Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST31E1: Constructing Identities: Gender, Sexuality, and Age in England, c.1600-1850

Department: History

HIST31E1: Constructing Identities: Gender, Sexuality, and Age in England, c.1600-1850

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap 50 Location Durham


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


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to the history of gender relations, sexual identity, and age in England c.1600-1850.
  • To explore contemporary attitudes towards gender and sexuality, and the ways in which these intersected with concepts of age and experiences of the life cycle.
  • To develop students' ability to evaluate a wide range of sources.


  • The module is concerned with how the concepts of gender, sexuality and age intersected with one another, and in what ways this was changing between 1600 and 1850. We begin by considering understandings of the relation between gender and biological sex, and asking whether new ideas about human physiology were altering perceptions of femininity and masculinity. We then examine the ways both cultural and physical distinctions said to exist between men and women were age-related, which leads to questions about the socialisation of girls and boys, the distinct opportunities offered to male and female youths, the pressure on adults to marry and reproduce, and the gendered nature of old age. Here we also explore the concept of generational change in relation to gender roles. Next we investigate sexuality and how this was thought to relate to gender, looking at projected norms alongside illicit sexualities that breached the boundaries imposed by legal sanctions and moral proscription. We reflect on what it was to be LGBTQ+ before the term homosexual was coined. Finally, we examine the consequences of a growing emphasis on binary categories of male and female, questioning whether there was an early modern sexual revolution, and if the idea of sexual identity was an eighteenth-century invention.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A knowledge of key historiographical debates surrounding the concepts of gender, sexuality, and age in England c.1600-1850.
  • An understanding of contested contemporary notions of gender and how these related to both sexuality and age.
  • A sensitivity to the problems of interpreting evidence relating to underrepresented sections of society, whether LGBTQ+, women, the young, or the elderly.
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

  • 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.
  • 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,and 3 1 hour 21
Seminars 7 3 in term 1 and 4 in term 3 1 hour 7
Preparation and Reading 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay Max 3000 words, not including footnotes and bibliography 40%
Component: Exam Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Exam 2 hours 60%

Formative Assessment:

Preparation for and participation in seminars. The summative essay is also preparation for the final exam.

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