Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST21H1: A ‘Pure’ Land? Gender, Caste and Community in South Asia, c. 1750-1950

Department: History

HIST21H1: A ‘Pure’ Land? Gender, Caste and Community in South Asia, c. 1750-1950

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


  • Provide a cross-temporal understanding of South Asian social, cultural, and political history, combining insights from the early modern and the modern periods
  • Communicate the centrality of gender and caste in the creation of community and social identity in South Asia, across temporal periods
  • Situate gender and caste in a wider political and economic context, through case studies across South Asia’s varied geographical regions.


  • This module will reveal how gender and caste have historically been central to the construction of so-called ‘pure’ communities–whether religious and national–in South Asia. It will offer students a longue durée perspective on the history of gender relations and caste structures on the subcontinent, combining perspectives from both the early modern and modern periods.
  • The lecture series and its accompanying seminars are organised thematically, beginning with a broad understanding of caste and gender as central organising principles of South Asian social life. Each week will be focussed on a particular social group–from Dalit communities to courtesans, from peasant societies to artisans, from musician bards to workers, and from domestic servants to the middle classes–tracing their varied historical trajectories through time. A larger aim of the module is to emphasise the imbrications of power, notions of purity and ideas of territory, with caste and gender hierarchies in South Asian everyday life.
  • The module offers an opportunity to view the major political developments of South Asian early modern and modern history–especially the consolidation of polarised religious and national communities–from the perspective of groups historically marginalised along gender and caste lines.
  • It will also foreground the empirical and theoretical foundations upon which competing interpretations of gender and caste rest, helping students develop a critical understanding of the nature of historical analysis.
  • Communication skills will be the main aim of the seminars, focussed on in-depth discussion, often with reference to primary source material. Above all, the module seeks to stimulate students’ interest in South Asian social and political histories and develop an appreciation of the vast regional and cultural diversity on the subcontinent.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Critically engage with five major themes in the historiography of early modern and modern South Asia: i) gender ii) caste iii) territory iv) community (religious/national) and v) colonialism
  • Acquire an expanded understanding of the evolution of social identity in South Asia, from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-twentieth century.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Build analytical skills around how to interpret translated primary sources of key texts from South Asian social history
  • Understand interdisciplinarity in history-writing; specifically, the conversations of the historical method with anthropological and sociological approaches
  • Broaden their understanding of the ‘archive’: as existing beyond physical depositories, in spaces of memory and everyday life.
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 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:
  • 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. The additional summative assignments will test knowledge and skills specific to the module, such as analysis of relevant primary sources, or critical engagement with the historiography as demonstrated through book reviews and article abstracts.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 16 Term 1 1 hour 16
Seminars 7 Term 1 1 hour 7
Preparation and Reading 177
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 75%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3,000 words, not including footnotes and bibliography 100%
Component: Assignment Component Weighting: 25%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Assignment or assignments 1,000 words total, not including footnotes and bibliography where relevant 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative benefits from the 1,000 word summative assignment and from work done during and in preparation for seminars.

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