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HIS2306 : Famines in History

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Violetta Hionidou
  • Lecturer: Dr Joseph Lawson, Dr Robert Dale, Dr Fergus Campbell
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


This module examines famines in history, focusing on nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Questions as to why famines happen, how do they start and how do they end, who dies and who survives, and what is their legacy are addressed. Malthus’ ideas of overpopulation and famine are discussed as those of Amartya Sen and his entitlements theory. Case studies are presented in detail looking at the specific circumstances of each of the famines. Case studies may include the Irish famine, the Greek famine of the 1940s, the 19th and 20th century Russian/Soviet famines and the Great Leap Forward. Some of the seminars engage with wider questions rather than focussing on specific famines. For example, is the use of blockades ethical? Are there winners in famines? What do people eat in famines? As famines affect every aspect of life, from politics to economy and from prostitution to family relationships, the study of famines, and consequently this module, is interdisciplinary.

The aims of this module are:
•To acquire a sound knowledge of the subject of famines, reading widely and critically in the literature associated with it.
•To encourage the students to examine the subject from a variety of different perspectives.
•To encourage students to think about history comparatively and to draw parallels, connections and contrasts between different countries and populations.
•To provide an opportunity of investigating in some depth selected problems, including the appraisal of selected source material and the critical examination of current historiography.
•To explore primary sources and to integrate them into one’s argument and essays.

Outline Of Syllabus

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

Defining famines
Theories of famines
The Irish famine
The Greek 1940s famine
Comparing the 1891 and 1921-1922 Famines - Continuities and Change in Tsarist and Early Bolshevik response to famine.
Explaining the Holodomor - The causes and contexts of the 1932-33 famine
Does the Holodomor constitute a genocide? (Famine in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan)
The 1947 Famine - Causes, responses, and consequences.
Differing and Contested Memories of Famine in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Russia.
The Great Leap Forward famine
Remembering famines

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion671:0067:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture211:0021:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading671:0067:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching91:009:00There will be a one hour seminar each week for 9 weeks
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops31:003:00There will be 2 one hour essay surgeries and 1 one hour Q&A.
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study331:0033:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

SEMINARS encourage independent study and promote improvements in oral presentation, interpersonal communication, problem-solving skills, research skills and adaptability.

LECTURES enable students to gain a wider sense of historical argument and debate and how such debates operate, which also allows them to develop comparisons between different historiographical debates.

SURGERY TIME: Essay surgeries will help students prepare for assessments.

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written exercise2M25Document commentary (1,000 words)
Essay2A75Essay that addresses comparative issues (2,000 words)
Formative Assessments

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

Description Semester When Set Comment
Written exercise2Mdocument commentary (1000 words)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

1. Work submitted during the delivery of the module forms a means of determining the student’s progress.
2. Summative assessment tests knowledge outcomes and develops skills in research and reading.

A formative exercise - a document commentary - will be set for this module. This will be un-assessed, but will be discussed in the seminars and will feed into the assessed document commentary.

This will be followed by the assessed documentary commentary which will prepare students for stage three work with primary sources.

The major assessment for this module is an essay that will allow students to critically engage with the key concepts of the module by researching and exploring the politics and culture of famines.

Reading Lists