Course overview

Our Politics and Contemporary History MA course explores the recent past and how political, social and historical events have shaped the world we're living in today. The programme enables you to study in both the departments of Politics and International Relations and History at Nottingham.

From the modules in these two disciplines you can construct a course to reflect your own particular interests. You'll engage with topics including labour and urban history, women’s history, religion and conflict in the Middle East, film history, and contemporary British history.

You'll be taught by expert staff from a range of disciplines including social sciences, history, theology and American studies. 

The school regularly holds workshops and conferences with guest speakers from international institutions, some of which include:

  • Edward Garnier – former Conservative Party politician
  • Professor Michael Clarke – specialist in defence studies
  • Faiza Shaheen – Director of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies

You'll have the opportunity to undertake a placement as part of your studies to apply your knowledge to real world settings, helping you to stand out to employers.

You'll graduate ready for a range of careers including working in the public and private sector, the media, politics, government or research.

Why choose this course?

Learn from experts

who are internationally recognised for their research in politics and international relations

Gain real experience

through our placement programme


of our research is ranked as world-leading or internationally excellent

Course content

At least 60 credits will be taken with the School of Politics and International Relations, plus a 60-credit dissertation.

The remaining 60 credits may be studied with other schools/departments across the university, subject to approval, with certain modules being especially recommended.


Core modules


You will research and write a substantive dissertation within the field of international relations/studies. The dissertation must be 12,000 words.

Optional modules

Politics and international relations

Contemporary Warfare

This module aims to explore the dynamics of conflict in the modern world. It will primarily address the increased role that non-state actors play in global security. It will introduce you to empirical analyses of numerous terrorist and insurgent groups, as well as to theoretical understandings of sub-state violence in the post-9/11 world. This module will enable you to engage with the concepts of resistance and rebellion in international relations and widen understanding of the multiple levels of global security.

Covert Action and Unacknowledged Interventions

This module covers:

  • Covert Action
  • Propaganda and Influence Operations
  • Fake News and the Digital Revolution
  • Political Action: Coups, Bribery, and Election Rigging
  • Paramilitary Action: Sponsoring Insurgencies
  • Assassination and Targeted Killing
  • Secrecy in International Relations
  • Covert Signalling and Strategy
  • Political Management of Covert Action
  • Democratic Oversight of Covert Action
  • Measuring Success: Evaluating Secret Policy Impact
Global Asia

This module examines major themes, debates and issues related to the study of politics and international relations in the specific regional context of Asia.

It will explore key features and themes in Asian politics including political systems, political economy and development, political values and ideas, as well as pan-Asian themes and international relations/global politics including intra-regional, trans-regional and international issues. It combines theoretical perspectives with historical developments and contemporary issues in Asian politics.

IPE in the Era of Globalisation and Regionalisation

The study of international political economy is essentially interdisciplinary, based on the premise that the political and economic domains are inextricably intertwined in the international system.

The module will introduce you to the main approaches to international political economy, provide a brief overview of the post-war international political economy, before the main focus is turned towards globalisation and the related structural changes in the global economy. This will include a theoretical engagement with the concepts of globalisation, regionalisation and regionalism as well as an analysis of empirical changes in the areas of international trade, finance, production and development with a particular emphasis on the current global economic crisis.

The module will further address the question of the relationship between globalisation and the individual instances of regional integration including the EU, NAFTA and APEC, before it looks at recent formations of resistance to globalisation expressed in demonstrations against G8 meetings (for example, Heligendamm 2007) as well as developments around the European and World Social Forums.

The Politics of Celebrity, Sex and 'Alternative' Lifestyles in China

This module will introduce you to developments in Chinese society, media and popular culture. Through the vehicle of 'alternative' lifestyles it will examine the political, social and economic contexts that have given rise to expanded opportunities, and concomitant responses from the state, for personal and political expression.

The module will provide detailed studies of Chinese celebrity, sex, internet culture, self-development, and numerous subcultures through a lens of class, gender, urbanisation and generation change.

Research Methods in International Relations

This module covers:

  1. Methods and methodology – the logic of qualitative and quantitative research
  2. Theory, metatheory and methodology – how they relate to each other
  3. Quantitative data collection – surveys and polls
  4. Quantitative data analysis – basic statistical analysis
  5. Qualitative data collection – interviews and documents
  6. Qualitative data analysis - process tracing, thematic analysis, discourse analysis
  7. Mixed methodology – pros and cons
  8. Primary and secondary sources – how to use the library
  9. Research questions, design and ethics – practical considerations of research 
  10. Academic skills – how to write a literature review and how to plan a dissertation
Terrorism and Insurgencies

This module is designed to acquaint you with two of the most important aspects of contemporary international security: terrorism and insurgencies.

Both threats have become more acute in recent years and much intellectual, military and economic capital has been used up in efforts to contain them. In taking this module, you will begin to understand the nature of the threats posed by terrorists and insurgents. You will understand how such threats come about and why individuals are drawn towards exercising the use of force against certain governments, their representatives, and the citizens of those governments. 

You will also understand the nature and scope of counter-insurgency practices. You will discuss what works and what does not and the controversies encountered in implementing certain measures. By the end of the module, you will be conversant with, and have an appreciation of, factors which affect the security of many people in today's world.

Theories and Concepts in International Relations

The War on Iraq and the US and British invasion of the country in 2003 has led to huge tensions in geopolitics. At the same time, the supposed 'threat' of international terrorism and continuing financial turmoil in the world economy have both brought to the fore the global politics of co-operation and confrontation.

Whilst it might be possible to agree on the significance of these events, the explanation and/or understanding of them is dependent on prior theoretical choices. The purpose of this module is to make you aware of the diversity of approaches to international theory.

Within international relations theory there exist highly divergent interpretations and applications of key concepts (for example, power, the state, agency, structure, and world order) as well as contested views about the practical purpose underpinning theories of world politics. The overall aim of the module is to provide you with a solid theoretical and conceptual grounding of this diversity. As a result, it will be possible to recognise not only how international theory informs policy-making and practice but also, perhaps, how truly contested the underlying assumptions of world politics are.

The Theory and Practice of Diplomacy

This module focuses on the changing nature of diplomatic practice, together with the range of conceptual tools that seek to explain this international activity. Its focus is contemporary.

It provides a political analysis of new developments such as the public diplomacy, the decline of resident embassies and foreign ministries, and the role of regional/multinational organisations and summitry. It also encourages you to consider future theoretical and practical developments in this field.


Past Futures: Reimagining the Twentieth Century

Explore the social, cultural and political history of the twentieth century. 

Rather than re-telling familiar narratives from the starting point of high, we instead examine them by drawing upon the themes of temporality and memory.  

As well as exploring the different conception of temporality that informed social and political thought, we will also engage with the ideas of progress and decline that were advanced to conceptualise certain events and phenomena. 

Four inter-related themes will be explored: 

  • Temporality and change
  • Social change and memory
  • The politics of reproduction
  • Consumption, mobility and time 

This module is worth 40 credits.

What our students say:

"[My favourite module] was called ‘Past Futures: Reimagining the Twentieth Century’. It looked at the way time works to dictate our understandings of history and how time shapes the way we view things and the interconnectedness between the past, present and future. As someone who is quite interested in topics like World War Two and things that are so culturally relevant today – so issues like Brexit and Coronavirus – you think about how time has shaped how those issues are both articulated and received by the public."

Christos Mouis, History MA

The Unmasterable Past: Collective Memory in a Global World

Build your understanding of various conceptual approaches to studying modern history.

Following a broadly chronological approach, we shall use specific case studies to investigate and challenge common themes, including memory, identity, and social change.

You will explore the construction and representation of national, political, local, and ethnic identities which are born of (and continue to shape) social change. These collective identities will be analysed in terms of memory and commemoration, considering how the recent past is remembered and memorialised.

By the end of the module, you will understand how the past has contributed to the construction of contemporary identities in Europe and beyond.

This module is worth 20 credits.

Exploring English Identity

Recent debates surrounding Brexit and its aftermath have refocused attention on what it means to be English. But what exactly is ‘Englishness’ and how should we understand it historically?

This module explores questions including:

  • What has it meant to feel or be English?
  • What has been the relationship of this to ‘Britishness’ and how has that dual relationship played out in practice?
  • Is English identity fundamentally rooted in empire and its legacies? If so, how?
  • Could English nationalism be a positive, progressive force, or must it be divisive and backward-looking?
  • Where historically has Englishness been located? Is it in a language? A monarchy? In a set of ideas? A territory? A set of preferences, or tastes?

Recent historians have been conscious of English identity not as a stable phenomenon ready to be described, but as a historical construct subject to regular change, revision and contestation.

In the course of this module, you will consider ‘English identity’ as a historical phenomenon, exploring the creation of an assumed English national identity that has both developed over time and been imposed retrospectively on an idea of the past.

This module is worth 20 credits.

(Mis)Perceptions of the Other: From Savages and Barbarians to the Exotic and Erotic

This module investigates how western Europeans constructed and categorised peoples as 'other'. We explore this in a wide range of eras and places including (subject to staff availability):

  • Views on the Jewish and Islamic faiths in the medieval period
  • Notions of Russians between the 16th and 20th centuries
  • Representations of different genders across the British Empire, particularly in India
  • Views of various societies in the 19th and 20th century, including China and Japan

These 'others' were variously constructed as savages, barbarians, or exotic, and were often sexualised or eroticised. Even when the 'other' was perceived as fabulous, those constructions usually had negative connotations, often being used to justify the actions towards them of those doing the 'othering'.

We shall cover the following key themes:

  • conceptualisation and construction of the 'other'
  • using the other to justify actions
  • civilisation versus barbarism
  • decadence vs progress
  • East versus West
  • Christianity versus paganism

This module is worth 20 credits.

Daily Life in Authoritarian Régimes in the Long Twentieth Century

This module explores how living under authoritarian régimes affected the daily lives of populations.

Topics that may be addressed, dependent on staff availability, include:

  • late Tsarist Russia/USSR
  • Nazi Germany and the GDR
  • Fascist Italy
  • Franco’s Spain
  • Communist China
  • Imperial India
  • Mugabe’s Zimbabwe
  • Egypt
  • Péron’s Argentina

We may also look at Salazar’s Portugal, Vichy France, the states of the Warsaw Pact beyond Germany and the USSR, Putin’s Russia, North Korea, Marcos’s rule of the Philippines, military rule in Myanmar, the military dictatorship in Brazil, Castro’s Cuba, Pinochet’s Chile, and even the USA during McCarthyism, South Africa under Apartheid, and various incarnations of twentieth-century imperial rule.

This module is worth 20 credits.

The above is a sample of the typical modules we offer but is not intended to be construed and/or relied upon as a definitive list of the modules that will be available in any given year. Modules (including methods of assessment) may change or be updated, or modules may be cancelled, over the duration of the course due to a number of reasons such as curriculum developments or staffing changes. Please refer to the module catalogue for information on available modules. This content was last updated on Thursday 22 February 2024.

Learning and assessment

How you will learn

  • Lectures
  • Seminars
  • Workshops

You will learn through a variety of teaching methods including lectures, seminars and directed reading.

How you will be assessed

  • Coursework
  • Dissertation
  • Examinations
  • Reports

You will be assessed in different ways on various modules. Assessment methods will include examinations and coursework essays.

Contact time and study hours

A typical 20-credit module includes 22 hours of contact hours. Outside of this time, you will be expected to conduct independent study such as reading, researching, and writing.

Entry requirements

All candidates are considered on an individual basis and we accept a broad range of qualifications. The entrance requirements below apply to 2024 entry.

Undergraduate degree2:1 (or international equivalent)


Our step-by-step guide covers everything you need to know about applying.

How to apply


Qualification MA
Home / UK £10,500
International £22,600

Additional information for international students

If you are a student from the EU, EEA or Switzerland, you may be asked to complete a fee status questionnaire and your answers will be assessed using guidance issued by the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) .

These fees are for full-time study. If you are studying part-time, you will be charged a proportion of this fee each year (subject to inflation).

Additional costs

All students will need at least one device to approve security access requests via Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). We also recommend students have a suitable laptop to work both on and off-campus. For more information, please check the equipment advice.

As a student on this course, you should factor some additional costs into your budget, alongside your tuition fees and living expenses.

You should be able to access most of the books you'll need through our libraries, though you may wish to purchase your own copies or more specific titles which could cost up to £120.

Please note that these figures are approximate and subject to change.


There are many ways to fund your postgraduate course, from scholarships to government loans.

We also offer a range of international masters scholarships for high-achieving international scholars who can put their Nottingham degree to great use in their careers.

Check our guide to find out more about funding your postgraduate degree.

Postgraduate funding


We offer individual careers support for all postgraduate students.

Expert staff can help you research career options and job vacancies, build your CV or résumé, develop your interview skills and meet employers.

Each year 1,100 employers advertise graduate jobs and internships through our online vacancy service. We host regular careers fairs, including specialist fairs for different sectors.

International students who complete an eligible degree programme in the UK on a student visa can apply to stay and work in the UK after their course under the Graduate immigration route. Eligible courses at the University of Nottingham include bachelors, masters and research degrees, and PGCE courses.

Graduate destinations

This course will introduce you to the advanced study of contemporary history and equip you with the skills needed for a wide range of career paths, from media and leisure, to national government and international organisations.

Many students take an active role in politics throughout their time in the school, and after. Politics is an ideal academic discipline if you are interested in a career in politics or government.

Other students go into a range of careers, including management, marketing, teaching and broadcasting. Recent graduate destinations include Channel 4, the European Union, GCHQ, Reuters and the Thailand National Police Department.

Career progression

66.7% of postgraduates from the School of Politics and International Relations secured graduate level employment or further study within 15 months of graduation. The average annual salary for these graduates was £23,444.

HESA Graduate Outcomes 2019/20 data published in 2022. The Graduate Outcomes % is derived using The Guardian University Guide methodology. The average annual salary is based on graduates working full-time within the UK.

We offer a range of local, national and international placement opportunities, which may be paid or voluntary, part-time alongside your studies or longer placements during university vacations.

Two masters graduates proudly holding their certificates
" The University of Nottingham has always been the university I wanted to study at, it has a fantastic reputation, the facilities and staff are world-class, providing excellence. The course allows you to encounter varying opinions and perspectives, which forced me to question and develop my own standpoints. "
Emma Cobb, MA Politics and Contemporary History

Related courses

This content was last updated on Thursday 22 February 2024. Every effort has been made to ensure that this information is accurate, but changes are likely to occur given the interval between the date of publishing and course start date. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply.