HST6049: Policing the Family: Welfare, Eugenics and Love in Early 20th Century Britain

Lady Strachan and Lady Warwick making love in a park, while their husbands look on with disapproval.

15 credits (Semester 2019-20: Spring)

Module Leader: Dr Julia Moses

Module Summary

'In 21st-century Britain, the 'family' is the subject of constant debate: from sorting out 'problem families' to reinventing the 'family', for example, through polyamory (having multiple lovers), co-parenting and same-sex marriage. This module takes us back to the early twentieth century in order to understand the historical origins of recent discussions. It reveals how the family has been a complex and constantly evolving social institution in modern Britain.' Dr Julia Moses

This module explores key themes in the history of the family in Britain at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries from a variety of perspectives. It aims to show how the family became a site for political arguments about 'modernity', societal degeneration and hopes for the future at the fin-de-siècle. It draws on a wide range of recent historiography as well as sociological literature, and examines a range of sources including anthropological, sociological and legal material as well as literary fiction from the period.

Module aims

In this module, you will develop your capacity to analyse a range of source material and to situate that material within its context. You will also be encouraged to draw on social-scientific literature to reflect critically on processes of social change in history. You will develop your understanding of the historiography of the family in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Britain and the growing body of scholarship on perceptions of 'modernity' at the time. Seminars will provide a forum for you to make and defend your arguments orally.

Key themes include:

  • Political arguments about the family.
  • Love and divorce.
  • Develop skills in working with a variety of primary materials.
  • Love and homosexuality.
  • Infant mortality and birth rates .
  • Eugenics.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, you will be able to:

  • Reflect on the relationship between societal change and social critiques in Britain.
  • Develop their understanding of the historiographies of the family and experiences with 'modernity' in fin-de-siècle Britain
  • Develop skills in working with a variety of primary materials.
  • Formulate and articulate historical arguments both orally, during seminars, and in written form in assessed work.
  • Demonstrate interpersonal skills and the ability to engage in cooperative group learning in seminar discussions of interpretive issues.
  • Show an awareness of the methodological possibilities and implications of various kinds of history and of interdisciplinary approaches to historical research.
  • Demonstrate strong bibliographical skills in various media, including ICT.



Learning hours
Seminars Tutorials Independent Learning
10 1 139

The module will be taught in five two-hour classes. Each seminar will focus on a particular theme which will be discussed comparatively, drawing on preparatory reading. Primary sources will be provided for some of the sessions. You will, in addition, have individual tutorial contact with the module leader in order to discuss your written work for this module.


Assessment methods
Assessment % of final mark Length
Coursework 100% 3000 words

You will prepare a 3,000 word paper which treats one of the topics studied in the seminars for this module. You will be expected to draw on a thorough knowledge of the secondary literature. You will be encouraged, via a reading list and your tutorial, to investigate primary material on which to base your argument. 



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