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Radicalism and the Common People: Britain c.1789-1880 - 30 credits (HS1758)

Module Tutor: Dr Martin Wright

Course Description

This module examines the history of popular movements in Britain in the period of the industrial revolution and its aftermath. It considers the social effects of industrialisation upon living standards, gender relations, the labour process and class structures. The module then examines the various popular movements and ideologies that developed from this context. These include the Corresponding Societies of the 1790s, industrial movements such as Luddism and trade unionism, Owenism and early socialism, Chartism, radicalism and feminism. A range of questions will be explored: How revolutionary were such movements, and why did Britain escape the revolutionary convulsions that affected other European countries? What were the main ideological characteristics of these movements? Is it possible to perceive ideological continuities through the period? To what extent were such movements ‘national’ and how did various parts of the British Isles relate to one another through them? The module will take a four nations approach to explore the startling dynamics of this period of upheaval in a variety of contexts.

Credits: 30

Availability of module: Every year

Prerequisites: N/A

Necessary for: N/A

Teaching methods

A range of teaching methods will be used in each of the sessions of the course, comprising a combination of lectures and seminar discussion of major issues. The syllabus is divided into a series of major course themes, then sub-divided into principal topics for the study of each theme.

The aim of the lectures is to provide a brief introduction to a particular topic, establishing the salient features of major course themes, identifying key issues and providing historiographical guidance. The lectures aim to provide a basic framework for understanding and should be thought of as useful starting points for further discussion and individual study. Where appropriate, handouts and other materials may be distributed to reinforce the material discussed.

The primary aim of seminars will be to generate debate and discussion amongst course participants. Seminars for each of the course topics will provide an opportunity for students to analyse and further discuss key issues and topics relating to lectures.


Students will be assessed by means of a combination of one 1000 word assessed essay [15%], one 2000 word assessed essay [35%] and one two-hour unseen written examination paper in which the student will answer two questions [50%].

Course assignments:

Assessed Essay 1 will contribute 15% of the final mark for the module. It is designed to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to review evidence, draw appropriate conclusions from it and employ the formal conventions of scholarly presentation. It must be no longer than 1,000 words (excluding empirical appendices and references).

Assessed Essay 2 will contribute 35% of the final mark for the module. It is designed to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to review evidence, draw appropriate conclusions from it and employ the formal conventions of scholarly presentation. It must be no longer than 2,000 words (excluding empirical appendices and references).

The Examination will take place during the second assessment period [May/June] and will consist of an unseen two hour paper that will contribute the remaining 50% of the final mark for this module. Students must write 2 answers in total.

Summary of course content

  • The Industrial Revolution: Concept and Historiography.
  • A Four Nations Approach to Industrialisation
  • Consequences of Industrialism: Living Standards and the Labour Process.
  • Consequences of Industrialism: Social Class and Gender
  • Class, Gender and the Industrial Revolution
  • Religion and Industrial Society
  • E.P. Thompson and The Making of the English Working Class: Influences, interpretation, criticism and responses.
  • The Impact of The French Revolution.
  • The Threat of Revolution
  • The Movement for Electoral Reform 1790s -1832.
  • Industrial Protest: Luddism, Machine Breaking, The Scotch Cattle.
  • Industrialism, Radicalism and Language
  • Rural Protest: ‘The Crowd’, Swing and Rebecca.
  • The Land Question in British Radicalism
  • Early Trade Unionism.
  • Owenism and Early Socialism.
  • Anti Corn Law Agitation.
  • Chartism (I): Origins and Development
  • Chartism (II): Leadership and National Organisation.
  • Chartism (III): The Rank and File and The Regions
  • After Chartism (I): The Workshop of the World, Mature Industrialism and the Labour Aristocracy.
  • After Chartism (II): Trade Unionism, Radicalism, the Second Reform Act and the Background to the Socialist Revival

Learning outcomes

  • Demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the development and nature of industrial society in Britain during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
  • Demonstrate wide and systematic knowledge of the history of popular movements and radical ideas in Britain in the period 1789-1880.
  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of historiographical debates concerning the industrial revolution and its social and political impact in Britain.
  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the development of the historiography of popular movements in Britain in this period.
  • Evaluate the various historiographical approaches to both industrialisation and the history of popular movements in Britain in this period.
  • Conceptualise and pursue a ‘four nations’ approach to the study of this field.
  • Evaluate and interpret selected examples of both primary and secondary material relating to this field

Skills that will be practised and developed

  • communicate ideas and arguments effectively, whether in class discussion or in written form, in an accurate, succinct and lucid manner.
  • formulate and justify arguments and conclusions about a range of issues, and present appropriate supporting evidence
  • an ability to modify as well as to defend their own position.
  • an  ability to think critically and challenge assumptions
  • an ability to use a range of information technology resources to assist with information retrieval and assignment presentation.
  • time management skills and an ability to independently organise their own study methods and workload.
  • work effectively with others as part of a team or group in seminar or tutorial discussions.

Suggested preparatory reading

Malcolm Chase, The People’s Farm: English Radical Agrarianism 1775-1840 (1988).
Malcolm Chase, Chartism: A New History (2007).
Gregory Claeys, Citizens and Saints: Politics and Anti-Politics in Early British Socialism (1989).
Anna Clark, The Battle for the Breeches: Gender and the Making of the British Working Class (1997).
James Epstein and Dorothy Thompson (eds.), The Chartist Experience: Studies in Working Class Radicalism and Culture, 1830-1860 (1982).
David J.V. Jones, Before Rebecca (1974).
David J.V. Jones, Rebecca’s Children: A Study of Rural Society, Crime and Protest (1989).
David J.V. Jones, The Last Rising: The Newport Insurrection of 1839 (1985).
Iain McCalman, Radical Underworld: Prophets, Revolutionaries and Pornograhers in London, 1795-1840 (1988).
Iorwerth Prothero, Artisans and Politics in Early Nineteenth Century London: John Gast and his Times (1979).
Edward Royle, Chartism (1996).
Edward Royle, Revolutionary Britannia? Reflections of the Threat of Revolution in Britain, 1789-1848 (2000).
John Rule, British Trade Unionism 1750-1850: The Formative Years (1988).
Dorothy Thompson, The Chartists (1983).
E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (1963).
Ryland Wallace, Organise!,Organise!,Organise!: A Study of Reform Agitations in Wales, 1840-1886 (1991).
Ivor Wilks, South Wales and the Rising of 1839: Class Struggle as Armed Struggle (1984).
Gwyn A. Williams, The Merthyr Rising (1978).
D.G. Wright, Popular Radicalism: The Working Class Experience (1988)