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Unit information: Ideology, Poverty and Famines in 2022/23

Please note: It is possible that the information shown for future academic years may change due to developments in the relevant academic field. Optional unit availability varies depending on both staffing, student choice and timetabling constraints.

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
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Units you must take alongside this one (co-requisite units)


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

Unit Information

Why is this unit important?

Our MA specialist options allow students to focus on a particular field of history and to develop specialist knowledge through intensive primary source analysis. These units develop your ability to identify suitable primary sources, independently analyse them, and develop sophisticated arguments rooted in core methodologies and historiographies.

How does this unit fit into your programme of study?

Specialist options take you into much greater detail than your TB1 thematic options, placing a much higher premium on independent primary source analysis. The aim is to provide all MA students with the core competencies required for their dissertation by developing your ability to build historical arguments through and with primary sources, in respect of a particular period, place, or theme.

Your learning on this unit

An Overview of Content:

Large scale famines have been known throughout history. The modern period (1750-present) saw catastrophic famines killing millions notably in India, Ireland, the USSR and China. At the same time an ideological debate about the causes and potential cures for famines ills raged. The course’s main focus is upon intellectual and cultural battles over the framing of extreme poverty and hunger. As well as government action (or inaction) we will also study the rise of modern humanitarianism in relation to growing awareness and concern for the suffering of distant others. 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 entitlements of Amartya Sen and Alex de Waal who proposes that we should see the continuation of famines in the twenty-first century as atrocities. The course closes with a consideration of the lessons that might be drawn for a future beyond poverty and famines (making poverty and famines history).

How will you be different as a result of taking this unit?

This unit aims to inspire you to conduct your own research into the history of famine. It will develop your understanding not just of famine, but also of the ways in which historians set about framing appropriate research questions and answering them.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will be able to:

  1. Identify and analyse recent historiographical developments and longer-term trends in famine history and in the history of economic and political thought;
  2. Analyse, synthesise and evaluate a range of primary sources relating to the field of famine history and the history of economic and political ideas using appropriate methodologies;
  3. Design and frame a research question in relation to relevant historiographies, theories and methodologies;
  4. Compose an extended historical argument rooted in primary source analysis.

How you will learn

This unit will be taught through a weekly 2-hour seminar based on the unit content and a weekly 1-hour asynchronous activity designed to help support your assessment. The seminar will be based around discussion of core sources, historiographies, methodologies, and approaches. This will serve both to increase your familiarity with the core historical issues and to build your confidence in communicating your own ideas. The asynchronous activity will help provide structure to the process of turning your initial research ideas into a manageable plan for producing an extended research-based essay.

How you will be assessed

Tasks which count towards your unit mark (summative):

One 5000-word Essay (ILOs 1-4) [100%].

When assessment does not go to plan:

When required by the Board of Examiners, you will normally complete reassessments in the same formats as those outlined above. However, the Board reserves the right to modify the format or number of reassessments required. Details of reassessments are confirmed by the School/Centre shortly after the notification of your results at the end of the year.


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. HISTM2017).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.