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2024/25 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

HIST3550 Exploration, Conflict and Cultural Encounter in Early European Expansionism

40 creditsClass Size: 16

Module manager: Iona McCleery

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

Year running 2024/25

Module replaces

HIST3352 Cultural Encounters: Spain, Portugal and the Wider World in the Late Middle Ages

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Europeans began to visit and exploit parts of Africa, Asia and the Americas. Traditionally viewed as a golden age of ‘discoveries’, this process of expansion is now seen as a deeply troubling period which influenced later patterns of colonialism. In this module, we will consider changing approaches to exploration, encounter, conflict and tolerance at the time, including how Christian attitudes towards Muslims and Jews laid the groundwork for attitudes towards non-European peoples, before studying voyages and conquests. We will cover most of the world, visiting the Atlantic, including West Africa, North and South America, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. The first semester will introduce all the voyages, texts and interdisciplinary methods that are needed to study exploration in the period. We will study closely a variety of written sources in English translation such as log books, chronicles and letters, and also examine surviving maps and other visual images. The second semester will take a thematic and comparative approach to those same sources looking at topics such as race, gender, disease, food, language and religion.


The aim of this module is to build on and refine students’ skills in debating issues, constructing and presenting arguments, and interpreting a wide range of primary evidence through the study of early European expansionism, with especial emphasis on cultural encounters and conflicts globally during the 15th and 16th centuries. ...

Learning outcomes
By the end of the module students should be able to:
1. Demonstrate that they can express opinion, and develop and present a sophisticated argument about cultural encounters, global conflicts and early European expansionism based on evidence in both oral and written format;
2. Interpret and problematize primary sources about the early history of European expansionism;
3. Analyse the debates and methods of historians researching the history of exploration and other topics, understanding how their arguments are constructed based on the primary sources they use and their theoretical approach;
4. Apply skills in debate, methodology and primary sources to an extended study of the key themes in early European expansion.
5. Apply fundamental standards of scholarly research, presentation and writing in the field of history.


Indicative topics may include:
Approaches to exploration, conflict, (in)tolerance and cultural encounter; the Portuguese in Africa and the Atlantic islands; the voyages of Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama; Caribbean colonization; encounters in the Indian and Pacific Oceans; the first circumnavigation of the world; the conquests of Mexico and Peru; encountering North America; maps, ships and navigation; race; language and communication; disease; trade; food; clothing; religion; gender

Teaching methods

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

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

For the 4000-word essay due at the end of semester 1, students will submit a 500-word essay plan (due by semester 1, week 9) on which written feedback will be provided, followed by a 15-minute one-to-one meeting with the module tutor in which the plan will be discussed.Students will receive written feedback (formative only) on an in-class presentation that they can use to prepare for their portfolio at the end of semester 2. The practice presentation can take place in a seminar at any point in the year so that students benefit from class discussion at the time. There will also be opportunities to do practice primary source analyses and/or literature reviews with formative feedback, although they must be on a different source/topic to the final submitted portfolio.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay4000 words50.00
Portfolio1500 word primary source analysis, 1500 word literature review on a related topic, 5 min presentation on primary source with 750 word script50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

For the portfolio, students will choose a primary source from a wide range selected by the module tutor for their 1500-word analysis, and will then themselves identify suitable secondary literature to review related to that source. Students will record a 5-minute presentation on their chosen source, posing key questions they are asking of it, providing relevant visual material, and introducing some of the literature that they are reviewing in relation to the source. The 750-word script of this presentation must be included in the portfolio. Literature reviews can focus on scholarship generally on the source, or can be on a specific debate/theme related to the source.

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 29/04/2024 16:15:05


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