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MA History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

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

Unit code HIST62282
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
Offered by History
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:

- Culture as Text

- Agency and Authorship: The Self as Historical Actor

- Discourse and Power: Foucault and Foucauldians

- Place, Environment and Setting

- Towards a History of the Emotions

- Gender and Sexuality with Guarantees

- Visual Optics/ Visual Iconography

- Micro Histories and Imaginative Worlds

- Subalterns and histories from below


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 indentify key methodological approaches to the study of cultural history.
3. To encourage students to apply these approaches to focused empirical case studies.

Learning outcomes

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

Intellectual skills :
- Be competent in applying these historical methodologies to specific thematic case studies focused on the early modern and modern periods.
- Develop a critical awareness of the relationship between the methods of cultural history and related historiographical paradigms.
- 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.
- Using ICT for research and presentation purposes.
- 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.

Teaching and learning methods

11 x 3 hour seminars plus regular, dedicated tutorials throughout the semester. (Staff will also promote a student-led reading group). Key texts will be identified and selected on a weekly basis, in conjunction with a broader range of secondary reading. Students will present at least one 20 minute paper at the seminar, focused on a specific research theme.

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.

Assessment methods

1. One short written assignment focused on the identification and analysis of one key methodological theme in cultural history, specified by seminar programme. 2000 words, 30%

2.One essay. Topic to be selected in consultation with CUD. 4000 words, 70%

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

Independent study hours
Independent study 300

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Eloise Moss Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Over the past two decades the so-called 'cultural turn' has provided a radical challenge to many established approaches shaping the discipline of history, and the History Department at Manchester has pioneered this project. Our intensive reading and discussion course will introduce students to a critical examination of key methodological approaches to the study of cultural history. Topics will range across the modern and early modern periods and all cases the aim will be to provide students with cutting edge tools to investigate culture as it is produced, circulated and experienced by distinctive social groups in relationships of intellectual and social power. Each week our programme will spend time examining the significance of a major of group of theories and theorists, but we will also assess how their methods can be applied to particular case studies. Our hands on approach to theory will cover textual and visual forms of culture; the role of agency and authorship; space, place and environment; emotional and affective life; micro histories and histories 'from below'; the construction of gender and sexuality. Our aim is to provide students with an intellectual map to set out on their own journey through cultural history.

Pre-requisite units: None

Co-requisite units: None

Available as a free choice: Yes

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