Global Opportunities

HIS3347 : Consuming Empire: Global Trade and the Transformation of Britain, c. 1688-1820.

Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module explores how global trade and colonialism transformed British material culture during the eighteenth century. By 1800, expanding overseas trade and empire had made Britain a major world power. Critical to this ascendancy were British consumers desire for new ‘luxuries’, commodities that included Chinese silk, tea and porcelain, Indian cotton textiles, Caribbean sugar, Mocha and West Indian coffee, Virginian tobacco, and North American furs. The influx of these goods profoundly changed the dress, diet, and homes of eighteenth-century Britons, influenced gendered notions of consumption, and gave rise to new forms of sociability. At the forefront of this expanding ‘world of goods’ was an emergent ‘middling sort’ that profited from increased commercialisation and facilitated the distribution of these commodities through a growing network of rural and urban shops. The superior artistry of imported ‘goods from the East’ inspired the creation of new, innovative British manufactures that utilised colonial raw materials produced by Indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans.

The emergence of a consumer society in eighteenth-century Britain was inseparable from colonialism and environmental exploitation and its legacy profoundly shaped the modern world. The production, trade, and consumption of new ‘luxury’ commodities brought diverse peoples and cultures across the globe into ever closer contact and was a key stage in the creation of a globalised economy. By reflecting on the historical roots of this phenomenon, the module explores issues that are of vital relevance to the present day. The module includes an opportunity to directly engage with the material culture of eighteenth-century Britain via a fieldtrip to either the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh or Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle.

Through engagement with social, economic, cultural, imperial, and environmental history, the module enables students to acquire a detailed knowledge of the material transformations in British society during the eighteenth century and how these changes were connected to global trade and colonialism. Further aims include:

- Develop confidence in the ability to interpret quantitative data, material objects, and other primary source material that historians use to critically assess the consumption of goods in past societies.
- Raise capacity for independent thinking by requiring students to find a material object to comment on, and through offering students the opportunity to create and answer their own research question (with guidance).
- Introduce students to key historical interpretations relating to the rise of a consumer society and provide reflections on the colonial and environmental legacies of this phenomenon.

Outline Of Syllabus

Outline syllabus, intended as a guide only; week-by-week topics may be slightly different to the following:

- The birth of a consumer society and its colonial connections
- A bittersweet history: sugar, tea, and eighteenth-century diets
- ‘Fashions favourite’: cottons and eighteenth-century dress
- Domestic transformations: eighteenth-century homes
- Beyond the metropole: Indigenous consumption and the material culture of enslavement
- The mercantile world: commerce, shopping, and the distribution of goods
- Imperial fortunes: profit, power, and speculation
- Consuming bodies: Enslavement and the Black, Asian, and Indigenous presence in Britain
- The politics of consumption: empire, revolution, and abolition
- The unending frontier: consumption and its environmental impact

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture101:0010:00Lectures.
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion601:0060:00Object commentary (summative), research essay (summative), computer test (formative).
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading321:0032:00Recommended and further reading.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching102:0020:00Seminars.
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities501:0050:00Preparation tasks and essential readings for seminars (5 hours per week).
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesFieldwork13:003:00Fieldtrip.
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study251:0025:00General consolidation activities.
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The combination of lectures, seminars, and fieldwork is designed to encourage an active and student-led approach to learning. Lectures provide a foundational knowledge of core themes and are active learning experiences that use technology enhanced learning to provide instant feedback on students’ progress.

Seminars provide students with the skills to analyse and locate primary sources used by historians to interpret the consumption of goods in past societies and allows for the discussion of relevant historiographical interpretations, encourages independent study, and promotes improvement in oral presentation, interpersonal communication, problem-solving skills, and adaptability. Preparation for seminars requires students to read and critically analyse a wide range of primary sources and secondary literature: a programme of private reading that requires good time management and personal responsibility for learning.

The fieldtrip provides students with the opportunity to physically study material objects and supports their preparation of the object commentary. Lectures, seminars, and the fieldtrip support students’ ability to interpret quantitative data and material objects.

In the event that on-campus sessions need to be reduced, there is the capacity to hold live seminar discussions online and retain timetabled slots.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M25Object commentary (1,000 words)
Essay2A75Research essay (3,000 words)
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Computer assessment2M10 multiple choice questions assessing ability to interpret quantitative data contained in primary sources, tables, and figures.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The object commentary assesses students’ ability to critically analyse and contextualise a primary source and to situate it within relevant historiographical debates. It requires students to write concisely and since students choose their own object to comment on, the commentary encourages participants to think independently. The multiple-choice test (formative assessment) supports the development of competency in handling and interpreting quantitative data contained in primary sources, tables, and figures. For each question, an image of a graph, table, or primary source will be displayed, and students are asked to read a specific bit of information from the displayed image and select the correct answer from a choice of four options. This provides scaffolding for the summative research essay in which students are expected to engage with this type of evidence. The research essay evaluates the acquisition of a clear general knowledge of the subject, as well as the ability to locate and synthesise relevant information and express complex ideas in written form using appropriate scholarly sources. The essay assesses students’ capacity to interpret material objects and quantitative data, and their ability to use such evidence to construct a compelling argument. Students have the freedom to set their own research question for the essay (with guidance), which further assists their proficiency to work independently and increases their investment in the module. Work submitted during the delivery of the module forms a means of determining student progress. All submitted work tests intended knowledge and skills outcomes and develops key skills in research, reading, and writing.

All Erasmus students at Newcastle University are expected to do the same assessment as students registered for a degree. Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending semester 1 only are required to finish their assessment while in Newcastle. This will take the form of an alternative assessment, as outlined in the formats below:

Modules assessed by Coursework and Exam:
The normal alternative form of assessment for all semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be one essay in addition to the other coursework assessment (the length of the essay should be adjusted in order to comply with the assessment tariff); to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.

Modules assessed by Exam only:
The normal alternative form of assessment for all semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be two 2,000 word written exercises; to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.

Modules assessed by Coursework only:
All semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be expected to complete the standard assessment for the module; to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.

Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending the whole academic year or semester 2 are required to complete the standard assessment as set out in the MOF under all circumstances.

Reading Lists