The Early Modern World - People and Beliefs

The personalities and events of this era are rightly famous: Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the Americas in 1492; Henry VIII’s notorious marriage troubles; Elizabeth I’s reputation as the 'Virgin Queen'; Oliver Cromwell’s leadership in the British Civil Wars; and Louis XIV’s magnificent court at Versailles. To understand why these individuals and events mattered, we will explore the dramatic changes that swept through Britain, continental Europe and the wider world over these crucial 250 years. 

We will move from the fragmentation of Christianity during the Reformation, through the horrors of seventeenth-century war and revolution, to imperial expansion, the brutality of the Atlantic slave trade and the intellectual debates of the Enlightenment. Justly known as early modern, this was a formative period in Western history, as Europeans began to interact with civilisations throughout the entire world, and the continent turned into a global centre of power. Women and men experienced their first media and information revolution with the birth of print, the spread of literacy, religious reform and scientific revolution; they witnessed the emergence of new state structures but also innovative attacks on established political hierarchies; the growth of a new globalised economy alongside the formation of national languages and institutions. This was the grandiose age of monarchy, with glorious courts and costumes; it was also an age of devastating war, famine and disease. 

Many of the case studies that we will examine are drawn from British history, but they will be firmly set in the wider European and global context. By the end of this short course, you will understand how this period laid the foundations for so many things usually labelled 'modern': ethnic and religious diversity, civil rights and parliamentary democracy, global trade and a consumer economy, and the idea of the 'modern world' itself.

The course is taught via a series of lectures (from an undergraduate module) and a dedicated seminar. It may, therefore, be particularly appropriate for those considering a future transition to BA study. You will be encouraged to actively participate throughout the course. 

Indicative topics 

  • Introduction: mapping early modern history 
  • Peasants and everyday life 
  • Nobilities 
  • Cities: the rise of London 
  • Reformation movements 
  • Reformation from above: Henry VIII and the English Reformation
  • Counter reformation and global Catholicism
  • Gender and the family
  • Witchcraft and magic
  • Kingship and queenship: Elizabeth I, ‘The Virgin Queen’. 


15 credits at level 4

Book an open evening Financial support Contact us

First class: Wed 11-Oct-17 6pm-8pm

Class location Central London
Class code SSHC419H4AAA

Enrol now