MA Medieval and Early Modern Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Approaches to Literary Studies: Historicism and the Archive

Course unit fact file
Unit code ENGL71822
Credit rating 30
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? No


This team-taught course unit introduces postgraduate students to some of the current approaches within professional literary study, with a particular emphasis on approaches to literary texts which emphasise the importance of their generative historical context  (such as historicism, new historicism, and cultural materialism). Students on the course will learn how to access and use archival material and how to conduct historically-situated research into archival and non-archival literary texts. Students will also be given training on the concrete skills necessary to pursue further postgraduate research work and/or employment within the arts and heritage sectors.  Concrete activities on this module will include: accessing archives to locate new or existing primary material; using databases and other digital tools to identify and produce high-calibre scholarly analysis; and working as part of a team to produce a rigorous scholarly edition of an out-of-print literary text.  The course will also provide a foundation for producing a high-quality historicist MA dissertation.   



The aims of this course are:

  • to introduce students to the key concepts and methods of historicism, new historicism and cultural materialism;
  • to introduce students to the analysis of archival and/or rare materials;
  • to introduce students to digital research tools;
  • to consider how archival materials and digital tools enhance broadly historicist scholarship of literary texts;
  • to develop postgraduate-level research skills using a range of historicist methodologies

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • demonstrate a good understanding of the theories and methods of historicist literary analysis;
  • produce a postgraduate-level reading of a literary text or texts, drawing on the approaches and methods of new historicism and/or cultural materialism;
  • find and access relevant archival or rare materials;
  • identify and use digital resources relevant to historically-situated literary analysis;
  • produce a scholarly edition of a literary text as part of an editorial team.

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • identify and utilise historical / archival materials
  • identify and utilise appropriate digital research tools
  • develop an argument from an historicist/new historicist/cultural materialist perspective
  • evaluate critical arguments advanced by historicist and non-historicist authors

Practical skills

  • plan and execute independent historically-contextualised research on one of the course texts;
  • make use of electronic and online resources, including COVE;
  • find and utilize archival and rare materials;
  • contribute to the production of a scholarly edition.  

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • retrieve, sift, organise, synthesise and critically evaluate material from a range of different sources, including library and electronic resources;
  • produce postgraduate-calibre written work that uses an historicist/new historicist/cultural materialist approach;
  • work as part of an editorial team;
  • find and make use of local archival and other research materials;
  • demonstrate networking and teamwork skills

Employability skills

This course gives students a range of transferable skills. These include: logical thought; good oral and written communication skills; resourcefulness in the ability to gather, interpret, analyse and evaluate critical sources; time management; and teamwork. The course also teaches students the practical skills necessary to work in an archive, library, or other cultural institution. Students also learn editorial skills that may be useful in journalistic, publishing, or university settings.

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Formative or Summative

Weighting within unit (if summative)




Digital group project



Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Numerical grade and written comments on essay within 15 working days, etc

Summative feedback

Written feedback and numerical grade on Digital humanities project


Recommended reading

Indicative Reading

Dan Bivona and Roger B. Henkle, The Imagination of Class: Masculinity and the Victorian Urban Poor (2006)

David M. Berry and A. Fagerjord, Digital Humanities: Knowledge and Critique in a Digital Age (2017)

Mark Bevir, Historicism and the Human Sciences in Victorian Britain (2017)

Constance Crompton et al, Doing More Digital Humanities (2020)

Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt, Practicing New Historicism (rev. ed. 2020)

Paul Hamilton, Historicism (rev. ed. 2003)

Christine Huguet and Simon James, eds, George Gissing and the Woman Question: Convention and Dissent (2013)

Elizabeth Carolyn Miller, Slow Print: Literary Radicalism and Late Victorian Print Culture (2013)

Gregory Vargo, An Underground History of Early Victorian Fiction (2018)

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Michael Sanderson Unit coordinator

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