HST3302: Cultural Encounters

20 credits (semester 1)

Module Leader: Professor Martial Staub 

Teaching Team (2018-19): Dr Daniel Lee , Dr Siobhan Lanbert-Hurley


Thematic Option Description

The Thematic Option (formerly Comparative Option) is a type of 20-credit, one semester module at level 3. Thematic Options take major historical themes and explore these across a broad time-frame and in a variety of different cultural and geographic settings. Each Thematic Option is taught by a team of lecturers whose own research relates to aspects of the topic under discussion, and they are designed to involve students and the teaching staff in a dialogue about how we approach key questions in the study of past societies. The topics selected for the modules all represent areas of lively, current historiographical debate and offer opportunities to respond to interpretations and theories emerging in other disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, geography and political science. For this reason they will appeal especially to students with an interest in thinking across disciplines in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, including those studying for dual degrees. All of the Thematic Options raise issues with strong resonances in our contemporary culture.

Thematic Options have been created to complement the more specialised work at Level Three, looking beyond the detailed focus on one specific place and time to ask more conceptual questions and allow for the space to engage with significant themes that run across many of the periods that we tend to study in isolation. How can we compare historical experiences separated in time and space? Can we gain insights into understanding one period by knowing how similar challenges were met in a very different historical context? Do we learn more from what periods have in common, or from the differences that emerge?

The modules are taught through a series of lectures and ninety-minute seminars, placing an emphasis on collaborative learning and the encouragement of active student participation in researching and presenting material in class. The assessment is a mixture of coursework and marks for oral performance in the seminars.



A pass in at least two history modules at level two.


Module Summary

This module considers cultural encounters in medieval, early modern and modern societies within the overall framework of EuropeĀ“s expansion into what contemporaries considered new worlds. As such, it is concerned with the mechanics of and reflections upon cultural encounters between disparate subjects including missionaries, soldiers, administrators, settlers, slaves, capitalists, and indigenous peoples. It sets out to engage with the notion of cultural interaction and the view that rather than dominant cultures supplanting the subaltern the literature on cultural encounters reveals a more nuanced process of exchange and mediation with agency and vulnerability on both sides.

This unit aims to allow students to engage with the main themes arising from the study of cultural encounters in the medieval, early modern, and modern worlds and to foster their ability and confidence in formulating analyses of a topic covering a significant period of time, approached in a comparative way, and studied at an advanced level.


Teaching and Assessment

The module is taught through a combination of 11 lectures and 8 seminars. The lectures introduce the themes covered in the course and provide the necessary background and framework for exploring the subject. The 90-minute seminars provide opportunities for students to develop their ideas and discuss their reading for the module, and allow scope for students to gain experience in collaborative learning and in developing and articulating historical arguments.

Further guidance is provided in the module course booklet, available through MOLE.

Information on assessment can be found at: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/history/current_students/undergraduate/assessment/level3


Selected Reading

  • R. Bartlett, The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change, 950-1350 (1993)
  • D. Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (2000)
  • S. Dubow, Scientific Racism in Modern South Africa (1995)
  • P. Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993)
  • W. Klooster and A. Padula (eds), The Atlantic World: Essays on Slavery, Migration, and Imagination (2005)
  • G. Obeyeskere, The apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific (1992)
  • A. Pagden, The Fall of Natural Man: The American Indian and the Origins of Comparative Ethnology (1982)
  • A. Pagden, Lords of All the Worlds: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain and France, c.1500-c.1850 (1995)
  • J. D. Y. Peel, Religious Encounter and the Making of the Yoruba (2001)
  • D. K. Richter, Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America (2001)
  • E. W. Said, Orientalism (1995)
  • M. Sahlins, Islands of History (1985)
  • S. Schwartz, Implicit Understandings: Observing, Reporting and Reflecting on the Encounters between Europeans and Other Peoples in the Early-Modern Era (1994)
  • D. Wallace, Premodern Places: Calais to Surinam, Chaucer to Aphra Behn (2004)


Intended Learning Outcomes
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