MA Coursework Core Course

ELL5032F Theories and Histories of Modernity (Semester 1)

24 NQF credits at HEQSF level 9


A/Prof S. Young and Dr P. Anderson

Course entry requirements 

Acceptance for the English masters programme.

Course outline

This course investigates the concept of ‘modernity’ and the hierarchies it served, from its emergence in what was thought of as ‘early modernity’, through the ‘Enlightenment’ to the Romantic period. The course traces the intellectual history associated with ‘modernity’, critically examining its many and contradictory effects. Our range of texts span literary, historical and even visual texts, as we reflect on the knowledge practices and the literatures that shaped the emergent ideas about what it meant to be human and the social hierarchies within which the ‘southern parts’ of the world were positioned. We explore the language of scientific intelligibility through the early modern, ‘enlightenment’ and Romantic periods – the ‘discovery’ of nature and the place of the human in nature – in order to reflect on the radical dissenting positions it enabled, as well as the call to self-consciousness – to ‘know thyself’ – in the knowledge practices and the philosophies out of which new literary imaginaries could emerge.

The course is divided into two terms, the first, ‘A critical evaluation of early modernity and its partisan world-making’ with A/Prof Sandra Young and the second, ‘Human Nature, or, Light in Dark Places: Romanticism and Natural History’, with Dr Peter Anderson.

DP requirements

Submission of all written work and at least 75% of seminar attendance.


Two essays of between 4 000 and 5 000 words each, each worth 50% of the final mark. One essay should cover the material from Term 1 and the other the Term 2. Students should expect to develop their own essay topics, in consultation with the lecturers. Term 1 essays are due at the end of the mid-semester break and Term 2 essays by the end of consolidation week.