Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST21L1: Early Modern Americas

Department: History

HIST21L1: Early Modern Americas

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap 96 Location Durham


  • 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 early modern North, Central, and South America, including the Caribbean.
  • To explore the relationship of the early Americas to Europe and Africa, and the regional dimensions of Western Europe and West Africa.
  • To explore the interaction of Indigenous, European and African peoples in the Americas, and the regional settings in which these occurred.
  • 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 white, free men in British North America. In this module we will challenge this traditional historical narrative in learning about 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. Students will engage with the role of regions as key settings for interactions in the Americas, and regional dynamics around the Atlantic, in Western Europe and West Africa. 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 Europeans in the early modern Americas were always intertwined with those of Indigenous people and people of African descent.
  • An understanding of the regional dynamics at the heart of historical processes in the early Americas and around the Atlantic Ocean.
  • An awareness of the many historical sources which can inform us about early American history, including architectural sources studied during field trips.
  • 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:
  • (i) reading and using texts and other source materials critically and analytically, addressing questions of content, perspective and purpose at an advanced level;
  • (ii) handling and critically analysing varying interpretations of a given body of historical evidence;
  • (iii) 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;
  • (iv) assembling evidence to address issues, constructing an argument and supporting it with evidence to permit and facilitate the evaluation of hypotheses;
  • (v) 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.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • 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.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 17 16 in Term 2, Revision Lecture 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
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 2000 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