Postgraduate study

Politics and Contemporary History MA

Reflecting increased interest in contemporary history following the end of the Cold War, this course is explicitly historical in scope, with particular focus on events within living memory.
 
  
Duration
1 year full-time, 2 years part-time
Entry requirements
2.1 (or international equivalent)
IELTS
6.5 (no less than 6.0 in any element)

If these grades are not met, English preparatory courses may be available
Start date
September
UK/EU fees
£8,865 - Terms apply
International fees
£18,675 - Terms apply
Campus
University Park
 

 

Overview

It addresses contending approaches to recent events which have shaped your own life and the lives of those around you.

Nottingham has one of the largest number of academics focused on contemporary history in the UK. Staff in the School of Politics and International Relations are actively engaged in this research and are joined by experts in the School of American and Canadian Studies, Department of History, and the Department of Theology and Religious Studies.

Areas of special interest include:

  • 20th-century American history
  • 20th-century Chinese history
  • Anglo-American relations
  • Cold War history
  • communism and fascism
  • contemporary British political history
  • film history
  • intelligence and national security
  • labour and urban history, especially in Britain and Europe
  • modern German history including the Holocaust
  • modern Russia, especially imperial, diplomacy and war
  • modern war in Europe, Asia and the Pacific
  • religion and conflict in the Middle East
  • South East Asia, especially social movements
  • United States foreign and security policy
  • women's history

Academic English preparation and support

If you require additional support to take your language skills to the required level, you may be able to attend a presessional course at the Centre for English Language Education, which is accredited by the British Council for the teaching of English in the UK.

Students who successfully complete the presessional course to the required level can progress to postgraduate study without retaking IELTS or equivalent. You could be eligible for a joint offer, which means you will only need to apply for your visa once.

Key facts

  • Top 100 worldwide for politics and international relations in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2018
  • Committed to excellence in teaching, having won 13 Higher Education Academy awards
  • Expert academics who contribute to public debate through national and international media, including appearing on BBC TV, BBC Radio 4, the BBC World Service and in such publications as The Guardian, The New York Times and Le Monde
 

Full course details

You can tailor this flexible, interdisciplinary course to your interests and career aspirations by choosing from a wide range of modules.

At least 60 credits will be taken with the School of Politics and International Relations, plus a 60-credit, 15,000-word dissertation. You will be allocated an appropriate dissertation supervisor who will oversee your progress.

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

Assessment

Assessment for taught modules takes place at the end of each semester and is through a combination of coursework and/or exams, with some modules also requiring an assessed presentation.

 
 

Modules

Core modules

Dissertation

This module covers the research and writing of a substantive dissertation of 16,000 words, combining aspects of both politics and contemporary history. 

The research programme will have been designed in the second semester. In this module you implement the agreed research programme and write the dissertation.

 

Optional modules

Politics and international relations

China and the World

This module introduces you to the traditional Chinese and the Maoist world views, though it focuses on the changes that have taken place since the start of the reform period.

It explores how domestic politics and other developments have contributed on the one hand to the rise of China as a great power of the first league, and to the emergence of a 19th century European type of nationalism on the other.

It addresses China's use of force in support of foreign policy as well as its attempts to project soft power. It also reviews China's relations with its major partners or competitors, including the USA, the EU (including the UK), and the importance of Taiwan in China's relations with the rest of the world.

 
Comparative Democratic Development

At the dawn of the 21st century, the status of democracy across the world is uncertain. In Central and Eastern Europe, it has become the only game in town, but in other regions like Russia or the Arab World it has suffered reversals.

To make sense of these events, this module examines and is structured around some of the big, important questions that have long interested political scientists around the questions of democracy:

  • What is democracy? 
  • Why are some countries democratic and others not? 
  • How did democracy emerge in different countries? 
  • What difference does democracy make for people's lives? 

The module adopts a global and comparative perspective, by focusing on countries in specific regions and by studying different data-sets on the design, functioning and influence of democratic institutions.

 
Democracy and Elites in 20th Century Europe and America

From the Occupy Movement and its slogan of the 1%, to Brexit and Trump, the problematic relationship elites – whether financial, social or political – entertain with democracy has been forcefully brought back onto the political agenda. How can the fact that a small number of people wield disproportionate power in the economic, social or indeed political world be reconciled with democracy understood as political equality? Whilst this is no doubt a burning topic, the question of what role elites play in democracy has been raised before.

The aim of this module is to delve into the history of political thought to see how authors in the past century have conceptualised the relationship elites entertain with democracy. Starting with the so-called classic 'elite theorists of democracy' – Vilfredo Pareto, Gaetano Mosca, Robert Michels, Moisie Ostrogorski – who were the first to theorise the elite class within a modern democracy setting, we will explore how their thought impacted upon the development of democratic theory both in Europe and the US through figures such as C. Wright Mills, Robert Dahl, Joseph Schumpeter, Raymond Aron, Bernard Manin and Pierre Rosanvallon.

Our goal will be to come to a better understanding of both contemporary democracies and the precise nature – whether good or bad – elites play in them, and to think about ways in which some of the more deleterious aspects of our contemporary politics might be tackled.

 
Designing Political Enquiry

The module is designed to allow you to develop a critical understanding of the methodological issues involved in designing and undertaking political science research and to strengthen their ability to read and evaluate political science literature more generally.

The first part of the module focuses on issues of research design in political science, in particular, the use of the comparative method in political science research. It exposes you to a broad range of methodological issues involved in designing, conducting and writing up research based on a relative small number of cases in areas of comparative politics, international relations, and public policy. 

Topics that are addressed in the module include issues involved in developing a research question, problems of conceptualisation, measurement, and strategies and approaches to causal theorising in small N research.

The second part of the module addresses various methods of generating and processing data for political science research. Methods that are covered include the use of documentary sources, observation, and various forms of interviewing.

 
Disasters, Rehabilitation and Resilience

This module will focus on post-disaster recovery and rehabilitation and how 'resilience' is articulated and experienced. Key themes will include vulnerability (to shocks and slow onset disasters), risk and resilience. Examples will be drawn from various real world disasters and you will be able to research the disasters of your choice.

 
EU-China: Trade, Aid and Public Diplomacy in the 21st Century

In this module, you will learn about the state-of-the-art of western engagement with China during the past 35 years (1978-), in particular western trade and development policies towards China and gain insights into the interplay between bilateral and multilateral development agencies and Chinese domestic partner organisations.

You will learn to critique emerging partnerships between international NGOs and domestic civil society organisations and academic institutions. Drawing both on primary and secondary sources you will familiarise yourself with the increasingly lively international debates among Chinese and non-Chinese social and political scientists, educators, media professionals, civil society practitioners, government officials, and lawyers about goals and means of western China engagement.

This module will provide a socially relevant policy curriculum and help you develop necessary skills for a democratic practice of public policy inquiry.

 
Gender and Development

This module examines major themes, debates and issues in the field of gender and development. We will focus on the relationship between ideas and concerns of gender (in)equality and processes, policies, and practices of economic, social and political development.

The module will explore the key literature and major debates in the field of feminist political economy, linking academic, policy-related and practitioner/activist debates. It will also explore how political, economic and social processes of globalisation and development intersect, impact, and are in turn influenced by gender relations in the South.

 
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.

 
Government and Politics of China

This module deals with some key concepts, processes and institutions in contemporary Chinese politics, including:

  • the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership and succession
  • legitimacy and stability in Chinese politics
  • central and local elections
  • political opening and experiments
  • the development of civil society in the reform era
  • social and political life in cities
  • regulation and governing the market
  • the Party in transition
 
Institutions, Governance and International Development

In recent decades, the quality of governance has become central to our understanding of the effectiveness of international aid and development policies as well as our understanding of the failures to successfully tackle poverty, inequality, conflict and instability in developing countries. This module takes a twofold approach to introduce you to theories and practice of governance and institutional reform in developing countries.

First, it examines theories of development to trace the emphasis on state and governance in contemporary development thinking including the history of the good governance paradigm. Second, the module examines a range of issues to build governance effectiveness in developing countries including debates on strengthening the fiscal capacity of the state, curbing patronage practices and professionalising the civil service, the role of decentralisation, civil society and the establishment of effective anti-corruption policies.

The module is thematically structured and draws on examples from all major developing regions, in particular, Latin America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. The module will combine the study of academic debate, practitioner material, for instance, from international aid and assistance organisations and case study material to directly experience the challenges of engaging in institutional reform in developing countries.

 
International Political Economy

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.

 
Justice Beyond Borders: Theories of International and Intergenerational Justice

The module introduces and explores the concept of distributive justice on an international and intergenerational basis. Standard accounts of distributive justice typically operate upon the assumption that the relevant principles are framed by, and apply within the borders of the nation-state.

This module examines how justice has traditionally been conceptualised, and challenges the idea of the nation-state as providing limits to the proper operation of principles of justice. Justice between nations, and between generations, as well as between humans and non-humans, forms the focus of this module.

The programme for dealing with these themes includes:

  • international theories of justice, with particular reference to faminie relief and humanitarian intervention
  • intergenerational justice and personal identity
  • 'biocentric' theories of justice
  • animal rights
  • direct political action
 
The Politics of South Asia

This module introduces you to the politics of modern South Asia, focusing on Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The region is growing in international importance both strategically, economically and politically. The module evaluates alternative explanations for the different democratic trajectories of these states, despite their shared colonial past, and the interaction between 'tradition' and 'modernity' in developing political institutions. 

In so doing it examines the different strategies of nation building adopted by the elites of these very diverse states, and how and why the considerable ethnic and religious diversity of the region has impacted on the 'quality' of democracy. It concludes with an examination of the international politics of South Asia, and considers future scenarios for the region.

 
Quantitative Political Analysis

This module introduces you to the estimation, quantification, and coding of political data as well as the descriptive and inferential analysis of data using probabilistic and statistical techniques.

The module will also provide you with hands-on skills of data analysis and will enable you to write professional academic reports on these analyses.

 
Russia in the World Today

With the end of the Cold War, the Russian Federation lost its superpower status. However, not least due to its size, geostrategic location, richness in energy and influence in international organisations, the country continues to be an important actor in international politics. The module examines Russia's role in the world today. Analytically, it focuses on the contrast between Russia's own understanding of its role in the world and the country's international reputation.

Substantially, the module will study Russia's image and self-image as an international actor; the factors driving Russian foreign and defence policy (including the role of energy); and Russia's relations with its neighbours (former Soviet states; the West, including NATO and the EU; and the East, ie China, Japan and North Korea).

 
Secret Intelligence and International Security

This module is an introduction to the concepts and practices of secret intelligence and its place within international security. The module is split into three sections.

The first examines conceptual issues and models; the second explores some of the roles of intelligence in the 21st century; and the third examines how intelligence actors can actively shape international relations. These are highly relevant issues, which are regularly in the media. 

 
Special Project A

This module will consist of special essay work, arising from the work completed on another module offered.

 
Special Project B

This module will consist of special essay work, arising from the work completed on another module offered.

 
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 signifcance 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.

 
War, Peace and Terror

This module explores the blurring boundaries between war and peace, and the implications for understanding security.

The first section assesses the changing nature of warfare, including theories of asymmetric warfare and terrorism; the second section examines the 'dark arts' of international relations, from assassination to psychological warfare, operating in the grey area between war and peace.

With large scale conventional warfare increasingly unlikely, the third section considers 'new' security issues in peacetime such as poverty and disease.

 
When Does Russia Expand and Why?

Russia's annexation of the Crimea will strike many Westerners as merely the latest chapter in a long history of Russian imperialism. Does Russia always expand when it has the opportunity? Or is its expansion, when it occurs, explained by contingent factors?

This module will examine Russia's expansion and contraction from the 17th century to the present, and the causes underlying it.

 

History

The Asia-Pacific War and Modern Memory

In 1945 Japan’s cities lay in ruins, its economy was wrecked and its population was exhausted, hungry and despairing. After the Allied Occupation which lasted until 1952 Japan rose again to become an economic superpower in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the nation is haunted by ‘contested war memories’ and the ghosts of the countless millions left dead, maimed, displaced or psychologically scarred by the war.

This module focuses on six case studies which explore the tensions between history and memory through documents, witness statements, film, art and popular culture: The Kamikaze; the anime film Grave of the Fireflies about the bombing of Kobe; Hiroshima in Japanese and American memory; the experience of occupation; the rise of the ‘textbook flap’ and Chinese and Korean demands for an apology.

 

 
Exploring English Identity

What is Englishness? The EU referendum and moves towards Scottish independence that threaten the breakup of the UK make this question one of pressing importance. Is there such a thing as English nationalism, and if so, should it be encouraged, redefined, or simply abandoned?

Some historians argue that English national identity dates back to Alfred the Great, and that there is a continuous history of Englishness as a consequence. Others have argued that Englishness is the creation of the period after 1880.

We will examine these questions by tracing the vicissitudes of English national sentiment and identity from the late Middle Ages onwards. Each class deals with one crucial theme in the development of English national identity.

 
Foreign Policy and Appeasement, 1933-39

This module examines the evolution of British foreign policy from Hitler's ascendancy to power in Germany in 1933 until the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939. More specifically, the module will consider:

  • British foreign policy from the Versailles Treaty to the early 1930s
  • the emergence of Nazism in Germany Definitions of appeasement
  • strategies of appeasement
  • challenges to the status quo
  • Abyssinia and the re-occupation of the Rhineland
  • the Spanish Civil War
  • the English Governess - Anglo-French relations and appeasement
  • the USSR and the failure of collective security
  • Japanese revisionism in the Far East
  • public opinion and appeasement
  • The Munich Agreement
  • the end of appeasement, 1938-9
  • the historiography of appeasement
 
Memory and Social Change in Modern Europe and Beyond

This module is designed to enhance your understanding of various conceptual appraoches to the study of modern history. Following a chronological approach, this module will use specific case studies as prisms for the interrogation of common themes, notably memory, identity, and social change. Thus a transnational perspective will be employed to explore the construction and representation of national, political, local and ethnic identities which are borne out of (and contnue to shape) social change.

In addition, these collective identities will be analysed in terms of memory and comemoration, considering how the recent past is remembered and memorialised. In so doing the module will introduce you to many of the key debates within the literature and will engage with a range of primary and secondary source material.

By the end of the module, you will have acquires a sound understanding of how the past has contributed to the construction of contemporary identities in Europe and beyond.

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

This module will investigate the various ways in which western Europeans and Americans have constructed and categorised peoples as the other in a wide range of eras and places. This will include some or all of:

  • views on the Jewish and Islamic faiths in the early-medieval period
  • notions of Russians between the 16th and 18th centuries
  • constructions of Amerindians and Africans in the 17th and 18th centuries
  • views of various societies in the 19th and 20th including China and Japan

These others were variously constructed as savages, barbarians, exotic, and were often sexualised or eroticised. Even when the other was perceived as fabulous those constructions usually (though not always), had negative connotations and were often used to justify the actions towards them of those doing the othering.

Key themes will be:

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

You can select up to 60 credits of modules from other schools/departments across the University, including the Department of History, subject to approval.

Watch our lecturers talking about some of the modules on offer in our virtual module fair.

The modules we offer are inspired by the research interests of our staff and as a result may change for reasons of, for example, research developments or legislation changes. This list is an example of typical modules we offer, not a definitive list.

 
 

Funding

See information on how to fund your masters, including our step-by-step guide. Further information is available on the school website.

Government loans for masters courses

The Government offers postgraduate student loans for students studying a taught or research masters course. Applicants must ordinarily live in England or the EU. Student loans are also available for students from Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

International and EU students

Masters scholarships are available for international students from a wide variety of countries and areas of study. You must already have an offer to study at Nottingham to apply. Please note closing dates to ensure your course application is submitted in good time.

Information and advice on funding your degree, living costs and working while you study is available on our website, as well as country-specific resources.

 
 

Careers and professional development

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.

Placements

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.

Progression

If you wish to continue your studies after completing this course, we offer a range of research opportunities with PhD supervision in most subject areas.

Employability and average starting salary

95.2% of postgraduates from the School of Politics and International Relations who were available for employment secured work or further study within six months of graduation. £25,000 was the average starting salary, with the highest being £42,000.*

* Known destinations of full-time home postgraduates 2016/17. Salaries are calculated based on the median of those in full-time paid employment within the UK.

Career and professional development

Whether you are looking to enhance your career prospects or develop your knowledge, a postgraduate degree from the University of Nottingham can help take you where you want to be.

Our award-winning Careers and Employability Service offers specialist support and guidance while you study and for life after you graduate. They will help you explore and plan your next career move, through regular events, employer-led skills sessions, placement opportunities and one-to-one discussions.

 
 
 

Disclaimer
This online prospectus has been drafted in advance of the academic year to which it applies. Every effort has been made to ensure that the information is accurate at the time of publishing, but changes (for example to course content) are likely to occur given the interval between publishing and commencement of the course. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply for the course where there has been an interval between you reading this website and applying.

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