The World Transformed: The Enlightenment and Its Critics

The details
Interdisciplinary Studies Centre (ISC)
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 4
Sunday 17 January 2021
Friday 26 March 2021
29 July 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

Ours is a world that seems to be shaking at its very foundations. Ideas that have shaped the way we see ourselves and the world around us – ideas like democracy, free speech, citizenship, political authority, individualism, free markets, and human rights – are contested at every turn.

These ideas took their definitive modern form during a period of political and intellectual upheaval known as the Enlightenment (ca. 1650-1800). If we want to navigate our way through the chaos of today, then we need to return to the roots of our contemporary world – the Enlightenment.

This interdisciplinary module explores this revolutionary period so that we can better understand our world today and bring about the world we want tomorrow. We will focus on political revolutions, on societal inequality, sickness, and control, and the dark side of technology. Graduating students often rank it among the most useful modules they've taken.

Module aims

The aim of this module is demonstrate to students that some of the most powerful discourses of the Enlightenment period and the reactions to the discourses are relevant to our present situation and remain powerful tools to analyse and understand the world we live in.

A related aim is to provide students with a framework and background knowledge to navigate successfully their studies in future years.

Module learning outcomes

The following Learning Outcomes will be demonstrated through successfully passing the coursework assessment:
1. To read, assess and summarise the arguments of challenging texts.
2. To learn the conventions of an academic writing including structure, quotation, reference, and bibliography.
3. To show the ability to work from particular questions on a specific text, and to write a coherent essay in response.
4. To assess and evaluate specific arguments and texts and write a critical analysis.
5. To compare and contrast two or more selected texts in one particular aspect, and express their similarities and differences.
6. To explicate a set passage from one of the texts on the programme, to relate it to rest of the text and to fit it in the contextual, conceptual and comparative framework, the Enlightenment itself, established during the module.
7. To test the ability to respond to general, thematic questions that demand a broad grasp of the intellectual and historical developments considered in the module.
8. To analyse types of language of a set passage and to relate that language to historical and discursive factors.

Module information

The Enlightenment (roughly 1650-1800) was a politically and intellectually revolutionary period of history that defined the ideas that continue to shape the way we see ourselves and the world we live in - ideas like democracy, free speech, individualism, scientific evidence, free markets, and human rights.

By examining this period, this interdisciplinary module provides students with a crucial framework for understanding today's dominant intellectual currents - a framework that proves remarkably useful for students in their second and third year coursework. Indeed, graduating students often rank it among the most useful modules they've taken. Built on a spine of lectures delivered by staff from across the Faculty of Humanities, this interdisciplinary module covers topics such as the America, French and Haitian Revolutions, the French the roots of capitalism, the origins of modern law and medicine, Rousseau's critique of social inequality, Wollstonecraft's early feminism, the dark side of technological progress. We will draw on artworks, novels, political pamphlets and speeches, as well as philosophical texts.

Wollstonecraft's early feminism, the dark side of technological progress. We will draw on artworks, novels, political pamphlets and speeches, as well as philosophical texts.

The module will be divided into three thematic blocks. In 2020-21, they will be Political Revolution, Health and Society, and Technology. The clusters offered may change from time to time.

The module will demonstrate how all of these topics remain central to our experience today, and how we can learn from past discourses how to understand the present.

Learning and teaching methods

There will be a one-hour lecture and one-hour class/seminar each week. All teaching events and all assessment will be accessible to students on and off campus either face-to-face or remotely through online teaching. As this is one of the Faculty’s interdisciplinary, thematic blended-learning modules, there will be additional online content available for all students which they can access in addition to face-to-face and remote teaching.



Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
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Coursework Exam
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Module supervisor and teaching staff



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
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Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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