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Method Matters: Key Readings & Debates in Modern British Political History. - HIS00164M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Lawrence Black
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

Designed around a reading of contemporary sources and recent historical treatments of them, this course is an opportunity to debate key episodes in political history and to get to grips with methodological and theoretical developments. Where relevant, earlier or original research will be read as a point of comparison, as will texts from adjacent disciplines (political science, sociology, anthropology) and comparative and transnational perspectives beyond the UK will be encouraged. The course is designed to be flexible to historiographical trends.

A particular focus will be the rich recent historiography of neoliberalism and of Britain and Britons as imperial entities. Seminars will also interrogate the role of myth and how the spectres of Churchill and Thatcher haunt contemporary discourse. They will explore post-coloniality (and statues) and whiteness. And we will ask how historians might deal with the complex histories of Brexit. Perhaps an emotional history is the most apt approach and we will examine the potential and limitations of such a method. The course also dissects more conventional sources (manifestos, speeches) in new ways, looking at text-mining, close reading and how historians have found archives in social science research.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

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. Brexit (and after): imperial reflux?
  2. Do emotions determine politics?
  3. Political noise and detritus: Speeches and manifestos - measuring political discourse.
  4. Historicizing social science research: returning to the archive
  5. Cultures of neo-liberalism: yuppies and Wal-Mart.
  6. London and empire.
  7. Spectres: Churchill and Thatcher
  8. Apathy: do politics matter?


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:

  • Steven Fielding, A State of Play: British Politics on Screen, Stage and Play from Anthony Trollope to The Thick of it (London: Bloomsbury, 2014)
  • Emily Robinson, ‘An emotional history of Brexit’ in Martina Steber (ed.), Understanding Brexit (Oxford: OUP, 2023).
  • James Vernon, ‘Heathrow and the making of Neoliberal Britain’, Past & Present 252:1 (2021)

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.