Hidden Histories: class, gender and the rise of British democracy

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 4
Thursday 03 October 2019
Saturday 14 December 2019
17 May 2019


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

As Orwell noted, history is written by the winners. He was talking about war between nation states, though the same could be said about the struggle between classes. Approaching the past from the losers' side, this module uncovers some radical ideas and practices that have often been overlooked in accounts of modern British history.

It first goes back to the revolutionary years of the mid-seventeenth century to examine how radicals questioned dominant ideas about democratic rights and property ownership, some even advocating 'communism'. This period also witnessed fundamental questioning of the power imbalance between men and women, in the family and the private sphere as well as in the public.

The focus then shifts to another period of rapid economic and social change that accompanied the growth of industrial capitalism in the nineteenth century. At this time, Chartists embraced the cause of democracy, while Owenite socialists reinvented 'communism' in a new context. Once again, radicals also spotlighted issues of power within the family and between genders.

The final part of the module examines the ways in which these earlier oppositional ideas and practices informed working-class culture and working-class institutions in the 20th century. The extent to which the modern labour movement continued but also attenuated radical understandings of democracy, property ownership and gender relations is discussed.

The module concludes by analysing how what we might call the working-class alternative faced mounting criticism during the second half of the twentieth century, both from those on the socialist and feminist left who sympathised with its broad aims and from hostile groups who desired to consign it to historical oblivion.

Module aims

• To introduce students to arguments about the relationship between history-writing and power.
• To build confidence in understanding concepts of ‘democracy’, ‘communism’, ‘socialism’ and ‘class’, and how they are used to analyse the past.
• To explore the history of radical ideas and practices in Britain, and how they have been modified and transformed in different contexts.
• To understand some of the ways in which the history of modern Britain has been profoundly shaped by the struggles and cultural creativity of ordinary people.

Module learning outcomes

On completing the module, students will:

1. Have an awareness of key issues concerning the history of modern Britain.
2. Be able to use more critically key concepts in modern British history.
3. To participate in seminar discussion as part of a supportive, inclusive learning environment.
4. Have analysed suitable primary source material in an intelligent and thoughtful manner.
5. Have gained key discipline-specific skills in preparation for the final year research project.

Module information

General reading:

To be confirmed.

Learning and teaching methods

Lectures and seminars.


This module does not appear to have any essential texts. To see non-essential items, please refer to the module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Primary document analysis (750 words)  06/12/2019  35% 
Coursework   Essay (2000 words)  16/01/2020  60% 
Practical   Seminar Participation     5% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Peter Gurney, email:
Belinda Waterman, Department of History, 01206 872313



External examiner

Dr Rachel Rich
Leeds Beckett University
Senior Lecturer
Available via Moodle
Of 30 hours, 29 (96.7%) hours available to students:
1 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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