British history 1770-1990 HI2009-05

The aim of the course is to empower students in their exploration of the history of modern Britain.


30 Credits

Topics covered

Topics are organised thematically, within a broad chronological framework, and students are expected to gain knowledge and understanding of:

  • The main currents in modern British social, cultural, political, gender and imperial histories
  • The cultural and social interchange between the domestic history of Britain and the history of the British Empire
  • The changing nature of the British state
  • The impact of warfare upon British institutions and social dynamics
  • The ways in which both the institutions and the agencies of civic society have developed in Britain.

The course covers the history of modern Britain via a journey from the loss of the thirteen American colonies through to the fall from office of Margaret Thatcher.

En route the course looks at the impact of the French Revolution upon politics and political thought; the Victorian social structure; the shifting currents of Victorian politics; the lives of men and women in Victorian Britain; the impact of two world wars on British culture and society; reactions to the Depression of the 1930s; the impact of Empire and decolonisation; Appeasement; relations with Europe after 1945; the twentieth-century women’s movement and the parameters of female ‘liberation’; postwar political Consensus and the rise of Thatcherism; and post-war immigration and the rise of a multi-ethnic society.

These topics are organised and examined via the five following themes - 1/social 2/political 3/cultural 4/gender and 5/imperial and post-imperial identities.

Learning outcomes

Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:

  • Reflect with understanding upon the development of British society and state institutions from the late-eighteenth century to 1990
  • Identify and be familiar with the main social, cultural and political changes experienced in Britain during this period, and be able to offer explanations for these
  • Acquire an awareness of Britain’s changing global status, reputation and position over this period
  • Locate the study of modern British history within a wider context of European, imperial and Atlantic histories
  • Identify the main debates among historians of modern British history, and be able to evaluate these in an informed and critical manner
  • Digest and critically evaluate a wide range of the relevant historiography and secondary sources
  • Demonstrate the ability to form and justify their own historical interpretations in an informed manner, supported with appropriate and relevant selection of evidence
  • Show competence in critically assessing and analysing a variety of primary source materials such as diaries, memoirs, newspaper reports and (auto)biographies
  • Produce properly structured, clearly argued, fluently expressed and fully referenced essays
  • Exchange and debate ideas with other members of the class and with the course tutors online
  • Work efficiently and regularly, and meet the prescribed essay deadlines


  • Exam (80%)
  • Essay (10%)
  • Reflective journal and forum posts (10%)

Essential reading

  • Linda Colley, Britons : Forging the Nation, 1707-1837 (1992)
  • Paul Johnson (ed.), Twentieth-Century Britain: Economic, Social and Cultural Change (1994)
  • Martin Pugh, Britain since 1789: A Concise History (1999)
  • Susan Kingsley Kent, Gender and Power in Britain, 1640-1990 (1999)