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Unit information: Revolution and Theory: British Political Thought 1603-1689 (Level C Special Topic) in 2015/16

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Unit name Revolution and Theory: British Political Thought 1603-1689 (Level C Special Topic)
Unit code HIST14001
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Reeks
Open unit status Not open



HIST13003 Special Topic Project

School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

The seventeenth-century has been described as a ‘courtly-dance’ between the opposing theories of common-law ‘ancient’ constitutionalism and divine right ‘absolute’ monarchy. The intellectual backdrop provided by this ideological clash provides one of the central contexts of the revolutions of 1642 and 1688. Through close examinations of both the context and documents of British political history in the seventeenth-century this course will allow students to see how key modern political principles – toleration, rights theory, and liberalism – developed through the political writings and agitations thrown up by the political turmoil of the seventeenth-century.

Students will approach this subject in three ways. Firstly we will examine the political history of the seventeenth-century, examining how and why the Crown and Parliament continually came into conflict during this century. Secondly, by examining texts in political theory we will see how the opposing ideologies of both parties developed and changed in this context. In addition we will also examine those radical ideas and principles which developed in the vacuum created by the political upheavals of the century. Thirdly we will see the way in which the political principles developed during this century came to dominate debates in the eighteenth-century, particularly in that most ‘English’ of revolutions; the American War of Independence.Central to this special topic will be the examination of key texts written by the key protagonists in these debates such as James VI & I, Charles I, Charles II, and Oliver Cromwell. We will also examine the writings of well known philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, less well known thinkers such as Edward Coke, Anthony Ascham, and Robert Filmer. Also we will look at the radical documents written within this traditional by the Levellers, the Diggers, and Tom Paine.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students should have developed:

  1. familiarity with the principal features of seventeenth-century political thought
  2. an understanding of, and ability to critique, different perspectives which have been applied to seventeenth-century British political thought
  3. an ability to form independent interpretations relating to this subject
  4. the capacity to express these interpretations with an eloquence appropriate to level C.

Teaching Information

1 x 2 hour seminar per week

Assessment Information

1 x 2 hour exam

Reading and References

  • J. G. A. Pocock, The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law. A Study of English Historical Thought in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, 1987)
  • Markku Peltonen, Classical Humanism and Republicanism in English Political Thought, 1570-1640 (Cambridge, 1995)
  • Rachel Foxley, The Levellers: Radical Political Thought in the English Revolution (Manchester, 2014)
  • Glenn Burgess, The Politics of the Ancient Constitution: an Introduction to English Political Thought, 1603-1642 (University Park, PA, 1993)
  • Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, 2 vols (Cambridge, 1978)
  • Nicholas Phillipson and Quentin Skinner (Eds), Political Discourse in Early Modern Britain (Cambridge, 1993)