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The British Problem: Empire, Conflict and National Identities, 1558-1714 (HI275)

Module Convenor: Dr Naomi Pullin

Office: FAB 3.42 (History dept., third floor)


Office hours (Naomi): Thursdays 10-11 and Fridays 10-11 in FAB 3.42

Seminar Tutor: Dr Sarah Johanesen

Office: FAB 3.64


Office hours (Sarah): Tuesdays 17.00-18.00 (MS Teams) and Thursdays 11.00-12.00 in FAB 3.64 (in-person)

Please refer to the module moodle page for all instructions, reading and preparation for the seminars.

Lecture times

Thursdays 11-12 L4 (Science Concourse)

Seminar times

Group 1 (with Naomi) Thursdays 1-2 FAB 6.01 (Faculty of Arts)

Group 2 (with Naomi) Thursdays 2-3 FAB 6.02 (Faculty of Arts)

Group 3 (with Sarah) Thursdays 4-5 FAB S0.52 (Social Studies)

Group 4 (with Sarah) Thursdays 5-6 FAB 6.04 (Faculty of Arts)

Group 5 (with Sarah) Fridays 9-10 FAB 4.78 (Faculty of Arts)

Module Overview

This 30CAT second-year early modern option module will explore the attempts of Early Modern monarchs and governments to gain hegemony over the British Isles and establish an imperial dominion beyond the Atlantic. Moving from the accession of Elizabeth to the death of Queen Anne, the module will incorporate the ‘plantation’ of Ireland and America, the Civil Wars, the 1688 Revolution and the 1707 Act of Union. It will focus on the connections between the kingdoms, and show how relations across the British Isles were affected by conflicts over the powers of crown and church, and challenged by splits between rival religious communities. These tensions, as the module will highlight, were grafted onto ancient national, cultural and ethnic fault lines.

The module will focus on the experiences of the different religious, national and ethnic groupings within the British Isles and British America, and will encompass the history of culture and ideas, as well as religion and politics. While following a chronological structure, it will examine the longer underlying themes of religious and national consciousness, and consider how the question of British, English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish identity was explored by poets, scholars and writers within the period.

Teaching and learning

This module consists of a weekly lecture and related seminar. Lectures will all be delivered in person, they will also be recorded.

You can view the weekly topics on the 'Lecture Programme'. All reading and required preparation for the seminars will be provided and updated on the module Moodle Pages. The module moodle page also provides detailed instructions about the assignments for this module.

Learning outcomes

  • To gain an understanding of the historical dynamics that connected the three British kingdoms and the emergent empire in America.
  • To explore the relationship between religion, politics and national identity.
  • To examine the ‘British problem’ comparatively, alongside the experience of other European states, empires and kingdoms.


  • Participation and engagement (10%)
  • Primary source commentary, 1,500 words (10%)
  • 3,000-word essay (40%)
  • Take-home 2-question examination (40%)

Module feedback

"The ‘British Problem’ module started off as the module I chose just because we had to pick one Early Modern module, to the module that I most enjoyed at university! ... The whole course was both intellectually stimulating and demanding, and I genuinely enjoyed writing essays for this module, especially the long 4,500 word one. I think the course has equipped me with an important understanding of the difference in politics between the three kingdoms ... This module should be taught as a prerequisite to studying modern politics in Britain!". (Second Year History and Politics Student)

" I enjoy the seminars and I like that there is a mix of podcasts, primary sources and secondary literature to prepare me for the seminars. They are very helpful and enjoyable to read and the seminars themselves are very intellectually engaging." (Second Year History Student)

"The module really inspired me last year, and I believe brought out my best academic work so far." (Second Year History Student)

"I am someone who prefers researching about Modern History, yet the British Problem module was my favourite last year. For me, the main takeaway from the module was how to use and analyse primary sources, something which has come in handy for my essays and especially my dissertation this year." (Third Year History and Politics Student).