The Shock of the Modern

Module code: HS1002

Module co-ordinator: Professor Simon Gunn 

Module Outline

This is a module about how, why and when people became ‘modern’. We have called it ‘the shock of the modern’ because we are studying social, political, cultural, technological and economic changes that led to radically different ways of being human and living together. There are three main themes. The first is about how people became modern. We focus on identity, belief, and how modern people lived and died, as well as the role of disaster in shaping modern people’s sense of well-being. The second looks at living in the modern world. The key topics are the nation state, the modern city, the measurement and management of time, the pace of modern existence, family, friendship and fun. The final theme is about the challenges to being modern. We look at how people resisted different aspects of modern life and tried to find alternatives to it. The time period we concentrate on is the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but for some topics we will be going back to earlier centuries. Finally we ask whether, in the late twentieth century, ideas about who we are and the conditions in which we live have changed so much that we can now describe ourselves as living in a ‘post-modern’ age.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module, successful students will be able to:

  • Analyse and evaluate the concepts of modernity, the pre-modern, the anti-modern and the post-modern in their historical contexts.
  • Identify and discuss the origins of modernity as they affect personal identity, social life, and public institutions and organisations, including the nation state.
  • Reflect critically on their own place in, and relationship, to the past and to historical processes by understanding the origins and trajectory of modernity.
  • Demonstrate key historical skills, attributes and qualities (e.g. research; argumentation and analysis; imagination) in written form in a variety of genres.


  • 20 hours of lectures
  • 2 hours of practicals/workshops
  • 8 hours of tutorials
  • 170 hours of guided independent study

Assessment Methods

  • Source commentary, 2,000 words (50%)
  • Essat, 2,000 words (50%)