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'World of the Tavern' - Module Details

Module Tutor

Prof. Beat Kümin

Office H313. Tel: (024 76 5) 24915


Time and venue

  • From week 1: regular classes every Wednesday 9-11 in H1.05 (but NOT in weeks 6, 10, 16).
  • One field trip in the spring term (provisionally Saturday of week 18).
  • A revision session will be offered early in the summer term.


Aims and Objectives

Like other advanced options, this module involves the study of a broad-ranging theme in a comparative and interdisciplinary context. It will examine developments in a number of different European countries (mainly the German lands, France and England) and draws on insights from neighbouring disciplines such as art and legal history, anthropology, theology and sociology. Compared to second-year options, there is a greater emphasis on historiographical debate, active student input in seminar organization and engagement with primary sources (although not to the same extent as in special subjects). Students are encouraged to suggest their own topics for long essays and dissertations. All written work should engage with primary sources and/or historiography/neighbouring disciplines from a comparative perspective. Tavern studies are an emerging field and your research can help to shape it - several former students have gone on to publish articles based on their module work (see the entries for James Brown and Catherine Dent in the module bibliography).

The module uses one of the most prominent social centres in early modern Europe to illustrate key themes and processes of the period, such as patterns of sociability, the growth of regulation, communication networks, confessional identity, incidence of crime, gender roles and alcohol consumption. It approaches pre-modern social conditions through the analysis of an ubiquitous leisure activity and highlights tensions between religious doctrines, secular laws and popular culture.

After an introductory section on scholarly approaches and contextual issues, seminar sessions explore the legal, socio-economic an cultural dimensions of commercial hospitality and the status of the people who worked in the trade. Themes will be explored through student presentations and debates rather than lectures by the tutor. A concluding part widens the perspective to examine the relationship with local, national and ecclesiatical authorities as well as the potential for interdisciplinary approaches.

Evidence from a broad chronological and geographical range is used to encourage long-term comparative views of early modern history. It shall become clear that basic similarities characterised the trade in Central and North-Western Europe, in spite of marked differences in the constitutional and confessional frameworks.


Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module the student should be able to:

  • demonstrate enhanced study, writing and communication skills;
  • identify key processes and debates in early modern history;
  • understand the multifunctional role of early modern public houses;
  • examine relevant issues in a range of European case studies;
  • engage with works from other academic disciplines;
  • display greater expertise in making individual and group presentations;
  • write an informative book review;
  • develop an individual long essay / dissertation topic, based on appropriate materials;
  • critically evaluate a range of primary and / or secondary sources in comparative perspective.

    The university's 'Teaching & Learning Showcase' 2011 presented an opportunity for reflection on the interdisciplinary aspects of this module.

    In the spring of 2016, James Haworth won a URSS bursary to research the relationship between inns and music in eighteenth-century England (poster summary).

    Several former module students went on to publish tavern-related research (James Brown on drinking houses as sites of surveillance; Catherine Dent on inn signs).

    Teaching and Learning Methods

    Weekly meetings usually take the form of seminars, with some introductory mini-lectures. Participants are expected to prepare seminar reading in private study, to offer a number of (individual / group) presentations in class (now facilitated by the Learning Grid in University House) and to take an active part in discussions. Handouts with additional materials, esp. (translated) extracts from sources will be available for most sessions.

    A field trip to historic public houses in the region also forms part of the programme.

    Non-assessed assignments the first one takes the form of a 2,000 word essay, the second a book review of 1,000 words. There is also the option of writing a (1-question) mock exam at the beginning of the summer term. Individual tutorials will give feedback on these assignments and seminar performance.

    The long essay or dissertation allows for closer engagement with a particular aspect examined in the module and title/materials used should be agreed with the module tutor, by the end of the Autumn Term. There can be no significant overlap with exam questions / essays in any modules.

    Indicative long essay titles:

    1. Who controlled early modern public houses?

    2. Representations of the early modern public house [OR: early modern publicans].

    3. Were early modern publicans members of an elite?

    4. Did early modern Europeans drink too much alcohol?

    5. Public houses and popular culture in early modern Europe.

    6. Were public houses good or bad for the early modern economy?

    7. Why is the concept of ‘honour’ so prominent in studies on early modern public houses?

    8. Sex and the early modern public house.

    9. Were early modern public houses ‘mass schools of crime’?

    10. Did the public house replace the parish church as the main social centre in early modern Europe?

    11. How significant was confessionalization for the world of the early modern public house?

    12. Public houses and state formation in early modern Europe.

    13. Public houses and ‘public sphere’ in early modern Europe.


    Workload and Assessment

    Single Honours / Joint Honours/Historical Studies/2+2


    Coursework includes 2 mandatory non-assessed assignments, i.e. 2,000 word essays and a 1,000 word book review, and an optional two-question mock exam, due at the end of week 7 in the autumn term, week 3 in the spring and Wednesday week 2 in the summer term respectively.


    The assessment for this module is determined by whether or not the student will be basing a Dissertation on the module:

    • For students who are not basing a Dissertation on this module: a two-hour exam and a 4,500 word essay
    • For students who are basing a Dissertation on this module: Three-hour exam

    For details of examination and assessment, please see:

    NB: Students are very welcome to attach the dissertation unit to this module. If you register to do this, a first orientation meeting will be held in the autumn term.


    The department encourages the use of foreign languages in all written work. French and German are particularly appropriate here, but Italian can also be accommodated (see the relevant section under ‘resources’ for details of appropriate literature).

    Model exam paper:

    Recent exam papers for this module can be found at:

    Spread Eagle at Thame (Oxon.)

    The Spread Eagle inn at Thame in Oxfordshire [Photo: BK]