Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2010-2011 (archived)

Module HIST3801: HISTORICAL THOUGHT 1700-1800

Department: History


Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2010/11 Module Cap None. Location Durham


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


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To understand how the fundamental concepts and methods of modern historical thinking were created, by examination firstly of the relevant intellectual debates in Europe during the 18th century, and secondly and mainly of some of the leading theorists and historians of the period.
  • By these means, to help students to identify precisely what these concepts and methods are, ie to develop more sophisticated ideas about the character of the historical discipline.


  • 'History' has its own history, one as fascinating as the history of societies and states.
  • The modern western conception of the past conditioning by situation, and dynamic change over time was created largely during the eighteenth century 'Enlightenment'.
  • As it later helped shape how nations and social groups perceived themselves, examination of the foundation of modern historical thought is also a study of some of the great formative ideas of the modern world.
  • The module proceeds by examining texts by key thinkers, including Hume, Montesquieu, Vice, Voltaire, Gibbon, Smith and Burke.
  • It asks: why did they turn to study of the past? how did they extract meaning from it, and establish intellectual credentials for historical knowledge? how did they explain historical change?

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • to understand the early-modern challenges to history as a useful form of knowledge;
  • to understand how the intellectual and cultural significance of history was established during the 18th century;
  • to understand this achievement in terms of the intellectual context of the Enlightenment, and in the works of leading historical thinkers and historians;
  • through this work, to reflect upon fundamental and perennial problems in establishing knowledge and understanding of the past.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Subject specific skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/History/ugrads/ModuleProformaMap/
  • To reflect upon the nature of history as a discipline, by analysing the questions historians ask of their primary sources and/or the nature of the dabates among historians.
Key Skills:
  • Key skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/History/ugrads/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:
  • 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 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. In addition, seen Examinations (with pre-released paper) are intended to enable Level 3 students to produce more considered and reflective work;
  • 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 20 Weekly in Terms 1 & 2; revision lecture 1 hour 20
Seminars 8 4 in Term one, 3 in Term two; revision session 1 hour 8
Preparation and Reading 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essays Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
essay 1 - not including scholarly apparatus 2000 words 50%
essay 2 - not including scholarly apparatus 2000 words 50%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
seen examination (paper to be made available not less than twenty-four hours before the start of the examination] two-hours 100%

Formative Assessment:


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