BA History and Sociology

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
"The Root of all Evil": Capital, Religion, and Empire, 1550-1701

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST32492
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


Communities across the globe face challenges caused by reactions to not only rapid globalization in the twentieth century but the impact and legacy of the British Empire. A better understanding of the history of empires, in particular, the early history of the British Empire and the role of religion and capital in shaping cross-cultural encounters is vital if we are to make sense of many of the major political, social, and cultural issues that we face today. This module will help you make sense of the early modern origins of those challenges. 

By investigating the links between religion, corporate expansion, commodities, and colonisations this module will encourage you to rethink your understanding of how individuals, communities, cultures, and societies were affected by and responded to the British empire. To do so we will not only work with British sources, but also other European, African, American, and Asian material to undertake in-depth explorations of specific regions as well as come to understand the connectedness of the empire and its wider socio-cultural impact. 


Restricted to History programmes, History joint honours programmes and Classics and Ancient History programmes (please check your programme structure for further details).


  • To explore the connections between religion, economy, society, politics, and empire in early modern history 

  • To provide a broad understanding of early modern global encounters in their historical context 

  • To consider the social, cultural and political impact of empire on the transformation of regions in Africa, America, Asia and Europe 

  • To challenge the understanding of expansion by approaching it through the lens of individuals and communities affected by it 

  • Critically engage with primary sources and relevant historiography  

Teaching and learning methods

Workshop activities: introductory “lecture” on a subject, various seminar activities, presentations. 

Knowledge and understanding

  • Evaluate the local experiences of empire with wider social and cultural trends and developments. 

  • Understand debates surrounding the causes and consequences of empire and expansion in the early modern period. 

  • Critically assess the connections and differences between experiences of global expansion in the early modern world. 

Intellectual skills

  • Think critically about how academic knowledge is produced by examining the historical origins and past and present limitations of the discipline of history. 

  • Analyse a range of complex primary sources from a variety of perspectives.  

Practical skills

  • Teamwork skills developed through developing and delivering a presentation as part of a group.  

  • Communicating your own arguments and interpretations in verbal and written formats. 

  • Contributing to group discussions on complex historical and theoretical debates in seminars.  

  • Independent research skills for seminar preparation and assessed work. 

  • Organisational and time-management skills developed through organising and managing independent study. 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Understand and clearly articulate complex topics verbally and in writing. 

  • Develop clear and coherent arguments that bring together and critically interpret information from a range of sources. 

  • Develop confidence in verbal presentation skills through seminar participation and group presentations. 

  • Carry out independent research on primary and secondary material.  

  • Develop a sensitivity to how and by whom knowledge about empire has been, and continues to be, produced and the effects of this. 

Employability skills

Group/team working
Group activities in workshops and the design and delivery of in-class group presentations will develop students’ project management, planning, and teamworking skills.
Oral communication
Presentations and in-class discussions will prepare students for effective communication in the workplace, in particular how to respond quickly and effectively to questioning and debate.
Independent research through written assessments will develop students’ ability to interpret, analyse, integrate, and present information from a range of sources in order to solve complex historical problems.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 60%
Oral assessment/presentation 40%

Feedback methods

Feedback method  

Formative or Summative 

Verbal and Written feedback on presentations and essay assignments (written feedback via Turnitin) 

Formative & Summative 

Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultations and office hours) 


Recommended reading

Haig Z. Smith, Religion and Governance in England’s Emerging Colonial Empire, 1601–1698 (Palgrave, 2021) 

Alison Games, The Web of Empire: English Cosmopolitans in an Age of Exploration, 1560–1660 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008 

Simon Mills, A Commerce of Knowledge: Trade, Religion, and Scholarship Between England and the Ottoman Empire, c. 1600–1760 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020) 

Philip J. Stern, Empire, Incorporated: The Corporations That Built British Colonialism (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 2023) 

Edmond Smith, Merchants: The Community That Shaped England's Trade and Empire, 1550-1650 (London: Yale University Press, 2021) 

Gabriel Glickman, Making the Imperial Nation: Colonization, Politics, and English Identity, 1660-1700 (London: Yale University Press, 2023) 

William J. Bulman, Anglican Enlightenment: Orientalism, Religion and Politics in England and Its Empire, 1648–1715 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015) 

Audrey J. Horning, Ireland in the Virginian Sea: Colonialism in the British Atlantic (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press 2013) 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Haig Smith Unit coordinator

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