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The Enlightenment (HI174)

Convenor:   Dr Michael Bycroft (   Tutors:   Rita Dashwood (Thu 9-10am, Thu 12-1pm)
Office:   H17, first floor of the Humanities Building       Natalie Hanley-Smith (Fri 11-12pm)
Telephone:   +44 (0)24 76150442 (internal extension 50442)       Ben Redding (Thu 4-5pm)

Belley portriat

Jean-Baptiste Belley, born in Senegal, was a slave in the French West Indies before becoming a member of the French National Convention during the French Revolution. This portrait was painted around 1797.


This 30 CATS first-year interdisciplinary option module will introduce students to the Enlightenment, a movement of ideas c.1650-c.1800 that has been seen as laying the foundations of modernity. The Enlightenment embraced science, religion, politics, economics, exploration, collecting, literature, print, morality, international relations, race, sexuality and art. It affected much of Europe but also Europe's colonies, and it shaped the British, American and French revolutions. It helped to forge the very idea of Europe and Europeans, in interaction with other polities and peoples. The Enlightenment 'project' sought to rid the world of what it saw as superstition and ignorance and to replace them with reason and progress, a project that remains as controversial today as it was in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

This module is delivered by a team of lecturers that reflects the multi-disciplinary nature of the Enlightenment itself. Lecturers are drawn from within the History department but also from the departments of English and Comparative Literary studies, Art History, French, German and Law. No prior knowledge of the period is necessary (we know that it will be very new to most students) and the module will complement the core first-year modules Making of the Modern World and Europe in the Making. It will also help prepare History students for the second-year module Historiography I, which covers history-writing during the Enlightenment.

Students taking the module will be offered the opportunity to make a field trip, to the Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum (itself a creation of the Enlightenment's desire to collect and order knowledge).

Each week's specific reading is available in digital form on the Lectures and Seminars list together with designated secondary sources. We strongly recommend reading a short secondary piece prior to the lecture each week, as a way of ensuring that you come to the lecture with some sense of the issues for that week. See also the Bibliography for further material on each of the areas of the course.

Sample feedback from 2018/19 students:

"makes the Enlightenment interesting"

"lectures are the best I have, striking a good balance of in-depth detail and analysis whilst maintaining a pace that can be followed"