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The Unquiet Countryside 1750-1920

Third Year Module

Module Leader: Dr Harvey Osborne

This module will examine popular protest in the British countryside between 1750 and 1920. Students will engage with debates about change and continuity during a period traditionally associated with a transition from localised and supposedly archaic rural protest actions to redress grievances toward more recognisably modern protest methods and organisation. To this end the module will develop an account extending from the classic eighteenth-century food riot through to the emergence of agricultural trade unionism and political campaigns for land reform in Ireland and Scotland in the mid- to late-Victorian era. Students will assess the contribution recently made to our understanding of rural protest by new cultural and environmental perspectives associated with new protest history and adopt a comparative framework to explore parallels, continuities and connections over time and also between the experience of the constituent parts of the British Isles.

The module will investigate a range of specific topics including the food-riots of the 1790s and 1810s, the rural machine-breaking disturbances of the 1820s, the Swing rising, opposition to the New Poor Law and Workhouse system, the Whiteboy movement in Ireland and associated peasant violence, the Rebecca Riots in Wales, rural Chartism, incendiarism and animal maiming in East Anglia, the growth of agricultural trade unionism in England during the 1870s and the Irish and Highland Land Wars. Students will explore the causes and context of rural protest and the extent to which changes in organisation, modus operandi and claims to legitimation changed over time. They will examine the relationship between protest and crime and the definitional issues thrown up by concepts such as protest crime or social crime. Students will examine the precise behaviours, language and demands of protesters as well as the responses of authority and how this shaped protest, its incidence and form. The module will assess the interpretative framework established for studies of rural crime and protest by social historians in the late-twentieth century and also introduce more recent historiographical and methodological approaches associated with newer cultural, social and environmental perspectives.

Learning and Teaching Strategies:

This module will be delivered through a weekly extended seminar plus tutorial support. Resources will also be made available online. 




Weighting %


Submission date

The Unquiet Countryside

Document Commentary


2,000 words

Week 9



2,500 words

End of semester

Recommended introductory reading:

J.E.Archer, Social Unrest and Popular Protest in England, 1780-1840, (Cambridge, 2000)

C.Griffin, The Rural War: Captain Swing and the politics of protest, (Manchester, 2012)

C.Griffin, Remembering protest in Britain since 1500: memory, materiality and the landscape, (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) 

R.E.Jones, Petticoat Heroes: Gender, Culture and Popular Protest in the Rebecca Riots, (Cardiff, University of Wales, 2015) 

G.E.Mingay, (ed.), The Unquiet Countryside, (London, 1989) 

K.Navickas, Protest and the politics of space and place, 1789-1848, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016) 

Further Reading

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