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The Birth of Modern Society? Britain 1660-1720 (HI31G)

Tutor: Professor Mark Knights 
: (024) 765 74690
Office: Room H309, third floor of the Humanities Building
Office Hours: Tuesdays 11-12, Thursdays 3-4, and at other times by appointment
Seminar: Thursdays 1-3 (H3.03)


I shall hold an introductory meeting about dissertations in week 2 - Thursday 11th October 10-11am in H2.44


This 30 CATS Special Subject final-year module examines how far the period 1660 to 1720 – the age of Isaac Newton, Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift – marked a period of transition from an ‘early modern’ to a ‘modern society’. As the image suggests, contemporaries saw themselves both looking back into a recent history of civil war and, self-consciously, forward to a 'modern' world. This was the period in which ‘Britain’ was formed (after England’s union with Scotland in 1707), and in which the impact of two major revolutions was assimilated. We will study, through a close engagement with primary sources, the emergence of a free press, the power of public opinion, intense party rivalries, novel forms of journalism, an innovative literary culture that saw the birth of the novel, a scientific revolution and an early enlightenment in ideas and beliefs. The module explores claims that in politics, religion, the economy, science, ideas, nationhood, culture and society, Britain witnessed transformative change, the legacy of which we still face today. As part of the module we shall have a field trip, usually to Blenheim Palace, built in the first decades of the eighteenth century for the Churchills, one of the most controversial families of the age. There are some background podcasts you can listen to.



Students in 2018 on our field trip to Blenheim Palace: