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HIS3221 : Birth Control in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Violetta Hionidou
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
  • Capacity limit: 40 student places

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

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


In England couples started consciously reducing the number of children they had from around 1870. In less than 100 years ALL couples were doing so. A similar transition occurred earlier in France and the USA. Why did such a transition occur in the nineteenth century for the first time? This module examines the availability of birth control methods (including abortion) as well as the knowledge and acceptance of the various methods by the people. We will explore the methods used by members of the different classes and the reasons for the wide variation between them. By 1918, the central issue for the middle classes, who had already achieved very low fertility, was centred on the husband-wife sexual relationship. We will be using the most popular sex manual as our main primary text, Married Love by Marie Stopes, and we will examine its impact in shaping expectations. We will also explore the role of eugenics in shaping much of the birth control discourse in the early part of the twentieth century. The various players such as medical doctors, the church and the state and their stance towards birth control will also be discussed. Last but not least, we will assess the importance of the pill and whether this was really responsible for the sexual revolution.

While the geographical focus of the module is on Britain, we will also be drawing parallels with the experience of other European countries and the USA.

We will be using a wide variety of primary sources including oral history.

The aims of this module are:
•To enable students to think comparatively, to draw parallels among the birth control history of different countries and to understand why these histories differ.
•To explore primary sources and to integrate them into one’s argument and essays.
•To enable students to study an aspect of history in depth but also across cultures and over a long
period of time.
•To introduce students to historical research and to guide them in the analysis of primary documents
and texts.
•Thereby to enable students to develop their own interpretation of a particular aspect of history.
•To provide an opportunity to acquire a sound general knowledge of the subject, reading widely and
critically in the primary and secondary literature associated with it and to develop the capacity for
independent study
•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.

Outline Of Syllabus

The following is a guide only, actual subjects may differ from those listed.
Britain in the early nineteenth century: setting the background
Malthus and population
Fertility change from the late nineteenth century onwards
Technologies and knowledge of birth control
Attitudes to birth control
Eugenics and birth control
Marie Stopes, sexuality and birth control in Britain
Margaret Sanger and the USA
The pill and sexual revolution

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion551:0055:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading551:0055:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching113:0033:00Seminar
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study571:0057:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Seminars encourage independent study and promote improvements in oral communication, problem-solving skills and adaptability.

Assessment Methods

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

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination14401A75Take home exam- 24 hours. 2500 words (a documentary commentary of 750 words and an essay of 1750 words). 2hours 15 mins exam.
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1M25Essay/doc.commentary of 750 words (including footnotes but excluding bibliography). The feedback from this will feed-forward to the exam which will be made up of a documentary commentary of 750 words and an essay.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Exams test acquisition of a clear general knowledge of the subject plus the ability to think and analyse a problem quickly, to select from and to apply both the general knowledge and detailed knowledge of aspects of the subject to new questions, problem-solving skills, adaptability, the ability to work unaided and to write clearly and concisely.

Documentary commentary exercises and examinations test knowledge and understanding of the texts set for the module. The ability to compare and contrast related source texts on a common subject. The ability to expound and criticize a textual extract lucidly, succinctly and with relevance in a relatively brief space, and, in an exam, under pressure of time.

Work submitted during the delivery of the module forms a means of determining student progress.
Work submitted during the delivery of the module provides the student with feedback that they can use to improve their exam outcome.
Submitted work tests knowledge outcomes and develops skills in research, reading and writing.

Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending semester 1 only are required to finish their assessment while in Newcastle. Where an exam is present, an alternative form of assessment will be set and where coursework is present, an alternative deadline will be set. Details of the alternative assessment will be provided by the module leader.

Reading Lists