HST6886 Module ImageHST6886: Eighteenth-Century British American Colonies

15 credits (Semester 2017-18: Autumn)

Module Leader: Dr Simon Middleton



Module Summary

Was eighteenth-century America the first truly modern society, as some believe, or did the persistence of a monarchical and deferential mores mark the British American colonies as backward looking and traditional societies? This question is vital for our understanding of the eighteenth-century colonial history and the coming of the American Revolution which different scholars have described as either the optimistic begetter of an individualistic and liberal society or the despondent destroyer of an earlier, civic-minded humanist idealism. This module explores this conundrum through readings of the classic and recently published monograph literature on society and culture in pre-revolutionary North America.

Module aims

This module aims to explore a topic in American history in depth. You will be introduced to a specialist literature, discussion of which will form the basis for each seminar. The topic arises out of the research interests of the member of staff responsible for its teaching and classes will draw on their own expertise in the field. The module aims to offer you expert guidance in for example, the exploration of source-based problems as well as a forum for the exchange of informed views over issues which have generated scholarly debate.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, you should be able to demonstrate:

  1. A more profound understanding of a period of American history, coming to independent conclusions on salient issues of interpretation and source criticism;
  2. An ability to distinguish between and critically evaluate different schools of interpretation and historical debate on American history, attaining an awareness of current research issues beyond the published literature;
  3. An ability to elaborate and defend an intellectual position to other members of the seminar group as well as presenting scholarly arguments and historiographical debates to you;
  4. An awareness of the contribution made by other academic disciplines to our understanding of American history;
  5. An ability to engage in group discussions of interpretative issues.


Learning hours
Seminar hours Tutorial hours Independent Learning
10 1 139

The module will be taught in five, two-hour classes. Each will focus on a particular theme and be located around its discussion in the historical literature, considered in broad context. This is a field with a rich literature in which publication is continuing, one which feeds into wider debates in the English-speaking world as to the nature of historical investigation. Classes will enable you to share knowledge, debate controversial issues and listen and respond to the views of others in a structured environment. You will, in addition, have an individual tutorial with the module leader in which to discuss the work you will write for assessment for this module.



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

Students will prepare a short paper (not more than 3000 words) designed to address a major topic within the course.


Selected reading

  • Bailyn, Bernard. The Origins of American Politics. New York: Knopf, 1968.
  • Nash, Gary B. The Urban Crucible : Social Change, Political Consciousness, and the Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge, Mass. ; London: Harvard University Press, 1979.
  • Breen, T. H., and MyiLibrary. The Marketplace of Revolution [Electronic Book] : How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004
  • Silver, Peter Rhoads. Our Savage Neighbors : How Indian War Transformed Early America. 1st ed. New York ; London: W. W. Norton, 2008.
  • Knott, Sarah. Sensibility and the American Revolution. Chapel Hill: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, by the University of North Carolina Press, 2008.
  • Holton, Woody. Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution. New York: Hill and Wang, 2007.
  • Bouton, Terry. Taming Democracy : 'The People', the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution. 1 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Wood, Gordon S. The Radicalism of the American Revolution. New York: Vintage, 1993, 1991.




*The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.