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The University of Southampton

HIST3239 Towards Empire: England and the Sea, 1450-1650 (Part 2)

Module Overview

This module is the prerequisite to HIST3axx Part 1. It starts by examining England’s rise as maritime power through a detailed analysis of English voyages of exploration, early colonisation projects and the creation of merchant companies. In 1550 only a handful of English sailors had sailed beyond Europe, but by the 1570s they had travelled to Russia via the White Sea, circumnavigated the globe and searched for the illusive North-west passage. We will examine the size and geographical distribution of the English merchant fleet, for which students will have access to a new resource (, as a way of contextualising voyages of exploration and trade. Students will examine key geographical areas visited by English traders and the consequences of such voyages. There will also be an opportunity to learn how the English switched from voyages of exploration to projects of colonisation, and what challenges planting such colonies produced. Central to England’s maritime expansion were merchant companies and as we move through the module we will look at how these companies formed, the people involved and the wider economic aims of such companies. Usually formed in large port cities these attracted men with capital to invest in trade and voyages of exploration and here we can explore how trade and settlement were inextricable linked. Seafarers were an occupational group of great importance: they provided the manpower to move goods and people, through fishing they nourished the nation, and they were central to the crown’s wartime needs, and so the course will also examine the nature, development, and experiences of shipboard communities over a period of fundamental change. Each week will focus on a topic that will be explored by closely analysing a source(s) for which students will prepare presentations; discussion will also centre on wider events or themes linked with the source.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • voyages of exploration and the role they played in England's expansion
  • development of mercantile and commercial companies and the role they played in developing England's economy
  • the structure of shipboard communities and the social world of sailors
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • identify and solve historical problems
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • analyse a wide range of primary sources, appreciate the particular contexts in which those sources were produced and comment succinctly on their significance in an assessed essay and in an examination in which answers will informed by a knowledge of sources
  • draw connections between different historical periods
  • identify and critically assess scholarly views and arguments
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • explore the role the sea played in England's development and analyse the role of trade and finance in the development of England as a global maritime power


Themes to be covered typically may include: Trade, Plunder and Settlement; England and the Age of Exploration England’s Shipping and Trade, 1500-1588: Outlook and Ambition Early English Voyages, 1480-1530: John Cabot and William Hawkins (The ‘Isle of Brazil’ and Guinea Voyages) English Voyages to Russia The Search for the Northwest Passage, the Three Voyages of Martin Frobisher English Circumnavigators: Sir Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish Trade, Plunder and Settlement: Humphrey Gilbert, Walter Raleigh, and the Roanoke Settlement. Jamestown and the Foundations of Colonial Enterprise Cultural Contacts: English Voyages and Indigenous Encounters Merchant Adventurers and the Development of the Companies, c.1400-c.1650 The merchants of Bristol and Plymouth: the Atlantic World The Merchant Adventurers of London and the Birth of the Capital The Muscovy Company The East India Company, Early Voyages The Shipboard Community: War, Trade, and Exploration

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: - seminars - Group work - Tutor-led guidance on the sources, on the preparation of assessed essays and gobbets (including practice session), on the conventions used in the presentation of written work. - Student-led seminars, with the module convenor acting as guide and learning facilitator - Individual consultation in person and by email about assessed work on the module. Learning activities include: - Preparatory reading for seminar discussions - Preparation of brief reports on particular questions as directed for classes - Preparing and delivering presentations - Discussion of set topics - Further reading and independent research for the essay and dissertation - Preparation and completion of module assignments Knowledge and understanding will be developed through a continuous study and analysis of primary sources. You will develop your research skills – how to find relevant material and secondary literature, how to use primary material – in groups and in consultation with the seminar tutor. Attendance of lectures, independent study and the writing of essays will further develop your intellectual skills and enable you to communicate your findings in oral presentations.

Independent Study276
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Kelsey, H (1998). Sir Francis Drake: The Queen’s Pirate . 

McDermot, J.  (2001). The Third Voyage of Martin Frobisher to Baffin Island . 

Loades, D (2000). England’s Maritime Empire: Seapower, Commerce and Policy, 1490-1690 . 

Willan, T.S (1955). The Muscovy Merchants of 1555 . 

Brenner, R (2003). Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London’s Overseas Traders, 1550-1653 . 

Quinn, D.B (1955). The Roanoke Voyages, 1584-1590: Documents to Illustrate the English Voyages to North America Granted to Walter Raleigh, 2 vols . 

Andrews, K.R.  (1978). The Westward Enterprise: English Activities in Ireland, the Atlantic and America, 1480-1650 . 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 50%
Exam  (3 hours) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Assessment  (4400 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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