Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2022-2023 (archived)

Module HIST1651: Imagining East Asia in the Modern World

Department: History

HIST1651: Imagining East Asia in the Modern World

Type Open Level 1 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2022/23 Module Cap 124 Location Durham


  • Normally an A or B grade in A-Level History, or an acceptable equivalent (e.g. in terms of Scottish Highers or lB)


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To give students an understanding of the cultural, social and political history of modern East Asia including some of the relevant primary and secondary source material.
  • To give students the opportunity to think about the lives and experiences of different people living in and migrating to and from East Asia during the past five centuries.


  • The way people imagine East Asia has changed profoundly over time. Today we are accustomed to thinking of the region as the home of rising economic powers. This situation is not as novel as some people imagine. China’s staggering GDP growth and Japan’s world-leading technologies would seem quite natural to subjects of the early Qing or Meiji Empires, both global economic powerhouses in their day. Yet these images of economic dynamism would no doubt seem remarkable to famine-ravaged farmers living in Republican China, or to those scraping a living in the radioactive rubble of post-war Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Another dominant image of contemporary East Asia is that of authoritarian politics, from North Korea’s nuclear brinkmanship to authoritarian policies in mainland China. Again, we can find historical precedents for these more negative images. Millions died during the revolutionary chaos of the Maoist era, while the Japanese Empire imposed its aggressive expansionism on much of Asia. Yet these authoritarian images do not represent all of East Asian history. During the European enlightenment, philosophers heralded Confucian governance as a model of rational rule, while in the late twentieth century Japan, Korea, and Taiwan have each sought to build their own forms of democracy.
  • During this course we aim to make sense of a multitude of contradictory images of East Asia. We will explore how East Asia has changed over time, from both the inside and the outside, and examine those individuals and groups who challenge dominant images of the region. The histories of the modern nations of East Asia are entangled with each other in complex ways. Yet the diversity of the region over time and space demands that we not assume it best approached as a single unit, or limit our consideration to its modern-day borders. This module thus offers multiple perspectives on the coherence and disparity of East Asia as it has changed across the past five centuries.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • An understanding of key themes in the cultural, social, and political history of Japan, China, and Korea during early and late modern eras.
  • An awareness of the actors and the kinds of historical evidence presented in readings
  • Critical engagement with the arguments in the secondary and primary sources (where available in English translation)
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Subject specific skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/history.internal/local/ModuleProformaMap/
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 essays, 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 in Terms 1& 2 1 hour 21
Seminars 7 3 in Term 1; 4 in Term 2 1 hour 7
Preparation and Reading 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay, not including footnotes or bibliography 2000 words 100%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
two-hour written Examination 2 hours 100%

Formative Assessment:

A written assignment of 1500-2000 words to be submitted in Michaelmas Term

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