Required Reading/Listening/Viewing: lectures, short-to-medium-length articles, excerpts from book chapters, podcast episodes, documentaries etc. available either on Learnweb or via links.
This course invites you to confront and challenge some of the potent
myths that have come to shape discourses on the history and culture of Britain and Ireland. The complex,
intertwined history of these nations (‘The Mystery Isles’) presents a
fascinating array of enigmas and conundrums that continue to exercise the minds
of scholars and thinking laypersons alike: enigmas and conundrums of vital
relevance to understanding the contemporary world.
Why, for example, was a 13th-century pope so exasperated with England that he excommunicated the king
for five years? How did this unfortunate occurrence lead to the creation of a
document often regarded as the blueprint for parliamentary democracy and the U.S.
Constitution? Why were the Irish hailed as the saviours of western civilization
in the aftermath of the fall of the Roman Empire? How did Scotland become one
of the epicentres of the European Enlightenment in the 18th century? Why does
the Church of England continue to maintain its opposition to gay marriage, when
this institution, and indeed the ‘English Reformation’, owe their very
existence to a radical redefinition of ‘traditional’ marriage? Most puzzlingly
of all, how did a pitiful, rain-sodden outcrop of rocks on the fringes of
Europe come to dominate much of the world for three centuries and to lay the foundations,
for better or worse, of our modern, globalized world?
Although the British Empire bequeathed a toxic legacy of unresolved
conflicts around the globe (not least in Ireland), its existence as a
superpower over three centuries helped advance the English language to its
current status as the globe’s lingua franca.The Empire project also ultimately gave rise to Britain’s multicultural
identity. While Britain’s position of economic and military dominance on the
world stage has largely diminished over the past century, the country continues to punch
above its current geopolitical weight as a cultural ‘soft power’ of considerable
influence and prestige, in areas as diverse as literature, sport, pop music and
With the loss of global pre-eminence, Britain – or more accurately,
England as the dominant nation in the United Kingdom - has struggled to find
its proper place and purpose in a world now shaped by the forces of
globalization and supranational unions. Nowhere has this been more evident than
in Britain’s fraught, conflicted relationship with Europe over the past half-century.
The Republic of Ireland (independent from Britain for nearly a century) and Scotland (a constituent nation of the United Kingdom) have largely
embraced their status as family members within a greater European home. By
contrast, one could be forgiven for thinking that England has entertained
delusions of post-imperial grandeur in its long-standing hostility towards
European integration, a stance that has culminated in Brexit, arguably
Britain’s greatest political and identity crisis since the Second World War.