Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST3983: British Politics and the Great War

Department: History

HIST3983: British Politics and the Great War

Type Tied 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 give students a detailed understanding of the political processes by which a liberal, parliamentary state attempted to adapt itself to the prosecution of a new type of 'total war'.
  • To develop students' critical approach to a wide range of source material including parliamentary debates and the correspondence, diaries, and memoirs of key political figures.
  • To develop student's critical approach to the different historical approaches to changes in British politics and the state during the Great War.
  • To contribute towards meetings the generic aims of Level III study in History.


  • This module explores the First World War as a period of crisis, upheaval, and profound change in British politics. The waging of industrial war on an unprecedented scale after August 1914 transformed the political landscape in Britain, shattering many of the certainties that had seemingly governed politics since the mid-Victorian period. These years witnessed the destruction of Britain's last Liberal government, new experiments in political coalition building, a Conservative resurgence after almost a decade in opposition, and the opening up of new political horizons for the Labour Party. The war also swept away many traditional assumptions about the nature and role of the British state. In the economic sphere, 'Business as Usual' gave way to a policy of ˜War Socialism', while restrictions on traditional civil liberties and the introduction of military conscription transformed the relationship between the state and its citizens. Other themes explored in this paper include the collapse of the Union between Great Britain and Ireland heralded by the Easter Rising of 1916; wartime debates about the nature of political citizenship which culminated in a massive expansion of the electorate in 1918, including the extension of the vote to women; and the tensions that emerged between civilian politicians and professional soldiers over the management of a national war effort against the most formidable military empire Europe had ever seen.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • experience in the handling of primary source materials, and an appreciation of their uses when addressing complex historical problems;
  • an understanding of long-running historiographical debates concerning changes in British politics and the state during the Great War;
  • the ability to construct intellectually rigorous historical arguments based on independent research and critical engagement with the existing scholarly literature;
  • the ability to present these arguments clearly, both orally and in the form of substantial but tightly-focused essays
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:
  • 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 Minutes 1
Seminars 19 Weekly in Terms 1 & 2 3 Hours 57
Revision Sessions 1 One in Term 3 2 Hours 2
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 Analyses 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