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Being Human: Human Nature from the Renaissance to Freud (HI281)

    Module Convenor:
    Office Hours:
    Room: FAB3.18
    Monday 11-12 am S0.19; available online via lecture capture on the Moodle page of HI281
    Monday, 2-3, Thursday 11-12
    With the exception of the week 1 and 2 (term I and II), please book an appointment only in my office hours. For booking please click 'booking' link under contact information on this page).

    If you wish to arrange a different time, please email me in advance.

    Note: office hours in reading week (week 6 each term) will be online only.


    NB for Oral participation/engagement (10%) - please fill in and upload this self evaluation form to Tabula

    This 30 CATS undergraduate second-year module introduces students to the different ways in which humans have thought about themselves from the Renaissance to the early 20th century, both as individuals and as collectives. It forwards the idea that ‘human nature’ is not a universal, trans-historical concept constant over time, but rather, is socio-culturally constructed. At different moments in time, ‘being human’ has been constructed and interpreted differently according to dominant values, norms, and systems of knowledge. This module investigates those differences over time in Western culture and how they link to wider social, cultural and economic contexts.

    Students will learn about crucial moments in the history of conceptualising and defining ‘human nature,’ from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment, to Freud and early modernity. Among other things, the module explores how 15th-century humanists felt that all that was worthwhile about being human was to be found in God, the scriptures, and classical texts. During the so-called Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, however, it began to be believed that humans possessed the creative power to ‘discover’ new things about themselves and their vastly-expanded world (the ‘new world’ of the Americas).

    This module also documents how, especially during the 17th and 18th centuries, the idea of ‘human nature’ came increasingly to be articulated and worried over, and how a new age of ‘humanity’ was envisioned. Rationality and reason became key attributes of the Enlightenment self; sociability, free speech, natural laws and universal rights came to be seen as structuring 'civilised' society. Also important was the linking of individuals and populations to economics and the territorial politics of emergent nation states. In the 19th century this process continued, but ‘being human’ was increasingly defined in terms of natural laws with ever-greater trust being placed in the natural sciences and, ultimately, the science of psychology.

    Overall, the module asks how a new age of humanity and new ways of knowing one-self came into being, and discusses what these new ways of understanding the self closed off or overlaid. Underlying the module is the question of the extent to which we are still within the Enlightenment project, or not.

    Formal Assessment

    Deadlines: see Tabula

    Assignment 1: Oral participation/engagement (10%). For marking criteria, 'Seminar Contribution Guidelines'.

    Seminar participation will be assessed across all classes according to the following criteria:

              • Preparation - Evidence shows preparation for the seminar (has prepared notes and/or recalls the readings without the use of the open text).
              • Engagement and Initiative - Quality of engagement is active, respectful and inclusive; participation in discussions; engagement with others; taking own initiative ask questions
              • Response and Discussion - Quality of response reflects knowledge, comprehension and application of the readings; Quality of response extends the discussion with peers and reflects analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

     Self-Evaluation form

    Assignment 2: 1 x 1500 word Essay (10%)

    Assignment 3: 1 x 3000 word Essay (40%)

    Assignment 4: 7 day take-home assessment (40%)




    Images: Wellcome Library, London