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POL2046 : A Global History of Political Thought

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Mr Daniel Hutton Ferris
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • 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


The module aims:
•       To introduce students to some of the most insightful and influential texts of political philosophy ever written.
•       To give students a sense of how ideas about society and politics have changed over time and how these changes relate to broader social and political transformations.
•       To better equip students for critical citizenship in an increasingly globalized world by exposing them to important arguments and ideas from beyond Europe and its settler colonies, including about colonialism.
•       To reveal some of the historical origins of students’ own beliefs about society and politics.
•       To expand students political imaginations and encourage them to re-examine their own assumptions about how our social and political life is and could be.
•       To improve students’ ability to interpret and evaluate complex texts, ideas, and arguments and to write and speak about them sensitively, precisely, and fluently.

Outline Of Syllabus

This module introduces students to some of the most influential and insightful pieces of political philosophy ever written. We will read both ancient and modern philosophy from around the world and think about how it can help us understand questions relevant to contemporary social and political life. Three questions will be especially important: How should we understand human nature, philosophically? What would a good or just society look like? What explains why real societies tend be bad? We will also think seriously about many other questions, including: is liberal democracy the best kind of regime? What are the most important and distinctive problems with modern social and political life? How might those problems be solved? And is war inevitable or could there ever by world peace? In order to think about these questions we will study topics including capitalism, patriarchy, and imperialism. We will also compare the views of modern political philosophers such as Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, and Rabinindrath Tagore with some of the classics of political thought in the European and Chinese traditions, including Plato's Republic and the Analects of Confucius.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion120:0020:00Students are expected to take twenty hours preparing for and sitting the final exam.
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion130:0030:00I expect that students will spend thirty hours working on the essay.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture112:0022:00Present in person (PiP) lectures will provide students with an overview of the life and times of thinkers, a summary of their main ideas and arguments, and an analysis of how those ideas and arguments relate to the thematic concerns of the course and to other texts studied.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00Students will participate in PiP seminar groups that last for one hour. This length will allow us sufficient time to perform close reading of important passages and relate the texts to the course's thematic foci and contemporary public debate.
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1117:00117:00Students are allocated around 10.5 hours per week to read the course texts. Selections will not normally be more than fifty pages long and will sometimes be substantially shorter than this. Some selections will be slightly longer, but only when the texts being excerpted are less demanding.
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures. Lectures can motivate students to engage seriously with the required readings and help provide much-needed orientation to unfamiliar ideas, contexts, and ways of writing. Lectures will include short games, quizzes, partner discussions, and short writing exercises, which are essential to student engagement and understanding. One especially important form of participation will be short (five minute) group-work student presentations that will provide an overview of a specific topic, knowledge of which is helpful for understanding the texts and thinkers being discussed (see assessment section, below).

Seminars. Seminars will focus on (1) the broad political themes of the course, (2) the relation of the text to those themes and to other thinkers studied on the course, and (3) the details of the text itself. Seminars will include time for both reading and writing exercises, to help equip students with the skills they need to engage with course content and write the final essay.

Assessment preparation. I expect ten hours per short writing exercise and thirty hours for the final paper to be sufficient time for planning and executing these assessments, given the allocation of plenty of time each week for the initial reading of each text.

Independent study. Students will have more than ten hours per week to read the primary texts. Many aspects of the design of this course - such as the use of short writing exercises and marks for participation - have been chosen to try to encourage students to take their independent study seriously and devote substantial energy to it. One further way to achieve this end may be worth mentioning here: if timetabling allows, it would be ideal if lectures could be positioned at the start of the week and seminars towards the end, so as to allow students to use the lectures as preparation for reading and then use the seminars to fine-tune their understanding.

Assessment Methods

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

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Digital Examination902A50This examination will test students knowledge and understanding of the key arguments, thinkers, and themes covered in the course. Exam will consist of multiple choice questions followed by short answer questions.
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M50Students will write an essay of 2000 words that requires them to compare two thinkers on the course. The basic aim is to improve student skills including close reading, critical anlysis, and writing.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

This course aims to provide students with conceptual resources for critical thinking about central features of modern political life, including democracy and liberalism, and to improve their abilities to interpret and evaluate complex texts and to express philosophical ideas about politics clearly and persuasively both in writing and in speaking.

Essay. This exercise provides students with an opportunity to improve their readind and writing skills. Whereas some forms of examination can incentivise "surface" approaches to learning, preparing a substantial essay is likely to incentivize "deep" learning that is more likely to improve students memory of course content and critical thinking skills related to that content.

Exam. A short examination at the end of the course, conducted on computer. The aim is to assess students' understanding of the core ideas, arguemnts and texts studied in the course. It will consist of multiple choice questions followed by short answer questions. The former provide a way to assess the breadth of students' understanding, while the latter provide a way to assess the depth of their understanding of key topics.

Reading Lists