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Durham University

Postgraduate Module Handbook 2021/2022

Archive Module Description

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

Department: History

HIST43630: History and the idea of politics: 1500-1900

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Not available in 2021/22


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To gain an advanced understanding of approaches to the history of political ideas, and to develop an advanced understanding of political thought in historical context.


  • This module invites students to question political ideas, their authors and the historical, cultural and intellectual contexts in which they emerged. It seeks to present a broad range of political theories, from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, giving Level 4 students a broad grounding in the historiographical debates about how political thinkers can be approached. The course will touch on themes in political ideas that range from the republic and democracy to authority, terror and control, and may introduce authors such as Machiavelli, Hobbes and Rousseau alongside important political thinkers who had a practical experience of political action or lesser-known authors who are finding a new relevance in recent historical debates. It will further seek to develop students’ appreciation of the controversial and much-debated issue of how political thought can be understood in context, discussing the work of Quentin Skinner, Pierre Rosanvallon and other leading historians so as to sharpen students’ understanding of how they might develop their own reflective approaches to political ideas in history. It will ultimately offer students an opportunity to ask the major questions of this field: what is politics? What is political culture, and how far does political culture relate to political theory?

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • advanced knowledge and understanding of key issues and debates about approaches to the history of European political ideas between the Renaissance and the nineteenth century.
  • advanced knowledge and understanding of key themes in the history of political ideas between the Renaissance and the nineteenth century.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Subject specific skills for this module can be viewed at:
Key Skills:
  • Key skills for this module can be viewed at:

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Student learning is facilitated by a range of teaching methods.
  • Seminars and Group Discussion require students to reflect on and discuss: their prior knowledge and experience; set reading of secondary and, where appropriate, primary readings; information provided during the session. They provide a forum in which to assess and comment critically on the findings of others, defend their conclusions in a reasoned setting, and advance their knowledge and understanding of the history of political ideas.
  • Structured reading requires students to focus on set materials integral to the knowledge and understanding of the module. It specifically enables the acquisition of detailed knowledge and skills which will be discussed in other areas of the teaching and learning experience.
  • Assessment is by means of a 5000 word essay which requires the acquisition and application of advanced knowledge and understanding of an aspect of the history of political ideas in Europe between the renaissance and the nineteenth century. Essays require a sustained and coherent argument in defence of a hypothesis, and must be presented in a clearly written and structured form, and with appropriate apparatus.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 weekly 2 hours 16
Discussion groups 2 two a term 2 hours 4
Structured reading and essay preparation 280
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

One or more short assignments delivered orally and discussed in a group context.

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