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Unit information: The History of Political Thought in 2015/16

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Unit name The History of Political Thought
Unit code POLI29004
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Jonathan Floyd
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law



The unit aims at introducing students to a wide range of texts in the history, and encouraging the critical assessment of these texts. Through exploring the work of a range of historical authors, spanning a period of over two thousand years, students will experience both difference and similarity in how different eras have seen ideas of the political and understood the relation of the individual to the state and to others. Lectures will provide broad overviews of the work of the author in question, and contextualise their writings with reference to the political contexts of their times. Seminars will focus on particular extracts from the key works of the authors in question, and will encourage students both to analyse significant passages of political writing and to think about the relation of these extracts to the writer's wider projects. The summative essay aims to enable students to engage in a detailed study of a particular text from the political theory canon: reading it in detail and at length, and engaging with the secondary literature.

Intended learning outcomes

At the end of the unit a successful student will be able to:

  1. Describe the key arguments of a range of authors in the history of political thought.
  2. Explain and discuss the authors’ own arguments, the historical contexts of their time, their relationship to other important writers, and their place in the history of political thought
  3. Synthesise material from different writings to gain an understanding of the interrelationships between different authors’ work.
  4. Analyse and compare the approaches which different authors adopt in relation to key political concepts, such as the state, equality, and liberty.

The summative 2,000 word essay with pairwise questions assesses achievement of outcomes 1, 2, and 3.

The seen exam with topic questions assesses achievement of outcomes 1, 2 and 4.

Teaching details

2 x 1hr lecture and 1hr seminar

Assessment Details

  • 2,000 word essay 25%
  • 2 hour seen exam 75%

Reading and References

  • Coleman, Janet, A History of Political Thought: from Ancient Greece to Early Christianity (Blackwell, 2000)
  • Hampsher-Monk, Iain, A History of Modern Political Thought (Blackwell, 1992)
  • Matravers, Derek, Pike, Jonathan, and Warburton, Nigel, Reading Political Philosophy: Machiavelli to Mill by (Routledge, 2000)
  • Okin, Susan M., Women in Western Political Thought (Princeton, 1979)
  • Plamenatz, John, Man and Society (Longman, 1992)
  • Wolff, Jonathan, An Introduction to Political Philosophy (OUP, 2006)