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Honour & Shame - HIS00100H

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Craig Taylor
  • Credit value: 40 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22

Module summary

Honour and shame are the positive and negative evaluations of an individual by their community and peers. Few societies have lacked notions of precedence (honour) and social failure (shame), though these issues have been particularly prominent in cultures such as ancient Greece and Rome, the chivalric communities of medieval Europe, Japan, and various modern Mediterranean societies. Focusing upon these case-studies, this module examines a host of questions surrounding honour and shame.

Firstly, what are the criteria and rules by which an individual is judged worthy of honour or deserving of shame? To what extent do the reputations of individuals depend upon their moral and ethical qualities, upon wider factors, or just their inherited social rank? What is the difference between honour, morality and law as rules governing behaviour? Why is female honour usually associated with sexuality and in particular, virginity and chastity? Secondly, how are the norms of honour and shame formed in the first place? What role does culture, including both literature and ritual, play in the social constructions of such ideas? Thirdly, why do individuals care whether they are honoured or shamed? To what extent do the ‘rules’ determining an individual’s reputation influence their sense of self-worth and their emotions? Why were knights, Samurai and Mafiosi so obsessed with notions of honour, shame and social precedence? Fourthly, what role does honour play in either creating or restraining violence, particularly with regard to duelling and the notion of the archetypal ‘man of honour’, always alert for any insult or challenge? And under what circumstances do such attitudes extend to the horrors of honour killings of individuals who have ‘defiled the family's honour’ by marrying against the family's wishes, or even by being the victims of rape.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2021-22 to Spring Term 2021-22

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to the practice of comparative history;
  • To enable students to acquire skills and understanding of that practice by studying a particular topic or theme; and
  • To enable students to reflect on the possibilities and difficulties involved in comparative history

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Grasp the key approaches and challenges involved in comparative history;
  • Understand a range of aspects of the topic or theme which they have studied;
  • Be able to use and evaluate comparative approaches to that topic or theme; and
  • Have learned to discuss and write about comparative history
  • Have developed skills in group work

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.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

1. Defining Honour

2. Defining Shame

3. Case-Study: Chivalry

4. Warrior Honour

5. Self-Sacrifice

6. Courtesy and Civility

7. National Honour

8. Feuds and Vendettas

9. Defending Honour: Duelling and Domestic Violence

11. Defamation and Slander

12. Gifts, Trust and Cooperation

13. Gang Cultures: Pirates and the Mafia

14. Honouring the Dead

15. Autobiography: Shaping the Story


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 33
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
24-Hour Open Exam
N/A 67

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For procedural work, the students will make group presentations towards the end of the autumn term. In addition, they may choose to submit an optional 2,000 word formative essay between weeks 7-9 of the autumn term. Essays should not be submitted in the same week as group project presentations are scheduled.

For summative assessment students will complete a 4,000-word group project due in week 6 of the spring term -- this will account for 33% of the final mark. They will then also take a 2,000-word 24-hour open exam during the common assessment period in the summer term, usually released at 11:00 on day 1 and submitted at 11:00 on day 2. The open exam will be worth 67% of the final mark.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 33
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
24-Hour Open Exam
N/A 67

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive feedback that will include comments and a mark. If this takes the form of live feedback in class it will be supported by a written comment sheet.

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. 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:

Stewart, Frank Henderson. Honor. Chicago, 1994.

Miller, William Ian. Humiliation and other essays on honor, social discomfort, and violence. Ithaca, 1993.

Oprisko, Robert L. Honor. A Phenomenology. Abingdon, 2012.

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.