HIH1420 - Understanding the Modern World

2011/2 Module description

Lecturer(s)Dr Tim Rees and team
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15.00
Duration of ModuleTwo terms (22 weeks)
Total Student Study Time300 hours including 60 contact hours comprising 38 lectures and 22 hours of seminars

Module aims

This module introduces students to some of the most important developments in the creation of the modern world since the middle of the eighteenth century. It focuses mainly upon Europe, but also explores the European impact on the wider world and the evolution of European-influenced global developments. In particular, the module explores the key distinguishing features of modern societies, things which we often take for granted but which have often emerged very recently and have underpinned the history of the modern world. This is achieved through the examination of three main themes: the creation of modern nations and states, new forms of identity and society, and the rise of globalism.

Intended learning outcomes

Module-specific skills

1. Identify the main themes in the history of modern Europe and its relations with other cultures
2. Interpret the specific themes studied in seminar and coursework within the overall framework of developments in European and world history in this period

Discipline-specific skills

3. Explain, both orally and in written form, large themes over a relatively long span of history
4. Evaluate the views of different historians on a topic
5. Formulate a historical argument, based on professional standards of evidence use

Personal and key skills

6. Work both independently and in a group, including participating in oral seminar discussions
7. Identify a topic, select, comprehend, and organise primary and secondary materials on that topic with some guidance from the tutor
8. Produce to a deadline and in examination conditions a coherent argument

Learning and teaching methods

The weekly lectures will play a key role in providing a spine of ideas and information through which all students can be brought to a similar level of knowledge and through which ideas and debates can be transmitted. They are arranged chronologically into themes around the broader topics of Nations and States, Identity and Society and Global Perspectives in order to promote understanding.

The seminars will focus on particular aspects of the subject matter with a view to offering a fuller understanding than that provided by the lectures, and allowing students to develop their knowledge and skills more fully. They will include reading and interpretation of both primary and secondary sources. Students will be expected to prepare for seminars in advance, both on their own and in study groups.

Through essay plans and essay writing students will develop a comprehension of specific themes within the module, and develop the skills to assess specific sources, both primary and secondary, and developments within European history.

The seen examination will require students to demonstrate a wide comprehension of the overall themes of the modules, whilst allowing them to draw on detailed examples from the work undertaken in the seminars. It will also allow students to assess the value of primary sources for the study of specific themes.


2 essay plans (one per term) of 500-words each
1 x 1,500-word essay (Term 1)
1 x 1,500-word essay (Term 2)
Seen exam - 2 questions to be answered in 2 hours


The 1,500-word essay in Term 2 will count towards 33% of the overall module result and the 2-hour seen exam which consists of two questions, will count towards 67% of the overall module result.

Syllabus plan

Week 1
General Introduction - what is the modern world?
** TOPIC - Introduction to Power and Governance **
Introduction to the Modern World
Week 2
The Enlightenment - Inventing the Modern World
Ancien Regimes to Modern States
(Study Group meeting)
Week 3
Reordering Europe - The Rise of the Modern State
The Rise of the Empire - How Imperialism shaped the Modern World
Nations, Nationalism and Nation States part I: The emergence of the state
Week 4
Economics and the Development of Capitalism
Modern Technologies of Power
(Study Group meeting)
Week 5
Law, Punishment and Social Order
Scientific Knowledge and Explanations of the Modern World
Nations, Nationalism and Nation States part II - States and Ideologies
Week 6
Liberal Democracy, Fascism and Communism
Modern Warfare & Warfare States
(Study Group meeting)
Week 7
Genocide/Ethnic Cleansing - Eliminating the 'Other'
Welfare States and Social Responsibility
Empires and Imperialism
Week 8
Decolonization and Postcolonial Governance - Democratization in the Extra-European World
Supra-nationalism - Thinking Beyond the State
(Study Group meeting)
Week 9
Contesting the State - Challenges to Modern Governance
** TOPIC - Introduction to Cultures and Societies **
Shaping Modern Family Life
Week 10
Population, Development and Environment
Individualism and Modernity
(Study Group meeting)
Week 11
Rise or Fall of Class
Gendering the Modern World
Science, Technology and Medicine

Week 12
Sexuality & 'Modern Sex'
The Modern Family
(Study Group meeting)
Week 13
Wealth & Poverty
Consumerism & Commodification
Religion, Secularism and Fundamentalism
Week 14
Race & Ethnicity
Nationalism & Belonging
(Study Group meeting)
Week 15
Religion and Secularisation
Rise of Fundamentalism
Industrialisation, Class and Consumerism
Week 16
Expressions of Modernity - Arts & Material Cultures
** TOPIC - Introduction to Global Histories **
(Study Group Meeting)
Week 17
The Imperial World System
Slavery in the Modern World
Belonging and Identity: Race and Ethnicity, Citizenship and Nationality
Week 18
Globalization and Cultural Imperialism
International Institutions and 'Neo-Imperialism'
(Study Group meeting)
Week 19
Environment and Social Change
Development, Aid and Global Economics
Globalization, Decolonisation and International Institutions
Week 20
Religion and Belief in Global Perspective
Global Conflict and the 'War on Terror'
(Study Group meeting)
Week 21
Human Rights - A New Global Discourse?
Global Protest Movements
Protest and Dissent
Week 22
Diasporas & Migration - Citizens of the World?
GENERAL CONCLUSION - How do historians view the modern world?
(Study Group meeting)

Indicative basic reading list

Indicative basic reading list:

Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism in the Modern World rev. ed. (London: Verso, 2006)
Christopher Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World 1780-1914: Global Connections and Comparisons (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004)
Asa Briggs & Patricia Clavin, Modern Europe: 1789 to the Present 2nd ed. (London: Pearson, 2003)
M. E. Chamberlain, Decolonialization: the Fall of the European Empires (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999)
John Darwin, After Tamerlane: the Rise and Fall of Global Empires 1400-2000 (London: Penguin, 2008)
Ronald Findlay & Kevin O'Rouke, Power and Plenty: Trade, War and the Economy in the Second Millennium (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2009)
Victoria de Grazia, Irresistible Empire: America's Advance through twentieth Century Europe (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard U.P., 2005)
Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolutions, The Age of Capital, The Age of Empire, The Age of Extremes (London: various, 1988-98)
Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1870 (Cambridge: CUP, 1992)
David Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations (London: Abacus, 1999)
Mark Mazower, Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century (London: Penguin, 1998)
Andrew Porter, European Imperialism (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1994)
Mark Shaw, War and Genocide: Organised Killing in Modern Society (London: Polity, 2003)
(Cambridge: CUP, 2011)
Gary Thorn, The End of Empires: European Decolonialization 1918-1980 (London: Hodder, 2001)
Bryan Turner, Religion and Modern Society: Citizenship, Secularization and the State

Indicative web based resources:
ELE site

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