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

  • Entry requirements

    Entry requirements

    Most of our short courses have no formal entry requirements and are open to all students. You may have to fulfil specific prerequisites for some intermediate-level or advanced-level courses, but these will be specified where relevant.

    Visa requirements

    If you are not from the European Economic Area (EEA) and/or Switzerland and you are coming to study in the UK, you may need to apply for a visa.

    The visa you apply for varies according to the length of your course:

    • Courses of more than six months’ duration.
    • Courses of less than six months’ duration.
    • Pre-sessional English language courses.

    International students who require a Tier 4 visa should apply for our three-year evening study BA/BSc/LLB degrees, as these are classified as full-time study and qualify for student visa status. If you are living in the UK on a Tier 4 visa, you will not be eligible to enrol as a student on Birkbeck’s part-time evening study degrees.

    For full information, read our visa information for international students page.

  • How to apply

    How to apply

    You enrol directly onto the classes you would like to take, using the Enrol Now link below. Classes are filled on a first-come, first-served basis - so apply early. If you wish to take more than one short course, you can select each one separately and then enrol onto them together via our online application portal. There is usually no formal selection process, although some modules may have prerequisites and/or other requirements, which will be specified where relevant.

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

Class location Central London
Class code SSHC419H4AAA

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