Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST20C1: Gender and Sexuality during Britain's Long Twentieth Century

Department: History

HIST20C1: Gender and Sexuality during Britain's Long Twentieth Century

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap 48 Location Durham


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


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To provide an overview of histories of gender and sexuality in twentieth century Britain;
  • To explore the relation between normative and non-normative configurations of gender and sexuality;
  • To introduce feminist and queer historical concepts and methods; and
  • To contribute towards meeting the generic aims of Level 2 study in History.


  • Few aspects of British life changed so dramatically over the twentieth century as cultures of gender and sexuality. This course provides a broad overview of those shifts. It moves from a Britain where no woman could vote in a general election to one that boasted a female Prime Minister; from a Britain that criminalized gay intimacy to one in which marriage equality became politically realizable; and from a Britain prone to viewing biological sex as destiny to one in which cherished assumptions about bodies and identities fell on multiple fronts. A central theme of the course will be the development of ideals of heterosexuality, reinforced in a variety of ways by state institutions and cultural power, but also challenged by feminist and queer social movements with alternative visions of gender and sexual relations. Since history rarely simply exchanges repression for liberation, our focus will be on shifting configurations of masculinity and femininity, of straightness and queerness, and of authority and resistance. Along the way, we’ll address how gender and sexuality intersected with class, race, locality, nationalism, empire, and multiculturalism. We’ll also consider how attention to this topic supplements or revises other ways of thinking about twentieth century British history and of Britain’s place in the world. Topics will include: female suffrage and anti-suffrage; the relations of women, men, and family life to citizenship, welfare, work, and education; the legal regulation of sexuality from the Contagious Disease Acts to Section 28; feminist and queer activism and subcultures; the advent of the AIDS crisis; and gender and sexuality’s continued relevance to the present.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Good empirical knowledge of core events in women’s and queer history in twentieth century Britain, including issues of reproductive and sexual rights, social and cultural life, and political participation;
  • Familiarity with methodological concerns bearing on the analysis of gender and sexuality, including the gendered biases of historical records and how the histories of marginalized groups such as gay men, lesbians, and transgender people can be recovered; and
  • Understanding key conceptual issues raised by the study of gender and sexuality, including the ways in which these topics have implications for all historians and the impact of political commitments on feminist and queer studies.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Reading and using texts and other source materials critically and analytically, addressing questions of content, perspective and purpose at an advanced level;
  • Handling and critically analysing varying interpretations of a given body of historical evidence;
  • Managing a body of evidence or information, particularly gathering, sifting, synthesizing, organising, marshalling and presenting information consistent with the methods and standards of historical study and research;
  • Assembling evidence to address issues, constructing an argument and supporting it with evidence to permit and facilitate the evaluation of hypotheses;
  • Intellectual independence and research, including the development of bibliographical skills, the ability to research, use, evaluate and organise historical materials, and to present independent research in written form.
Key Skills:
  • Self-discipline, self-direction, initiative, the capacity for extended independent work on complex subjects, the development of pathways to originality, and intellectual curiosity;
  • Discrimination and judgement;
  • Ability to gather, organise and deploy evidence, data and information, and familiarity with appropriate means of identifying, finding, retrieving, sorting and exchanging information;
  • Analytical ability, and the capacity to consider and solve complex problems;
  • Structure, coherence, clarity and fluency of written expression;
  • Intellectual integrity, maturity and an appreciation of the validity of the reasoned views of others;
  • Imaginative insight.

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, 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;
  • Summative coursework will test students’ ability to communicate ideas in writing, present clear and cogent arguments succinctly and show appropriate critical skills as relevant to the particular module .

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 17 16 in Term 2; 1 in Term 3 1 hour 17
Seminars 7 7 in Term 2 1 hour 7
Preparation and Reading 176
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Examination Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Seen open book examination 2 hours 100%
Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Coursework assessment consisting of a short essay (max. 2,000 words) or assignment of equivalent length e.g. source commentaries 2,000 words excluding footnotes and bibliography. 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative work done in preparation for and during seminars, including oral and written work as appropriate to the module. The summative coursework will have a formative element by allowing students to develop ideas and arguments for the examination and to practice writing to similar word limits.

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