Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST30N3: The American Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1876

Department: History

HIST30N3: The American Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1876

Type Open Level 3 Credits 60 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap 18 Location Durham


  • A pass mark in at least TWO level two modules in History


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to a transformative period in American history
  • To lead students towards a deep familiarity and understanding of a variety of complex historical sources, and the ways in which they've been interpreted
  • To train students in the advanced analysis of these sources


  • The Civil War has been called the crucible of U.S. history. Since the very founding of the republic, Americans fiercely debated the place of slavery in their young nation. After four bloody years of war, ending in 1865, that issue was resolved with the emancipation of the South's four million black slaves. In the process, 750,000 soldiers had perished, half the country lay in ruins, and the role of the federal government had been fundamentally transformed. But even though the collapse of the Confederate rebellion had put an end to the decades-long debate over slavery, new and equally vexing questions emerged in the postwar period. How would the South and its rebel leaders be re-incorporated into the United States? What role would a massively expanded federal government play in the affairs of its citizens and in the world? And, most importantly, how would those four million former slaves be made into American citizens? This module will take us across the most consequential quarter century in American history. We begin in 1850, when the question of slavery's expansion into the American West brought about a sequence of political crises that ultimately resulted in the secession of 11 slaveholding states by 1861. We then move into the war itself to study several key topics: grand strategy and the major military theatres of the war; the evolving role of both U.S. and Confederate governments and their respective leaders; the home front and the experiences of women in particular; and the actions that African Americans took to help bring about slavery’s demise. Finally, we conclude with a detailed study of the postwar period, what historians call the Reconstruction era. With the emancipation of four million African Americans followed by the enfranchisement of all black men, the U.S. embarked on an unprecedented experiment in biracial democracy shortly after the war. Ultimately, however, that experiment failed. To understand why that happened and how this failed experiment shaped American life for the next century-and-a-half are our final tasks in this ambitious module.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A deep knowledge of the political, social, and racial history of America's Civil War era
  • An ability to analyse and interpret a variety of challenging historical sources, and to relate these sources to specific historical questions
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Challenging students’ assumptions about the past and reflecting on the nature of the discipline (and, where appropriate, interdisciplinarity) at an advanced level
  • Appreciating how historical knowledge is produced, what forms it takes, and the purposes it serves
  • Reflecting on students’ own historical consciousness and practice.
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:
  • 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;
  • tutorials either individually or in groups to discuss topics arising from prepared work, allowing students the opportunity to reflect upon their personal learning with the tutor.
  • Assessment:
  • Unseen Examinations test students' ability to work under pressure under timed conditions, to prepare for examinations and direct their own programme of revision and learning, and develop key time management skills. The unseen 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 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;
  • Assessment of Primary Source Handling Students are assessed on their understanding of original primary sources, usually in print, their character varying according to the nature of the subject, and the students' ability to bring that knowledge to bear on 'cutting edge 'research-based monographs and articles. Students are given the opportunity to discuss and articulate an understanding of changing interpretations and approaches to historical problems, drawing evidence from a body of primary source materials. Students are required to demonstrate skills associated with the evaluation of a variety of primary source materials, using documentary analysis for a critical assessment of existing historical interpretations.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Tutorials 2 Termly in Terms 1 & 2 30 mins 1
Seminars 19 Weekly in Terms 1 & 2 3 hours 57
Revision Sessions 1 Revision 2 hours 2
Preparation and Reading 540

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 3,000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 34%
Essay 2 3,000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 34%
Source Analyses 3,000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 32%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Seen open book examination 3 hour 100%

Formative Assessment:

One formative essay of not more than 2,500 words (not including footnotes and bibliography); preparation to participate in seminar and tutorials; at least one oral presentation, and practice source/gobbet work.

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