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A Reading Revolution? Gender, Politics & the Written Word in Early Modern England, c. 1570 - 1700 - HIS00093C

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Hannah Jeans
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21

Module summary

The early modern period saw a number of transformations in how people read. After the invention of the Gutenberg press, print became increasingly widely available across Europe, and literacy rates rose. Books were becoming familiar objects and reading was a key part of everyday life. Moreover, print became increasingly important in politics, even helping to provoke revolution in seventeenth-century England.

This module will cover themes such as gender, genre, and political change, looking at how and what people were reading. We will consider the place of reading in politics, religion and the home, and the ways in which people could read even if they were not literate. We will also investigate the common historiographical claim that reading and methods of reading underwent a ‘revolution’ in the early modern period, moving from intensive and active to extensive and passive reading. We will explore whether this narrative can be applied to the reading habits of non-elite groups and women, and question the ways in which scholars have approached long-term change in the history of reading.

The module will introduce students to the methods of studying reading in the past, considering how we might access a largely intangible action. We will also see how studying reading can give an insight into the political, religious and social changes of early modern England.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2020-21

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To give an intensive introduction to an unfamiliar period and/or approach to the study of history;
  • To offer experience in the use of primary source materials;
  • To develop skills in analysing historiography; and
  • To develop core skills such as: bibliographical search techniques; source analysis; essay writing; giving presentations; and, undertaking independent research.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Acquire an insight into an unfamiliar period and/or approach to history through intensive study of an aspect of the period and/or an approach to it;
  • Gain experience of analysing primary source materials;
  • Be able to evaluate an historical explanation;
  • Have further developed work undertaken in the Autumn Term lecture courses and skills portfolios, including historical analysis, note-taking, using primary sources, presenting to groups, and leading discussions in seminars;
  • Be able to construct a coherent historical argument in oral and written forms

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Teaching will be in weekly 2-hour seminars taught over nine weeks, plus an overview and revision session in Week 2 of Summer Term. Each week students will do reading and preparation in order to be able to contribute to discussion. 

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

Spring Term

1.                                         No teaching

2.                                         Introductory session The history of reading

3.                                         Topic 1 Active reading: scholars and books

4.                                         Topic 2 Book collectors and libraries

5.                                         Topic 3 Reading and religion

6.                                         Topic 4 Reading the news: politics and revolution

7.                                         Topic 5 Reading the home: remedies and recipes

8.                                         Topic 6 Cheap print and aural reading

9.                                         Topic 7 The rise of the romance

10.                                       Topic 8 A reading revolution?


Summer Term

2.        Overview and revision


Task Length % of module mark
Online Exam
A Reading Revolution? Gender, Politics & the Written Word in Early Modern England, c. 1570 - 1700
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative work:

During the Spring Term students will prepare a presentation in pairs or small groups. Tutors will determine the formative work for the course: all groups will present either on a primary source or on an assigned historiographical question. Formative work will be completed in one or more sessions at the tutor’s discretion.

Summative assessment:

An open exam in the Common Assessment Period, comprising one essay question chosen from five options


Task Length % of module mark
Online Exam
A Reading Revolution? Gender, Politics & the Written Word in Early Modern England, c. 1570 - 1700
N/A 100

Module feedback

The formative assessment is a group presentation and verbal feedback will be provided by the tutor in class followed by a written summary to each student within 10 working days. Students will have a 15 minute one-to-one tutorial to discuss the formative assessment and prepare for the summative assessment. 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. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement on Assessment


Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Should you wish to do any preliminary reading, you could look at the following:

Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading (London: Flamingo Press, 1997).

Leah Knight, Elizabeth Sauer and Micheline White (eds.), Women’s Bookscapes in Early Modern Britain: Reading, Ownership and Circulation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2018).

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.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): changes to courses

The 2020/21 academic year will start in September. We aim to deliver as much face-to-face teaching as we can, supported by high quality online alternatives where we must.

Find details of the measures we're planning to protect our community.

Course changes for new students