MA History

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Cultural Theory for Historians: Discourse, Place, Agency & Power

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST62281
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course addresses key areas of cultural theory each week, beginning with an introduction to cultural theory for historians. These will include:

  • What is Cultural History and how do we ‘do’ it?
  • Culture as Text: Linguistics, Language, and Semiotics
  • Seeing the world through whose eyes?
  • Bruno Latour’s journey of exploration through science and history.
  • Languages and Translation at War
  • How do you ‘feel’ about history?
  • Understanding the History of Emotions.
  • Discourse: Foucault and the Foucauldians.
  • Towards a Refugee History?
  • Micro-Histories and Imaginative Worlds
  • Gender and Sexuality without Guarantees
  • For the love of tea-time: Histories of the everyday/everyday history
  • Course conclusion: essay workshop



1. To provide students with the necessary intellectual tools to analyse culture as a historical phenomenon.

2. To equip students with the skills necessary to identify key methodological approaches to the study of cultural history.

3. To encourage students to apply these approaches to focused empirical case studies.

Teaching and learning methods

11 x 90-minute seminar. Individual tutorials by appointment are held throughout the semester to support assignments and to deliver feedback. Individual tutors may ask you to prepare and deliver a short 5-minute presentation on ONE text from the weekly readings, as nominated by the tutor (you will be notified in the previous week’s seminar if this is the case). Your presentation should not be a summary of the text, but rather a critical analysis designed to stimulate class discussion. 

All course unit material, including the unit guide and key course readings, will be available on the dedicated Blackboard site. Assessment submitted and returned on Turnitin via Blackboard. 

Video and website links available via Blackboard. 

Knowledge and understanding

- Identify and critically assess key historical and methodological debates in the field of cultural history.

- Develop a critical awareness of the relationship between the methods of cultural history and related historiographical paradigms.

Intellectual skills

- Be competent in applying these historical methodologies to specific thematic case studies focused on the early modern and modern periods.

- Undertake wide ranging critical and sophisticated reviews of scholarly literature and develop an independent and comparative perspective.

- Formulate a research question based on scholarly literature at the forefront of the disciplines studied and adopt an appropriate method for addressing and answering that question.

Practical skills

- Locate, retrieve and assimilate relevant information from primary and secondary sources.

-Compile systematic bibliographies and to present them according to scholarly conventions.

- Present complex ideas in coherent and accessible form in oral, visual and written format.

- Identify, analyse and apply a wide range of data.

- Formulate and design a range of proposals; identify appropriate intellectual, methodological and resource toolkit for successful completion of proposal.

- Draw up a specialist bibliography on a research topic.

- Manage a sustained program of regular weekly work.

- Present ideas fluently in writing and oral presentation.

- Gain experience in problem solving, leadership and teamwork.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

-Articulate and develop informed and reasoned argument in written and oral form.

- Organise own learning through self-management and work to deadlines.

- Write fluent continuous prose.

- Demonstrate the ability to work in a group and show leadership.

- Identify, analyse and apply a wide range of data to formulate and solve problems.

- Ability to bring analytical and research skills to bear on the formulation and design of proposals.


Employability skills

Analytical skills
Critical analysis of different sources, including photography and film
The ability to work with and motivate others and to demonstrate leadership skills
Oral communication
The ability to develop well-structured answers in seminar and communicate key points effectively
The ability to analyse information from different sources

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback on coursework


Oral feedback in seminar discussions


Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hour or by making an appointment).




Recommended reading

Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of 'Sex' (Routledge, 1993).

Peter Burke, What is Cultural History? ( Polity, 2004), 2001).

Dipesh Chakrabarty, 'Minority histories, subaltern pasts', Postcolonial Studies, vol 1 (1), 1998.

Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in Cultural History, revised edition (Basic Books, 2009).

Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (University of California Press, 1988).

Natalie Zemon Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre (Harvard University Press, 1983).

Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality Volume 1: An Introduction (Pantheon, 1978).

Michel Foucault, 'The Subject and Power', Critical Inquiry, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Summer, 1982), pp. 777-795.

Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: the Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, trans. John Tedeschi (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980).

Ranajit Guha, 'On some aspects of the historiography of colonial India' in R.Guha (ed.), Selected Subaltern Studies, (OUP, 1988).

Simon Gunn and Robert J. Morris (eds.), Identities in Space: Contested Territories in the Western City since 1850, (Aldershot, 2001).

Matt Houlbrook, Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis (Chicago University Press, 2005).

Richard Hornsey, The Spiv and the Architect: Unruly Life in Postwar London (University of Minnesota Press, 2010).

Patrick Joyce, 'The End of Social History?', Social History, 20, 1995.

Jonas Lillequist, ed., A History of the Emotions, 1200-1800 (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2012).

Frank Mort, Capital Affairs: London and the Making of the Permissive Society (Yale, 2010).

Rosalind O' Hanlon and David Washbrook, 'After Orientalism: Culture, Criticism and Politics in the Third World', Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 32 (1), January, 1992.

Sumit Sarkar, 'The Decline of the Subaltern' Writing Social History (OUP, 1997).

Joan Scott (ed.), Feminism and History (Oxford University Press, 1996).

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 16.5
Independent study hours
Independent study 133.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Laure Humbert Unit coordinator

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