Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST31J3: What is the News? Sawcy Scribblers in the Long Seventeenth Century

Department: History

HIST31J3: What is the News? Sawcy Scribblers in the Long Seventeenth Century

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.


Excluded Combination of Modules


  • To foster an advanced understandings of modernity and its relationship with information in the seventeenth century;
  • To open up critical questions about what news encompassed historically and its changing implications over time;
  • To encourage interdisciplinary analysis of sources that may provide affective as well as material insights about journalism that include periodicals, newspapers, scribal newsletters and propaganda;
  • To contribute towards meeting the generic aims of Level 3 study in History.


  • Prophets of modernity count the hours until news becomes the purveyor of truth and helps to create a democratic and advanced political society. They should not hold their breath. The sight and sound of Donald Trump lambasting his opponents for promoting fake news at the same time the BBC is designated the ‘Biased Broadcasting Corporation’ by left and right alike is hardly new. Indeed, these rhetorical interventions are suggestive that news, far from being a key component of democratic modernity actually contributes to the inherent instability of political societies. There are few clearer witnesses to this process than contemporaries in the seventeenth century; many of whom consumed news for the first time. Indeed, for the last twenty years, historians of the period have assumed news was a vital factor in both the English Civil War(s) and the Glorious Revolution. These problems and discussions encapsulate some of the central themes explored in this strand, in which we consider how – and why – scholars have understand the emergence and importance of news in seventeenth century England. We will consider some of the key questions that have characterised the scholarship of news and periodical culture, such as the issue of credibility, how more information may lead to revolutions and how journalists behaved and constructed their own idea of truth. We will also explore how news was determined and shaped by novel and traditional social, historical and cultural forces. Students will be able to debate these questions and to reach their own conclusions on the meaning and significance of news at the moment journalism became an established profession.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A detailed knowledge of the history of journalism, in particular, and of the landscapes of censorship more generally;
  • Familiarity with varied approaches to studying the history of news, and an understanding of associated conceptual and historiographic debates;
  • Confidence and skill in analyzing a wide range of primary source material relating to the information politics of the past.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Reading and using texts and other source materials critically and analytically, addressing questions of content, perspective and purpose at an advanced level;
  • Handling and critically analysing varying interpretations of a given body of historical evidence;
  • 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;
  • Assembling evidence to address issues, constructing an argument and supporting it with evidence to permit and facilitate the evaluation of hypotheses;
  • 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;
  • Imaginative insight.

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:
  • 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
Seminars 19 Weekly in Term 1 & 2 3 57
Revision Session 1 1 in Term 3 2 2
Tutorial 2 1 in Term 1 and Term 2 1 1
Preparation and Reading 540
Total 600

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 3000 words 34%
Essay 2 3000 words 34%
Source Analysis 3000 words 32%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Examination 3 hours 100%

Formative Assessment:

One formative essay of not more than 2500 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