BA Politics and Modern History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Making of the Modern Mind: European Intellectual History in a Global Context

Unit code HIST20181
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by History
Available as a free choice unit? No


In this course, we explore how some of the major ideas and intellectual movements that have shaped modern history came into being. We focus on Western Europe between c. 1760-1914 in a global context to establish how ideas about freedom, society, violence, mankind, reason, morality, and politics  were transformed into distinctively modern ways of thinking – ways of thinking which we still rely on today. Each week, we will be encountering epoch-defining texts and reading them directly, trying to understand how they related to the societies and cultures that produced them. Some of these texts will be by thinkers you may be familiar with, like Marx and Darwin but whom you probably will not have read in depth. Some are by influential individuals you might not have heard of, like Sorel or Olympe de Gouge. We will explore how major ideas come into being, who assembles them, and how they’re consumed, adapted or discarded. In doing so, the course offers an exhilarating journey into key historical debates and transformative historical phenomena in this critical period in British, European and world.


HIST 20181 is restricted to History programmes, History joint honours programmes, and Euro Studies (please check your programme regulations for further details).

This module is only available to students on History-owned programmes; and History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas. Available to students on an Erasmus programme, subject to VSO approval.


  • Develop students’ knowledge of the role of ideas in defining many of the key phenomena of modern history.
  • Enable a deeper understanding of how ideas are formulated, transmitted, adapted, preserved and discarded.
  • Develop an ability to read complex and challenging documents both for the ‘big picture’, and detailed analysis.
  • Promote wider critical awareness of intellectual and argumentative processes, in the past and in the present, which will be invaluable both in further study, and in being a responsible citizen after university.
  • Develop confidence in researching and writing clear, dynamic, precise prose.



SYLLABUS (Indicative Course Structure):














Teaching and learning methods

2 x 1 hour lecture per week

1 x 1 hour seminar per week

Weekly office hours

Two required readings per week (one collection of primary sources, one piece of historical scholarship), of c. 15-25 pages each, to prepare for seminars and assessed work, which will be accessed via Blackboard.

One or two recommended downloadable podcasts per week, either to develop greater background knowledge, or to encounter a major scholar discussing an idea in depth.

Independent research and reading by students using the extensive holdings of the University Library, using starting-points suggested in the course reading list.

All coursework will be submitted and feedback returned via Blackboard/Turnitin.

Knowledge and understanding

Students will develop a deep knowledge and understanding of:

  • The key ideas, concepts and movements we focus on, especially through the primary sources from the works of Rousseau, Burke, Tocqueville, Engels, Marx, Hegel, Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud and Sorel.
  • The most important debates amongst scholars about how important ideas shaped, and were shaped by, the societies and cultures in which they emerged, in Europe (including Britain) between c. 1760-1914.
  • How many of our own assumptions, arguments and methods of arguing are based on (often, flawed or corrupted or unconscious) versions of these major ideas.


Intellectual skills

Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to:

  • Read, understand and critique complex texts with confidence.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of some of the most impactful ideas and ways of thinking that shaped European modernity in a global context between c. 1760-1914, with particular reference to ideas about gender, race, the state, freedom, history, society, economics, the mind, morality and violence.
  • Debate and discuss some of the key arguments and methods used in the history of ideas.
  • Research creatively in the history of ideas and society.
  • Develop convincing, coherent arguments about the interplay between ideas and society in historical context.
  • Write lucid, accurate, engaging prose to explain their arguments.

Practical skills

This course will transform successful students’ abilities in:

  • Reading long and complex texts quickly and effectively.
  • Detailed critical reading, especially of shorter pieces.
  • Writing critically, precisely and engagingly.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

The course unit aims at enabling students to develop the following transferable skills:

  • The analysis of complex issues, arguments and debates;
  • The close, critical reading of documents and texts;
  • The presentation of analysis, argument and independent judgment in essay form.
  • The ability to turn curiosity into research, and research into well-reasoned conclusions in elegant prose.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Analytical and intellectual skills (critical analysis of legal, social and philosophical sources)
Interpersonal skills (the ability to work with and motivate others and to demonstrate leadership skills).
Oral communication
Communication and Presentation skills
Problem solving
Written communication

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods

Oral feedback will be given throughout seminar discussion. Students are also encouraged and welcome to attend reception hours or email me to arrange a meeting in order to discuss specific points - formative.

Students should use reception hours to discuss their assignment plans ahead of the deadline. While tutors cannot read full drafts, we are happy to provide feedback on structure, content and style - formative.

Written feedback on all coursework. In line with History assessment policy, all written feedback will incorporate ‘feed forward’ advice on improving future assessment performance - summative.

Recommended reading

Bay, Mia, Griffin, Farah J., Jones, Martha S. and Savage Barbara D (eds.). Toward an Intellectual

History of Black Women. (Chapel Hill, 2015)

Bayly, C.A. The Birth of the Modern World 1780-1914 (Oxford, 2004).

Burrow, J.W. The Crisis of Reason: European Thought, 1848-1914 (London, 2000).

Haddock, Bruce. A History of Political Thought (Cambridge, 2008).

Hirschmann, Nancy J. Gender, Class & Freedom in Modern Political Theory (Princeton, 2008).

Sluga, Glenda. ‘Turning International: Foundations of Modern International Thought and New Paradigms for Intellectual History’. History of European Ideas, 41.1 (2015), 103-115.

Solomon, Robert C. Continental Philosophy since 1750: the rise and fall of the self (Oxford, 1988).

Turner, Frank M. European Intellectual History from Rousseau to Nietzsche (London, 2015).


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Emily Jones Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Assessment Methods

Review: Ideas in History, 1000 words, 20%, summative

Essay: 1500 words, 30%, summative

Essay: 2500 words, 50%, summative

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