History Dissertation Topics

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Example history dissertation topic 1:

A consequence of municipal inaction: working-class housing conditions in the West Midlands 1840 - 1926.

This dissertation suggests that a predominant factor in determining both the quality and affordability of working-class houses in the towns of the West Midlands was the extent to which local authorities were politically willing and able to take action to address the housing needs of their poorest inhabitants. In so doing it firstly charts municipal inaction with regard to self-improvement in the period prior to the Local Government Acts of the 1880s and 1890. Thereafter it notes the transfer from local political arena to national political agenda and the result that during the 1920s and assess the importance, upon the quality of housing provided, reports such as that of Tudor Walters and the Garden City Movement.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Pritchard, R.M. (1976) Housing and the spatial structure of the city. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Pugh, M. (1999) State and society: A social and political history of Britain 1870 - 1997 (2nd edn). London: Hodder Arnold.
  • Rodgers, R. (1995) Housing in urban Britain 1780 - 1914.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Example history dissertation topic 2:

How secure was English Protestantism in the early years of Elizabeth I's reign?

As Levin (2002:22) opines that the accession of Elizabeth in 1558 resulted in ‘English Christians experienc[ing] their fourth religious upheaval in a generation'. In the early years of her reign, Elizabeth made outward displays of Protestantism, for example in her invitation, as Doran (1994:7) notes, to ‘Dr William Bell, a Protestant who had been ejected from Cambridge under [Mary's reign] to preach at St Paul's Cross whilst arresting the Bishop of Chichester for preaching a rejoinder the following Sunday'. Using the work of these two authors as a starting point, this dissertation explores the nature of Protestantism in the first fifteen years of Elizabeth's reign and assesses the extent to which the ‘new' religion was safe in an administration that was itself, until later, threatened with extinction.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Levin, C. (2002) The reign of Elizabeth I. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
  • Doran, S. (1994) Elizabeth I and religion: 1558 - 1603. London: Routledge.
  • Rosman, D.M. (1996) From Catholic to Protestant: Religion and the people in Tudor England. London: University College London Press.
  • Morrill, J.S. (ed.) (2000) The Oxford illustrated history of Tudor and Stuart Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Example history dissertation topic 3:

The changing roles and tastes within French formal gardening in the 17th and 18th centuries

Jacques Boyceau de La Barauderie wrote in 1638 in his Traite du jardinage selon les raisons de la nature et d'art that ‘the principal reason for the existence of a garden is the aesthetic pleasure which it gives to the spectator'. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries French gardens evolved. The gardens of the elites were not only to be somewhere formal to stroll but also to be a form of living architecture as well as an outdoor setting for the pursuit of enjoyment and happiness. They would be a place of theatre and were also used to signify political change as for instance in the establishment of ‘the little farm' at Versailles. This dissertation looks at the changing expectations of the elites of France during this period with regard to what they expected of their gardens.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Allain, Y.M. and Christiany, J. (2006) L'art des jardins en Europe. Paris: Citadelles et Mazenod.
  • Wenzler, C. (2003) Architecture du jardin. Paris: Editions Ouest-France.

Example history dissertation topic 4:

An analysis of the factors that best explain the growth and movement of population within the East Midlands region c.1801 and 1914

Between 1801 and 1911, the populations of the Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire grew from 140,350 to 161,142; 130,081 to 208,557; 604,098 to 683,423; and 476,553 to 563,960 respectively. These rises were, however, neither consistent in terms of the decennial percentage rises over the period, nor uniform between or within the individual administrative counties. For whilst the cities grew at rates at or above the national rate in nearly all the inter-census periods under study, the individual counties not only ‘traded' persons between themselves, but also lost population through outward migration to other parts of the country and overseas throughout the nineteenth century. This dissertation therefore addresses the reasons underlying these differences.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Strachan, A.J. (1972) ‘Patterns of population change', in, Pye, N. (ed.) Leicester and its region. Leicester: British Association for the Advancement of Science, pp. 424-454.
  • Wells, F.A. (1966) ‘Industrial structure', in, Edwards, K.C. (ed.) Nottingham and its region. Nottingham: British Association for the Advancement of Science, pp. 405-415.
  • Weber, A.F. (1965) The growth of cities in the nineteenth century: A study in statistics. New York: Cornell.

Example history dissertation topic 5:

How important was migration to the development and growth of urban centres in the period 1700 - 1801?

The urban population of England (excluding London) grew threefold between 1700 and 1800, from 5.5% to 16.5% of the total population, whilst agricultural productivity per head rose by 47%. This resulted in a greater proportion of rural labour being available for non-agrarian work because the agrarian economy could function successfully without pressing into service the labour of all those who were born in the countryside. Consequently, the prospects for increased industrial production rose. It was not the case, however, that England's villages emptied due to a relentless stream of labourers forced off the land and into the towns through enclosure, as industrialisation did not necessarily go hand-in-hand with increased urbanisation in this period. This dissertation addresses and evaluates the underlying trends that accounted for these trends during the period.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Everitt, A. (1979) ‘Country, county and town: Patterns of regional evolution in England', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Vol. 29, pp. 79-93.
  • Glass, D.V. (1965) ‘Population and population movements in England and Wales, 1700 to 1850', in, Glass, D.V. and Eversley, D.E.C. (eds), Population in History. Chicago: Aldine Publishing, pp. 221-246.
  • Law, C.M. (1972) ‘Some notes on the urban population of England and Wales in the eighteenth century', The Local Historian, Vol. 10(1), pp. 13-26.

Example history dissertation topic 6:

The politics of theatre attendance in 18th century Paris.

The Chapelier Law of 1791 guaranteed freedom of speech and expression to French theatre after the fall of the Ancienne regime. This dissertation looks at the role of theatres both prior to and after the 1789 revolution. In so doing it investigates the reasons (in addition to the performance) for people attending the theatre in the years immediately prior to the revolution and the way in which the old regime tried to suppress dissidents and its role in the popular culture thereafter. This is a dissertation that would also benefit from an insight into the writings of Rousseau and Voltaire and would thus be particularly suited to anyone undertaking joint honours.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Brown, F. (1980) Theater and revolution: The culture of the French stage. New York: Viking Press.
  • Censer, J. and Hunt, L. (2001) Liberty, equality, fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.
  • Leon, M. (2002) The image of Molière in the theater of the French Revolution. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.

Example history dissertation topic 7:

The changing face of London's East End: An analysis of census returns 1851 - 1901

Census returns and enumerators reports offer the historian a fascinating insight into the personal circumstances of pour predecessors. Using both of these primary sources along with a range of government reports and contemporary accounts into the ‘life of the London' poor this dissertation evaluates the changing face of London's east end in the latter half of Victoria's reign. This is a growing area of interest with the centre for metropolitan studies at the IHR being one of a number of research centres increasingly focused upon life in the capital.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Friedlander, D. (1974) ‘London's urban transition 1851-1951', Journal of Urban Studies, Vol. 11(2), pp. 127-141.
  • Census statistics, London, 1851-1901.

Example history dissertation topic 8:

Divided by race: A primary source investigation into the first modern race riots of England: Nottingham, 1958

Issues of community and identity are at the interface of sociology and history. It is also an arena of increasing academic importance with a notable rise in the number of studies being published under the banner of Historical Urban Studies. The influx of Afro-Caribbeans into the UK in the late 1950s and 1960s is well documented as is the Notting Hill riots. Of less pre-eminence in the national psyche is that the riots that occurred in Nottingham during the same period made it the first ‘race riot city' of the UK. Using recently released archives as well as primary research this study breaks new ground.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Crozier, G. (2009) ‘Race and education: Policy and politics in Britain', British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 30(2), pp. 245-250.
  • Lawrence, D. (1974) Black migrants: White natives. A study of race relations in Nottingham. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Example history dissertation topic 9:

The Carolingian Renaissance: A reassessment

The Carolingian Renaissance is, according to one school of academic though a period of intellectual and cultural revival in Europe which occurred from the late eighth century to the mid ninth century. In contrast, others suggest that the period was more an attempt to recreate the previous culture of the Roman Empire and that, accordingly, its cultural gains were but short-lived. Still further, others question the appropriateness of the word renaissance given that many of the reforms of the period were centred upon ecclesiastical and legal matters. This dissertation reviews these three contested views of the period and in so doing offers a further evaluation.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Nelson, J.L. (1986) Politics and ritual in Early Medieval Europe. London: Hambledon Press.
  • Treadgold, W.T. (ed.) Renaissances before the Renaissance: Cultural revivals of late antiquity and the Middle Ages. Los Angeles: Stanford University Press.
  • Trompf, G.W. (1973) ‘The concept of the Carolingian Renaissance', Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 34(1), pp. 3-26.

Example history dissertation topic 10:

The Battle of Vienna: A turning point in the Ottoman-Habsburg wars?

Won by the combined forces of the Holy Roman Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, academic opinion is nevertheless divided as to whether the battle was a turning point in the 300 year war between the two empires of whether it was just further proof of the on-going decay of the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, the battle marked a highpoint for the Polish-Lithuania Commonwealth for its forces were pivotal within the struggle. This dissertation seeks not only to further assess the on-going academic divide on the importance of the battle but also to place the contribution of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth into its own broader historical context.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Palmer, A. (1992) The decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire. New York: Barnes & Noble Publishing.
  • Wheatcroft, W. (2010) ‘The enemy at the gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans, and the battle for Europe', The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 82(4), pp. 909-911.

Example history dissertation topic 11:

Cavour, Garibaldi and the unification of Italy

The process of Italian unification was a complex one and, though the state of Italy is perceived to have been born in 1871, the process of unification was not completed until the early years of the twentieth century. With reference to the period of primary unification the competing (and complimentary) roles of Cavour and Garibaldi are paramount and whether or not unification was primarily the result of Piedmontese expansion under Cavour or primarily as a result of the military successes of garibaldi remains a hotly contested historical question. This dissertation uses a range of primary as well as secondary sources.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Beales, D. and Biagini, E. (2003) The Risorgimento and the unification of Italy (2nd edn). London: Longman.
  • Davis, J.A. (ed.) (2000) Italy in the nineteenth century: 1796-1900. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • De Cesare, R. (1909) The last days of Papal Rome. London: Archibald Constable & Co.

Example history dissertation topic 12:

The race for city status: An analysis of the changing criteria for attainment - from Victoria to the Diamond Jubilee Cities

As the historian John Beckett notes, ‘City status' is a much coveted municipal accolade. Traditionally, its award (apart from those historic cathedral cities that had been given the title seemingly from time immemorial) was dependent upon a number of criteria including for instance population and the returning of an MP. The recent award of City status as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations has shown not only that there is no longer a prerequisite for an urban centre to have an advanced population mass to be awarded such status but also highlighted, through the number of applicants, the sheer extent to which ‘city status' is desired. A dissertation that combines not only modern history with modern day civic-political aspiration but also reviews both the Victorian ‘explosion' in cities as well as aspects of their mediaeval past.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • BBC News (2012) ‘Three towns win city status for Diamond Jubilee', BBC News [online]. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-17364651 [accessed 26 May 2012].
    Beckett, J. (2005) City status in the British Isles, 1830-2002. Abingdon: Ashgate.

Example history dissertation topic 13:

The dispersal of slum tenants and the effects upon perceptions of belonging: Central government policy 1919 - 1974

In the aftermath of WWI the Government was determined to build houses ‘fit for heroes'; a similar desire was also expressed after WWII. In both instances, war-time victory was accompanied by movements to improving the stock of working class housing through measures such as the Tudor Waters report (1918) and the Dudley Report (1944 ) through which councils were empowered and obligated to build municipal housing of a higher standard than that hitherto constructed. As a result of this and on-going programmes of municipal slum clearance, former inner-city residents were increasingly moved wither to estated suburbs on the outskirts of towns (or across geo-administrative borders into the territories of rural and urban districts) or transported wholesale to ‘new towns'. This dissertation charts these associated developments in housing and relates them to issues of identity and community building within the period.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Byrne, D.S. (1976) ‘Allocation, the council ghetto and the political economy of housing', Antipode, Vol. 8(1), pp. 24-29.
  • Leese, P. (2006) Britain since 1945: Aspects of identity. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Example history dissertation topic 14:

An analysis of the problems of inflation in the latter years of the reign of Philip II and the nature of his inheritance to his son

Philip II is a fascinating historical figure. Within the UK however, his appearances within taught history lessons tend to revolve around his marriage to Mary Tudor, his attempted wooing of her half-sister princess Elizabeth and the fate of the Spanish Armada. Philip II was, however, much more than that. As ruler of Spain he presided over a vast (if unruly) Empire and was also responsible for the building of the Escorial in Spain. Within his internal government he was a figure devoted to the tiniest of details. This dissertation looks at an internal aspect of his reign within Spain: the problem of inflation in his later years and the effects that it had upon his kingdom. This is a dissertation that does not require a working knowledge of Spanish but will involve substantial use of secondary data as well as a need to undertake some palaeography in accessing English diplomatic documents of the era.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Hilliam, D. (2005) Philip II: King of Spain and leader of the Counter-Reformation. New York: Rosen.
  • Parker, G. (2002) Philip II. Chicago: Open Court Publishing.

Example history dissertation topic 15:

‘The local historian: from collector of antiquarian curio to family genealogist?' - An analysis of the changing role of the local historian

Antiquarian studies such as those of Francis Blomefield, The History of the City and County of Norwich: containing its original rise and increase, its ancient and present government, with the various accidents that have happened to it; the foundations of the Cathedral, Castle, Parochial Churches, Monasteries, Hermitages, Hospitals, and other Publick Buildings (1806); for Durham, George Allan and Robert Hegg, Historical and Descriptive View of the City of Durham and its environs bound with the legend of Saint Cuthbert (1824); and for York, T. Allen, History and Antiquities of York (1828), were little more than prosaic accounts of the development of towns with mentions of notaries of the areas. Thereafter, local historians became, with the advent of the Hoskin's school in the late 1940s more concerned with the geographic history of place. Today, public record offices are awash with local historians researching the genealogy of either their own or their client's family. This dissertation charts the development of such local historians over a period of 200 years and assesses their on-going relevance given modern historical techniques and concerns.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Beckett, J. (2007) Writing local history. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • Hoskins, W.G. and Hey, G. (1984) Local history in England. London: Longman.

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