The course offers an introduction to the history of Great Britain from the dynastic union of the British Isles under one king in 1603 to the present day, with a focus on the ethnic, religious, political, and other identities that have united and divided people in this geographical space during these four centuries. The course will concentrate primarily on England, Scotland, and Wales, but reference will be made to British–Irish relations where appropriate. (A separate course, “National Identities in the British Isles (II)”, is devoted specifically to Ireland.) In addition to the preliminary readings for each week, there will be an emphasis on discussion in class of relevant primary sources, including analysis of paintings, cartoons, and popular songs.

Course instructor: Dr James Christian Brown


Week 1: Introduction: Lands and peoples – a quick tour of the British Isles in 1603

Week 2: The Century of the Three Kingdoms: Dynastic Union to Constitutional Monarchy

Reading: Tristram Hunt, The English Civil War at First Hand (Penguin, 2002), pp. 49-73

Week 3: 1707: A Protestant Union

Reading: Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837, New ed. (Pimlico, 2003), pp. 11-43

Week 4: Reinventing Monarchy in a Free Country

Reading: Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837, pp. 195-236

Week 5: Diversity in Unity: Maintaining Cultural Identity in Wales and Scotland

Reading: Material to be provided

Week 6: Reform and its Contradictions: Evangelicalism, Anti-Slavery, Famine, and Mutiny

Reading: Niall Ferguson, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (Penguin, 2004), pp. 133-153

Week 7: Subjects of the Queen Empress

Reading: Janet Howarth, “Gender, domesticity, and sexual politics”, in The Nineteenth Century, ed. Colin Matthew (Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 163-193

Week 8: “The War That Will End War”

Readings: Rose Macaulay, Non-Combatants and Others (Hodder & Stoughton, 1916), pp. 81-95;

Philip Gibbs, Realities of War (Heinemann, 1920), pp. 57-68

Week 9: Between the Wars

Reading: Siân Nicholas, “Being British: creeds and cultures”, in The British Isles 1901-1951, ed. Keith Robbins (Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 103-135

Week 10: “Their Finest Hour” and After

Reading: David Dutton, “Unity and disunity: the price of victory”, in The British Isles 1901-1951, pp. 137-160

Week 11: Austerity to Affluence and Back

Reading: Arthur Marwick, British Society Since 1945, New ed., 1996, pp. 120-140,  201-223

Week 12: “Victorian Values”, “Cool Britannia”, and Post-Devolution Britain

Reading: Material to be provided

Week 13: Britain in the World: Empire to Brexit

Reading: Material to be provided

Week 14: Conclusions, discussion of final presentation topics


  • A minimum of 50% attendance
  • Participation in class discussions, counting for 10% of the final mark
  • An end-of-term oral presentation on a relevant theme agreed with the course teacher, counting for 90% of the final mark