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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of History, Classics and Archaeology : Economic and Social History

Undergraduate Course: Cheap Print and Popular Culture in Britain, 1500-1800 (ECSH10103)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits40 ECTS Credits20
SummaryThe course explores the varieties of printed matter that sold for small sums and became available to all people in early modern Britain. It examines the ways in which contemporaries learned to read and the production of cheap works for their instruction and entertainment. Broadsides and pamphlets - containing ballads and stories, almanacs and news, religious teachings and useful knowledge - were run off in millions of copies and distributed by pedlars. They reveal much about the popular culture and social life of the period.
Course description The course charts the development of education and the increase in literacy levels across Britain in the period between the early sixteenth and the early nineteenth century. It traces the rise of a mass reading public and examines the uses to which a knowledge of letters was put. At the same time is explores the emergence and expansion of the book trade in both England and Scotland. The growth of printers, bookbinders and booksellers over the early modern period was cause and effect of the elaboration and diversification of the publishing industry. In particular, attention will be paid to the production, distribution and contents of the cheapest forms of print, made from just one or two sheets of paper. Single-sheet works were the mass media of the period: cried on urban streets by hawkers and distributed through the countryside by chapmen, they sold for just a penny or two and encompassed all people in a national print network.

Broadsides, handbills and 'small books' were run off presses in thousands of editions and millions of individual copies. Despite this, relatively few have survived since they were poorly printed, rarely bound, and inherently ephemeral. Sufficient examples remain, nevertheless, in order to provide a representative sample of their form and content. Recent digitisation projects have made significant amounts of such material readily available. The course considers the ballads and songs, stories and jokes, religious teachings and moral guidance, practical advice and astrological predictions, news reports and political propaganda, woodcuts images and printers' devices, that feature in these diverse and eclectic publications. It analyses what this content can tell us about the mentalities and beliefs, attitudes and aspirations, of the majority of the population in early modern society.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements A pass in 40 credits of third-level historical courses or equivalent.

Students should only be enrolled on this course with approval from the History Honours Programme Administrator
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  15
Course Start Full Year
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 400 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 44, Summative Assessment Hours 3, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 8, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 345 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 50 %, Coursework 50 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Coursework:
4000 word essay (25%)
4000 word essay (25%)

Three hour exam (50%)

Feedback Students are expected to discuss their coursework with the Course Organiser at least once prior to submission, and are encouraged to do so more often. Meetings can take place with the Course Organiser during their published office hours or by appointment. Students will also receive feedback on their coursework, and will have the opportunity to discuss that feedback further with the Course Organiser.
Exam Information
Exam Diet Paper Name Hours & Minutes
Main Exam Diet S2 (April/May)3:00
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. demonstrate, by way of seminar participation, essays and exam, a detailed knowledge of the production, circulation and reception of popular print in early modern Britain;
  2. demonstrate, by way of seminar participation, essays and exam, an ability to read, analyse and reflect critically upon scholarship relating to education and literacy, the book trade and cheap print, and popular culture and belief in early modern society;
  3. demonstrate, by way of seminar participation, essays and exam, an ability to understand, evaluate and utilise a variety of primary source material;
  4. demonstrate, by way of seminar participation, essays and exam, the ability to develop and sustain scholarly arguments in oral and written form, by formulating appropriate questions and utilising relevant evidence;
  5. demonstrate independence of mind and initiative; intellectual integrity and maturity; an ability to evaluate the work of others, including peers.
Reading List
Bernard, J., McKenzie, D. F. and Bell, M. (eds.), The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain. Volume 4: 1557-1695 (2002)

Capp, B. S., Astrology and the Popular Press: English Almanacs, 1500-1800 (1979)

Cressy, D., Literacy and the Social Order: Reading and Writing in Tudor and Stuart England (1980)

Fox, A., The Press and the People: Cheap Print and Society in Scotland, 1500-1785 (2020)

Houston, R. A., Scottish Literacy and the Scottish Identity: Illiteracy and Society in Scotland and Northern England, 1600-1800 (1985)

Mann, A. J., The Scottish Book Trade 1500-1720 (2000)

O'Connell, S., The Popular Print in England 1550-1850 (1999)

Raven, J., The Business of Books: Booksellers and the English Book Trade (2007)

Raymond, J., (ed.), The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture. Volume One: Cheap Print in Britain and Ireland to 1660 (2011)

Spufford, M., Small Books and Pleasant Histories: Popular Fiction and its Readership in Seventeenth-Century England (1981)

Suarez, M. F. and Turner, M. L. (eds.), The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain. Volume 5: 1695-1830 (2009)

Watt, T., Cheap Print and Popular Piety 1550-1640 (1991)
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserProf Adam Fox
Tel: (0131 6)50 3835
Course secretaryMr Rob Hutchinson
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