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The University of Southampton

HIST2086 Building London 1666-2012

Module Overview

London is one of the most well-known cities in the world. It has a fascinating history, growing from a relatively small development along the river Thames into the sprawling metropolis we know today. In this module we will explore the history of the city through an examination of some of its most iconic buildings. We will start in 1666, after the Great Fire of London, and journey through the developing city to the present day, ending with the opening of the Olympic Park in 2012. Each week we will focus on a particular building or geographic site, considering its physical location within the capital, the context of its design and construction – why it was built, how it was built, who and/or what it was built for – and then use the building to explore culture and society of the time of its development. We will use maps of London to enable us to situate the buildings, both geographically and historically; examine contemporary reactions to the buildings to gauge the meanings invested in them by specific individuals and groups; and consider visual materials, including prints, paintings, plans and photographs, as a means of interrogating the changing cityscape and the attitudes of contemporaries towards it.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• to provide a perspective on the history of London, using its buildings a lens through which to view its development and growth over the period 1666 – 2012; • to introduce you to the role played by buildings in the shaping of a city, both physically and historically; • to illustrate how to research histories of specific buildings and cities using a variety of types of evidence; • to explore the social, political, economic, religious, cultural, etc, contexts for building; • to give you a sense of how broader debates, relating to architectural design, heritage and preservation, have developed over time

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • the history of London: in particular the design and construction of its major buildings and the impact that they had on the creation of the city we know today;
  • key visual representations of those buildings, including maps, plans, prints, paintings and photographs;
  • key primary sources illustrating contemporary reception of those buildings;
  • researching histories of buildings and cities and how these can act as a means through which to consider wider social, economic, political and cultural debates
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • participate fully and constructively in group discussion, arguing your case by drawing on your reading, knowledge and understanding
  • analyse critically a variety of textual, visual and material culture sources
  • structure your ideas and research findings into well-ordered presentations and essays
  • contextualise a range of primary source material
  • engage with the secondary literature on the history of London and its buildings, and contribute to the debates relating to development of the city
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • participate effectively in group discussion
  • develop your time-management skills
  • locate and use effective textual, visual and material culture sources in the library and on-line
  • develop your presentation skills
  • research historical questions and communicate your findings convincingly and concisely in written reports


Exploring London through its buildings enables us to map the development of the city at key points in its history. Buildings can function as a window into a period of history. They give us a unique understanding of the needs of those living at that time; of social, political, cultural and economic shifts; of industrial and technological advances; of preoccupations of design and style; and of the aspirations of those invested in their construction. In order to make best use of buildings as direct source material, this module selects a key building or geographical site each week and then explores it through two introductory lectures, one examining the building itself and the other placing it in context. In a complimentary weekly seminar we will work through a range of source material, examining the effects of the building and contemporary reactions to its construction. Over the course of the module we will look at a variety of different kinds of buildings and geographical sites – from domestic dwellings to public buildings, from practical to monumental architecture, from systems of transport (roadways, rivers and the underground) to sites of display. We will engage in a consideration of a number of key themes relating to society and culture, including national pride, celebration, iconography, class structures, population growth and the challenge of town planning. By viewing these buildings from a variety of perspectives, we will gauge their impact on the city and its inhabitants and also learn what they have to tell us about the society and culture of the time of their creation. Entering into current debates on heritage and preservation, we will also explore the buildings continued existence – what has survived and why? how has our view of the building changed? – as well as their destruction. In addition to lectures and seminars providing introductory sessions, essay tutorials and revision classes, topics covered are likely to include: • The rebuilding of London after the Great Fire: St Paul’s Cathedral (1666-1720) • The country in the town: parks, Garden Squares and villas (1740 – 1825) • Monumental spaces: Regent’s Street, Hyde Park Corner and Trafalgar Square (1800-1840) • The past in the present: the British Museum (1823 – 1847) • Seat of power: the problem of re-building the Houses of Parliament (1836 - 1867) • The aftermath of the Great Exhibition: Albertropolis (1851-1900) • Going underground: the Tube (1863 – 1922) • Culture returns to the South Bank: the legacy of The Festival of Britain (1951-1990): • Achieving new heights: from highrise to skyscraper (1948 – 1998) • London revived? the Tate Modern, the Millennium Dome, Stratford and the Olympic Park (1999 – 2012)

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • Two weekly one-hour lectures and one-hour seminar • detailed examination, analysis and discussion of sources • short presentations by students • group discussions including feedback from the tutor Lectures will provide you with a general overview and understanding of chronology, sources and key concepts. This will be consolidated through readings and seminar discussions of primary and secondary source material. Presentations and subsequent group discussion in seminars will help you to develop your own ideas about topics, to analyse a range of source material and to articulate a critical argument. Learning activities include: • preparatory reading, individual research and study prior to each class • preparing and delivering short presentations relating to specific aspects of the module • studying primary sources, including textual, visual and material evidence • participation in group and class discussion In this module, learning and teaching activities focus on helping you to explore and investigate the ideas and themes outlined above. Throughout the module you will also engage in directed and self-directed study, for example through pre-seminar reading and through library research. The presentations (by you and your fellow students) and your reading will provide you with a broad overview of the secondary literature, using the bibliography provided at the start of the module. The discussion generated by these presentations will provide you with the opportunity to explore the relevant major historical debates on a weekly basis. In addition, you will study in depth a range of primary written and visual sources, as well as surviving material culture. These sessions will allow you to prepare for the assessment exercises. Feedback on your progress and development will be given via seminars and group discussions. Responses from tutor and your fellow students to your presentation will also give you formative feedback.

Completion of assessment task40
Follow-up work100
Preparation for scheduled sessions100
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Nicholson, Adam (1999). Lid off the Dome: the inside story of Britain at the Millennium. 

Port, M (1997). Imperial London. 

Summerson, J. (1982). Georgian London. 

Campkin, Ben (2013). Re-making London: decline and regeneration in Urban Culture. 

Physick, John (1982). The Victoria and Albert Museum. 

Gloag, John (ed.) (1970). Crystal Palace Exhibition Catalogue, London 1851. 

McKellar, Elizabeth (1999). The Birth of Modern London. 

Downes, Kerry (1991). Sir Christopher Wren and the Making of St. Paul’s. 

Arnold, Dana (1996). The Georgian Villa. 

Ovenden, Mark (2013). London Underground by design. 

Summerson, J (1980). The Life and Work of John Nash. 


Assessment Strategy

Guidance and advice on preparation, completion and presentation of assignments will be available to you in special seminar discussions • You will be encouraged to discuss preparation for your formal assessments with your tutor • You will have the opportunity to seek individual advice on your module progress from your tutor • You will have the opportunity to discuss written feedback on assignments with your tutor


Seminar presentation


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 25%
Essay  (2000 words) 25%
Examination  (2 hours) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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