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Becoming British? Nations and Identities in the Early Modern Atlantic World - HIS00162M

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

Module summary

According to Linda Colley, Great Britain was ‘invented’ as ‘a would-be nation, rather than a name’, by the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland. The Act created a strange sort of ‘sovereign’ state that has also acted as an ‘umbrella’ for four nations. How did this come about? It was by no means ‘inevitable’; rather, it was the culmination of a long and occasionally violent process lasting well over a century.

Important factors worked to bring the four ‘nations’ of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales together: the ruling dynasty; the Protestant religion; and the expansion of the English language, especially in print. Processes of integration went hand-in-hand with the marginalisation of speakers of Gaelic, Welsh, and Cornish, as well as Catholics and Protestant dissenters. To what extent were British identities shaped through colonial enterprise in what some call a British Atlantic world? Should we be considering transatlantic, rather than narrowly British, cultures in which the agency of Black Africans and Indigenous peoples comes to the fore?

Students on this wide-ranging course will travel through controversial events: the Protestant Reformations; the British civil wars; colonisation in North America and the rise of the transatlantic slave trade, and the Anglo-Scottish union of 1707. Using a range of contemporary sources, we will examine the forces that disrupted established identities and forged new ones. Throughout the course, students will assess what we mean by ‘national’ identities.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

The aims of this module are 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

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Demonstrate a knowledge of a specialist historiographical literature;
  • Present findings in an analytical framework derived from a specialist field;
  • Solve a well-defined historiographical problem using insights drawn from secondary and, where appropriate, primary sources.
  • Set out written findings using a professional scholarly apparatus.

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing (RAW) weeks during which there are no seminars, and during which students research and write a formative essay, consulting with the module tutor. Students prepare for eight seminars in all.

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

  1. Imagined Communities: National identities before nationalism
  2. Protestant nations
  3. History and myth
  4. ‘Husband to two wives’: the union project in the early 17th century
  5. Union reimagined: war and conquest in the mid-17th century
  6. ‘A pen and ink war’: debating the Union of 1707
  7. Imperial state: transatlantic cultures?
  8. The invention of Britain


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

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students submit a 2,000-word formative essay in week 9.
A 4,000-word summative essay will be due in the assessment period.


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

Module feedback

Students will typically receive written feedback on their formative essay 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 essay during their tutor’s student hours—especially during week 11, before, that is, they finalise their plans for the Summative Essay.

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 reading during the module, 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: Profile Press, 2014.)
  • Kumar, Krishan, The Making of English National Identity. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.)
  • Mancke, Elizabeth, and Carole Shammas, eds, The Creation of the British Atlantic World. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.)

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.