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Study information

People's History: Sources and Skills

Module titlePeople's History: Sources and Skills
Module codeHIC1007
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Timothy Cooper (Lecturer)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

People’s History complements the World History and Critical Futures: Global History modules. While those adopt a global perspective on the past here we are more interested in the small scale, the local, the individual. In setting up this contrast we touch on a fundamental difference in approach amongst those working in historical studies and the social sciences. On the one hand both past and present societies can be approached from the ‘top down’, emphasising the structures and processes that constrain individuals and groups. On the other we might start our quest to explore the past with those individuals and groups and their ability to make their own histories. This innovative module will introduce you to the study of people’s history and everyday life through engagement with primary material materials. The effective location, interpretation and critical assessment of such materials are crucial features of the professional historian’s craft. Primary sources are enormously varied – from private diaries and newspapers to oral history recordings, material culture and paintings, to manuscripts – and each variety poses different possibilities and problems to the historian, which you will explore. Drawing on staff expertise in handling a wide variety of source materials, this module introduces you to the ways in which historians engage with these questions.

Module aims - intentions of the module

Through lectures and seminars this module will introduce you to historical research on ordinary men and women living in the past, since the early modern period. You will gain unique experience of using primary sources in your studies. The module will develop your skills in locating and critically reading a wide variety of primary source materials in history and how we might employ them to understand the everyday lives, social relations, and politics of non-elite people. These sources may include diaries, newspapers, oral history recordings, maps, artefacts, printed texts, manuscript documents and quantitative materials. You will recognise that sources are more complex and interesting than they may have been led to believe and pose a wide range of possibilities and problems for professional historians investigating history ‘from below’. By focusing on a different kind of source each week, you will develop the ability to tackle historical research at a more sophisticated level. The module is designed to complement other level one core and optional modules in History, and will equip you with the skills required for the stage 2 independent study projects, and final stage Dissertation.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. With guidance, evaluate the ways in which historians have studied people’s history ‘from below’
  • 2. Write critical analyses of primary source materials
  • 3. Understand the complex nature of primary source material

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Deploy the basic rules of historical enquiry
  • 5. Engage reflexively in historiographical debates and demonstrate some of their relevance to contemporary issues
  • 6. Demonstrate understanding multiple perspectives and competing interpretations

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. With guidance, select and digest academic literature relevant to the topic under study
  • 8. Organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument
  • 9. Communicate ideas orally and respond to the arguments of others in an appropriate manner

Syllabus plan

Weekly lectures will introduce the themes under discussion for that week. Seminars will focus on primary source analysis, which may include private letters, autobiographies, newspapers, oral history recordings, maps, films, material culture, printed texts, and manuscript documents. There will also be sessions on the relationship between primary and secondary historical analysis. The range of sources covered will also reflect the current research interests of the history staff teaching the module.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching11Lectures (11 x 1 hour) – these will introduce you to the themes of the module, historiographical debate, and the sources historians use in their research.
Scheduled Learning and Teaching11Seminars (11 x 1 hour) – these outline approaches to source materials relating to the themes of the module, and opportunities for student-led discussion and group work.
Guided Independent Study128Seminar and assessment preparation.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Formative portfolio submission500 words1-9Written and oral feedback from seminar leader

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Source portfolio1002500 words (5x source commentaries of 500 words) 1-9Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Source portfolioSource portfolio1-9Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to redo the assessment(s) as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Sarah Barber and Corinna Peniston-Bird (eds.), History Beyond the Text: A Student’s Guide to Approaching Alternative Sources, Routledge, 2008
  • Pat Hudson, History by Numbers. An Introduction to Quantitative Approaches (London: Arnold, 2000)
  • Miriam Dobson and Benjamin Ziemann (eds.), Reading Primary Sources: The Interpretation of Texts from the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Routledge, 2009
  • Karen Harvey (ed.), History and Material Culture: A Student’s Guide to Approaching Alternative Sources, Routledge, 2009
  • Stefan Berger, Heiko Feldner, Kevin Passmore, (eds.) Writing History: Theory & Practice (London 2003)
  • Peter Burke (ed.) New Perspectives on Historical Writing (Cambridge, 2001)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

People’s history, everyday life, primary sources, interpretation and representation, critical analysis

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date