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Unit information: Poverty and Famines in Historical Perspective (Level H Reflective History) in 2015/16

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Unit name Poverty and Famines in Historical Perspective (Level H Reflective History)
Unit code HIST38006
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Sheldon
Open unit status Not open




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


This unit asks the question why some people have been at the mercy of chronic poverty and hunger whilst others experience life as a riot of affluence. It then seeks to explore the question through a series of comparative studies of famines and their representation over the period 1750-2010. Adam Smith famously argued that whilst food shortages had natural causes, famines arose only from the inappropriate actions of states seeking to remedy dearth. T.R. Malthus went further and argued that famines were inevitable natural phenomena stemming from the imbalance of population and natural resources. These British ideas had a defining influence on world history: first as key tenets of political economy, which enjoyed an unrivalled international influence in the modern age, second through the agency of British colonialism which oversaw famines in India, Ireland and Africa. More recent perspectives suggest that human agency has and can play a larger role.


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 poverty and famines in historical perspective.

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 historical perspectives on poverty and famines

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

Assessment Details

1 x 24 hour seen exam

Reading and References

  • C. O Grada, Famine: A Very Short History (2008)
  • James Vernon, Hunger: A Modern History (2007)
  • Arnold, D., Famine (1988)
  • Davis, M., Mid-Victorian Holocausts (2000)
  • Fogel, R.W., The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100 (2004)