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Module HGH-3135:
Victorian Britain 1837-1901

Module Facts

Run by School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Dr Lowri Ann Rees

Overall aims and purpose

During the long reign of Queen Victoria, Britain develop into a powerful nation that ruled over a quarter of the world. The British economy was transformed by rapidly growing industrialisation and the passing of major legislation and acts in parliament, encompassing welfare reforms and the extension of the franchise. A sense of self-confidence was encapsulated in the 1851 Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace. However, whilst the country appeared to be flourishing, there was widespread poverty and destitution in the rapidly growing urban centres, as well as the rural communities. During the course of this module students will explore a range of broad themes that shaped Victorian Britain. Indeed, the values and beliefs of the age were so distinctive that they are still to this day known as ‘Victorian values’.

Course content

Topics explored over the course of this module may include, but will not be limited to: economy and industry; urbanisation; crime, policing and punishment; health and medicine; science and technology; leisure and sport; education; religion, faith and doubt; travel and communication; the British Empire; monarchy; consumerism; class; gender; Victorian values.

Assessment Criteria

C- to C+

Students in this band (C- to C+) will demonstrate a satisfactory range of achievement or depth of knowledge of most parts of the module, and will make successful, if occasionally inconsistent, attempts to develop those skills appropriate to the study of History at undergraduate level. In the case of the written assessments, the answers will attempt to focus on the question, although might drift into narrative, and will show some evidence of solid reading and research. The argument might lose direction and might not be adequately clear at the bottom of this category. Written work will be presented reasonably well with only limited errors in grammar, punctuation, and referencing, and not to the extent that they obscure meaning.


Threshold students (D- and D) will have done only a minimum of reading, and their work will often be based partly on lecture notes and/or basic textbooks. They will demonstrate in their written assessments some knowledge of at least parts of the relevant field, and will make at least partially-successful attempts to frame an argument which engages with historical controversies, but they will fail to discuss some large and vital aspects of a topic; and/or deploy only some relevant material but partly fail to combine it into a coherent whole; and/or deploy some evidence to support individual points but often fail to do so and/or show difficulty weighing evidence (thereby relying on unsuitable or irrelevant evidence when making a point). Alternatively or additionally, the presentation of the work might also be poor, with bad grammar and/or punctuation, careless typos and spelling errors, and a lack of effective and correct referencing.


Good students (B- to B+) will demonstrate a solid level of achievement and depth of knowledge in all the criteria in the C- to C+ range, and will in addition exhibit constructive engagement with different types of historical writing and historiographical interpretation. Ideas will be communicated effectively and written work will include a good range of sources/reading and demonstrate a clear understanding of the issues and of the existing interpretations expressed in a well-structured, relevant, and focused argument. Students at the top end of this band will engage with and critique the ideas that they come across, and synthesise the various interpretations they find to reach their own considered conclusions. Written work will be correctly presented with references and bibliography where appropriate.


Excellent students (A- and above) will show strong achievement across all the criteria combined with particularly impressive depths of knowledge and/or subtlety of analysis. In written work, they will support their arguments with a wealth of relevant detail/examples. They will also demonstrate an acute awareness of the relevant historiography and give an account of why the conclusions reached are important within a particular historical debate. They may show a particularly subtle approach to possible objections, nuancing their argument in the light of counter-examples, or producing an interesting synthesis of various contrasting positions. Overall, the standards of content, argument, and analysis expected will be consistently superior to top upper-second work. Standards of presentation will also be high.

Learning outcomes

  1. Demonstrate a wide-ranging knowledge concerning Victorian Britain

  2. Judge between the competing interpretations of the historiography (including current positions in historical and other academic writing)

  3. Present clear, evidence-based, and cogent historical arguments under examination conditions

  4. Demonstrate a close familiarity with a range of primary sources, analyse these sources and use them in historical argument

  5. Analyse individual pieces of historical evidence very closely - particularly setting them in context, judging their qualities as evidence, and explaining their significance

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight

The two-hour exam will be divided into two sections. Students will be asked to analyse primary sources in section A, and answer an essay-based question on themes and issues explored over the course of the module in section B.


The essay will focus on the broad themes and issues relating to Victorian Britain explored over the course of the module. Students will need to demonstrate engagement with, and analysis of relevant primary sources.


Teaching and Learning Strategy

Private study

Students must dedicate time to private study whilst enrolled on this module, to build on knowledge gleaned in class and work on their assignments.


3 lectures a week until 7th week. Lectures will explore the historical significance of key topics, themes and issues, and present an overview of related historiography.


Weekly 1-hour seminar during 8th-12th weeks of term. Seminars will be an opportunity to explore themes and topics introduced in lectures in greater depth and detail by focusing on primary source analysis.


Drop-in tutorials will be timetabled (2nd, 5th and 10th weeks) to give students the opportunity to discuss their assignments, their progress on the module and any other module related issues.


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting

Subject specific skills

  • problem solving to develop solutions to understand the past
  • understanding the complexity of change over time; in specific contexts and chronologies
  • being sensitive to the differences, or the "otherness" of the past, and the difficulty to using it as a guide to present or future action
  • being sensitive to the role of perceptions of the past in contemporary cultures
  • producing logical and structured arguments supported by relevant evidence
  • marshalling and critically appraising other people's arguments, including listening and questioning
  • making effective and appropriate use of relevant information technology
  • collaborating effectively in a team via experience of working in a group
  • critical evaluation of one's own and others' opinions


Reading list

M. Bentley, Politics Without Democracy 1815-1914: Perception and Preoccupation in British Government (1984) G. Best, Mid-Victorian Britain 1851-75 (1979) A. Briggs, The Age of Improvement, 1783-1867 (2000) H. Cunningham, The Challenge of Democracy: Britain 1832-1918 (2001) E. J. Evans, The Forging of the Modern State, 1783-1870 (1996) E. J. Feuchtwanger, Democracy and Empire: Britain 1865-1914 (1985) N. Gash, Aristocracy and People: Britain 1815-65 (1983) J. Harris, Private Lives, Public Spirit: Britain 1870-1914 (1914) J. F. C. Harrison, Early Victorian Britain 1832-51 (1988) ─, Late Victorian Britain 1875-1901 (1991) T. W. Heyck, The Peoples of the British Isles: A New History, vol. 2 From 1688 to 1870; vol. 3 From 1870 to Present (both 1992) K. T. Hoppen, The Mid-Victorian Generation 1846-1886 (1998) C. Matthew (ed.), The Nineteenth Century: The British Isles, 1815-1901 (2000) T. May, An Economic and Social History of Britain 1760-1990 (1996) N. McCord, British History, 1815-1906 (1991) C. More, The Industrial Age: Economy and Society in Britain, 1750-1985 (1989) R. Price, British Society, 1680-1880: Dynamism, Containment and Change (1999) M. D. Pugh, State and Society: a Social and Political History 1870-1939 (1999) —, The Making of Modern British Politics 1867-1939 (1993) D. Read, The Age of Urban Democracy: England 1868-1914 (1994) K. Robbins, The Eclipse of a Great Power: Modern Britain 1870-1975 (1994) E. Royle, Modern Britain: a Social History 1750-1997 (1997) W. D. Rubinstein, Britain’s Century: a Political and Social History, 1815-1905 (1998) F. M. L. Thompson, The Rise of Respectable Society: A Social History of Victorian Britain, 1830-1900 (1988) ─ (ed.), The Cambridge Social History of Britain 1750-1950, vol. 1 Regions and Communities; vol. 2 People and their Environment; vol. 3 Social Agencies and Institutions (all 1990) G. Williams & J. Ramsden, Ruling Britannia: a Political History of Britain, 1688-1988 (1998)

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: