All single honours students take a Special Subject in their final-year. These examine a historical topic in detail using primary as well as secondary sources. They are taught in weekly 2-hour seminar classes over two terms. There may be a preliminary meeting during the summer term of the previous academic year and students are often expected to undertake some preparatory reading during the summer vacation.
Special Subjects are assessed by one 3-hour examination and one long essay of 10,000 words. Additional unassessed coursework and/or student presentations may also be required. BA Ancient History & Egyptology students may take the taught element of an ancient history Special Subject for 1 unit (examination only), with the compulsory HIST9902 10,000 word dissertation. Finalists may choose their Special Subject from the menu of ‘Group 3’ modules available from other colleges.
- HIST3109/9109: Temple Life in Assyria and Babylonia
Temples were at the economic, social and intellectual heart of urban life in Assyria and Babylonia in the first millennium BC. Although they were in many ways highly conservative institutions, we shall see that they were also the drivers of fundamental intellectual innovation, through observation, calculation and prediction of natural phenomena, whose impact is still felt in mathematics and science today. This module will draw on a wealth of architectural, material and textual evidence to investigate the people, gods and animals whose lives and livelihoods depended on these enduring institutions. We will explore the following major questions. How were the gods conceptualised and to what ends? Who served as priests and what constituted priesthood? What was the theology behind their activities? How did temple communities support themselves economically? How did they manage relationships with the palace, and what happened when things went wrong? How did temples engage with wider urban society, through public ritual, charity and personal devotion? How did they negotiate the major historical changes of the first millennium BC, and with increasing religious plurality?
- HIST3110/9110: Competitive Men: The Politics of Competition in Ancient Greece
The course focuses on competition (understood in a broad sense) within the ancient Greek world. Ever since the seminal work of Jacob Burckhardt (first published posthumously 1898), ancient Greece has been considered as a particularly competitive society. Competition traverses it at all levels, areas, and chronological periods: from the Iliadic injunction ‘to be bravest and pre-eminent above all’ (6.208; 11.784) to the competitive drinking and the poetic challenges of the symposion, from athletic competitions (the Olympic Games!) to dances and female beauty contests, from success in the lawcourts to conspicuous display of inherited wealth, relationships were dominated by an intense rivalry, that applied also at the level of international relations. And yet, this competitiveness could be harnessed, in specific situations, so as to consolidate the social fabric. On the basis of an ample selection of texts covering various genres (epic, lyric, comedy and tragedy, historiography, oratory, and documentary texts such as inscriptions) we shall examine the forms competition took, how widespread it was (was it a feature of elites, or did also the poorer citizen participate in this ‘culture of competition’? Is it really a defining feature of the Greek world?), the ways in which it was regulated, and how the polis could turn this to an advantage for the collective.
- HIST3205/9205: Passages to Jerusalem: The Crusades and the Medieval World, 1095-1291
Few features of the Middle Ages are as familiar, even to the most profane of observers, as the series of expeditions which, throughout the 12th and the 13th centuries, aimed at establishing Christian control of the holy lands. Although the word crusades was not used in the Middle Ages, in the course of the centuries the term has become a powerful tool to evoke policies and aspirations of an entire society. This course aims at observing these expeditions, and the world in which they took place, from a cultural perspective. In doing so, we will shed light to some key aspects of Western European society in the 12th and 13th centuries, such as the religious and political ambitions of the papacy; the new devotional aspirations of the laity; the development of a chivalric culture; the cultural expansion of parts of Western Europe.
- HIST3207/9207: Between Order and Disorder: Cities in the Late Medieval Mediterranean World
This Special Subject explores the tension between order and disorder in the great cities of the late medieval Mediterranean world – Cairo and Milan, Venice and Jerusalem, Damascus and Florence. We will contrast and compare cities across the Mediterranean world during an era which saw violent confrontations, but also economic and cultural exchange between the different civilisations which met in the region of the Great Sea.
Cities stood at the heart of these interactions. They became the centres of emerging states, stood at the crossroads of networks of contact and exchange, and were sites of major new directions in art and culture. However, underneath the picture of order, harmony and progress were high levels of conflict and fragmentation which manifested themselves through frequent revolts and civil wars, the marginalisation of particular social groups, and religious divisions that culminated in outbreaks of violence. We investigate the degree to which such apparent disorder was itself an ordinary feature of life in cities, and explore the political, social and religious systems which lay behind the complexity of urban life in the Mediterranean world.
Rather than investigating them in isolation from each other, cities will be studied from an integrated perspective that considers connections and comparisons across real and perceived divides between Islamic and Christian civilizations, as well as national and linguistic boundaries. We shall especially focus on Italy and the Near East, the Mediterranean world’s most urbanised regions, but we will also look at Iberia and the Ottoman Empire. Our sources range across the writings of prominent thinkers from these cities such as Machiavelli and Ibn Khaldun, chronicles and narratives, governmental and court records, and the wealth of surviving visual and material evidence.
- HIST3301/9301: Great Britain and the American Colonies, 1760-1776
This course examines the conflict of attitudes, interests, and policies between Great Britain and the British North American Colonies, from its emergence during the last stages of the Seven Years War up until the American Declaration of Independence. Teaching is closely orientated to consideration of the set texts. These texts have been chosen to illustrate the Anglo-American confrontation. From the British side, they depict the instruments of colonial rule, the formulation of new policies and the great debate stimulated by American disaffection. From the American side they enable the student to study how grievances were articulated and claims to a new status were defined.
Though the course is primarily concerned with the political disputes between British governments and the colonies, students may choose to write their dissertation on another aspect of the American Revolution.
- HIST3322/9322: The American Empire
The United States is often assumed to have an isolationist heritage, built on the geographical and political separation of the New World from the Old. This course will explore alternative interpretations of the United States’ relations with the wider world, focusing on the contest over nationalism, imperialism and internationalism in the decades between the expansionism of the 1840s and the end of the nineteenth century. In particular, we will focus on the development of ideas about ordering the international community, the relationship between internationalism and American imperialism, and the connections between domestic and foreign politics. This is a field that has expanded enormously in the last decade. Older, state-centred diplomatic history has been complemented - and sometimes supplanted - by exciting new histories that draw on transnational and comparative approaches. This course will encompass both high diplomacy and the actions of non-state actors, with particular attention paid to collaboration and competition across national boundaries. We will look at the relationship between capitalism and imperialism, questions of contested sovereignty, and the issue of agency in the development and projection of American imperial power.
Students will be encouraged to think about the social, cultural and economic dimensions of U.S. power in the period, as well as the ways in which that power was shaped by collaboration and competition with other imperial powers. Seminars will be centred on discussion of primary materials, supplemented by secondary reading.
NB: Students are not permitted to take this module if they have already taken HIST7458: U.S. Internationalism 1865 – 1920.
- HIST3421/9421: Che Guevara: The Making of a Revolutionary
This course explores the life, times, and afterlife of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara. It draws on a number of written primary sources, including Guevara's diaries, his speeches and publications, the writings of Guevara's relatives and friends, CIA and FBI documents, diplomatic sources, and newspaper articles, among others, as well as as using film, photography and, comics, song and poetry. The course considers the interplay of Guevara's personal history and the history of Latin America and, more generally, the world during and
after the Cold War. It opens a window on Guevara the man and the global icon and on the world he helped to shape. It draws on, and builds, on my published research on Guevara (Drinot, ed. Che's Travels).
- HIST3425/9425: American Radicalism, 1945-1989
The decades between the end of the Second World War and the fall of the Berlin Wall saw a series of marked shifts in the theory and practice of radical left-wing politics in the United States. From the Progressive Party and responses to McCarthyism in the immediate aftermath of the war, through the student New Left, anti-Vietnam war activism and the Black Power movement in the 1960s, to “new social movement” activism relating to gender, sexuality and ethnicity in the 1970s and 1980s, this module explores an exciting and diverse range of radical movements in recent American history. Students have the opportunity to reflect in detail on a variety of primary materials, from radical manifestos and essays, to diaries, songs, poems and memoirs. Through analysis of these materials, students will be encouraged to engage with the dynamic and ever-growing body of historiography on the American left, and will have the opportunity to make their own intervention in this literature by writing a 10,000 word dissertation.
- HIST3426/9426: Race and Resistance in Black Atlantic Thought
This course examines the currents of thought developed by Black intellectuals and activists in the twentieth century ‘Black Atlantic’. Ranging from the Pan-Africanist movement of the early twentieth century to the anti-systemic critique offered by Rastafarianism in the 1960s and 1970s, the course explores key issues that animated thinking about the condition of the Black diaspora in the modern world. These include themes of individual and collective identity; colonialism and anti-colonialism; capitalism and socialism; racism and discrimination; and the relationship with Africa and the wider ‘Third World’. The course pays attention to the transnational dynamics stimulating the development of political thought and activism in the Black diaspora, as well as the differences and tensions that fragmented unitary visions of global Black solidarity. Primary sources for the course include key texts and speeches of the authors, audio-visual sources (including recorded speeches, archival news footage, documentary and music) and where relevant State Department and Foreign and Colonial Office documents.
NB: Students are not permitted to take this module if they have already taken HIST7361A/B: Race and Resistance in Black Atlantic Thought.
- HIST3428/9428: We Shall Overcome: The Civil Rights Movement in America
The African American civil rights movement was the most significant social movement of the twentieth century. Far from being confined to a couple of tumultuous decades in the middle of the twentieth century, the movement was rooted in a longer black freedom struggle, influenced by global events, and had considerable impact upon other movements for freedom and equality in the United States and abroad. And rather than being one single civil rights movement, there were a number of movements, a coalition of activists, leaders and organisations, and innumerable individual and group experiences. Students will place African American civil rights in this longer and broader history in order to understand the social, cultural, political and economic changes that brought about the long death of Jim Crow.
This course traces the history of the civil rights movement from Supreme Court decisions through black grassroots activism and violent white resistance, to the remarkable legislative achievements that, by the mid-1960s, had accomplished the initial goals of the movement. We will then turn to the evolution of the struggle from civil rights to black power, urban violence, and increased rioting in the latter half of the 1960s, considering why the concepts of interracialism and nonviolence were increasingly challenged. By taking the civil rights movement out of the confines of the American South, we will also examine African American challenges to racism and segregation in the North and West before assessing the borrowed forms of activism that became widespread in the UK in the 1960s. The module will conclude with a critical assessment of the memory, legacy and representation of the civil rights movement.
- SEHI3009/9009: Monarchs and the Enlightenment
This course requires students to relate two bodies of primary source material, studied in English translation. The first comprises major texts in the history of European political ideas, beginning with Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws (1748) and encompassing classic works by Beccaria, On Crimes and Punishments (1764), Rousseau, Considerations on the Government of Poland (1772), Voltaire, Diderot and Kant. The second body of sources concerns Enlightened reforms pursued by the five monarchs covered by the course: Catherine the Great of Russia (r. 1762-1796), Stanisław-August of Poland-Lithuania (1764-95), Frederick the Great of Prussia (r. 1740-86), and two rulers of the Habsburg Empire: Maria Theresa (r. 1740-80) and her son Joseph II (r. 1765-90). How far, and in what ways, did these monarchs draw on Enlightened ideas in shaping their reforms? How far is it plausible to think of a unitary model of ‘Enlightened despotism’? The approach throughout is comparative, exploring, in particular, the relationship between crown and nobility, the question of serfdom, favouritism and its critics, religious toleration, and judicial and educational reform.
- SEHI3012/9012: Life-Writing: Memory and Identity in Twentieth-Century Europe
After decades of focusing on structures and broad processes in history and society, history has since the 1980s taken a turn to write the personal back into history. Familiarizing students with the “biographical turn” in history as well as in the social sciences and humanities more broadly, this course will explore the ways in which modern lives were experienced, remembered, and narrated in the turbulent 20th century. We will draw on a wide range of life narratives – whether biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, oral histories, diaries, or letters – to examine the possibilities and limits of the genre for writing the history of modern Europe, particularly its eastern margins. Rather than focusing on “important” people such as leaders or politicians, we will deal with ordinary men and women, whose lives did not unfold under conditions of their own making, but who nevertheless claimed agency in the process of living and writing history.
Many of the readings assigned for class discussion focus on Eastern Europe and Soviet Russia and/or are produced by actors from the region. The sources are clustered around some of the major historical developments of the twentieth century: the two World Wars, the Russian Revolution, the Holocaust, the Cold War division of Europe, and the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. As a result, the readings provide insights into the twentieth century as a period of rapid political change and social displacement, which altered our notions of time and space and led to increasingly fragmented lives. They also raise broader theoretical questions that students are encouraged to further pursue in their dissertations. These include questions about the relation between identity and memory, memory-making and history-writing, remembering and forgetting, or about the epistemological and moral dilemmas of recovering “buried memories” or “silenced voices.” Because these questions have been at the centre of not only historical, but also literary and anthropological research, our exploration of the twentieth century through the lens of ego-documents will be an interdisciplinary venture intended to train students as self-reflexive historians.
- HIST9901: Free-Standing Dissertation
A final year student may be allowed to write a 10,000 word free-standing dissertation (30 credits). This can be taken instead of, as well as in addition to, a Special Subject dissertation.
Students wishing to take this option should download the HIST9901 application form from the Undergraduate e-Handbook on Moodle (under Curriculum > Module Selection), and complete it with an outline of the proposed project. The application form should be submitted to the Director of Teaching, Dr Angus Gowland, no later than 01 June 2017.
Applications will only be considered from students who have a majority of marks of at least upper-second class standard on units already taken. The topic of the essay must not overlap significantly with any other module taken by the student.