Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2010-2011 (archived)

Module HIST2911: Approaching Democracy: Public Life and Political Culture in Britain, 1815-1900

Department: History

HIST2911: Approaching Democracy: Public Life and Political Culture in Britain, 1815-1900

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2010/11 Module Cap n/a Location Durham


  • A pass mark in at least ONE level one module in History.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • HIST3371 Approaching Democracy


  • To enable students to develop an understanding of the 'political culture' of Britain from 1815-1900.
  • To encourage students to probe the changing ideas, experiences and behaviour of political actors in Britain, including both 'high' and 'popular' politics.


  • Between the final victory against Napoleon in 1815, and the seeming defeat of the Boers in 1900, British politics was transformed. At the beginning of the nineteenth century political life was dominated by an aristocratic elite and a narrow franchise ensured that very few people could vote. The success of the state in mobilising for war and raising finance only encouraged a wide spectrum of critics who demanded a more liberal and a more democratic system. By conceding liberalism, however, democracy could be postponed: the mid-nineteenth century was the golden age of liberalism. But by the end of the century, aristocratic control of power was slipping away, mass parties were growing, and the politics of class began to dominate. The age of democratic modernity was dawning.
  • This module examines the causes and consequences of these shifts. In particular it assesses the nature of a whole political system in transition, focusing on both elite and popular politics. Rather than following an overly chronological method - which tends to privilege the story of high politics - this module stresses themes as well. Besides the more familiar topics, it will also examine the nature of representative government, the relationship between the state and locality, the scope of public opinion and popular politics, the impact of political, religious and economic ideas, and the governance of empire.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Knowledge and understanding of the 'political culture' of Britain between 1815-1900.
  • Understanding of aspects of the changing historiography of and conceptual approaches to nineteenth-century British political life.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Subject specific skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/history.internal/local/ModuleProformaMap/
  • In addition students will acquire the ability to construct analytical arguments on key historical issues relating to the subject.
Key Skills:
  • Key skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/history.internal/local/ModuleProformaMap/

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Student learning is facilitated by a combination of the following teaching methods:
  • lectures to set the foundations for further study and to provide the basis for the acquisition of subject specific knowledge. Lectures provide a broad framework which defines individual module content, introducing students to themes, debates and interpretations. In this environment, students are given the opportunity to develop skills in listening, selective note-taking and reflection;
  • seminars to allow students to present and critically reflect upon the acquired subject-specific knowledge, methodologies and theories, and to identify and debate a range of issues and differing opinions. The seminar is the forum in which students are given the opportunity to communicate ideas, jointly exploring themes and arguments. Seminars are structured to develop understanding and designed to maximise student participation related to prior independent preparation. Seminars give students the opportunity to develop oral communication skills, encourage critical and tolerant approaches to reasoned argument and historical discussion, build the students’ ability to marshal historical evidence, and facilitate the development of the ability to summarise historical arguments, think in a rapidly changing environment and communicate in a persuasive and articulate manner, whilst recognising the value of working with others and, occasionally, towards shared goals.
  • Assessment:
  • Unseen Examinations test students' ability to work under pressure under timed conditions, to prepare for examinations and direct their own programme of revision and learning, and develop key time management skills. The unseen examination gives students the opportunity to develop relevant life skills such as the ability to produce coherent, reasoned and supported arguments under pressure. Students will be examined on subject specific knowledge;
  • Summative essays remain a central component of assessment in history, due to the integrative high-order skills they develop. Essays allow students the opportunity to recognise, represent and critically reflect upon ideas, concepts and problems; students can demonstrate awareness of, and the ability to use and evaluate, a diverse range of resources and identify, represent and debate a range of subject-specific issues and opinions. Through the essay, students can synthesise information, adopt critical appraisals and develop reasoned argument based on individual research; they should be able to communicate ideas in writing, with clarity and coherence; and to show the ability to integrate and critically assess material from a wide range of sources.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 21 Weekly; revision lectures in term 3 1 hour 21
Seminars 7 6: 3 in Term one, 2 in Term two, 1 normally in Term three (revision); setup seminar in term 1 1 hour 7
Preparation and Reading 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essays Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 maximum 2000 words- not including footnotes and bibliography 50%
Essay 2 maximum 2000 words - not including footnotes and bibliography 50%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
unseen examination 2 hours 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative benefits from the summative assessments, plus one or more short assignments delivered orally and discussed in a group context.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University