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The University of Southampton

HIST2076 The First British Empire: the beginnings of English dominance, 1050-1300

Module Overview

By the middle of the eleventh century, the various nations of the British Isles were characterised by quite distinct cultures and political and economic systems and elites. Yet the relationships between the various nations were entirely redrawn between about 1090 and the 1170s, as the Norman political elite of England came to control each of them in turn. In Wales, Norman barons progressively took over Welsh territory in as a kind of private-enterprise expansion; in Ireland, private military interventions by the Norman elite from 1169 culminated in takeover by the king of England; in Scotland, Norman baronial involvement led to the remodelling of the kingdom and its takeover by Norman interests largely outside the ambit of the kings of England. Though the details varied considerably, the overall effect was that all parts of the British Isles came to be ruled by members of the same elite. The establishment of English-based domination of the British Isles remains central to British politics and culture.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • How the relationships between the nations of the British Isles have developed
  • How modern politics has informed historical understandings of the relationships between the nations of the British Isles
  • How identities in the British Isles have developed in relation to each other
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Elaborate and express your ideas and critical reflections in essays, using primary and secondary sources
  • Gather and digest relevant primary and secondary source materials including via electronic and web resources
  • Give oral presentations and actively take part in discussion
  • Engage in independent study and research
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Evaluate and compare different genres of source text (e.g. chronicle, ethnography, romance)
  • Understand how historiographical interests have developed over the last forty years or so from an Anglo-centric one to a more holistic British view
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Understand how to conduct comparative historical study
  • Understand the value of comparative historical study
  • Identify and evaluate different historical interpretations of past events
  • How ethnicity and nationhood have been recognised by historians and other writers


The developments of an English-based domination of the British Isles had decisive effects upon the politics and identities of the peoples of the British Isles as a whole, and those effects can still be observed in the modern identities and politics of these peoples. The differing levels of development attained by the various peoples were interpreted in strongly moral terms, as justification for colonisation and the imposition of control. Pro-Norman writers denigrated the Irish and Welsh in particular, using ideas about barbarism borrowed from ancient Roman texts to justify the dominance of 'civilised' peoples; the mix of ideas first used in the twelfth century formed the basis of later justifications of British colonialism in the new world and beyond. Others tried to describe the cultures of Wales and Ireland as a means of preserving them. In this module, you will have the opportunity to look at the most decisive phase in determining the relations between the peoples of the British Isles, through examining the kinds of contact that took place and the kinds of societies that resulted. In addition to lectures and seminars providing introductory sessions, essay tutorials and revision classes, topics to be covered will typically include: Colonisation in the middle ages: themes and problems Common history, common destiny? Gerald of Wales part 1: How to define a medieval people Gerald of Wales part 2: Politics and society in medieval Wales The princes of Wales and the kings of England: Countdown to conquest Ireland and its critics: the background to 1169 The conquest of Ireland and its ideologies Ireland in the thirteenth century Scotland, feudalism, and the impact of the Normans Scotland and the formation of a separate identity

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • Short introductory lectures which may include some group work/participation • Seminars focusing on the detailed reading and analysis of primary sources – these could be texts, images or objects Learning activities include: • In depth analysis of primary sources • Preparatory reading and individual study • Individual participation in seminars, group work and short presentations on seminar themes Discussion in seminars will help you to develop your ideas on a topic, to analyse a range of source material and to articulate a critical argument. The weekly seminars will provide you with a forum to discuss the primary sources and relate them to the historical context and the historiography. They will also allow for the development of interpersonal skills; through the use of class presentations you will be able to develop your knowledge and understanding of particular subject areas and to enhance your oral communication skills. The essay and exam will test your knowledge and understanding of the subject matter, your capacity to deploy interdisciplinary approaches and to develop a coherent written argument. In addition, the source-based focus of the essay and the exam will prepare you for the Special Subject and Dissertation in the third year.

Preparation for scheduled sessions45
Completion of assessment task16
Follow-up work45
Total study time150



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 50%
Written assignment 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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