Module Catalogue 2021/22

HIS3353 : Conflict and Consensus in Early Modern European Political Thought

  • Offered for Year: 2021/22
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Nicholas Mithen
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Pre Requisite Comment


Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



This module takes a long view at a theme in the making of modern political thought in Europe between 1500 and 1800: conflict and consensus in social and political thought. Between the Italian Wars (1494) and the French Revolution (1789), European thinkers grappled with the crisis of traditional frameworks for governing political life. In response, they invented new ideas, institutions and cultures designed to safeguard political stability and to promote individual liberty and the common good. At the core of their political thought was the relationship between conflict and consensus within political societies.

In this module, over eleven weeks we look at nine different manifestations of this relationship in some of the most important thinkers in the evolution of Western political thought, stretching from Niccolò Machiavelli to Edmund Burke. By locating their political thought in its historical context, we also interrogate some of the key intellectual and political developments of early modern Europe. This module also introduces, alongside conflict and consensus, other key concepts in political thought, such as the state, republicanism, despotism and liberalism.

Students will come away with an enhanced understanding of the evolution of political thought in early modern Europe and a new perspective on early modern European history, as well as a grasp of the concepts and language central to understanding political thought. They will also develop skills in close-reading of complex texts, engagement with intellectual-historical sources, and the ability to discuss and present complicated ideas in a group scenario.

Outline Of Syllabus

This module will combine non-synchronous lectures (1x1hour per week) and present-in-person seminars (1x2hours per week). The lectures will focus on historical context while the seminars will focus on discussing close-readings of key texts.

Topics typically include:

Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince (1532)
Jean Bodin and the French Wars of Religion
Thomas Hobbes and the modern state
John Locke and religious toleration
Montesquieu and the balanced constitution
Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Social Contract (1762)
Edmund Burke and the French Revolution

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

1.       To understand the concepts of political conflict and political consensus, and their centrality in modern political thought and contemporary political theory
2.       To understand large-scale developments in Europe’s political and intellectual history in the early modern period
3.       To identify key themes in the thought of specific early modern thinkers through a close reading of select passages of canonical texts
4.       To recognise how political thinkers emerged from and spoke to specific historical contexts, and how they can also be located within longer-term political and intellectual trajectories.

Intended Skill Outcomes

1.       The ability to engage in textual analysis, including evaluating texts according to their historical and cultural contexts, while also situating those texts in a broader intellectual narrative.
2.       To develop independent research capabilities
3.       To communicate ideas and learning effectively, both in oral and written contexts
4.       To analyse and evaluate the available evidence critically, and produce an argument based on that analysis.
5.       To critically assess modern scholarship, and engage with the disciplines of intellectual history and the history of political thought.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion651:0065:00Divided between the three assessment components as determined by student
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials91:009:00non-synchronous lectures
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities111:0011:00Preparation for weekly lecture, based on circulated readings
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities113:0033:00Close reading of text in preparation for weekly seminar
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching112:0022:00Seminar linked to lecture and based on discussion of pre-circulated reading material
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study581:0058:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesModule talk21:002:00Introduction/welcome and conclusion/review to the module, in week 1 and 11
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

This module is primarily based on reading published historical texts in context. This is reflected in the division of teaching components into lectures and seminars: the weekly 1 hour lectures, delivered non-synchronously, will give the students an overview of the historical context of the text looked at each week; the synchronous seminar, delivered in person on campus, will then primarily look at a specific historical text, of which students will be expected to have read key passages, as directed by the instructor. Student engagement in both lectures and seminars will be further facilitated by the distribution of key secondary readings, either articles or extracts from books, and they will also be encouraged to pursue independent study on the themes and thinkers.

Seminars will ideally be student-led, and it is anticipated that this will be increasingly the case in the second half of the module. The instructor will stimulate and guide discussion, and ensure key learning objectives are met each week.

In the event that seminars are required to be delivered remotely, the seminar will be conducted through live discussions online, supported by a pre-recorded mini-lecture covering core themes, which students will watch in advance. As it is anticipated that this level 3 module will have only a small group of students, this model of remote delivery is expected to work well.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1A752,500 word essay on title selected from options set by instructor.
Written exercise1M25Students will write a 750 word commentary on on of the texts looked at in week 2-6
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Reflective log1Mstudents will write 2x300 word blog entries on themes discussed in week 1-3
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Formative Assessment

Reflective Log - Students will be required to write 2x300 word blog entries on the extent to which they have met learning objectives in the first three weeks. This will demonstrate the extent of their understanding and their level of writing. It will also allow them to reflect upon their progress, and enable the instructor to offer continuous feedback.


Written exercise (25%) - students will be required to write a 750 word commentary on one of the texts looked at in weeks 2-6 (distinct from the week in which they give their oral presentation). This will demonstrate their ability to understand, interpret and present complex political-historical ideas, as well as to assess the quality of their written work. It will provide the instructor with the opportunity to give feedback in advance of their final assessment

Essay (75%) - students will be required to submit a 2,500 word essay, with the essay title chosen from a set list determined by the instructor. Each question will focus on one, or possibly a comparison between two, books and thinkers looked at in the course. Students will be required to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding, as well as to situate the thinker and book within the broader context of the themes looked at over the course of the module. This builds upon the skills and knowledge base, as well as writing practice, developed in the other assessments.

All the assessment for this module will be submitted and marked online. If the module is required to be delivered remotely, the oral examination will be delivered in the context of a remotely-delivered seminar, with students having the option of pre-recording their presentation or presenting live.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2021/22 academic year. In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described. Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2022/23 entry will be published here in early-April 2022. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.