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Intercollegiate Modules 2022-23

The UCL History modules below are available to students from University of London colleges that participate in the History intercollegiate sharing scheme. All requests for places should be made through your home college.  Please get in touch with your home college's programme administrator for more information.

Group 3 Modules/Special Subjects (Mondays 2pm to 4pm) 

HIST0106 / HIST0320 Between Order and Disorder: Cities in the Late Medieval Mediterranean World - Special Subject

This Special Subject explores the great cities of the late medieval Mediterranean world – Cairo and Venice, Damascus and Florence, Constantinople and Barcelona. We will be crossing the historiographical divide between Islamic and European history and use cities as a lens through which to study the Mediterranean world during the period that is often known as the Age of the Crusades. This was also a period of rapid urbanisation – in fact, the so-called medieval urban revolution was the largest push in urbanisation since Antiquity and before the onset of Industrialisation.

At the heart of our investigations is the uneasy tension between order and disorder which cities experienced in a way was that reflective of wider developments. Cities 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 what such apparent disorder can tell us about the nature 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 Maghrib. 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 (some of which is in London museums).

No prior knowledge is required and students who are new to this period and region have always enriched this module with the ideas that they brought from other subjects. Cities also offer a wonderful context within which to explore a large variety of themes for dissertations on the basis of a rich tapestry of sources.

HIST0094 / HIST0608 Cultures of War in Ancient Greece - Special Subject

This course investigates all aspects of war in its social and cultural context in archaic and classical Greece - from the causes of conflict, via the question of how to train, raise, maintain, and control citizen and mercenary armies, to the range of forms of warfare from ritual clashes to campaigns of annihilation. In particular, the course tackles some of the myths current in modern scholarship: the notions that war was the 'normal' state of international relations in Greece; that the citizen army was an essentially 'middle-class' body; that warfare was restricted to a game-like competition in the archaic period but underwent a major cultural shift to become a destructive 'total' conflict in the classical period; that the Athenian navy drove the development of radical democracy; and that the 'mercenary explosion' of the fourth century was a result of economic and political crisis in the Greek city-states and marked another fundamental change in military culture. How the Greeks fought has been much-debated in recent research, and this too will be the subject of detailed study. A crucial aim of the course is to provide an understanding of how Greek warfare was shaped by the social, economic, and cultural constraints of its time, how it developed, and why wars were so common in ancient Greece. A second aim of the course is to provide students with the knowledge and skills to tackle this challenge, by enabling them to study the sources as coherent narratives while analysing their implications for any and all aspects of Greek war, society and culture.

HIST0806 / HIST0786 Death and Dying in Ancient Mesopotamia - Special Subject

This module takes a diachronic approach to the socio-religious histories of death and dying in ancient Mesopotamia, primarily during the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC. Death is as vast a topic as it is fascinating, which necessitates drawing on sister fields such as archaeology and anthropology. Accordingly, the module is designed to place historical inquiry and source evaluation in an interdisciplinary framework. We will explore the cosmological notions, social attitudes, and political implications surrounding the ways in which ancient Mesopotamian societies dealt with the universality of death. In examining attitudes of the living towards the dead, we will be looking at sources that are awe-inspiring, thought-provoking, heart-wrenching, blood-chilling, and sometimes even side-splitting.

HIST0103 / HIST0317 Identity, Cosmology and the Supernatural in the late Middle Ages - Special Subject

This module will explore how ideas about the body, soul and cosmos shaped the medieval understanding of what it meant to be human. We will look at how cosmological models from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries explained celestial bodies and supernatural beings and forces: their powers, their relationships and their intentions towards humans.‎ Cosmological ideas and discussions flourished in works of natural philosophy, theology, astronomy and medicine; more idiosyncratic cosmologies can be found in visionary literature, heresy trials, poetic works, popular science and magic texts. Our broad focus will capture some of the numerous cosmologies, both written and unwritten, that are likely to have been conceived during the Middle Ages – since most, perhaps all, people have views of some sort about their universe. 

Our investigation of cosmological thinking will include looking at the boundaries of the supernatural and natural. Medieval theologians explored the differences between humans, animals and spirits: they emphasised the superiority of human rationality and the belief that animals would not have an afterlife. But there was also an intellectual and aesthetic fascination with the blurring of human and animal boundaries. We will also cover thirteenth-century studies of the nature and powers of angels and demons and fourteenth-century narratives of spiritual experience that expressed increasing anxiety about the ways humans and demons could be bound together through possession, invocation and pact. Our course concludes by looking at the culmination of these fears in the fifteenth-century mythologies of witchcraft and persecution of witches.

HIST0122 / HIST0613 Soul and Body in Renaissance Thought - Special Subject

This module explores theories of human nature in the European Renaissance—an era when traditional teachings were revised and displaced by newly revived classical ideas, contested by philosophers, doctors and theologians amidst religious and political controversies, and, eventually, rejected in favour of radically scientific doctrines. Its main focus is on the rich corpus of philosophical, religious, and medical works composed between the late-fourteenth and the early seventeenth centuries—by famous authors such as Francesco Petrarch, Marsilio Ficino, Andreas Vesalius, Michel de Montaigne and Francis Bacon, as well as such less well known figures as Johann Weyer, Jacques Ferrand, and John Abernethy. Students are also encouraged to delve into the abundant literary and artistic sources that illustrated and contributed to views of what it was to be human in this period.

The main territories covered include the physiology of the body and soul in medicine and natural philosophy; the ethical and spiritual aspects of the soul and its passions in moral and religious works, before and after the Reformations; the incorporation and refinement of conceptions of human nature in works of social and moral thought; and the expansion of geographical and ethnological knowledge resulting from missionary enterprises and the colonisation of the ‘new world’. Within these areas, particular attention is given to debates about the dignity or misery of man and the immortality of the soul, theories of sexual difference, theories of melancholia and dreaming, the status of the occult sciences of astrology and demonology, discussions of the geographical relativity of customs and values, ideas about 'civility' and civilisation, and, most broadly, historiographical claims about the secularisation of knowledge and the growth of modern individualism. Emphasis throughout is on the close reading of primary texts, but always in relation to the contemporary political, religious and social contexts that informed them.


Group 2 modules/Thematics (Thursdays, 2pm to 4pm)

HIST0674 Enlightenments and Revolutions - Thematic

Recent years have witnessed the proliferation of innovative scholarship on the Enlightenment, which invited historians to rethink the spatial and chronological coordinates of this complex intellectual movement. Traditionally regarded as a predominantly Franco-Prussian event, the Enlightenment is now conceived in an increasingly polycentric and pluralistic fashion. This course therefore seeks to introduce students to a more nuanced understanding of this cultural and philosophical movement, in line with the recent historiography. It does so in various ways: first, it relies on the resources of transnational history to illustrate the permeability and interconnectedness of the contexts in which the Enlightenment developed; second, it employs a variety of historiographical approaches (e.g. intellectual, political, cultural, economic and social history) to interrogate a broad range of ideas, authors, texts, as well as their circulation within the continent; third, it engages more substantially with voices and narratives commonly regarded as “peripheral”, such as the Scottish, Neapolitan and Spanish-speaking Enlightenments; fourth, it also considers the global dimension of the Enlightenment, focusing on its reception in the wider world and its ability to shape experiences of political change and Revolution across the Atlantic.
Furthermore, just as it seeks to deconstruct the conventional map of the European Enlightenment, this course also attempts to rethink its chronological boundaries, outlining an increasingly splintered and multi-directional narrative that disrupts its teleological association with the French Revolution. It will do so by shining a light on experiences of Revolution taking place in the European and global “peripheries”, and by reviewing its links with the Napoleonic era. Overall, this course encourages students to embrace a critical approach to the canonical historiography on the Enlightenment and consequently develop a more accurate and engaging understanding of this movement, and of its role in European, as well as world history.

HIST0875 Performance and Social Meaning in Africa - Thematic

In 2015, the #RhodesMustFall movement swept South African university campuses before inspiring an international wave of decolonial protest. Live acts of performance were central to these events. However, this was not merely culture as an accompaniment to protest but culture actively shaping protest. And, in the context of African history, this is nothing new. This module traces this history and tells the story of performance culture as embedded within Africa’s political sphere. Moving beyond the euro-centric written history of colonialism and the postcolony, students will learn to ‘read’ performance and appreciate the diverse ways in which performed acts of African agency open-up, challenge and destabilise some of the knottier questions of social and political life across the continent: past and present.

Beginning with an insight into Blackface performance in 1920s West Africa, students will explore how culture flows within Africa and internationally before interacting with highly localised questions of power and resistance. During Term 1, they will continue - through a focus on song, dance and electronic media - to encounter performance and spoken word as a means of interpreting and challenging colonial rule, as well as mobilising resistance to it.

Term 2 moves forwards to the postcolonial era. Students will confront some of the key issues confronting contemporary Africa, ranging from reconciliation and the politics of populism to HIV/Aids and gender rights. They will encounter how today’s performance artists draw on established cultural archives, or deploy relatively new genres such as hip-hop and stand-up comedy, in order to act out and ‘make’ the present.

By growing to appreciate the important role performance culture has in understanding African history, students will gain new insights into how national and individual identities have been, and continue to be, made and remade through art.

HIST0031 Rome AD 300-1000. Portraits of a City, Reflections of a Changing World - Thematic

This module explores the changes that occurred in Rome between AD 300 and 1000, exploring a number of themes of key importance in the general history of late antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.
Through a focus on the city of Rome, we will explore a number of themes of key importance in the general history of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. These include: the end of the imperial world; the relationship between Pagan and Christian élites; the rise of Papal authority; the effects the structural changes in the Mediterranean trade had on the city’s market system; the intellectual and artistic productions; the relationship that the Popes had with the city’s aristocracy and the main powers of the time (Byzantine emperors, Lombard kings, Frankish kings and emperors); the Carolingian renaissance; the Ottonian empire. During the year we will use a wide range of written sources (available in translation) and archaeological evidence from excavations carried out in Rome in the last 15-20 years. During the year we will see how the structures of the antique Mediterranean world survived for longer than commonly thought and then transformed, declined and eventually collapsed. Moreover, we will study the physical, socio-economic, political, cultural and religious transformations that occurred in a city that, in spite of time, wanted to continue being celebrated as eternal.

HIST0039 The Industrial Revolution in Britain - Thematic

The 'industrial revolution' was one of the three or four most important transformations in human history, and Britain was the first society to experience it. At heart that transformation was economic, a profound increase in both outputs and productivity. But crucially it had important social, cultural, intellectual and political dimensions: class, gender and generational relations changed considerably; new attitudes towards risk and consumption were forged; radical new ideas proliferated about the economy and the environment, the individual and the collective; and both state and empire played important roles in this 'great transformation'. This course, therefore, locates economic developments within a wider framework and explores how dramatically yet uncertainly Britain changed in the 130 years or so before 1830. The course is based on secondary sources, including plenty of tables and graphs. It is taught via weekly seminars. In addition to assessments, compulsory non-assessed coursework, such as book reviews, may also often be set.

HIST0021 Understanding the Early Mesopotamian World - Thematic

This course has two intertwined themes: the ways in which people made sense of the world in one of history's first urban societies; and the ways in which that society has been interpreted since its rediscovery some 200 years ago.

We will study how literacy and numeracy developed in the cities of southern Iraq (Mesopotamia), some 5–6000 years ago, then focus on urbanism and kingship, as well as the training of scribes, scholars and intellectuals in the third and early second millennium BC. Next we turn to understandings of the body and the high social status of doctors and healers, despite their apparent ineffectiveness. Finally, we investigate how divine will was discovered and interpreted, through observation of the natural world.

In parallel, we will consider how big themes in nineteenth- and twentieth-century history, such as exploration and war, empire and race, religion and science, shaped and reshaped popular and learned views of the ancient Middle East, and continue to do so today.