Accessibility statement

Knowledge & Beliefs in World History - HIS00085C

« Back to module search

  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Oleg Benesch
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

This course introduces first year History students to important themes in intellectual and cultural history, and challenges them to think critically about the power of knowledge and belief in different cultures over time. It encourages students to explore how ideas have developed and travelled across different social and cultural contexts. It places strong emphasis not only on how ideas and beliefs have been formed and propagated by elites, but also on how the hierarchies of power that ideas help to create have been subverted and questioned by a wide range of historically marginalised groups. This is done with a focus on race and gender, and from a global perspective. Students are encouraged to make comparisons that will enable them to deconstruct the simplistic binaries of ‘science’ vs ‘religion’ and ‘modern’ vs ‘traditional’ forms of knowledge, to explore more fully how knowledge exchange occurred between different societies, and to consider the challenges of trying to uncover the full complexity of individual beliefs.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To help students understand important ideas in intellectual and cultural history over the past 1500 years;
  • To encourage students to explore intellectual and cultural history from the perspective of a wide range of historical actors across time and place;
  • To familiarise students with the ways in which historians understand intellectual, cultural, and social, developments 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 intellectual, cultural, and social history in Western and non-Western societies;
  • Demonstrated an ability to analyse critically, and make connections between, focused studies from across time and place;
  • Practised core skills necessary to a history degree, notably note-taking, critical analysis, and the ability to form arguments orally and in writing, through effective contributions to discussion group activities, essay-writing, and group work
  • Demonstrated understanding of, and the ability to construct arguments about, intellectual and cultural changes and continuities.

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1, then two lectures and a 1-hour discussion group in each of weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW). Students prepare for and participate in sixteen lectures and eight discussion groups in all.

Lecture and discussion group topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

Block 1: Knowledge and Ideas: Frameworks, Communities and Circulation

Mapping and Organising the World of Knowledge I
Mapping and Organising the World of Knowledge II
Circulation and Communities of Ideas I
Circulation and Communities of Ideas II

Discussion groups:
Power and Knowledge: the British in India
The “Travels” of Sir John Mandeville

Block 2: Nature and Time

Time: Pasts, Futures and Temporality I
Time: Pasts, Futures and Temporality II
The Natural World I
The Natural World II

Discussion groups:
The Meanings of Revolution
Animals, Indigeneity, and the State

Block 3: Being Human

The Human Condition I
The Human Condition II
Difference and Otherness I
Difference and Otherness II

Discussion groups:
Exemplarity and Emulation
How to Measure Cultural Difference in the Renaissance

Block 4: Knowledge, Belief and Power

Power and Resistance in Religion and State I
Power and Resistance in Religion and State II
Culture and Nation I
Culture and Nation II

Discussion groups:
Vernacular Language and Revolt
Forging Identities Abroad


Task Length % of module mark
Open Examination: Multiple choice questions online
Open Exam
5 hours 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment work, students will produce a 1500-word essay in week 5.

For summative assessment, students will complete an Open Exam in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Open Examination: Multiple choice questions online
Open Exam
5 hours 100

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 discussion groups 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 lecturers’ student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For summative assessment tasks, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 working days of the submission deadline. Lecturers will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For semester-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:

  • Lorraine Daston, Against Nature (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2019).
  • Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).

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.