Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST2431: Civilising Peoples: Progress, Governance and the British Empire

Department: History

HIST2431: Civilising Peoples: Progress, Governance and the British Empire

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap 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 new ideas about how human societies evolved that emerged in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
  • To introduce students to global perspectives on human society drawn from the experience of empire in the nineteenth century.
  • To give students a good understanding of the themes of evolution, government and development in intellectual history.


  • The content will include the following themes to be covered in lectures and in detail in seminars:
  • How has the evolution of human society been understood? This module examines the period between Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776) and Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man (1871) to examine various ideas about the development of and differences between human societies across the world. This was a time before the disciplines of economics, politics, sociology, and anthropology had emerged as separate fields, and so the way these different realms were approached and understood will be a key theme. Selections of texts from key thinkers will therefore form a part of this module.
  • While taking the British Empire as its main focus, the module explores the ‘globalising’ aspects of this thinking to see how the wider world was conceptualised and understood. The main areas to consider will be: the nature and legacy of the Scottish Enlightenment; understandings of European development, with particular reference to the French Revolution; the ‘image of Africa’ and understandings of slavery and freedom; the question of ‘orientalism’ with specific reference to governance and reform in India; themes of dispossession and ‘responsible government’ in the settlement empire; and, finally, consideration of the relationship of ideas of evolution and society in the mid-nineteenth century and beyond.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students will gain: Knowledge and understanding of ideas and intellectual developments about human society and evolution in Britain between 1770 and 1870;
  • The ability to compare ideas about human society and government in the nineteenth century;
  • An understanding of the wider global context in which these ideas were shaped by British thinkers.
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 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:
  • Students will be examined on subject specific knowledge;
  • 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

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 75%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3000 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