HST 276: Gender and Sexuality in Modern Britain, 1850 to the present

Level 2: semester 1

Module Leader: Dr. Julie Gottlieb


Pass in at least two of the Level One modules offered by the Department of History.

Module Summary

Through lectures and seminars, this module offers an overview of the history of gender and sexuality in Modern Britain. We will examine political, social, cultural, demographic and economic change from the perspective of gender relations and constructions of gender identities and roles. Alongside our exploration of gender, we will be interested in shifting understandings of sex and sexual politics from the Victorian period of alleged sexual repression to moments of liberation resulting from two (or more?) so-called 'sexual revolutions' in the 20th century. We will explore how both women and men experienced, negotiated, and reacted to these changes in gender norms and sexual mores and do so by following, broadly, an historiographical approach and a conceptual framework that became increasingly important from the mid-1970s, and one that was summed up in Natalie Zemon Davies' prescriptive musing that "it seems to me that we should be interested in the history of both women and men, that we should not be working only on the subjected sex any more than an historian of class can focus entirely on peasants. Our goal is to understand the significance of the sexes, of gender groups in the historical past." (1975)


One lecture and one seminar per week.

Introductory Reading

  • Lynn Abrams, The Making of Modern Woman, (2002)
  • Sue Bruley, Women in Britain since 1900, (1999)
  • Marcus Collins, Modern Love: An Intimate History of Men and Women in 20th Century Britain, (2003)
  • Hera Cook, The Long Sexual Revolution: English Women, Sex and Contraception, 1800-1975, (2004)
  • Lesley Hall, Sex, Gender and Social Change in Britain since 1880, (2000)
  • Susan Kingsley Kent, Gender and History in Britain
  • Martin Pugh, Women and the Women's Movement in Britain, 1914-1999, 2nd edition (2000)
  • June Purvis (ed.), Women's History: Britain, 1850-1945: An Introduction, (1995)
  • Michael Roper and John Tosh, Manful Assertions: Masculinity in Britain since 1800 (1991)
  • Harold Smith (ed.) British Feminism in the Twentieth Century, (1990)
  • Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska (ed.), Women in 20th Century Britain (2001)

Intended Learning Outcomes

  • By the end of the unit, a candidate will be able to demonstrate a broad understanding of the historical issues and historiographical debates concerning shifts in gender relations and gender constructions in the modern period, as well as the social, cultural, and political impact of these shifts.
  • They will have considered the benefits and limitations of different historical methodologies and theoretical approaches.
  • They will have developed skills to research particular issues, to engage with historiographical debates, and come to independent conclusions through essay writing and presentations.