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Early Modern History
Department of History,
Faculty of Arts and Humanities
The MA in Early Modern History draws on our long tradition of cutting edge early-modern historical research and uses this expertise to provide a compelling examination of the early modern world as well as the opportunity to rethink some key narratives of change. You’ll work with our internationally-renowned academics to explore economic, political, social and cultural change that was broad in reach and profound in its effects.
Our MA coureses are designed to help you carry out specialist research under expert supervision in a friendly and supportive environment.
The core module develops your understanding of key historiographical and methodological approaches and your skills in using relevant sources, while the Dissertation provides you the opportunity to further develop your skills and apply your knowledge in an independent research project. This is supported by the Research Presentation module which develops your skills in presenting research to a non-specialist audience.
Our range of option modules allow you to focus on the particular skills and knowledge that are most important to you. You can choose from a wide range of modules focussing on particular historical themes, supporting specific history research training and public history modules. All of this helps you build a broad range of transferable skills that will be desirable to future employers both inside and outside of academia.
You will take three core modules.
You can find out more about staff working on early modern topics on our research strengths page. The exact availability of staff to supervise MA dissertations varies from year to year.
- Early Modernities
This core module involves a critical analysis of the many ways in which assumptions about the characteristics of 'pre-modern' and 'modern' cultures and societies have shaped historians' approaches to the early modern period. A series of seminars will introduce students to themes and topics in early modern history, focusing on issues of 'individuality' and 'self-hood' in the early modern period. The sources for writing early modern history will be a complementary focus of the module, which will also introduce students to the technical and methodological problems associated with the effective use and interpretation of a range of pre-modern sources.30 credits
- Research Presentation for Historians
This core module is designed to equip you with the skills and experience that you need to present and communicate a defined historical research project to an academic audience. The subject of the presentation will be your dissertation topic, so this module also contributes towards the successful completion of your dissertation.15 credits
In this module, you will identify the specific research questions driving your dissertation and learn how to discuss the sources and approaches you are using to answer them. You will develop your ability to present your research data and findings in an accessible form to an audience, and you will enhance your ability to use presentational aids such as slideshows, data projection, and visual aids.
The module also aims to improve your skill and confidence in speaking to an audience and responding to questions; this gives you the opportunity to develop the presentational skills demanded by employers as well as by a career in academic research. You will also learn how to make reasoned and critical judgements of others' presentations.
You'll give your final presentation at a 'postgraduate conference' style assessment day to an audience of academic staff and fellow postgraduates. Presentations are assessed equally on content and communication with audience review making up a third of your mark and the academic panel's review making up the other two thirds.
- Dissertation in History
In this module, you will undertake an individual research project, based on an identifiable collection of primary sources and present your findings in a dissertation of 15,000 words. The dissertation represents an original piece of independent research and should be based on a substantial primary source base and demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the secondary literature. In certain cases, primary evidence may also consist of modern historiography. Through the dissertation you will demonstrate your practical understanding of how established techniques of research and enquiry are used to create and interpret historical knowledge. You will work under the supervision of an expert member of staff who will provide guidance and regular tutorial support.60 credits
You will choose 75 credits of option modules. Full-time students will normally take 30 credits of options in semester one and 45 credits in semester two, including one 30 credit option. First year part-time students will normally take 15 credits of options in semester one and and 45 credits in semester two, including one 30 credit option. The remaining 15 credits of options will be taken in year two.
This 75 credit selection can include up to 30 credits from the guided list of non-history modules (see guided modules tab).
The following list includes the full range of options that we currently offer. A selection of these will be available each year and new modules may be added.
Example 15 credit option modules:
- Before Facebook: Social Networks in History
In a world of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, social networks seem a distinctly modern phenomenon, but are they only a product of our digital age? This module explores historians' efforts to reconstruct social networks in diverse contexts, from the ancient to the modern world. Drawing upon techniques first developed by social scientists, and increasingly digital methods too, they have found networks of trade and business; religious groups and political exiles; family, friends and much more. This innovative work is revealing how far lives and communities cut across boundaries of time and space - with important consequences for historical debates and issues.15 credits
- Burying the White Gods: Indigenous peoples in the early modern colonial world
Since the flowering of postcolonialism, scholars have fought to reconstruct the complexity and significance of Indigenous peoples and to remove them from an imperial framework that casts them as passive victims of historical events. In the early American world, this greater sensitivity to Indigenous agendas and actions has led increasingly to meetings between Native peoples and Europeans being explained in terms of encounter, negotiation and accommodation, rather than simple conquest.15 credits
This module will consider the diverse historiographical, methodological and political issues which impact on Indigenous histories in colonial contexts, from postcolonialism to the New Philology and the New Indian History, the rise of activist histories, and the politicisation of the Indigenous past. We will centre Native perspectives and voices, and consider the challenges and opportunities of the complex alphabetic, material and oral records available for the study of Indigenous histories. Taking the invasion of Mexico as a case study - but also drawing on other imperial contexts - this module recognises Indigenous histories as the product of diverse, vibrant, often still-living cultures, and seeks to illuminate the places and perspectives of Native peoples in colonial history and historiography.
- Caring for man's best friends: Animal medicine in the pre-modern world
While it might be assumed that fears of zoonotic diseases or the pursuit of cutting-edge veterinary medicine are products of the modern world, concerns over animal health and healthcare have a long, if often overlooked, history. Building on the 'animal turn' in historical studies as well as new research areas in the medical humanities, this module explores the field of pre-modern animal medicine, offering a counterpoint to traditional, anthropocentric histories of health and medicine. By engaging with primary and secondary sources, we will consider how animal health and disease were perceived in the past, how healthcare was pursued, and who was involved, in terms of both humans and animals.15 credits
The module also addresses the intersections between human and animal health as well as the relationships between human and animal healing practices. Overall, the module aims to demonstrate the crucial role played by animal medicine in pre-modern societies—a role with important social, cultural, military, and economic implications.
- History in Fiction
Historical fiction is one of the most popular forms of writing. Across varied genres of political intrigue, romance, epic sagas and crime, historical novels have excited public interest in history, whilst postmodern experiments with the form have used it to demonstrate the essential elusiveness of the 'truth' about the past. This module introduces key themes in the development of historical fiction during the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Students have the opportunity to study some prominent examples of this type of literature, engaging with the historiographical and literary criticism surrounding these works.15 credits
- History on Screen
Academic historians are increasingly interested in the ways in which history is used and delivered in popular media. Within this area of research, filmic representations are attracting considerable attention. This module investigates the methodological issues at stake in such representations of the past, engaging with the now extensive research literature on the topic.15 credits
- Language and Society in Early Modern England
This course invites students to think about what words meant in early modern England - not merely to social and intellectual elites (though they are certainly part of the mix) but also ordinary men and women. In so doing it encourages reflection about the implications of these meanings - and their changes and continuities over time - for social attitudes, relationships, and practices. These aims reflect the impact of the infamous 'linguistic turn' on early modern studies and how some of the most interesting recent work on language and meaning has been done at the intersection between literary, intellectual, and social history.15 credits
- Microhistory and the History of Everyday Life
The choice of scale is of fundamental importance in determining the kind of history that is produced. It influences the choice of source materials, the way these are handled, and the sorts of conclusions that can be reached. In this module we critically examine the theory, method and practice of two related historiographical approaches: microhistory and the history of everyday life, both of which emphasized the intensive study of the small scale and were influenced by anthropology. Students will develop an appreciation of the theoretical issues and practical experience in applying this to their own research.15 credits
- Oral History
Oral testimony has established itself as a vital source for historians of the modern world, but its value is still widely contested. This module introduces students to the practice of oral history and the debates surrounding it. We will examine the different ways in which historians have used oral testimony and how this evidence has shaped our understanding of the past; explore the relationships between memory, narrative and meaning; and introduce students to the ethics and practicalities of interviewing. The module will equip you with the tools to conduct your interviews, and to use oral history testimony critically and sensitively.15 credits
In this module students are introduced to the different forms of law hand and secretary hand current in the early modern period, noting transitional styles and the emergence of italic script. A range of transcription conventions are also explained. For each session, students will be required to prepare transcriptions of a representative selection of manuscript materials.15 credits
- Presenting the Past: Making History Public
The primary focus of this module is the interpretation and creation of 'public history'. The module will enable students to reflect on the issues involved in disseminating history outside academia and develop communication and presentation skills for audiences outside higher education. Students will be required to (1) analyse examples of public history and (2) create an example of public history.The module may be of particular interest to students planning to pursue careers in heritage, museums or education. Seminars will include discussion of: issues in public history; displaying objects and presenting interiors; the role of public history in post-conflict societies; writing for the 'public'; sound and vision; digital history.15 credits
- Research Skills for Historians
This module is designed to equip students with the research skills necessary for independent investigation and further study in History. Students will discuss the changing nature of the historical discipline as it has adapted to interdisciplinary impulses, and the skills needed for a more refined analysis of both textual and visual primary sources. In Masterclasses taught by specialists, students will familiarise themselves with the possibilities associated with different types of primary sources (e.g. legal documents, press, oral history). Additional classes will help them work more effectively with library collections and develop subject-specific as well as generic IT skills (locating information in databases, using web-based resources, advanced bibliographical management).15 credits
- Revolutionary England, 1640-1660: Politics, culture & society
This unit will introduce students to the study of English politics and society between 1640 and 1660. Students will use primary and secondary sources in seminars to analyse both contemporary writings and historiographical debates on the causes and significance of the civil war, defined broadly to include not just formal political debate but also popular movements (including witch hunts, clubman associations and forms of economic and social protest) and other forms of intellectual creativity (astrology and natural science for example). The aim is to understand both the conflict, and the social and cultural values through which it was experienced and resolutions were sought.15 credits
- The Animal Turn: human and non-human animals in history
This module engages with the new 'Animal turn' in the Humanities. No longer does the mention of non-human history lead to amusement and surprise, as was the case until fairly recently, and the field has attracted huge attention from a range of disciplines. This module acknowledges this change, and engages with some of the most influential works on related issues. At the same time, it also engages with a wide range of controversies and debates, starting from the issue of whether it is right to use terms such as ‘animals’ and ‘non-humans,’ as they reduce the wide diversity of life-forms into one or more anthropocentric categories.15 credits
In examining these debates, the module will deal with questions such as the following: Is it right to talk about the agency of non-humans in the same way as we talk of human agency? In what ways has the relationship between humans and non-humans changed over time? How have humans represented non-humans, and is it possible to re-read these representations in non-anthropocentric ways? What are the ways in which non-humans have been exhibited and studied since early-modern times? What will a history, which is inclusive of non-humans, look like? In discussing these questions, we will go through a range of writings from colonial and non-colonial contexts.
- The Dawn of Modernity in the Late Middle Ages
This module seeks to reassess the picture of the late Middle Ages as an age of crisis and decay to be replaced by the Renaissance and modernity. It aims to show how groups of innovative people invented a new world characterised by international capitalism, man-centred subjectivity and claims of communal participation, and why their new world(s) became the dominant framework of European history for the centuries to follow. The first modern European colonies in the near Atlantic Ocean were both a laboratory for, and a crucial step to, the successful establishment of a new world within and without Europe.15 credits
- Wikipedia and Medieval History
Wikipedia is today probably the world's chief source of historical knowledge. Every day, its pages on history are read by many thousands of people. Yet professional historians tend to avoid engaging with it. This course seeks to change that. As well as discussing critical perspectives on Wikipedia, students will receive practical training in creating or editing a page on a historical topic. They will then apply their studies in a hands-on way to improving the encyclopedia's coverage of the Middle Ages, and reflect on the kind of historical knowledge of the period it promotes and disseminates.15 credits
- Women and Slavery in the Antebellum American South
The intersections of race, gender, and class rendered black women¿s enslavement distinct, shaping their identities, their roles, and their relationships with other enslaved people and their enslavers, as well as the forms of exploitation they experienced as women, workers, and mothers. This module explores how historians have located, detailed, and conceptualised the lives of enslaved women; the methods and sources they have used; and the influences of black feminist theory on the history of enslaved women.15 credits
- Work Placement
This module aims to give students an insight into the day to day workings of a museum, school or research institute, in order to develop history-specific vocational skills and promote reflection on the issues involved in disseminating history outside academia. The module provides a vocational component to the Department of History postgraduate portfolio, and may be of particular interest to those MA students not planning to pursue a PhD after their studies. Students will choose a placement from those offered at the start of the academic year and then negotiate a role within that placement relevant to their area of study. Following a placement of approximately 100 hours with an employer an essay will then be completed by the student reflecting on the work they undertook. Seminars and tutorials before and after the placement will allow students to compare and contrast their experiences.15 credits
Example 30 credit option modules:
- Biopolitics: Medicine, Meaning and Power
‘Biopolitics’ has been one of the most influential concepts in academic scholarship over the last 40 years. In its broadest form ‘biopolitics’ refers to collective approaches to promote, regulate, understand and end life. This involves interventions around sexuality and fertility, promoting population growth or limitation, and counting, categorising, or otherwise defining human beings and human nature. It is often thought to be a modern invention, but this is contested.30 credits
This course will introduce you to a wide variety of efforts to survey and control human populations, across more than a thousand years. You will learn about how states and other groups have tried to control and manage sexuality and reproduction, as well as infectious diseases and other perceived threats. You will learn about how human beings have been cast outside of ‘the normal’ including those labelled as ‘mad’ or ‘disabled’. You will become adept at thinking across a wide variety of contexts, and comparing different approaches to defining and classifying humans - including according to raced and sexed identities.
You will learn to use ideas of ‘biopolitics’ to understand human societies and human identities. You will be able, by the end of the course, to think carefully and critically about the place of human bodies in various political systems - how bodies and life itself are controlled, restricted, promoted, marginalised and how humans’ capacities are understood.
- Food and Drink
Food and drink are not just fundamental to human survival; they are interwoven into every aspect of life, from economic exchange, politics and governance, to culture, identities and habits. Moreover - since the ways in which food and drink are produced, distributed and consumed have varied with time, place, culture and climate - they offer important insights into historical societies and cultures around the globe and across time. This module engages with the big themes in food and drink history and explores them through case studies taken from different geographical, chronological and cultural contexts. We will study issues such as famine and food management; trade and the global diffusion of foodstuffs; diet, health and medicine; national, regional and social identities; industrialisation, technologies and commercialisation; recipes, preparation and cuisine; consumption practices and manners; and literary representations and material cultures. Through this, the module will introduce you to the possibilities of historical research into diverse foodstuffs - from caffeinated drinks and alcohols to pulses and grains - for understanding the historical societies that they sustained.30 credits
- Public History and Policy: Theory and Practice
This module explores ways that the best findings of specialist, academic history can be used to engage a wide audience to influence its understanding of and views on policy. Seminars and readings employ case studies (from ancient to modern history and around the globe) and engagements with practitioners in order to glean insights about how and why historians have (more or less) successfully engaged with policy and policy makers. The assessment invites students to write a policy paper (or similar piece aimed at non-specialists) on a topic selected in collaboration with the module leader.30 credits
- Race and Racism in Historical Perspective
What is race and how has it operated historically? Through a series of case studies, this module will seek to historicize ideologies, ideas and the experiences of race and racism across the early modern and modern historical periods. The module takes as its starting point the understanding that race is not a biological fact but always and everywhere the product of struggles for power in specific political, cultural and geographical settings. How have racial categories been made and re-made, imposed and resisted? How has this affected material outcomes and distributions of wealth and power? What are the ongoing legacies of these histories?30 credits
We will examine a number of case studies, including slavery, abolition campaigns and immigration in various spacial and temporal contexts. We will explore key concepts in historiography including settler colonialism, whiteness and white supremacy, racial liberalism, and anti-racism. Throughout, we will be attentive to the intersections of race with other categories of social difference such as gender, class, and sexuality, and appreciate the importance of historical context in understanding conceptions of race and racism.
- The Global Cold War
This module explores the Cold War as a global phenomenon. While Europe played a central role in the origins and denouement of the ideological contest between the United States and the Soviet Union, for the past twenty years or so historians have explored in greater depth the impact of the Cold War in the global South. This latter group of scholars have examined the Cold War as a Superpower competition over the political and economic future of the so-called “Third World” and explored the agency of actors in the global South. Studies have expanded beyond an initial focus on ideology, diplomacy and security to a wider set of issues including economic development, culture, and human rights, and beyond international histories to include transnational and domestic ones. We now have a Cold War historiography which stresses pluralism and diversity of conception, method, and interpretation.30 credits
Through a series of case studies ranging from Europe to Asia, Africa and Latin America and including the home front in the United States and the Soviet Union, we will examine these new historiographical developments. While remaining attentive to the local dynamics that drove political, economic, and social developments in Europe and the global South, we will explore the extent to which the Cold War structured the international system and constrained choices available to countries around the world. What was the Global Cold War? How did it play out and interact with local dynamics in specific locales? Is it possible to study the Cold War as a series of conflicts and transformations around the world without losing conceptual clarity? What are the methodological implications of studying the Cold War in a global perspective?
- Women and Power
This module explores the roles women have played within and through structures and discourses of power: as wielders of office, as victims of persecution, and as agents of cultural change.30 credits
The module uses case studies from particular historical contexts - potentially ranging from the medieval to the modern - to engage with the methodological challenge of identifying female agency in the historical record.
It draws on a range of theoretical approaches and on written and material forms of evidence to enable you to reach your own insights.
Your 75 credit option module selection can include up to 30 credits from this guided module list. The owning department has final approval for acceptance onto their modules and, if space becomes limited, priority may be given to students registered in that department.
The following list includes the full range of guided options that we currently offer. A selection of these will be available each year and new modules may be added.
Students can select languages for all modules where relevant to their programme of study. These modules are worth 10 credits and must be taken alongside the appropriate Enhanced Languages module (5 credits).
Language modules are all classed as research skills modules.
Example Archaeology modules:
- Digital Cultural Heritage: Theory and Practice
This module examines the theoretical and methodological advances in Digital Cultural Heritage and their15 credits
broader implications in fields concerned with the interpretation and presentation of the past. We will draw on
theoretical readings as well as analyse the potential benefits and drawbacks of certain digital and online
approaches. Topics include: principles and theories underlying Digital Cultural Heritage, understanding
processes of creating digital surrogates, establishing principles for user experience, and exploring digital
narratives for public dissemination. A major component of this module will be a semester-long project that will
require the development of a proposal for a digital cultural heritage project.
- Heritage, Place and Community
The aim of this module is to introduce the theory and practice of heritage, conservation and public archaeology. The module will encourage debate on issues that affect how we define and apply the term 'heritage'. It also offers an opportunity to focus on the historic 'value' of a site or landscape, with an evaluation of how it is currently managed, and strategies for its future conservation and presentation.15 credits
- Heritage, History and Identity
This module highlights the diversity of cultural heritage, ranging from cultural and 'natural' landscapes, through monuments to music, dress, cuisine, 'traditional' crafts, and language and dialect. It explores the role of these various forms of heritage in shaping local, regional and national identity; the extent to which they reflect or misrepresent local, regional and national history; the legal and ethical issues surrounding conservation and preservation of heritage; and how study of 'traditional' lifeways may contribute to understanding of history.15 credits
Example English modules:
- Early Modern Books
Whatever they may do, authors do not write books. Books are not written at all. They are manufactured by scribes and other artisans, by mechanics and engineers, and by printing presses and other machines (Roger E. Stodhard). This module examines the processes which created the works that early modern audiences experienced, in manuscript and print, or as performance. Topics covered on the module include the production, licensing, dissemination, reception, and censorship of literary works. Knowledge of these processes, and the practical constraints and contingencies attendant on them, enriches our appreciation of how early moderns perceived the books they read/owned and the performances they witnessed, and gives insight into the often collaborative and contested nature of 'authorship'. The module will also consider the role of the modern scholarly editor.15 credits
- Humans, Animals, Monsters and Machines: From Gulliver's Travels to King Kong
This module examines imaginings of the 'human' in relation to machines and animals (and those monsters that are neither one thing nor the other) from the eighteenth century to the twentieth. We will focus mainly on fiction, its cultural contexts and on readings from the period's key thinkers of human being, alongside more recent theories of humans, posthumans and animals. The aim is to encourage critical engagement with this key issue and to facilitate a deeper appreciation of the period's literature, culture and politics, including the relationship of discourses of technology and species to discourses of class, gender and race.30 credits
- Renaissance Transformations
This module approaches Renaissance literature through the theme of transformation. It will look at examples of transformation in Renaissance writing, such as changing sex, changing religion, and changes between the human and the animal. It will also consider the changes that Renaissance writers wrought upon existing literary traditions such as the classical, the biblical and the medieval.30 credits
- Romantic Gothic
Romantic Gothic considers the various manifestations of the Gothic mode, from the middle of the eighteenth century towards the end of the Romantic period in 1830. Looking at how the Gothic became such an enduring and powerful mode of expression in literature, the module will look at Gothic poetry, Gothic novels, Gothic bluebooks, and accounts of supernatural occurrences in the popular magazines and newspapers of the age. By the end of the module, you will have a good knowledge of the rise of the Gothic during the eighteenth century and Romantic periods, and will have examined some of the most popular Gothic works of the age alongside less canonical works.30 credits
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. We are no longer offering unrestricted module choice. If your course included unrestricted modules, your department will provide a list of modules from their own and other subject areas that you can choose from.
An open day gives you the best opportunity to hear first-hand from our current students and staff about our courses. You'll find out what makes us special.
- 1 year full-time
- 2 years part-time
You’ll be taught through seminars, workshops and individual tutorials. Teaching and assessment methods may vary for non-history modules.
You'll be assessed through a combination of written papers, classroom activities, oral presentations and a dissertation.
As a postgraduate history student at Sheffield, you'll continue to develop your skills and understanding of the past in a friendly and supportive environment.
You’ll be taught by historians who are engaged in cutting-edge research in a huge variety of fields which range from 1000 BCE right up to the twenty-first century. This diversity feeds into a vibrant and varied curriculum which allows students to pursue their interests across both space and time, from the ancient Middle East to modern day Europe, and from fifteenth-century human sacrifice to twentieth-century genocide.
You can tailor your chosen MA programme to suit you, exploring the areas of history that interest you most while expanding your historical research skills. You can also choose to develop your vocational history skills through our work placement and other public history modules.
You'll be joining a thriving postgraduate community with regular activities to share your ideas, challenge your thinking and broaden your understanding.
Minimum 2:1 undergraduate honours degree in history or another humanities or social sciences subject.
Overall IELTS score of 7.0 with a minimum of 6.5 in each component, or equivalent.
If you have any questions about entry requirements, please contact the department.
Fees and funding
You can apply for postgraduate study using our Postgraduate Online Application Form. It's a quick and easy process.
+44 114 222 2552
Any supervisors and research areas listed are indicative and may change before the start of the course.
Recognition of professional qualifications: from 1 January 2021, in order to have any UK professional qualifications recognised for work in an EU country across a number of regulated and other professions you need to apply to the host country for recognition. Read information from the UK government and the EU Regulated Professions Database.