Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton

HIST1158 Liberte, Egalite, Beyonce: Women’s History in Modern Britain

Module Overview

Beyonce might sing that girls run the world, but throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century, women were often excluded from society and politics. The history of women in the last two hundred years can be written as a story of progress and change, but even today women and their lives are often excluded from the history books. And while many women fought for their rights to vote and participate in politics, to work, earn money and own property, and to have control over their own bodies and their own lives, this fight was not easily won; many people, male and female, resisted these changes. Even the women who were campaigning to change society had very different ideas about what a new, more equal Britain might look like. In this module, we will explore the history of women in Britain in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We will consider the ways in which the womens movement developed in Britain, and the way that it was influenced, not only by Europe and North America but also by Africa, Asia and Latin America. Starting with ideas about gender developed in the early nineteenth century, this module looks at the key campaigns, people, images and debates involved in womens history and the British feminist movement. We will consider issues such as the anti-slavery campaigns, imperial feminism, the role of women in the world wars, and the modern womens liberation movement. We will work with an interesting and varied historiography, as well as a rich collection of archival material including pamphlets, speeches, audio/visual materials, memoirs and autobiographies, and legal and government documents.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • key cultural, social and political developments of in modern women's history
  • different ways in which historians have written about gender and feminism
  • an eclectic range of primary sources that provide evidence for historians for making sense of the topic
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • differentiate various approaches to writing about women's history, gender history, and history in general
  • explore some of the key historiographical issues associated with women's history
  • engage in critical analysis of a wide range of textual and visual sources and interpret those sources in the light of broader historiographical debates
  • present your interpretations and research findings in short talks and essays
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • improve your time-management skills
  • access and utilise textual and visual sources in the library and on-line
  • tackle historical problems and express your own ideas effectively in talks and written reports


Topics to be studied might include: - women's political activism, from the anti-slavery campaigns to the suffrage fight to the women of Greenham Common; women's roles as campaigners, MPs, and activists - women's lives in wartime - the Boer War, the First World War, the Second World War - women's role in the economy - as consumers, workers, union members, and recipients of and contributors to the welfare state - women's identity beyond being 'women' - race, class, region, religion, sexuality and gender identity - women's happiness, mental health, physical health, threats and dangers to women's lives - women's sex lives and reproductive freedoms - women's experiences as sex workers, the campaigns for contraception and abortion, the social expectations and stigmas around sex outside of marriage and casual sex, the sexual double standard, women's experiences of pregnancy and childbirth - conservative women, radical women, 'ordinary women', extraordinary women, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods will include: - weekly one-hour lecture and one-hour seminar - directed individual and group activities around primary sources - short informal presentations given by students on the module - group discussions including feedback from the tutor Lectures are designed to introduce you to key themes, historical debates and historians' approaches. Further reading and seminar discussions of primary and secondary source material are designed to consolidate your knowledge and understanding. In seminar discussions you will be expected to engage in critical analysis of primary sources and to formulate and articulate arguments. And you will be encouraged to express your own ideas about a topic. Learning activities will include: - independent study, reading and research in preparation for each seminar - putting together and delivering short presentations as directed by the lecturer - in-depth study of textual and visual primary sources - participation in small group and whole seminar discussions Learning and teaching activities are designed to help you investigate the main themes and issues of the module. These activities will include directed and self-directed study, for example through preparatory reading and library and on-line research. Particular attention will be paid to the different approaches historians have used, and the presentations you give will focus on getting to grips with these approaches, using the reading list of secondary literature provided at the start of the module. You will also study (on your own and in seminars) a wide range of primary written and visual sources. These activities will help you to prepare for the commentary and essay exercises. You will receive feedback on your progress via seminar and group discussions.

Completion of assessment task54
Preparation for scheduled sessions36
Wider reading or practice36
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Morgan, Sue (ed.) (2006). The Feminist History Reader. 

Rowbotham, Sheila (1992). Hidden From History: 300 Years of Women’s Oppression and the Fight Against It. 

Fisher, Kate (2006). Birth control, sex and Marriage in Britain, 1918-1960. 

Pugh, Martin (2015). Women and the Women’s Movement in Britain since 1914. 

Zweiniger-Bargielowska, Ina (2001). Women in Twentieth Century Britain: Social, Cultural and Political Change. 

Gottleib, Julie (2013). The Aftermath of Suffrage: Women, Gender and Politics in Britain, 1918-1945. 

Bourke, Joanna (2007). Rape: A History from 1860s to the Present. 

Lewis, Jane (1984). Women in England, 1870-1950. 

Cowman, Krista (2010). Women in British Politics c. 1689-1979. 

Marlow, Joyce (2001). Votes for Women: The Virago Book of Suffragettes. 

Rose, Sonya O (2003). Which People's War?: National Identity and Citizenship in Britain 1939-1945. 

Cochrane, Kira (ed.) (2010). Women of the Revolution: 40 Years of Feminism. 

Walkowitz, Judith R (1982). Male Vice and Feminist Virtue. Feminism and the Politics of Prostitution in Nineteenth Century Britain. History Workshop Journal. ,13 , pp. 79-93.

Walters, Margaret (2005). Feminism: A Very Short Introduction. 

Kent, S. Kingsley (1999). Gender and Power in Britain, 640-1990. 

Lewis, Jane (1986). Labour and Love: Women’s Experiences of Home and Family. 

Midgely, Claire (1992). Women Against Slavery: The British Campaigns 1780-1870. 

Tosh, John (London1999). A Man's Place: Masculinity and the Middle-Class Home in Victorian England. 

Braybon, Gail and Penny Summerfield (eds.) (1987). Out of the Cage: Women’s Experience in Two World Wars. 

Bruley, Sue (1999). Women in Britain since 1900. 

Holdsworth, Angela (1988). Out of the Doll’s House: The Story of Women in the Twentieth Century. 

Purvis, June (ed.) (1995). Women’s History. Britain, 1850-1945. 

Scott, Joan W (1986). Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis. American Historical Review. ,91 , pp. 1053-75.



MethodPercentage contribution
Commentary exercise  (1500 words) 50%
Essay  (2000 words) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Share this module Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on Weibo
Privacy Settings