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Durham University

Faculty Handbook Archive

Archive Module Description

This page is for the academic year 2021-22. The current handbook year is 2022-23

Department: History

HIST20B1: Crime and Culture in Early Modern Europe

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2021/22 Module Cap 40 Location Durham


  • •A pass mark in at least ONE level one module in History.


  • •None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • •None.


  • To enable students to develop an understanding of continuities and changes in early modern culture as they relate to the history of crime.
  • To engage closely with primary sources, above all early modern criminal trials, which involve people in this period who might not have been able to sign their names.
  • To explore different disciplinary approaches in writing the history of crime, drawing in particular on anthropology, sociology, and psychology.
  • To build the key skills associated with Level 2 modules, especially an ability to construct and critically evaluate arguments in response to concepts and material discussed in lectures and seminars.


  • This module uses the history of crime to explore the lives of Europeans throughout the social hierarchy from c.1500-c.1800. Criminal courts made great claims about their power to discipline the people through terrifying public punishments. In practice, however, community self-regulation often remained the norm. How then did people decide to use criminal courts as a forum for conflict resolution? The history of crime gives great insight into relations between states and subjects. Yet the history of crime also looks outwards as criminal courts took part in the wider transformations of the early modern period. Does a fall in homicide prosecutions in this period suggest a decline in interpersonal violence? How did an expanding market for printed ballads and pamphlets about crime shape perceptions of justice? And could new notions of religious and sexual liberty curtail punishments for crimes associated with sexuality and witchcraft? Lectures and seminars will explore different approaches to these problems in comparative contexts – across Britain, Europe, and European colonial empires – in ways that are rooted in discussions of primary written and visual sources.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Knowledge of the social and cultural history of the early modern period, especially as it relates to criminal justice.
  • Ability to evaluate different methods for approaching early modern history and the history of crime.
  • Experience of interpreting criminal records for understanding the lives of people throughout the social hierarchy
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Subject specific skills for this module can be viewed at:
Key Skills:
  • Key skills for this module can be viewed

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:
  • 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
Lectures 16 Term 1 1 hour 16
Seminars 7 Term 1 1 hour 7
Preparation and Reading 177

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 75%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3000 words not including footnotes or bibliography 100%
Component: Assignment Component Weighting: 25%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Assignment or assignments 1,000 words total, not including footnotes and bibliography where relevant 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative benefits from the 1,000 word summative assignment and from work done during and in preparation for seminars.

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