Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST1621: A United Kingdom? Great Britain and Ireland before democracy

Department: History

HIST1621: A United Kingdom? Great Britain and Ireland before democracy

Type Open Level 1 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


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


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To equip students with an understanding to historical contests over democracy, representation, and political participation in modern Britain
  • To familiarise students with debates amongst historians over the interpretation of political and social change during this period
  • To introduce students to different interpretations of democracy and representative government in a conceptual and comparative context


  • In fewer than 200 years of British history, democracy moved from a radical utopia to a presumed national value. This module explores a period when the United Kingdom was not a ‘democracy’. However, dramatic projects of reform and the possibility of revolution meant that the nineteenth century (or, rather, the ‘long nineteenth century’) mean that some historians have traced a process of democratisation in this era.
  • Considers how far about the period saw a reimagination and reinvention of:
  • community participation, representative government, and engagement in politics, local or national;
  • access to healthcare and education, and varieties in quality of life;
  • the power accorded to status and the distribution of wealth;
  • the relationship between employers and employees;
  • ideas about difference marked by gender, nationality, class, or race;
  • freedom of belief and tolerance of social differences;
  • and freedom of speech and the limits of political debate.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • to analyse the key problems and controversies of democracy and popular sovereignty in this period;
  • to assess rival methods and interpretations of social and political change in modern Britain;
  • to distinguish between the varied definitions of “democracy” as both a political ideal in our period and an interpretative concept for scholars studying the period.
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 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. The seminar will also be the primary forum for developing students skills in reading and criticizing primary sources.
  • 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;
  • The summative essay remains a central component of assessment in history, due to the integrative high-order skills it develops. It allows 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 in terms 1 & 2; revision lectures 1 hour 21
Seminars 7 3 in term 1; 3 in term 2; 1 in term 3 1 hour 7
Preparation and Reading 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

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

Formative Assessment:

Formative benefits from the summative assessments, plus written assignment of 1500-2000 words 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