The Common People: History From Below in Britain 1830-1914

The details
Philosophical, Historical, and Interdisciplinary Studies (School of)
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 03 October 2024
Friday 13 December 2024
10 April 2024


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

The writing of history since the Second World War has been revolutionised by the development of social history, or ‘history from below’ as it is sometimes called. This module looks at the invention of this approach in the context of historical work about Britain between the early nineteenth century and the early twentieth century.

Britain underwent profound transformations during this period, becoming the first distinctively modern, industrial capitalist economy and society as well as ruling over the world’s largest empire. Not only was the environment entirely changed in this period, but the lives and identities of working people were also altered fundamentally.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To familiarise students with some of the most important themes in British social history from the Industrial Revolution through to World War One.

  • To develop greater understanding of historiographical and theoretical issues that have shaped this vibrant field of historical study.

Module learning outcomes

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

  1. Develop greater knowledge and understanding of some of the broad themes of British social history during the period.

  2. Have a better grasp of how social history emerged, changing debates on key themes, and what sources have been used by historians to open a window onto the lives of the common people.

Module information

This module explores this process in a thematic as well as a chronological manner. Utilising a wealth of primary sources relating to the lives of the ‘common people’, we will first look at how work changed and how different groups began to organise and imagine themselves as a ‘class’ in early Victorian Britain.

The module then moves on to consider the ways in which some forms of women’s work was subject to intervention by government that also attempted to regulate working-class sexuality, subjecting prostitutes in particular to intense scrutiny. Workers’ experiences at school and during their leisure time are then explored. The enduring legacy of empire on popular attitudes is assessed as well as the rediscovery of working-class poverty by elites from the late nineteenth century.

A final focus is provided by the political response from below to persistent inequality, which generated heated controversy during the decades preceding the First World War.

Themes are also approached in the seminars through analysis of primary source material, which features centrally on this module

Introductory Reading

  • August, Andrew, The British Working-Class, 1832-1940 (2007).

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via:

  • One 1-hour lecture each week,
  • One 1-hour seminar each week.


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   Primary source analysis (1000 words)    35% 
Coursework   Essay (2000 words)    65% 

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
Prof Peter Gurney, email:
Professor Peter Gurney
History UG Administrators:



External examiner

Dr Miriam Dobson
University of Sheffield
Available via Moodle
No lecture recording information available for this module.


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

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