Historical Approaches to the Modern World

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Taylor Sherman SAR M.10


This course is compulsory on the BA in History and BSc in International Relations and History. This course is available on the BSc in Politics and History. This course is not available as an outside option nor to General Course students.

Course content

This course provides a foundation to allow first-year historians to come to grips with the many different ways in which historians pursue their craft. The year begins with a critical discussion of the two institutions at the core of History: universities and archives. Students examine the power relations they sustain and the possibilities for change in the twenty-first century. Next students consider scalar and spatial approaches to history, and then they turn to global, international and transnational history. In the second term, the course explores approaches to identity, and then social history including commodities, sport and the history of clothing. Finally students explore non-textual sources. As students encounter these different methodologies, they maintain a critical approach to the work historians do and the archives they use for their research. While exploring these themes, the course also introduces students to key skills required of a historian: navigating a reading list; taking notes; composing reading summaries; identifying & using historiography; approaching essay questions; developing an argument; structuring essays; footnoting and evidence; avoiding plagiarism; and critically engaging with archival materials.


Lectures will be online. The School aims to run in-person classes, subject to circumstances, with some online provision as and where necessary. There will be a reading week in the week 6 of the Michaelmas and the Lent Terms.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 2 essays and 5 short pieces of group coursework across the MT and LT.

Regular Moodle posts are a component of the coursework for this course.

Indicative reading

  • Armitage, David, Alison Bashford, and Sujit Sivasundaram (eds), Oceanic Histories (2017).
  • Bentley, Jerry H., ‘Sea and Ocean Basins as Frameworks of Historical Analysis’, Geographical Review, 89, 2 (1999): 215-24.
  • Berger, Stefan, Heiko Feldner, Kevin Passmore (eds), Writing History: Theory and Practice, 2nd ed. (2010).
  • Briggs, Laura, Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science, and US Imperialism in Puerto Rico (2002)
  • Burke, Peter, What is Cultural History?, 2nd ed. (2008).
  • Clavin, P. and G. Sluga (eds), Internationalisms:  A Twentieth Century History (2017).
  • Conrad, Sebastian, What is Global History? (2016).
  • Davis, Natalie Zemon, Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and Their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France (1987).
  • Elmore, Bartow, Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism (2014).
  • Jordanova, Ludmila, History in Practice, 3rd edition (2017).
  • Kelly, Marian Patrick, Sovereign Emergencies: Latin America and the Making of Global Human Rights Politics (2018).
  • Loughran, Tracey (ed.), A Practical Guide to Studying History: Skills and Approaches (2017).
  • McNeill, J. R., The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene since 1945 (2015).
  • Paine, Lincoln, The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World (2013).
  • Presnell, Jenny (ed.), The Information-Literate Historian: A Guide to Research for History Students, 3rd ed. (2018).
  • Putnam, Lara, Radical Moves: Caribbean Migrants and the Politics of Race in the Jazz Age (2013).
  • Schlotterbeck, Marian, Beyond the Vanguard: Everyday Revolutionaries in Allende’s Chile (2018).
  • Stoler, Anne Laura, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (2010).
  • Tosh, John, Why History Matters (2008).
  • Tosh, John, The Pursuit of History:  Aims, Methods and New Directions in the Study of History, 6th ed. (2015).
  • Trouillot, Michel-Rolph, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, 2nd ed. (2015).
  • Tsing, Anna, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (2015).


Exam (60%, duration: 2 hours) in the summer exam period.
Essay (40%, 2000 words) in the LT.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2020/21: 98

Average class size 2020/21: 10

Capped 2020/21: Yes (150)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills