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Themes in Modern History (HI998)

the clock

Christian Marclay, The Clock, as seen at the Tate Modern (2018-19)

Module Convenor

Christoph Mick

Context of Module

This module explores modernity - both as a historical period and an intellectual project. We explore a different aspect of modernity each week by reading one seminal historical or theoretical work, in dialogue with the broader historiographical debates to which it speaks. The module is relatively unusual in offering students the opportunity to engage in depth with a single text, in order to acquire a strong grasp of the intellectual interventions that have defined the modern period.

Module Aims
  • To gain an overview of themes and thinkers that have defined both the concept of modernity and the 'modern' period.
  • To challenge students to engage with seminal works in their entirety.
  • To gain the skills to locate individual intellectual interventions within wider historiographical debates.
What to Expect…

Each week students will meet with a different lecturer to study a theme relating to that faculty member’s particular area of expertise. Although there is a strong theoretical focus to the module it will complement rather than replicate the TSM module. Whereas TSM offers students an overview of how a concept such as, for example, gender, has been defined and used by historians, the Modern History core module will focus on a single text to explore in detail how that concept has been deployed in a particular historical and historiographical context, namely within modernity. We will be asking what is distinct about such concepts in the modern world – for example, how does gender in the modern world manifest itself differently from in the medieval world, and how might a historian of the modern period use the concept differently than a historian of an earlier period?
Students should come to the seminar having completed all the core reading and as much of the further reading as possible. Not all of the readings will be digitised (although we always make sure there are enough copies of books in the library for everyone), so please leave enough time to access them in advance. Before the seminar, students should think about the below questions:

  • What are the key concepts around which this text is structured? Is this author defining them differently from other authors you have encountered?
  • How is the author applying them to either a particular historical period or area of study?
  • How might such concepts apply to your particular area of historical interest/ proposed dissertation topic?

In addition, they should also consider the seminar questions for that week so they are prepared to discuss them in class.

Outline Syllabus (Reading lists also available on talis)
Week 1: Sovereignty (Stuart Middleton)
Week 2: Capitalism (Christoph Mick)
Week 3: Post-colonialism (Stuart Middleton)
Week 5: Urbanity (Christoph Mick)
Week 6: Reading Week (no seminars)
Week 7: Secularism (Henry Clements)
Week 9: Bodies (Mathew Thomson)

Week 10: Technology (James Poskett)

Intended Learning Outcomes

At the end of the module students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate a conceptual and practical understanding of the skills of an historian of the modern era.
  • Demonstrate the ability to formulate and achieve a piece of critical and reflective historiographical writing.
  • Demonstrate the ability to undertake critical analysis.
  • Demonstrate the ability to formulate and test concepts and hypotheses.

Assessment for this module comprises two elements:

1) 1500 word Review Essay (30% of module mark). Further details of assignment here

2) 4500 word Essay (70% of module mark).

You can adapt one of the seminar questions for your essay title or invent your own, but in either case run this by the person who taught you that week to ensure that you've worded it effectively. Usually students attach their essays to a particular week, but if you have a special interest you want to explore in the essay instead please speak to the module convenor before formulating a new question. The purpose of the essay is for you to engage with the major concepts discussed in the seminar in a broad way. This means that we expect you to read beyond the required reading, and use these further secondary sources to expand out our class discussion. Primary research is not expected as part of this essay. Rather, what we are looking for are compelling arguments in answer to the question, which demonstrate intelligent, thoughtful, and lucid reflections on the ways in which historians have written and continue to write on themes in modern history. Further details will be given in the initial seminars of the year and marking criteria provided.