Historical Approaches to the Modern World

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Dina Gusejnova SAR M.14


This course is compulsory on the BA in History and BSc in International Relations and History. This course is available on the BSc in History and Politics and 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. Historians have engaged in debates about the best way to approach the past since the earliest institutionalisation of the discipline in nineteenth-century universities, and even before. But the idea that there might be different, equally valid historical methods is relatively new. Some of the newer methods are often referred to as ‘turns’, such as the linguistic turn, or the postmodern turn, and their emergence is often accompanied by controversies within the discipline. It Is worth noting that the emergence of a new approach does not signify that previously existing approaches become invalid. Rather, the course introduces students to a toolkit of approaches which equips future historians to develop independent approaches to their work.

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 different case studies which shed light on scalar and spatial approaches to history, examining global, international and transnational history. In the second term, the course explores approaches to identity, culture, and society, including the history of commodities, sport and clothing. Finally students explore non-textual sources. As students encounter these different methodologies and sources, 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.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT. 1 hour of lectures and 1 hour of classes in the ST.

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

• 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).

• Cannadine, David, ed. What Is History Now? (2002)

• 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).

• Dobson, Miriam, and Benjamin Ziemann (eds.), Reading Primary Sources: the Interpretation of Texts from the Nineteenth to the Twentieth Century (2009)

• Elmore, Bartow, Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism (2014).

• Iggers, Georg, Supriya Mukherjee and Quingjia E. Wang, ‘Historical Thought and Historiography: Current Trends’, pp. 39-47 in Wright, James D. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (2015) [doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-097086-8.62028-7] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/referenceworks/9780080970875.

• Jordanova, Ludmila, History in Practice, 3rd edition (2017).

• Kelly, Marian Patrick, Sovereign Emergencies: Latin America and the Making of Global Human Rights Politics (2018).

• Lorenz, Chris, ‘History: Theories and Methods’, 131-37 in Wright, James D. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (2015)  [doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-097086-8.62142-6

• Loughran, Tracey (ed.), A Practical Guide to Studying History: Skills and Approaches (2017).

• McCullagh, C Behan  ‘Historical Explanation, Theories of: Philosophical Aspects’, 10-16, in Wright, James D. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (2015) [/doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-097086-8.63087-8]

• 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).

• Sheehan, James, ‘Political History: History of Politics’, pp. 380-85 in Wright, James D. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (2015)

• 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).


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

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2021/22: 71

Average class size 2021/22: 10

Capped 2021/22: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

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.

Personal development skills

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