BA Politics and Modern History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Establishing Empire: The English Atlantic World, 1585-1655

Unit code HIST32002
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by History
Available as a free choice unit? No


This module explores how England established colonies in the Atlantic basin in the early modern period, from the first attempts in Virginia during the reign of Elizabeth I to the invasion of Jamaica in 1655. Students will investigate how contemporary politics and culture, including encounters with indigenous peoples, shaped the development of overseas trade and settlement, and how, in turn, developments overseas impacted on society in England. We will interrogate the significance of the role of women, indigenous peoples and Africans in the development of the English Atlantic empire, and consider how adopting different analytical lenses – environment, race, capitalism – has shaped understandings of this formative period in English expansion.   


HIST32002 is only available to students on History-owned programmes; CLAH-owned programmes; and History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas (please check your programme structure for further details).


Available on which programme(s)?

This module is only available to students on History-owned programmes; Euro Studies programmes; Classics and Ancient History-owned programmes; and History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas.

Available as Free Choice (UG) or to other programmes (PG)?


Available to students on an Erasmus programme

Yes: Subject to VSO approval

Pre/Co/Antirequisite units


Medium of language





  • To explore the reciprocal relationship between developments in England and its colonies in the Atlantic world, including how imperial expansion shaped society at home;
  • To provide an understanding of how interdisciplinary methods and approaches can offer new perspectives on English overseas trade and colonisation, not least by incorporating the experiences of a broader range of historical actors.


Representative examples of the class topics are listed below:


  • Understanding the Imperial Imaginary
  • Before Colonisation: Travel and Trade
  • Early Global Capitalism: Merchants and Trading Companies
  • Consuming New Worlds: from Silk to Tobacco
  • Colonisation in Environmental Perspective
  • Global Families: Settlement, Commerce and Kinship Ties
  • Women’s Agency in Overseas Trade and Colonisation
  • Indigenous Communities and Cross-Cultural Encounters
  • Slavery and the Development of Plantation Societies
  • Migration and the Social Lives of Settlers

Teaching and learning methods

In addition to the weekly one-hour lecture and two-hour seminar, one weekly office hours will be held for students who wish to discuss course content or assignments. There will also be three hours set aside throughout the module for additional tutorials in the lead up to assessments. The course tutor will also aim to organise field trips to the John Rylands Library, Chetham’s Library or Liverpool International Slavery Museum to see primary source collections linked to this subject.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Identify and evaluate the key historiographical debates concerning imperial expansion in the early modern English Atlantic world, and critically engage with a variety of approaches, including environmental, social, political, economic, gender and cultural perspectives;
  • Appreciate how interdisciplinary approaches, such as visual culture, anthropology and archaeology, can allow scholars to understand the experiences of a broader swathe of historical actors, including indigenous communities, enslaved Africans, and women;
  • Evaluate the reciprocal relationship between the social and political landscape in early modern England and the development of overseas trade and colonisation in the Atlantic world;
  • Understand how early English ventures in the Atlantic world contributed to the development of, and has informed the legacy of, the later British Empire.

Intellectual skills

On successful completion of the course students will have:

  1. Evaluated and applied a range of methodologies in the analysis of early modern empire
  2. Developed the skills to critically engage with various source material
  3. Understand how sources have shaped interpretations of colonialism

Practical skills

  1. Independently produce academic projects, with in-depth research
  2. Work effectively with others in a collaborative manner
  3. Gain knowledge and experience of working with different types of source material
  4. Develop communication skills through group presentations, written work and seminar discussion

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  1. Work independently and collaboratively
  2. Effectively lead on research projects
  3. Present information in a clear, concise and persuasive manner
  4. Critical thinking and analytical skills

Employability skills

1. Oral communication: public speaking and ability to clearly convey complex information 2. Written communication: convey complex information in a clear and persuasive manner 3. Analytical skills: critical thinking and analysis of sources 4. Research: independently locate and interpret evidence 5. Group/team working: effectively collaborate with others

Assessment methods


Assessment task

Formative or Summative


Weighting within unit (if summative)

Primary source analysis (2 sources)





Formative & Summative








Feedback methods



Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Oral feedback on group presentation


Written feedback on primary source


Written feedback on essay


Additional one-to-one feedback (during office hours or by appointment)



Recommended reading

  • Nicholas Canny, The Origins of Empire: British Overseas Empire to the Close of the Seventeenth Century (Oxford, 1998)
  • Alison Games, Migration and the Origins of the English Atlantic World (London, 1999)
  • Alison Games, Web of Empire: English Cosmopolitans in an Age of Expansion, 1560-1660 (Oxford, 2008)
  • Malcolm Gaskill, Between Two Worlds: How the English Became Americans (Oxford, 2014)
  • Audrey Horning, Ireland in the Virginian Sea: Colonialism in the British Atlantic (Chapel Hill, 2013)
  • Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America (London, 2000)
  • Peter Pope, Fish into Wine: The Newfoundland Plantation in the Seventeenth Century (Chapel Hill, 2004)
  • Wendy Warren, New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America (New York, 2016)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
External visits 7
Lectures 10
Tutorials 3
Independent study hours
Independent study 180

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Misha Ewen Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Seminars: 30 hours (10 x 1 hour lectures; 10 x 2 hour workshop)

Tutorials: 3 hours

Field trips: 7 hours (3 x 3.5 trips to a museum)

Background reading and research: 40 hours

Preparation for classes: 60 hours

Assessment: 60 hours (assessment time plus preparation)

  • 40% exam (2 hour assessment plus 28 hours preparation)
  • 40% 2,500 word essay (20 hours)
  • 20% 1,500 word source analysis (10 hours)

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