SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

The Making of the Contemporary World

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 1

The course will examine the historical conditions under which the contemporary world came into being, with an emphasis on the recent past.  It will proceed chronologically, beginning with the world system of the thirteenth century, before European hegemony, then move quickly through the early modern period and the long 19th century to—in the second half of term—the last hundred years.  As it does so, each week will focus on a particular theme, including: archaic and modern globalization; early modern empires and new imperialism; industrialization and the great divergence between the West and the rest; the question of multiple modernities; colonialism and nationalism; uneven and underdevelopment; the global Cold War and failed prophecies about the end of history.  To do so, it will draw on the exploding field of global history, together with relevant theoretical literature, ranging from political economy to cultural studies.

The course is designed primarily for History students, providing a global context within which to place their own research on particular regions and periods.  It will suggest connections between their field and developments elsewhere, as well as a comparative framework within which to evaluate their research questions.  The course may also be of interest to other students in programmes, notably international relations and politics, economics and development, providing the historical context within which to place contemporary developments in and against which to test general claims about the world today.  Two essays will evaluate students’ engagement with and understanding of the key themes and issues in the course.  Seminar participation will be assessed, to ensure that students keep up with an intensive reading schedule.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should be able to:

(1) demonstrate a good understanding of the process through which the contemporary world came into being, of the current debates in global history (archaic vs modern globalization, early modernity, the great divergence and industrial capitalism, multiple modernities, imperialism and nationalism, uneven development and developmentalism), and of relevant theories and approaches to both;

(2) critically evaluate and synthesize relevant secondary material;

(3) contribute effectively to debate and discussion, advancing the work of the group as a whole;

(4) present findings and arguments effectively in oral and (5) written form.


This is a 10 week course and the number of hours you will spend in a seminar is 2 hours.

Method of assessment

Essay of 3,000 words worth 80% of the final mark, Reaction paper/book review of 1,000 words worth 20% of the final mark


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules