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Containing Multitudes: Inequality and the City in Britain and its Empire post-1800 - HIS00152I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Sam Wetherell
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

The new industrial metropolises that emerged in Britain in a shockingly short space of time in the nineteenth century posed a new type of problem: how to build cities that would contain the massive inequalities between their residents. This course looks at the development of British cities both at home and in the Empire from the origins of mass urbanisation during the industrial revolution to the financialized and globalised cities of the twenty-first century. Throughout, we will be looking at how these cities have dealt with inequalities of class, race and gender that were sometimes addressed, but more often justified, policed and contained. Along the way we look at themes such as public health and liberal reform, suburbanisation, top-down urban planning both at home and in the Empire, the rise and fall of council housing, migration, the gendered design of cities and houses, gentrification and policing.

As well as telling the history of the British city, this class will serve as an introduction to some of the core themes of urban history and the methodological challenges faced by historians working on the built environment. We will look at the key role played by planners, architects, local politicians, intellectuals and artists in shaping the urban world in which we live. We will also see how cities have become sites of resistance, ranging from full scale rebellions such as the black uprisings in London and Liverpool in 1981 to more subtle transgressions.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To provide students with the opportunity to study particular historical topics in depth
  • To develop students’ ability to examine a topic from a range of perspectives and to strengthen their ability to work critically and reflectively with secondary and primary material

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Have acquired a deep knowledge of the specific topic studied
  • Have developed their ability to use and synthesise a range of primary and secondary sources
  • Be able to evaluate the arguments that historians have made about the topic studied
  • Have developed their ability to study independently through seminar-based teaching

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 1-hour plenary/lecture and a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11 of semester 1. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW) during which there are no seminars. Students prepare for and participate in eight 1-hour plenaries/lectures and eight 2-hour seminars in all.

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

  1. Distant Strangers: Urbanisation and Industrial Capitalism
  2. Health, Sanitation and Liberal Reform
  3. The Imperial City at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
  4. Suburbia, Gender and the Interwar Home
  5. Modernism, Utopia and the Postwar City
  6. Decolonisation, Migration and the Postcolonial City
  7. Uprisings, Policing, and Urban Regeneration
  8. Landlords, Gentrification and the Unequal City of the Twenty-First Century


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

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students will complete a referenced 1200 to 1500-word essay relating to the themes and issues of the module. This will be submitted in either the Week 5 or Week 9 RAW week (on the day of the weekly seminar).

For summative assessment, students will complete an Assessed Essay (2000 words, footnoted). This will comprise 100% of the overall module mark.

Summative assessments will be due in the assessment period.


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

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will typically receive written feedback that will include comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their seminars 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 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 25 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 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:

  • James Vernon, Distant Strangers: How Britain Became Modern (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014), Ch 2: A Society of Strangers
  • Kennetta Hammond Perry, London is the Place for Me: Black Britons, Citizenship and the Politics of Race (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), Chapter 1: “Race Empire and the Formation of Black Britain”
  • Dan Hancox, Inner City Pressure: The Story of Grime (London: William Collins, 2019), Chapters 1, 2 and 4.

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.