Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST30V1: Liberty, Equality, Democracy: Progressive Thought in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Department: History

HIST30V1: Liberty, Equality, Democracy: Progressive Thought in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • A pass mark in at least ONE level 2 module in History


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to core concepts in nineteenth-century ‘progressive’ thought
  • To explore the varieties of argument made by a selection of liberal, radical and socialist thinkers
  • To engage with historiographical debates on the identity of Victorian social and political thought


  • The idea of 'progress' was a virtual article of faith for Victorians they believed ardently in it, and directed their energies towards it. But what did it mean? This module focuses on liberal, radical and socialist thought over the nineteenth century, and the inter-connections between them. The liberal prized liberty and individuality and wanted to strip away the 'monopoly' interests that impeded them. Some thought such change would be moderate, while others hankered for more radical reform democracy and disestablishment couldn't come too soon. There were also many varieties of socialism critical of aspects of the liberal vision, it spoke of community and fraternity as much as individuality. While socialists lambasted the extremes of inequality, they were not alone in opposing the worship of Mammon. This module explores the themes of liberty, equality, and democracy as well as utilitarianism, feminism, evolutionism and environmentalism through an engagement with the writing of key thinkers. These may include Jeremy Bentham, James Mill, Robert Owen, John Ruskin, Richard Cobden, John Stuart Mill, Walter Bagehot, Herbert Spencer, T.H. Green, William Morris and George Bernard Shaw among others.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • An understanding of debates about progressive thought in the nineteenth century
  • The ability to engage with arguments made by Victorian thinkers
  • Developing skills in critical reading and historiographical analysis
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Subject specific skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/History/ugrads/ModuleProformaMap/
Key Skills:
  • Key skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/History/ugrads/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:
  • 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 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. In addition, seen Examinations (with pre-released paper) are intended to enable Level 3 students to produce more considered and reflective work;
  • 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.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 21 Weekly in terms 1 & 2 1 hour 21
Seminars 7 4 in Term 1; 3 in Term 2 1 hour 7
Preparation and Reading 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3000 words, not including bibliography and footnotes 100%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Seen examination [paper to be made available not less than seventy-two hours before the start of the examination] 2 hours 100%

Formative Assessment:

A written assignment of 1000-2000 words to be submitted in Michaelmas Term

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