BA English Literature with Creative Writing / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Writing Revolutions:Radicalism, Activism, Citizenship 1640-80

Course unit fact file
Unit code ENGL34131
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by English and American Studies
Available as a free choice unit? No


What does it mean to be a citizen? The period 1640-80 saw civil conflict across the British Isles and rapid political development leading to new ways of conceptualising individual agency and community. This was led by and developed by writers and poets, who saw themselves as intervening fundamentally into key debates and discussions whilst also critiquing the ways that discourses of citizenship and nationhood sought to exclude others. This course unit looks at the ways in which government, colonisation, science, slavery, nature, the law, gender and political identity were interrogated in work by a range of writers. Through a focus on the idea of citizenship the course considers the relationship between radicalism, activism, and political action. This concern with agency leads us to consider some key 21st century ideas in the light of their discussion during the earlier period: imprisonment and the law; citizenship and action; the environment.


 The aims of this course are:
- to introduce students to key texts and issues from the period 1640-80;
- to analyse the ways in which texts from the period interact with their cultural and historical contexts;
- to investigate how ideas of radicalism, citizenship, activism, political agency and identity are explored in texts from the period;
- to engage with discourses of colony, science, conflict, political agency, and aesthetics;
- To develop student’s sense of engagement in various public spheres, and thence to enable them to consider questions of citizenship and civic responsibility.


Indicative reading:

John Milton, Paradise Lost; Aphra Behn, The Rover; poems by Hester Pulter, Katherine Philips, Andrew Marvell; work by political figures such as the Levellers and the Quakers; prose by Samuel Pepys, Lucy Hutchinson; scientific work by Martin Lluellyn, Robert Hooke, Margaret Cavendish; literary criticism by Anne Bradstreet; religious prose by environmental writing by Gerard Winstanley; writing on colony by Mary Rowlandson; John Dryden, All for Love;

Also an ‘afterlife’ section including Caryl Churchill, Light Shining on Buckinghamshire and Ben Wheatley’s film A Field in England.


Knowledge and understanding

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

- demonstrate a good familiarity with a range of texts from 1640-80 and their contexts;
- demonstrate a good knowledge and understanding of key themes relating to citizenship, radicalism, activism and political agency;
- engage critically with key discourses as they are articulated in texts from the period;
- demonstrate critical thinking and analysis through close engagement with a variety of sources.

Intellectual skills

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

- think critically and make critical judgments about texts written during the period;

- analyse course texts in an effective manner;

- reflect upon the ‘afterlife’ of particular ideas and intellectual traditions.


Practical skills

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

- make good use of library, electronic, and online resources pertaining to the course including an independent study of an understudied and possibly unknown text in the JRUL from the period;
- undertake advanced close reading.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

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

- produce written work using appropriate language for an academic audience;
- demonstrate good teamwork skills by acknowledging the views of others and working constructively with others in close reading;
- reflect upon key contemporary issues relating to citizenship and political agency;
- demonstrate bibliographical skills through the material culture assessment.

Employability skills

This course enhances student employability by giving 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/or evaluate critical sources; independent study skills; time management skills through the completion of independent or deadline-driven work; teamwork; the ability to debate important political ideas

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Weighting within unit (if summative)

Close analysis of a text from the John Rylands published 1640-1680, around week 6


Close reading exam, taken around week 10





Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Meetings with close reading groups


One-to-one meeting after first assessment submitted


Numeric grade and written comments on essay within 15 working days

Formative and summative


Recommended reading

Jacqueline Pearson, The Prostituted Muse: Images of Women and Women Dramatists 1643-1737

Steven Pincus, 1688: The First Modern Revolution

David Norbrook, Writing the English Revolution

Sharon Achinstein, Literature and Dissent in Milton’s England

Tom Corns and Gordon Campbell, Milton: Life, Work and Thought

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Fieldwork 2
Lectures 11
Seminars 11
Tutorials 11

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Jerome De Groot Unit coordinator

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