HST3124/3125: Renaissance and Popular Culture in Early Modern England

40 credits (semesters 1 and 2)

Module Leader: Professor Phil Withington



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Module Summary

Renaissance is often associated with ‘high culture’, ‘popular culture’ with ‘the masses’ or ‘the people’: different cultural worlds which grew further apart over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This module challenges this categorisation and model of cultural change. It introduces students to a much more encompassing idea of Renaissance as an educational and cultural movement which not only looked to revive the learning and wisdom of the ‘ancients’, but also translate that knowledge into English and communicate it to as wide an audience as possible. The first half of the module explores the writers and statesmen committed to this agenda, the ideology which drove them, and the tools at their disposal: for example education, theatre, language, popular print. The second half of the module then considers different aspects of early modern life affected by this Renaissance: not least notions of state, society, and family; gender identities and relations; astrology, witchcraft and medicine; citizenship, governance, and warfare; colonialism and global commerce; drinking habits and telling jokes; and attitudes towards the self.


Module Aims

This special subject aims to introduce students to some of the key themes of early modern social and cultural history as well as the most recent research and interpretations in this exciting area of historical research. On successful completion of the module, students will have considered important historiographical debates regarding the nature of ‘popular’ and ‘elite’ culture’ as well as the value (or not) of labels like ‘the educational revolution’, ‘the print revolution’, and ‘the civilizing process’. They will be familiar with a range of source materials which allow us to assess the social impact - and social uses - of cultural institutions and artefacts. They will also have a broader understanding of how England transformed from a medieval to modern society.



Seminar discussion of primary and secondary sources will help students to acquire an in-depth knowledge of the historiography of this period and of the principal varieties of primary source material available to historians. Through discussion of these primary and secondary materials students will develop their understanding of the Renaissance as a cultural process and its impact on English society.



Students are assessed by means of a three hour unseen examination testing their command of the secondary literature and their ability to contextualise and analyse primary source material. An informal record of their oral performance will be given to each student and recorded in their files. Students also write essays and complete written gobbet exercises during the course as part of their personal preparation for the examination; although not included in the final assessment, the marks awarded for these, together with the tutor's comments, are recorded in students' files.


Selected Reading
  • To Follow.


Intended Learning Outcomes
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