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MA History / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

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Course unit details:
The Boundaries of the Political: Conceptual Innovation & Political Change

Unit code HIST64392
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
Offered by History
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course unit explores shifts in the meaning of the political, and of key concepts in the language of politics, at a number of critical moments of political change, and the ways in which political concepts change when they are translated from one context to another (e.g. from western to non-western societies, or vice versa). It engages with methods used in the cultural history of politics and in intellectual and conceptual history to analyse the dynamics of change in the grammar of politics.
Course content focuses on the examination of two or three key concepts: the permutation studied will change from year to year but will typically include sovereignty, rights, democracy, and the relationship between 'public' and 'private' (whether the public and private faces of monarchy in early modern Europe or the relations between state and market in nineteenth-century liberal states). The chronological scope can range from the sixteenth century to the late twentieth, and geographically the course aims to embrace both European and non-European history.



 1. To provide students with the opportunity to acquire an advanced training in current approaches to the history of political culture and political ideas.

2. To encourage students to think critically about the relationship between conceptual innovation and political change.

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

Knowledge and understanding

- Demonstrate advanced knowledge of methods employed by cultural and intellectual historians in the study of political practices and political ideas.

Intellectual skills

- Formulate an appropriate research question drawing on these methods.
- Select appropriate case-studies to address that question.
- Conduct a small-scale research project or literature review.

Practical skills

- Use electronic databases in historical research.
- Develop oral and written presentation skills.
- Demonstrate ability to identify, retrieve and interpret a range of archival resources.
- Compile systematic bibliographies and to present them according to scholarly conventions.
- 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. 

Employability skills

- Analytical and intellectual skills, including critical analysis of different sources and historiographical debates. - Communication and Presentation skills, including the ability to develop well-structured questions, answers, and arguments in verbal and written forms. - Interpersonal skills, including the ability to work with and motivate others in synchronous and asynchronous assignments, and to demonstrate leadership skills. - Research skills, including the ability to analyse information from different sources and formulate original research questions.

Assessment methods

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

Keith Michael Baker, Inventing the French Revolution (Cambridge, 1990)

Terence Ball, James Farr and Russell L. Hanson (eds), Political Innovation and Conceptual Change (Cambridge, 1989)

Kathryn Gleadle, Borderline Citizens: Women, Gender and Political Culture in Britain, 1815-1867 (Oxford, 2009)

Reinhart Koselleck, The Practice of Conceptual History: Timing History, Spacing Concepts (Stanford, 2002)

Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (London, 2010)

Samuel Moyn and Andrew Santori (eds), Global Intellectual History (New York, 2013)

Sumita Mukherjee, Indian Suffragettes Female Identities and Transnational Networks (Oxford, 2018)

Karen O’Brien, Women and Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Cambridge, 2009)

J.G.A. Pocock, Political Thought and History: Essays on Theory and Method (Cambridge, 2009)

Melvin Richter, The History of Political and Social Concepts: A Critical Introduction (New York, 1995)

Pierre Rosanvallon, Democracy Past and Future (New York, 2006)

Quentin Skinner, Visions of Politics, vol 1 (Cambridge, 2002)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 16.5
Independent study hours
Independent study 133.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Thomas Tunstall Allcock Unit coordinator

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