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Unit information: Getting Acquainted with Friendship (Level H Reflective History) in 2015/16

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Unit name Getting Acquainted with Friendship (Level H Reflective History)
Unit code HIST38002
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Austin
Open unit status Not open




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


The success of TV series like Friends, and websites such as FriendsReunited and Facebook highlight the centrality of friendship in the modern world, but of course it is not an exclusively modern phenomenon: it has been discussed by philosophers from antiquity onwards, and has found expression in virtually every society since. In this unit we investigate the meaning, functions, and expression of friendship in past societies, using two parallel methods of analysis. First, we will examine a number of case-studies covering a diverse range of historical periods (ancient, medieval and modern). Second, we will evaluate various methodologies used in related disciplines (e.g. philosophy, social anthropology, sociology) and the extent to which they can aid our understanding of friendship in earlier centuries. More broadly, we will consider the extent to which the concept has changed over time, and whether it is possible to distinguish a distinctively 'historical' approach to friendship.


Reflective history is identified in the Subject Benchmarking Statement as an important skill. Whilst students will 'reflect' on their work in all of their units the aim of this unit will be to focus on that reflective practice and to enable students to carry it forward in conjunction with the study of the history of friendship.

Intended learning outcomes

  • Students will have a heightened understanding of the particular and unique skills that historians acquire and of the way in which they apply those skills to a specific task
  • Students will be able to convey that understanding to others both in writing and through a shared group exploration
  • Students will have a deeper understanding of their own individual acquisition and application of those skills. They will be aware of their own particular combination of skills and they will have a clearer understanding of the areas where skills need to be improved.
  • Students will have a stronger awareness of how their skills might be applied more generally to other contexts
  • At the same time, and as part of the same process, they will have gained a deeper knowledge of the history of friendship.

Teaching details

  • Initial 1 hour introductory seminar, then fortnightly 2 hour seminars for 5 weeks.
  • Guided independent reading directed towards presentation of material to their group
  • Access to tutorial consultation with unit tutor in office hours
  • Tutorial feedback on essay

Assessment Details

1 x 24 hour seen exam

Reading and References

Allen, Graham, Friendship: Developing a Sociological Perspective (1989)

Brain, Robert, Friends and Lovers (1976)

Bray, Alan, The Friend (2003)

Caine, Caine (Ed.), Friendship: A History (2008) – [also available as an e-book] (2009)

Pahl, Ray, On Friendship (2000)

Zeldin, Theodore, An Intimate History of Humanity (1995)