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Approaches to Early Modernity, 1500-1750 (HI973)


Professor Mark Knights


Context of Module
Module Aims
Intended Learning Outcomes
Illustrative Bibliography
Context of Module

This is the core module for the MA in Religious, Social and Cultural History. The module, taught in the Autumn term, may also be taken by students on the MA in History or any taught Masters students outside the History Department.


Module Aims

This module aims to provide a broad and comparative introduction to the themes of the MARSCH degree. It is organized around the three core themes of Religion, Culture, and Society, with tutors introducing both broad approaches and insights from their own research. By the end of the module, students should have a sound knowledge of current trends in approach and topic, and be equipped to tackle the more specialised modules on offer in the second term.

You can choose to write a 5000-word essay about any of the topics that we cover. You can either use a title from the ones suggested or formulate one of your own in consultation with the module director or with the seminar tutor. Suggestions for reading are provided for each of the seminars, but again please ask if you want more advice.

You are expected to attend the Early Modern Seminar though you may also found much of interest in the Global History, Eighteenth Century and History of Medicine seminars – the programmes are on the departmental website, where you will also find a forum for research activity.


Intended Learning Outcomes
By the end of the module students should be able to:
  • display an advanced knowledge of the key themes in early modern European history (including Britain). Students will have a sound knowledge of the complex religious, social, political and cultural contexts that prevailed. Students will be able to articulate an advanced understanding of key themes, and to be aware of change over time and space.
  • show advanced knowledge and conceptual awareness of the different interpretations of key themes in early modern history, evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of varying approaches and arriving at an independent judgement. Students should be able to show a sophisticated handling of concepts and arguments.
  • display an ability to interpret primary sources, showing initiative in researching their contexts and meanings. Students should be able to work autonomously to identify texts that are relevant to their essay topic, but within a guided framework.
  • refine their writing and debating skills
  • scope a dissertation topic, with the capacity for original work that will allow the student to pursue independent research



Week 1: Introduction (Mark Knights)

Week 2 : Religion I: The Reformation(s) and Confessionalization (Naomi Pullin)

Week 3: Religion II: Popular Religion and ‘Disenchantment’ (Naomi Pullin)

Week 4: Culture I (Beat Kumin & Claudia Stein)

Week 5: Culture II (Beat Kumin & Claudia Stein)

Week 6: Reading Week

Week 7: Society I: Social Order & Social Protest (Bernard Capp)

Week 8: Society II: Gender (Bernard Capp)

Week 9: Europe and the New World (Julia McClure)

Week 10: Module Workshop (all tutors)


Illustrative Bibliography

M. Braddick, State Formation in Early Modern England c.1550-1700 (2000)

Te Brake, Shaping History: Ordinary People in European Politics 1500-1700 (1998)

A. Brett and J. Tully (eds), Rethinking the Foundations of Modern Political Thought (2006)

P. Burke, Varieties of Cultural History (1997)

R. Chartier, The Cultural Uses of Print in Early Modern France (1987)

J.H. Elliott Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830 (New Haven and London, 2006)

Anthony Grafton, New Worlds, Ancient Texts. The Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery (1992)

K. von Greyerz, Religion and Society in Early Modern Europe 1500-1800 (1984)

R. Houston, Literacy in Early Modern Europe: Culture and Education 1500-1800 (1988)

B. Kumin (ed), The European World 1500-1800 (2009)

E. Muir, Ritual in Early Modern Europe (1997)

A. Pagden European Encounters with the New World: from Renaissance to Romanticism (1993)

J. Ruff, Violence in Early Modern Europe (2001)

D. Sabean, Power in the Blood: Popular Culture and Village Discourse in Early Modern Germany (1984)

R. Starn, ‘The Early Modern Muddle’, Journal of Early Modern History 6:3 (2002), 296-307

W. G. Walker (ed), Writing Early Modern History (2005)

M. Wiesner-Hanks, Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe (2008, 3rd edition)

P. Withington, Society in Early Modern England: The Vernacular Origins of Some Powerful Ideas (Cambridge, 2010)



1 assessed essay of 6,000 words will be due on Thursday 17 December (first week after the end of Term 1). In addition, an optional non-assessed, ‘practice’ essay of c. 2000 words (which you are encouraged to undertake) can be handed in to Mark Knights by Monday of Week 7 (16 November).

Module handbook(Word Document)


Various; please see module handbook

Term Autumn
Tutorial Day Thursdays
Time 15:00-17:00
Seminars in: H3.03 
Module Convenor:  
Mark Knights H3.09
Bernard Capp H3.18
Claudia Stein H3.12
Beat Kumin H3.13
Naomi Pullin  
Julia McClure