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Sex and Gender in British Society since 1500

Second Year Module

Module Leader: Dr Louise Carter

This module offers students the opportunity to explore the role of sex and gender in the lives of British men and women over the past five hundred years. Where have our ideas and expectations about gender come from, how have they evolved and changed, and how have these fluctuating notions of identity shaped lived-experience? Typical questions to be explored will include: Why were women seen as the more lusty sex in the early modern period? Why was the concept of honour so central to early modern masculinity? What does the persistence of the political sex-scandal tell us? When did the idea of men and women as separate sexes emerge? How were same-sex relationships understood prior to the invention of the terms 'heterosexual' and 'homosexual'? Does the eighteenth century deserve its reputation as 'the century of sex'? Why does the idea of the 'new' man or woman keep getting recycled? How, if at all, did women engage in politics prior to the suffrage movement? Why was male adultery not seen as grounds for divorce until 1923? Did the twentieth century witness the emergence of equality between the sexes and why? Was the private or public sector more influenced by ideas of what constituted 'normal' masculinity and femininity? Where did these ideas come from and why and how did they evolve over the past five centuries?

In addition to considering the position of men and women in relation to each other, students will also be encouraged to consider the variety of experiences within the categories of male and female, and the relationship between gender and other markers of identity such as class, race, age and sexuality. Students will be given the opportunity to engage with historiographical debate and to foster an appreciation for the complexity and diversity of past mentalities, beliefs, identities and customs. The module will question whether there is any difference between the concepts of 'sex' and 'gender' and will query how historians might use such terms as tools of historical analysis. It will also consider the degree of continuity or change in our understandings of masculinity or femininity across the past five-hundred years, how gender constructions have shaped men and women's lives and what this might tell us about our gendered identities today.

Learning and Teaching Strategies:

This module will be delivered through weekly lectures and seminars plus tutorial support. Where appropriate supporting resources will also be made available online. Seminar sessions will be designed to encourage student participation and will support students in strengthening their skills of presentation, discussion, argument and debate, and in evaluating, interpreting and using secondary and primary sources.




Weighting %


Submission Date

Sex and Gender since 1500



2,000 words

Week 7



2,000 words

Week 12


Recommended introductory reading:

F.Dabhiowala, The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution, (Oxford, 2012)

R.Shoemaker, Gender in English Society 1650-1850: The Emergence of Separate Spheres?, (Harlow, 1998)

S.Kingsley Kent, Gender and Power in Britain 1640-1990, (London, 1999)

S.Rose, What is Gender History?, (Cambridge, 2010)


Further Reading:

N.B. A full reading list is included in a module handbook which will be provided in the first week of teaching.

H.Barker and E.Chalus, (eds.), Womens History: Britain, 1700-1850, (London, 2005)

P.Carter, Men and the Emergence of Polite Society in Britain 1660-1800, (Harlow, 2000)

B.Capp, When Gossips Meet: Women, Family and Neighbourhood in Early Modern England, (Oxford, 2003)

N.Charles, Gender in Modern Britain, (Oxford, 2002)

A.Clark, The Struggle for the Breeches: Gender and the Making of the British Working Class, (London, 1995)

D.Cressy, Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England, (Oxford, 1999)

H.Cook, The Long Sexual Revolution: English Women, Sex and Contraception 1800-1975, (Oxford, 2005)

E.A.Foyster, Manhood in Early Modern England, (Harlow, 1999)

A.Fletcher, Gender, Sex and Subordination in England 1500-1800, (Yale, 1995)

H.French and M.Rothery, Making Men: The Formation of Elite Male Identities c.1660-1900, (Basingstoke, 2012)

L.Gowing, Gender Relations in Early Modern England, (Harlow, 2012)

V.Gatrell, City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth Century London, (London, 2006)

K.Harvey, Reading Sex in the Eighteenth Century: Bodies and Gender in English Erotic Culture, (Oxford, 2004)

T.Hitchcock and Michelle Cohen, English Masculinities 1660-1800, (Harlow, 1999)

T.Hitchcock, English Sexualities 1700-1800, (Harlow, 1997)

M.McCormack, Public Men: Masculinity and Politics in Modern Britain, (Basingstoke, 2007)

K.Phillips and B.Reay, Sex before Sexuality: A Pre-Modern History, (Cambridge, 2012)

J.Purvis, Womens History: Britain, 1850-1945, (London, 1996)

W.G.Naphy, Born to be Gay: A History of Homosexuality, (London, 2006)

A.Shepard, Meanings of Manhood in Early Modern England, (Oxford, 2003)

S.Szreter and K.Fisher, Sex before the Sexual Revolution: Intimate Life in England 1918-1963, (Cambridge, 2010)

J.Tosh, Manliness and Masculinities: Essays on Gender, Family and Empire, (London, 2004)

A.Vickery, Women, Privilege and Power: British Politics 1760 to the Present, (Stanford, 2001)