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Becoming British? Cultures & Identities in early modern Britain & Ireland - HIS00088M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. William White
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22
    • See module specification for other years: 2022-23

Module summary

Britain is in crisis. Long regarded as the first modern state, capable despite its limited population and resources of controlling a global empire, Britain now faces the possibility of disintegration. Why this is happening can seem mystifying. Many people assume that the historical process by which England, the dominant kingdom, forged a sovereign British state under a ‘constitutional monarch’ was natural, inevitable, and largely peaceful. These assumptions are wrong.

This course introduces students to the exciting developments that ‘made’ Britain. Important factors worked to bring the four ‘nations’ of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales together: the Protestant religion, the expansion of the English language, and the deliberate promotion by the ruling Stuart dynasty of a shared elite culture. These processes of integration went hand-in-hand with the marginalisation of Gaelic-speakers, Catholics, and Protestant dissenters. Some historians argue further that the ‘othering’ of alternative cultures within the nascent British state prefigured and justified the oppression of the non-white, non-Christian peoples encountered in its burgeoning empire.

Students on this course will travel through some of the most controversial events in the history of these islands: the Protestant Reformations under the Tudor monarchs; the British civil wars of the mid-17th century; and the Anglo-Scottish union of 1707. Using a range of contemporary sources, we will examine the forces that pulled the British peoples together and wrenched them apart. These forces never ran along simple ‘national’ lines. At the end of the course, students will assess what we mean by a ‘British’ identity, who adopted it, and who it excluded.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2021-22

Module aims

The module aims to:

  • Develop skills of source analysis and interpretation;
  • Assess a range of source material and relevant secondary works; and
  • Develop students’ powers of evidence-based historical argument, both orally and in writing.

Module learning outcomes

After completing this module students should:

•have attained knowledge of the conceptual frameworks used to investigate state formation

•have acquired a deep understanding of the political, religious, and cultural interactions between the constituent parts of the British archipelago

•be able to compare and contrast the different political cultures obtaining within the archipelago

•be able to assess the different types of source material through which state formation can be studied

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Students will attend eight weekly two-hour seminars in weeks 2-9.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

1. Introduction: why is Britain a ‘problem’?
2. King James VI and I’s ‘perfect union’
3. The British Civil Wars, 1635-51: ethnic conflict?
4. The British Problem: Oliver Cromwell’s solution
5. Protestantism and British Identities
6. ‘A Pen and Ink War’: debating Anglo-Scottish Union
7. Making a British Atlantic World
8. Britons?


Task Length % of module mark
Long Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will complete a 2,000-word essay for formative assessment, due in week 6 or 7 of the autumn term, for which they will receive an individual tutorial. They will then submit a 4,000-word assessed essay for summative assessment in week 2 of the spring term.

For further details about assessed work, students should refer to the Statement of Assessment for Taught Postgraduate Programmes.


Task Length % of module mark
Long Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive written feedback consisting of comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission. They will also receive verbal feedback at an individual tutorial. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative 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. Supervisors are available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment for Taught Postgraduate Programmes.

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:

Colley, Linda, Acts of Union and Disunion. London, 2014.

Kumar, Krishan, The Making of English National Identity. Cambridge, 2003.

Ohlmeyer, Jane, Making Ireland English. New Haven, Conn., 2012.

Smyth, Jim, The Making of the United Kingdom, 1660-1800: State, Religion and Identity in Britain and Ireland. London, 2001.

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.