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Study information

Understanding the Modern World

Module titleUnderstanding the Modern World
Module codeHIH1420
Academic year2022/3
Module staff

Dr Rebecca Williams (Lecturer)

Dr Gareth Curless (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This is a global history module that introduces you to the key processes, ideas, and connections that have worked to make and unmake the ‘modern’ world from the eighteenth century to the present. It covers a wide range of key themes: colonialism and postcolonialism; states, ideologies and nationalism; gender, sexuality and the body; science and technology; race, class, religion, and disability; violence and conflict; and development and humanitarianism. The module traces these themes across multiple countries and regions around the world, highlighting connections and differences between them, and exploring the multiplicity of experiences and ideas that have produced numerous, and at times competing, conceptualisations of ‘modernity’.  You will analyse these themes through the study of primary and secondary sources in bi-weekly seminars and study groups, while the broader context and detailed case studies will be provided through lectures or alternative online learning activities.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module explores some of the most important historical developments from around the world from the eighteenth century to the present. It introduces you to the specialties of the History department’s staff and provides a taster of topics you will explore in greater detail in future years of study. The module is global in its scope, not focusing exclusively on Europe and the Western World but also on other regions and nations whose histories have been foundational to the formation of the ‘modern’ world as we know it today. While introducing you to the key features that have led to the development of ‘modern’ states, societies, and cultures, it simultaneously challenges Eurocentric ideas of ‘modernity’, accepted historical chronologies, and dominant historical narratives.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Identify the main themes in the history of modern Europe and its relations with other cultures
  • 2. Interpret the specific themes studied in seminar and coursework within the overall framework of developments in modern world history

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 3. Explain large themes over a relatively long span of history
  • 4. Evaluate the views of different historians on a topic
  • 5. Formulate a historical argument, based on professional standards of evidence use

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 6. Work both independently and in a group, including participating in seminar discussions
  • 7. Identify a topic, select, comprehend, and organise primary and secondary materials on that topic with some guidance from the tutor
  • 8. Produce to a deadline and in examination conditions a coherent argument

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • General Introduction - what is the modern world?
  • Introduction to key themes in modern world history, including: revolutions; slavery; imperialism and colonialism; nations and nationalism; decolonisation and postcolonialism; gender, sexuality and the body; identities and ‘others’; science, technology, and medicine; violence; modernities and development. Aspects of some or all of these themes will be introduced in lectures and explored in more depth in seminars.
  • General Conclusion - How do historians view the modern world?

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 teaching44Lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching24Seminars
Guided independent study232Reading and preparation for seminars, coursework and presentations

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
2 essay plans 500 words each1-8Oral and written feedback

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
Essay (term 1)352000 words1-8Oral and written
Essay (term 2)352000 words1-8Oral and written
Assignment301500 words1-8Oral and written

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Two essays (2000 words each)Two essays (2000 words each)1-8Referral/Deferral period
Assignment (1500 words)Assignment (1500 words)1-8Referral/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 submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Robert Marks, The Origins of the Modern World: A Global and Ecological Narrative, 2nd ed. (Lanham : Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007)
  • John Darwin, After Tamerlane: the Rise and Fall of Global Empires 1400-2000 (London: Penguin, 2008)
  • Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008)
  • Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010)
  • Philip T. Hoffman, Why did Europe Conquer the World? (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015)
  • Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000)
  • Andrew Phillips and J.C. Sharman, Outsourcing Empire: How Company-States Made the Modern World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020)
  • John M. Hobson, The Eastern Origins of Western Civilization (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)
  • J. C. Sharman, Empires of the Weak: the Real Story of European Expansion and the Creation of the New World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019)
  • Mrinalini Sinha, Colonial Masculinity: the 'Manly Englishman' and the 'Effeminate Bengali' in the late Nineteenth Century (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995)
  • Priyamvada Gopal, Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent (London: Verso, 2019)
  • Catherine Hall, Civilizing Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1830-1867 (Oxford: Verso, 2002)
  • Christopher Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World 1780-1914: Global Connections and Comparisons (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004)
  • Ronald Findlay & Kevin O'Rouke, Power and Plenty: Trade, War and the Economy in the Second Millennium (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2009)
  • Mark Shaw, War and Genocide: Organised Killing in Modern Society (London: Polity, 2003) (Cambridge: CUP, 2011)
  • Gary Thorn, The End of Empires: European Decolonialization 1918-1980 (London: Hodder, 2001)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Modern history, European history, world history

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date