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2018/19 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

HIST5851M Death, Dying and the Dead in Twentieth-Century Britain

30 creditsClass Size: 10

Module manager: Dr Laura King

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2018/19

This module is not approved as an Elective

Module summary

Focusing on twentieth-century Britain, this module examines the changing experiences of death, dying and remembrance of the dead. Through major medical developments, decreasing mortality levels, mass conflict, changing role of formal religion, and an increasingly diverse population, students will focus on experiences of death and dying using a ‘history from below' perspective. This means that the experiences of ordinary individuals and families are at the heart of the module, as students will use sources and examine literature which focuses on everyday experiences and the perspective of the dying and their loved ones.Through eleven seminars - topics decided in consultation with students - and a field trip (such as to a cemetery, war memorial or other relevant site), students will examine topics such as ‘Dealing with the dead: bodies and their afterlives', which considers changing practices around the corpse, to ‘Grief, bereavement and the emotions of loss' which uses history of emotions perspectives to think about experiences of death, dying and remembrance. The period in question is one of substantial change: mortality rates dropped throughout the century, cremation overtook burial as the most popular form of disposal of the body, and people became increasingly likely to die in an institution rather than at home. Ultimately, this is said to be a century when death became taboo - is this true?As part of this module, students will produce a presentation and a blog post on the same topic, based around a primary source or small case study of their choosing. The presentation (worth 20%) will be a ‘practice run' for the blog post at which students can get feedback from the tutor and the rest of the class. The blog post (worth 30%) will be posted on the tutor's project website ( to a public audience in due course. Finally, students will write a 4000 word essay on a topic of their choosing - the question will be decided in collaboration with the tutor.


The aim of this module is to:

- Introduce students to the study of death and dying, and the interdisciplinary field of death studies
- Introduce students to changing experiences of health, illness and death in twentieth-century Britain
- Develop students skills in using both primary and secondary sources to understand a broad range of perspectives on an issue of universal relevance

Learning outcomes
Through this module, students will gain an understanding of:

- Changing practices around, attitudes about and experiences of death and dying in twentieth-century Britain
- Changing mortality rates, and their impact on the everyday experiences of families and individuals
- The increasing medicalisation of death, and its consequences
- Practices of remembering and commemorating the dead
- The place of the above in broader social and cultural history and the history of health and medicine in twentieth-century Britain
- A diverse range of experiences of death and dying, and the relationship with the dead, across social class, ethnicity, religion, gender and age, as well as over time
- Different historiographical approaches to understanding death and dying (such as the history of health and medicine, and the history of emotions, and how they relate to the way other disciplines approach this topic)

Students will develop their skills in:

- Critical analysis of primary source materials, particularly those used in history from below approaches
- Interrogating secondary literature from a range of historical sub-disciplines and other disciplines (such as sociology, English, health sciences)
- Writing for lay audiences through publishing a blog post, students will hone their skills of communicating complex research to a non-academic public


Seminar topics are likely to include:

- Why study death and dying?
- Dying in infancy - experiences of child deaths
- Preparing for dying and facing mortality
- Changing ideas about the ‘good' death
- The rise of hospices and the changing location of death
- Funerals and other ceremonies to mark a death
- Grief, bereavement and the emotions of loss
- Burials, cremations and ‘deathscapes'
- Dealing with the dead: bodies and their afterlives
- Continuing bonds: remembering the dead in everyday life
- Collective mourning and memorialisation
- Religion, spirituality and the afterlife
- Migration and movement and experiences of death and dying
- Representing death and the dead in popular culture
- The great taboo? Communicating about death

Seminar topics will be pre-selected from the above list, with students able to help decide which topics we will cover each year.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours276.00
Total Contact hours24.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)300.00

Private study

Students will be expected to spend a substantial amount of time reading for each seminar. They will also be expected to follow up seminar discussions with their own targeted reading to enhance their understanding of the topic. Finally, they will spend a substantial amount of time in independent study for their assessments.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

The presentation and the blog post will be on the same topic: the presentation effectively works as a testing ground for the eventual blog post, which means formative feedback is built in to the course assessment structure.
After the presentation, I will provide the usual written feedback for students and meet with them to discuss building on this piece of work to write it up as a blog post.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Presentation10 minutes in class presentation20.00
Essay4,000 word essay due 12 noon Monday of exam week 250.00
Written Work1,000 words Blog Post30.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

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

Reading list

There is no reading list for this module

Last updated: 30/04/2018


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