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MA History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

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 ranges from the sixteenth century to the late twentieth, and geographically the course aims to embrace both European and non-European history.


To provide students with the opportunity to acquire an advanced training in current approaches to the history of political culture and political ideas, and to think critically about the relationship between conceptual innovation and political change.

Learning outcomes

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.

Teaching and learning methods

Weekly seminars of 1.5 hours, most of these being wholly or partly student-led.

Blackboard will be used for (a) communication of course information; (b) links to digitized texts and other online materials; (c) discussion fora to facilitate interaction between weekly meetings. The essay will be submitted online via Turnitin on BB.

Website and video links available via Blackboard

Assessment methods

Essay : 4,000 words


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)
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)
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

Independent study hours
Independent study 150

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Thomas Tunstall Allcock Unit coordinator

Additional notes

This course unit is about how new ways of thinking about politics emerge at critical moments of political change, and how political concepts change when they are translated from one context to another. It is aimed at students interested in political history broadly defined, and in intellectual history. Case-studies are typically taken from early modern and later modern Europe (including Britain) and from twentieth-century Africa and Latin America.

Pre-requisite units: None

Co-requisite units: None

Available as free choice: Yes

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