

Seminar 4: The international order: How were relationships between states conceived?

Block 3. Nation, community, identity

Lecture 1: Languages, peoples, and cultures in the pre-modern world

Lecture 2: Communities and identities in the early modern world

Lecture 3: The birth of mass nationalism

Lecture 4: Beyond the nation

Seminar 5: The nation: is this a useful concept for historical inquiry?

Seminar 6: Race, gender, and class: who was the nation?

Block 4. Conflict and change

Lecture 1: War, rebellion, and political change in the pre-modern world

Lecture 2: What’s so good about change? Early modern perspectives on revolution

Lecture 3: Revolutionary watersheds

Lecture 4: Global revolution: it’s complicated

Seminar 7: When is a war not a war? Violence, and its resolution

Seminar 8: Revolutions and continuities


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 1500 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative work:

Students will complete four formative assessment tasks during the autumn term, comprised of exercises on note taking; referencing; making an argument and structuring essays. 

Students will work in groups to complete these tasks in tutor-led sessions, for which they will be expected to carry out preliminary reading and preparation.

Students have the option of submitting one formative essay (max 1,500 words) for each Introduction to World History module they take. These essays can be submitted in weeks 5, 6 or 7, at the student’s discretion. It is not recommended that students submit more than one essay in any single week. All students are encouraged to submit at least one essay.

Summative work:

Students will choose one of the four essay questions and submit a 1,500-word assessed essay in Week 10 of Autumn Term. It is worth 100% of the course mark.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 1500 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will receive verbal feedback during the formative work classes and a short written statement from their tutor within 20 working days of the class. 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. For more information, see the Statement on Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, you might like to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

Jerry H. Bentley, The Oxford Handbook of World History (Oxford, 2011).

Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference (Princeton, 2010).

Azar Gat, War in Human in Civilization (Oxford, 2006).

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.