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Unit information: Ideology, Poverty and Famines in 2018/19

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Unit name Ideology, Poverty and Famines
Unit code HISTM2017
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
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

Description including Unit Aims

This unit studies the phenomenon of famines and famine relief in modern history through comparative case studies, and by paying particular attention to their ideological representation in mainstream discourses of economics and development, Its main focus is upon intellectuual and cultural battles over the framing of hunger in the modern period. Students will be introduced to a range of theoretical perspectives from the classical economists, especially Adam Smith and T R Malthus, through to the contemporary work on exchange entitlements of Amartya Sen and M Ravallion. Distinctively modern ideas about the prevalence of famine in the underdeveloped world emerged with enlightenment economics. Public opinion was shaped by media representations of mass starvation following the emergence of affordable photographic technologies and later by the moving images of newsreel and television. Historical case studeis will include: Ancien Regime France; Madras in the 1780s; Ireland 1845-49; Bengal 1943 and Ethiopia in the 1980s.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of this unit, students will be expected to:

  • have developed an understanding of famines and famine relief in modern history, with a focus on particular case-studies, and the ways in which these have been represented
  • be able to evaluate a range of historical and methodological interpretations within key debates relating to the interpretation and explanation of famines
  • be able to interpret and critique a range of primary sources from this period
  • be able to construct their own arguments and interpretations relating to this subject, and to express these with the sophistication appropriate to M-level.

Teaching Information


Assessment Information

1 Essay (5000 words)

Reading and References

  • Stephen Devereux, Theories of Famine (1993)
  • Cormac O Grada, Famine: A Short History (2009)
  • David Arnold, Famine (1988)
  • R. Rothberg and T. Rabb eds. Hunger and History (1983)
  • Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom (1999)
  • Amartya Sen, Poverty and Famines (1981)
  • John D Post, The Last Great Subsistence Crisis in the Western World (1977)
  • Megan Vaughan, The Story of an African Famine (1987)
  • Lucile F Newman ed., Hunger in History (1990) esp. ch by Kates and Millman ‘On * Ending Hunger: The Lessons of History’
  • Michael Watts, Silent Violence: Food, famine and peasantry in Northern Nigeria (1983)
  • Mike Davis, Late Victorian holocausts (2001)"