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2023/24 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

HIST3745 Secret Service: The World of British Intelligence

40 creditsClass Size: 16

Module manager: Professor Simon Ball

Taught: Semesters 1 & 2 (Sep to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2023/24

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

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.


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.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours352.00
Total Contact hours48.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)400.00

Private study

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

o Reading to prepare for seminars (120 hours)
o Further self-directed reading (66 hours)
o Preparing and researching essay including formative elements (80 hours)
o Preparing and researching portfolio including formative elements (80 hours)
o Reflection on feedback (6 hours).

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

4,000-word essay: students will have the opportunity to discuss an essay plan with their tutor
Portfolio: students will have the opportunity to discuss each element of the portfolio with their tutor.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay4,000 words50.00
Portfolio1 x 4,500 word portfolio [comprising linked 3 x 1,500 word elements, a) literature review, b) book/ film/ art/ play review, c) essay50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

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

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 28/04/2023 14:41:13


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