Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST20V1: The “Vast” Early Modern Americas

Department: History

HIST20V1: The “Vast” Early Modern Americas

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham and Queen's Campus Stockton


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


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to the entangled, interconnected histories of the early modern Americas, with a particular focus on Central and South America and the Caribbean.
  • To explore how colonizers and colonized subjects each made their marks on the past.
  • To offer students strategies for reading with, against, and alongside the ‘archival grain’ in order to uncover evidence of the lives and experiences of women, men, and children erased, ignored, or elided from the traditional historical record.
  • To engage critically with key historiographical works about ‘early modern American history’ and what this term means when applied to early modern societies and how useful a concept it is.
  • To contribute towards the achievement of the Department's generic Aims for study at Level 2.


  • When European colonizers arrived in the so-called ‘New Worlds’ of North, Central, and South America, they instigated devastating pandemics of disease, fundamental ecological destruction, and the enslavement and forced transportation of millions of people. These were global phenomena, influencing and altering the experiences of people, places, and environments from the South China Sea to the Gulf of Mexico. Yet for many decades, historians treated this complex narrative of conquest and colonization as something that began with the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Massachusetts and ended with Confederate surrender at Appomattox Virginia: a history for and about elite, white, free men in British North America. In this module we will challenge this traditional historical narrative in learning about ‘vast early America’: the interconnected histories of the Caribbean and North, Central, and South America, where the lives and experiences of British, Dutch, French, Spanish, and Portuguese colonizers were always intertwined with those of Indigenous people and people of African descent. Students in this course will engage with cutting-edge research in the rich, complex histories of the early Americas, focusing on new scholarship which works to recover and centre lives often lost, ignored, or written out of the historical record. Close reading of both secondary and primary sources will offer students real strategies for researching and writing more inclusive histories.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • An understanding that the lives and experiences of British, Dutch, French, Spanish, and Portuguese colonizers were always intertwined with those of Indigenous people and people of African descent in the early modern Americas.
  • An awareness of the difficulties historians face in researching and writing about the lives of people whose experiences are not included in the traditional historical record, and strategies for overcoming these difficulties.
  • A knowledge of key modern works on these issues and an ability to evaluate these critically.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Building on and developing skills gained at Level 1
  • Deepening and extending historical understanding through focused, concentrated modules
  • Developing precision, depth of understanding, and conceptual awareness.
Key Skills:
  • The ability to employ sophisticated reading skills to gather, sift, process, synthesise and critically evaluate information from a variety of sources (print, digital, material, aural, visual, audio-visual etc.)
  • The ability to communicate ideas and information orally and in writing, devise and sustain coherent and cogent arguments
  • The ability to write and think under pressure, manage time and work to deadlines
  • The ability to make effective use of information and communications technology.

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: Lectures will set the foundations for further study and 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: Seminars will 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 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, all while recognising the value of working with others and, occasionally, towards shared goals.
  • Assessment:
  • Exam: 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.
  • Essay/Assignment: 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 17 in term 2 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 Short Essay (max. 2000 words) or assignment of equivalent length eg. source commentaries 2000 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.

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