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2019/20 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

HIST3745 Secret Service: The World of British Intelligence

40 creditsClass Size: 15

Module manager: Professor Simon Ball

Taught: Semesters 1 & 2 View Timetable

Year running 2019/20

This module is not approved as a discovery module


To introduce students to the analysis of modern British secret intelligence using secondary literature and primary sources in English.

Learning outcomes
By the end of this module students should be able to demonstrate that they:
- have a deep and informed understanding of the structure and culture of British secret intelligence since 1909;
- understand the different kinds of sources historians use to investigate modern secret intelligence;
- have a sophisticated and critical knowledge of the secondary literature on British secret intelligence;
- have the skills to read and interpret both written primary sources; and
- are able to express their ideas and arguments effectively and persuasively on paper and in scholarly discussion.


‘Haydon also took it for granted that secret services were the only real measure of a nation’s political health, the only real expression of its subconscious.’ John le Carré, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974), p. 370.

The main aim of this special subject is to deepen our knowledge of the post-1909 role of secret intelligence for Britain. It will do so by going beyond the institutional history of particular intelligence services and interrogating the nature of an overarching culture of intelligence, manifested both in the intelligence community and the wider public sphere. Britain will be placed in comparative perspective through secondary reading on other national intelligence cultures.

More specifically we aim to:
a) Investigate the discourse on secret intelligence within the British intelligence community and the public sphere.
b) Investigate the practice of secret intelligence by the British state.
c) Investigate the impact of major wars on secret intelligence.
d) Develop our understanding of the differences between British intelligence culture and practice, and that of other major nations.

We will examine three main types of source:

1. Documents produced by the secret intelligence services.
2. Analytical contemporary comment on the intelligence services, often produced by former officers.
3. Commentary on, and narrative of, secret service, sometimes fictional and imaginative, produced for the public sphere.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours356.00
Total Contact hours44.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)400.00

Private study

To prepare for seminars students will be expected to study some articles, books and documents. These will be set out clearly in the module handbook.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Students will be monitored on class contributions and the quality of the non-assessed work that they will be required to complete for each seminar.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay1 x 4,000 word essay to be submitted by 12 noon on Monday of exam week 2 in January40.00
PresentationVerbal presentation10.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)50.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Exam typeExam duration% of formal assessment
Standard exam (closed essays, MCQs etc)3 hr 00 mins50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Exams)50.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 30/04/2019


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