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Module HTH-3160:
The Age of Reform 1770-1835

Module Facts

Run by School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Lowri Ann Rees

Overall aims and purpose

This module explores the history of late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century Britain through the lens of reform. This was an era of great change politically, economically and socially. Between 1770 and 1835 Britain witnessed key reforms to parliament, social policy, the church, law, local government and administration. Revolutions overseas in America and France impacted upon British political thought and ideas of liberty. Radicalism and popular protest swept across the nation, with instances of rioting sparked by economic downturns, and politically charged demonstrations e.g. the Chartists, Swing Riots, Luddites, Blanketeers, and Rebecca Riots.

The abolition of the slave trade (1807) was a key event during this period, and followed around twenty years of campaigning to end the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The effect of war, notably conflict overseas, and its aftermath on Britain's society and economy was visible, with the loss of the American colonies (1783), which led to the creation of the United States of America, and the war with France (1793-1815), having an impact on Britain's imperial outlook. The Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions led to an age of prosperity and wealth, which laid the foundations for the Victorian age, when Britain became the workshop of the world.

The year 1832 was a landmark, with the passage of the Great Reform Act. This was the first significant reform of the British political system, and can be seen as a turning point in British political history, setting in motion a series of further reforms which repealed voting restrictions and expanded the electoral franchise. During the course of this module, students will engage with current debates relating to the extent and effectiveness of the reforms of 1770-1846, and consider to what extent can we see a shift away from ‘Old Corruption’ to a new era of representation.

Course content

Topics by weeks: (1) Introduction to the module: chronology 1770-1835, the unreformed political system and the concept of reform (2) Impact of the American War of Independence on Britain, and Thomas Paine Common Sense (1776) (3) The trans-Atlantic slave trade, the Abolition movement and William Wilberforce (4) Impact of the French Revolution on Britain, the subsequent war with France and Thomas Paine Rights of Man (1791) (5) Crime, punishment and penal reform: prisons, hulks and transportation (6) Constitutional Reform: The 1789 Regency Crisis and Act of Union (1800) (7) Popular protests and government responses: Luddites, Peterloo, Blanketeers and Captain Swing (8) Catholic Emancipation (1829) (9) Great Reform Act (1832) and Municipal Corporations Act (1835): creating a democratic Britain? (10) The Factory Act (1833): working conditions and child employment (11) The Corn Law (1815) and Poor Law Amendment Act (1834): punishing the poor?

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

  2. Present clear, evidence-based, and cogent historical argument under examination conditions

  3. Demonstrate a close familiarity with a range of primary sources, analyse these sources and use them in historical argument (assessed in year 3)

  4. Demonstrate a wide-ranging knowledge concerning Britain and reform during the period 1770-1835.

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

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
EXAM Exam 50
ESSAY Essay 40

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Workshop 1
Private study 178
Lecture 11
Seminar 10

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
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • 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
  • planning, designing, executing and documenting a programme of research, working independently
  • marshalling and critically appraising other people's arguments, including listening and questioning
  • making effective and appropriate forms of visual presentation
  • making effective and appropriate use of relevant information technology
  • making critical and effective use of information retrieval skills using paper-based and electronic resources
  • collaborating effectively in a team via experience of working in a group
  • critical evaluation of one's own and others' opinions


Resource implications for students

No need for students to purchase books - encouraged to use the books and articles available in the library and electronically

Reading list

Arthur Burns and Joanna Innes (ed.), Rethinking the age of reform : Britain, 1780-1850 (2003) Linda Colley, Britons : forging the nation, 1707-1837 (2009 edn) Michael T. Davis and Paul A. Pickering (eds), Unrespectable radicals? : popular politics in the age of reform (2007) J. R. Dinwiddy, Radicalism and Reform in Britain, 1780-1850 (1992) Ian Haywood, Bloody Romanticism: spectacular violence and the politics of representation, 1776-1832 (2006) Jennifer Mori, Britain in the age of the French Revolution, 1785-1820 (2000) N. Rogers, Crowds, Culture and Politics in Georgian England (1998) Edward Royle, Revolutionary Britannia? Reflections on the threat of revolution in Britain, 1789-1848 (2000) J. Turner, The Age of Unease: Government and Reform in Britain, 1782-1832 (2000) Michael J. Turner, British politics in an age of reform (1999) Chris Williams (ed.), A companion to nineteenth-century Britain (2004)

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: