MA History / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
From Cottonopolis to Metropolis: Manchester Communities & Institutions

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST64292
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The course explores the following key themes   

  1. Movement of Goods:   

Manchester's communities and industrial districts were central to the movement of commodities across the globe. The cotton textile industry is a good example where cotton was sourced from Americas, India, Egypt, etc. transformed into textiles in Lancashire, and exported to Europe and the Far East as a finished product. The course will explore how Manchester's communities shaped this global commodities 'system'. 

2. Movement of People: 

Manchester attracted (and continues to attract) people from all over the world, making it a multi-cultural and cosmopolitan city. From Irish migrants and Jewish migrants in the 19th century to Chinese migrants in the 20th century, people have moved to the city forming distinct ethnic communities. Similarly, missionaries from Manchester travelled to China as textile merchants travelled to India. 

3. Movement of Ideas:   

Manchester is the intellectual birth place of many ideas, which spread throughout Britain and internationally. For instance, the co-operative movement can be traced to a store opened by the Rochdale Society in 1844 to sell goods at fair prices ( Manchester has been at the heart of other globally significant movements, from Chartism that led to organisation of labour ( to the Pan African Congress ( shtml). The course explores Manchester's role in shaping these movements. The University of Manchester was often the intellectual centre from which such ideas 'travelled' within communities, both locally as well as internationally. 

4. Emergence of institutions: 

By exploring the movement of goods, people and ideas, the students will also study how Manchester's institutions shaped and were in turn shaped by these movements. Students will have the opportunity to study the role of institutions as diverse as the University of Manchester (as an intellectual centre), the Manchester Chamber of Commerce (as a commercial centre) or the Manchester Guardian (as the 'fourth estate') - institutions that developed around communities and shaped the social, economic and political dynamics of the city.   

5. Towns, regions and clusters: 

Manchester grows during the industrial revolution as a Cottonopolis that gradually 

transforms into a cosmopolitan city - a metropolis - in the twentieth century. Through the history of Manchester's peoples, ideas and institutions students will be able to explore the city's transformation and consider how social (and economic) relationships are crucial in understanding the dynamics of commercial and industrial clusters. For example, while social capital and networks in the region contributed to Manchester's early success as Cottonopolis, did these very networks make the city vulnerable to the changing global realities of the twentieth century? 


i. Introduce a multi-disciplinary approach to the history of communities and institutions: 

social and economic history, business history, international history, etc. 

ii. Introduce key literature and historiography to proceed to a research degree in social and economic history. 

iii. Explores the role of communities and institutions as key actors in the globalisation of a city its commercial/industrial districts. 

iv. Enables students to navigate the complex and conflicting motivations of individuals from a social, economic and political perspective. 

Knowledge and understanding

-Discern connections between different types of histories that inform our understanding of modern Britain.

- Familiarise themselves with key literature on Manchester and the surrounding region and its role in the shaping of modern Britain.

- Critically read the conceptual and theoretical literature on communities, the state, and institutions.

Intellectual skills

- Allow students to develop and express critical awareness of how historians have debated the role of international trade and commerce in the shaping of modern cities.

- Allow students to develop a nuanced view of how communities, organisations and institutions shape social and economic life.

- 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.

- To develop analytical skills which can be applied to primary or secondary material.

- To synthesize in a meaningful and incisive manner a wealth of information gathered and analysed through independent research.

- To identify and assess the significance of historical context for contemporary debates and issues.

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 to specialist and non-specialist audiences.

- 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.

- 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.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods


Recommended reading

Messinger, Gary. Manchester in the Victorian Age: The Halfknown City (Manchester, 1985)

Shapley, Peter. Charity and Power in Victorian Manchester (Manchester, 2000)

Kargon, Robert. Science in Victorian Manchester: Enterprise and Expertise (Manchester, 1977)

Davies, Andrew. Leisure, Gender and Poverty: Working-Class Culture in Salford and Manchester, 1900 - 1939 (Buckingham, 1992)

Moore, James Robert. 'Progressive Pioneers: Manchester Liberalism, the Independent Labour Party, and Local Politics in the 1890s', Historical Journal, 44 (2001), pp. 989 - 1013.

Hulton, Stuart. A History of Manchester (Chichester, 2003). Stobart, Jon. The First Industrial Region (Manchester, 2004)

Scola, Roger. Feeding the Victorian City: The Food Supply of Manchester, 1770-1870 (Manchester, 1992).





Study hours

Independent study hours
Independent study 150

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Lewis Ryder Unit coordinator

Additional notes


What made Manchester a global city in the 19th and 20th century? This option explores this question from a social, economic and international history perspective. It considers the formation of distinct 'communities' within Manchester - business, ethnic, etc, charts the development of important institutions in the city's history, explores how Manchester and the surrounding districts developed as a social and economic powerhouse, and considers the role that communities and institutions played in the emergence of Manchester as an international city. The course charts how the city's commercial and industrial activities enabled it to establish global connections (e.g. China and India), how Manchester became the birthplace for several national and international 'movements' (e.g. free-trade, labour, co-operative, Pan-African Congress), and the role played by institutions, communities in the internationalisation of the city. The course will also explore the development of the University of Manchester as a global intellectual centre as well as investigate how commercial and industrial clusters developed around Manchester.

Throughout the course students will consider the impact of national events on Manchester, as well as how Manchester's communities shaped national events (e.g. free trade versus fair trade, co-operative movement). The course aims to combine key literature on social capital, networks, business history, regions and industrial districts, institutions, etc. with a broad understanding of forces shaping local communities with global connections.

The course provides students with a unique opportunity to study the history of Manchester whilst studying history at Manchester. Students would also benefit from the extensive archival resources available within the University libraries as well as other repositories in the region (e.g. Cheetham's Library, People's History Museum, Museum of Science and Industry) to develop focussed projects either for their MA Dissertations or for further post- graduate research.

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