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Unit information: Describing Difference: Race, Culture and Ethnicity (Level H Reflective History) in 2015/16

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Unit name Describing Difference: Race, Culture and Ethnicity (Level H Reflective History)
Unit code HIST38010
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Rob Skinner
Open unit status Not open




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


What makes people different? Do collective identities represent biological realities? What is 'culture'? Is ethnicity merely a cipher for 'race'? This unit examines the historical development of the idea of 'race', and the associated concepts of 'culture' and 'ethnicity' since the mid-nineteenth century. The focus is upon the history of these ideas, tracing a trajectory from the emergence of a language of race, through the rise of social Darwinism and eugenics in the latter nineteenth century, before turning to examine two parallel concepts that have emerged as ways of distinguishing human difference in the wake of the 'retreat' from race in the post-1945 era. The concept of 'culture', as defined through the developing discipline of anthropology will be examined, before turning to the idea of 'ethnicity', which has become a (supposedly) neutral term for collective social identities in the recent past.


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 a particular historical subject matter which will fit in with their overall portfolio of subject/period/theme-based units.

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 ideas about race, culture and ethnicity.

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

K. Malik, The Meaning of Race: Race, History and Culture in Western Society (1996)

M. Banton, Racial Theories (1998)

E. Barkan, The Retreat of Scientific Racism (1992)

J. Donald & A. Rattansi (eds), Race, Culture and Difference (1992)

George W. Stocking, Race, Culture and Evolution (1982)

S. Fenton, Ethnicity (2003)

Jan Nederveen Pieterse, White on black: images of Africa and blacks in Western popular culture, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992).