Dangerous Ideas: Essays and Manifestos as Social Criticism Capstone

The details
Philosophical, Historical, and Interdisciplinary Studies (School of)
Colchester Campus
Full Year
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 05 October 2023
Friday 28 June 2024
11 September 2023


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA R000 European Studies (Including Year Abroad),
BA R001 European Studies,
BA R002 European Studies (Including Placement Year),
BA R008 European Studies (Including Foundation Year),
BA R9T8 European Studies and Modern Languages (Including Foundation Year),
BA R9T9 European Studies and Modern Languages,
BA R9R1 European Studies with French,
BA R9R8 European Studies with French (Including Foundation Year),
BA R9R2 European Studies with German,
BA R9R6 European Studies with German (Including Foundation Year),
BA R9R3 European Studies with Italian,
BA R9R7 European Studies with Italian (Including Foundation Year),
BA R9R4 European Studies with Spanish,
BA R9R9 European Studies with Spanish (Including Foundation Year),
BA LQV0 Liberal Arts (Including Foundation Year),
BA Q900 Liberal Arts (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA QV00 Liberal Arts (Including Year Abroad),
BA V900 Liberal Arts,
BA V901 Liberal Arts (Including Placement Year),
BA L400 Social Change,
BA L401 Social Change (Including Foundation Year),
BA L402 Social Change (including Placement Year),
BA L403 Social Change (including Year Abroad),
BA R108 European Studies and Language Studies,
BA R109 European Studies and Language Studies (Including Foundation Year)

Module description

This module examines the social criticism and subversiveness of writing in the form of the essay and the manifesto.

To consider the structure of the module as a whole, students are encouraged to think about the essay as a tool to develop, explore, and reflect on fundamental questions, and the manifesto as a means to answer those questions. The essayist, as Montaigne puts it, "speak(s) as one who questions and does not know..." (Montaigne C 237); the manifesto writer knows the answer and conveys it with force.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To provide students with a ground in the history of the essay.

  • To explore issues related to the selected essays and to be able to relate those issues to the politics, social contexts and ideological debates of their times, and subsequently.

  • To stimulate students to develop skills in written communication through essay writing, and through oral communication and debate in seminars.

  • To encourage students to think and write in both multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary ways.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students will be expected to be able to:

  1. Be able to demonstrate a familiarity with, and an understanding of the material considered on the module, specifically the history of the essay.

  2. Be able to draw connections between a diverse range of written forms produced in different historical periods.

  3. Be able to distinguish critically between different methodological and disciplinary approaches to the issues in question.

  4. Be able to write in an informed, critical and argumentative manner on the material covered by the module.

Skills for your Professional Life (Transferable Skills)

  1. Define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant.

  2. Seek and organise the most relevant discussions and sources of information.

  3. Process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments.

  4. Compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure.

  5. Write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their presuppositions and implications.

  6. Be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them.

  7. Think 'laterally' and creatively (i.e., to explore interesting connections and possibilities, and to present these clearly rather than as vague hunches).

  8. Maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position based on feedback.

  9. Think critically and constructively.

Module information

In the autumn term, we will study the essay as a critical tool to explore and interrogate one`s own certainties. `Essay` here does not refer to the sort of thing you typically write for an undergraduate module. The essay, rather, is a distinct literary genre that has played an important role in the humanities and social sciences ever since its invention by Michel de Montaigne in the 16th century. Essays may mask themselves as innocent excursions but, as with Jonathan Swift's `A Modest Proposal` or George Orwell`s `Politics and the English Language`, the essay can rapidly overturn accepted opinions and provoke the questioning of values. In addition to studying some classic essays, students will get a chance to contribute to the genre by writing an essay of their own.

In the spring, we will turn our attention to the manifesto. Manifestos typically denounce dominant trends and/ or accepted conventions, question the grounds of prevailing, ideas, behaviours and practices, and involve a call and/or a programme for action. But they can take many forms. Manifestos, like Marx and Engels` `The Communist Manifesto`, are written to inspire action and overthrow existing social and working institutions, while the `How to be Idle`' manifesto proposes we abandon work itself and thereby challenges the incessant demands in our society that we devote our lives to paid labour. Mirroring the autumn term, after studying some of the most historically influential manifestos, students will get to write their own manifesto on a subject of their choosing.

To prepare for this module, suggested introductory reading:

Orwell, George. 'Politics and the English Language' [1946]. In The Penguin Essays of George Orwell, 354-367. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1994.

Nussbaum, Martha C. (2010) Not for profit: Why democracy needs the humanities. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via:

  • One lecture per week.
  • One seminar per week which functions as a writing workshop.


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography for this year.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Autumn Weekly reading quizzes TOTAL    15% 
Coursework   Spring Weekly Reading Quizzes TOTAL    15% 
Coursework   Essay 1 (Autumn) (2500 words)   22/12/2023  35% 
Coursework   Spring Term Manifesto (2500 words)   25/03/2024  35% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Matthew Burch, email: mburch@essex.ac.uk.
PHAIS General Office - 6.130; isugadmin@essex.ac.uk.



External examiner

Prof Raphael Hallett
Higher Education Consultant - Senior Advisor
Available via Moodle
Of 36 hours, 33 (91.7%) hours available to students:
1 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
2 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


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