Understanding English and Welsh Communities and Cultures, c. 1750–2000

Module code: HS7110/7130

Module co-ordinator: Keith Snell

Module Outline

This MA course module surveys a wide array of themes and approaches in the study of British regional communities and cultures between c. 1750 and 2000. Ideas of local belonging and identity are to the fore. Among its concerns are issues to do with cultural regions, such as those displayed in the regional novel, or in geographies of Victorian religion, or cultures of regional work and livelihood. As in all work at the centre for English Local History, visual interpretations are stressed, in this case bearing upon landscape art, churchyards and their related iconography and meanings, and nineteenth-century photography as a source for the study of rural life and the poor. The module introduces anthropological and cultural approaches for the study of minority groups such as the gypsy-travellers, or the London Jewish community. It has a strong emphasis upon change in rural society, exploring issues such as rural protest, farming, and the decline of the ‘family economy’ as a productive basis for rural and artisan life. It encompasses welfare history, notably through study of the New Poor Law (1834-1930). It introduces students to methods such as oral history. Appropriate sources for every subject are covered. In short, this module is focused on community, identity, and cultural regions, assessing how these changed over this period, and considering methods of study and appropriate sources.

The aims of this module are:

  • To augment knowledge and comparative understanding of regional English and Welsh communities and cultures, covering essential themes and the approaches and theory used in their study
  • To enhance research skills and versatility, knowledge of local historical sources, written communication skills, critical historical judgement, and related interpretation
  • To impart inter-disciplinary methods and skills. These include literary approaches, pictorial interpretation, oral history, methods in cultural and religious geography, and ethnological and anthropological approaches (e.g. on the gypsies), among other local historical methods and approaches
  • To relate historical knowledge to present-centred issues and problems (e.g. heritage-related issues, gypsies, literary repute and local investment, welfare systems and their problems, xenophobia, gender relations, secularization, landscape interpretation)
  • To develop a historical dimension to aesthetic judgement
  • To teach interpretation of artistic motifs, landscape painting and memorial styles
  • To explore a great variety of sources relating to these themes, and ways of interpreting them, and the relevant legal frameworks

Topics covered

There is a fascinating range of topics covered in this module. They are all addressed as issues or themes relating to questions of regional cultures and their history in the British Isles. The subjects that we handle include the following:

  • Art, landscape painting and prospects of the poor
  • The regional novel: exploring regions in fiction
  • Insiders and outsiders: local belonging and identities
  • Churchyards: local cultures in stone and their analysis
  • The regional ‘family economy’: gender, courtship and change
  • Occupational cultures and the rise of class
  • The New Poor Law: regionality perpetuated? Sources for the New Poor Law
  • Geographies of Victorian religion: spiritual heartlands and regions
  • The London Jewish community
  • The 19th and 20th century countryside
  • Gypsies and ‘gorgios’: outsiders and dominant cultures
  • Anthropological approaches to local history
  • Victorian photography: capturing ways of life
  • Oral history: methods and possibilities


This course is taught in the Centre for English Local History, 5 Salisbury Road. It comprises 10 double sessions. In the academic year 2013-14 it will take place on Thursday evenings from 6.30–9.30, with a social and coffee break pleasantly dividing each double session.


Assessment is by a 30 credit project (max. 5,000 words), giving great range and scope to explore a subject that interests you and which is relevant to the module.  There are four possible projects that you can choose from:

  1. Either a study of the sense of place in a British regional novel of your choice
  2. Or; a project on the representation of 'community' in a primary source of your own choice (e.g. an autobiography, diary, the work of a painter, a volume of published correspondence, a novel, a government report, a parish vestry minute book, etc)
  3. Or; a study of the social significance of monumental inscriptions and related evidence in a churchyard of your choice
  4. Or; an oral-history project on the sense of place and belonging, which involves interviewing one person for this and analysing the statements made.


E.P. Thompson, Customs in Common (1991).
K.D.M. Snell, Annals of the Labouring Poor:  Social Change and Agrarian England, 1660-1900 (1985).
Frederick Burgess, English Churchyard Memorials (1963).
K.D.M. Snell (ed.), The Regional Novel in Britain and Ireland (1998).
W.J. Keith, Regions of the Imagination: the Development of British Rural Fiction (1988).    
John Barrell, The Dark Side of the Landscape (1980).
J.S. Taylor, Poverty, Migration, and Settlement in the Industrial Revolution (1989).
R.P. Draper (ed.), The Literature of Region and Nation (1989).
P. Joyce, Visions of the People: Industrial England and the Question of Class, 1848 1914 (1991).
Gerard Delanty, Community (2003).
Graham Day, Community and Everyday Life (2006).
R. Frankenberg, Communities in Britain: Social Life in Town and Country (1966 and later edns).
Paul Thompson, The Voice of the Past: Oral History (1978).
P. Thompson, et al,  Living the Fishing (1983).
Steve King, Poverty and Welfare in England (2000).
A. Macfarlane, The Culture of Capitalism (1987).
I . Dyck, William Cobbett and Rural Popular Culture (1992).
G. Dar1ey, Villages of Vision (any edn).
J. Okely, The Traveller-Gypsies (1983).
K.D.M. Snell, Parish and Belonging (2006).
T. Williamson, The Transformation of Rural England (2002).
K.D.M. Snell and P.S. Ell, Rival Jerusalems: the Geography of Victorian Religion (2000).
I. Pinchbeck, Women Workers and the Industrial Revolution (any edn).
E. J. Hobsbawm and G. Rudé, Captain Swing (1969, or later edns).
E.A. Wrigley and R. Schofield, The Population History of England, 1541-1871 (1981), chs 9-11.
Tony Parker, Studs Terkel: a Life in Words (1996).
George Ewart Evans, Where Beards Wag All: the Relevance of the Oral Tradition (1970).