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Modern Wales - 20 credits (HS1104)

Module convenor: Dr Stephanie Ward

Course Description

This module is designed as an introduction to the history of Wales from c.1750 onwards, a period replete with profound transformations. Intense industrialisation during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, based on the coal, iron and steel and slate industries and primarily located in South Wales, together with large-scale in-migration and urbanisation, fundamentally reordered Welsh society and economy. At the same time, Welsh identity was further reshaped by religious and cultural developments whilst Wales acquired a reputation for political radicalism which is still nurtured today. During the twentieth century social, economic, cultural and linguistic changes have undermined familiar symbols of Welshness whilst momentous new governmental configurations have been inaugurated following the 1997 devolution referendum and the creation of the Welsh Assembly. All these developments have ensured that the Wales’s modern experience has been a complex one, and has given rise to divergent, contested, even controversial interpretations of Welsh identity. As well as in academic works and literature, this ‘history’ is now also available for consumption as part of the `heritage industry' and in television documentaries.

Credits: 20

Availability of module: Every year

Prerequisites: N/A

Necessary for: N/A

Teaching methods

The aim of the lectures is to provide a brief introduction to a particular topic, establishing the salient features of major course themes, identifying key issues and providing historiographical guidance. The lectures aim to provide a basic framework for understanding and should be thought of as useful starting points for further discussion and individual study. Where appropriate, handouts and other materials may be distributed to reinforce the material discussed.
The primary aim of seminars will be to generate debate and discussion amongst course participants. Seminars for each of the course topics will provide an opportunity for students to analyse and further discuss key issues and topics relating to lectures.


Students will be assessed by means of a combination of one 2,000 word assessed essay [50%] and one two-hour unseen written examination paper in which the student will answer two questions [50%].

Course assignments:
The Assessed Essay will contribute 50% of the final mark for the module. It is designed to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to review evidence, draw appropriate conclusions from it and employ the formal conventions of scholarly presentation. It must be no longer than 2,000 words (excluding empirical appendices and references).

The Examination will take place during the second assessment period [May/June] and will consist of an unseen two hour paper that will contribute the remaining 50% of the final mark for this module. Students must write 2 answers in total.

Summary of course content

  • Industrialisation and its consequences c.1750-1914
  • Culture and society in the nineteenth century
  • Economy and society between the wars
  • Economy and society since 1945
  • Politics in 19th and 20th century Wales
  • Devolution and the referenda of 1979 and 1997
  • Women and gender in modern Welsh history
  • The history of Cardiff: the nineteenth century
  • The history of Cardiff: the twentieth century
  • 'Heritage' in Wales: an introduction
  • 'Heritage' in Wales: a critique
  • ‘Heritage’ Field Trip: St Fagans / National Waterfront Museum
  • ‘Heritage’ Field Trip: Big Pit
  • Gwyn A. Williams: An historian and his work
  • Gwyn A. Williams, Welsh History and Television
  • Protest in nineteenth century Wales
  • The Welsh Language

Learning outcomes

Students will be able to:  

  • Demonstrate a broad outline knowledge of Wales’s development during the modern period and of significant general themes such as industrialisation and its consequences, and the dynamics and implications of demographic, political, social and cultural changes and changes in language use.
  • Engage with a variety of historical and historiographical perspectives on modern Wales, and to consider in detail the work of one historian, Gwyn A. Williams.
  • Show a broad awareness of concepts such as 'class', 'gender', 'identity', 'nation' and 'popular culture' as a foundation for more detailed analysis in Years Two and Three.
  • Explain how the past is both used and made in areas beyond that of academic historical practice, particularly in heritage sites and museums and in television documentaries.
  • Critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a range of historical approaches used to analyse the history of modern Wales.

Skills that will be practised and developed

Students will extend their ability to:

  • formulate and justify their own arguments and conclusions in seminar discussions.
  • communicate ideas and arguments effectively, with supporting evidence, in class discussion and in writing.
  • modify as well and defend their own position.
  • think critically and challenge assumptions
  • use information technology for research and assignment presentation.
  • manage their time and organise their own study methods and workload.
  • work effectively with others as part of a team or group in seminar or tutorial discussions. Gather, assimilate and interpret historical knowledge.

Suggested book purchases


Suggested preparatory reading

Colin Baber & David Howell, ‘Wales’, in F. M. L. Thompson (ed.), The Cambridge Social History of Britain 1750-1950: Vol.1: Regions and Communities  (Cambridge, 1990)
John Davies, A History of Wales (London, 2007)  
John Davies, Hanes Cymru (Llundain, 2007)  
David Dunkerley & Andrew Thompson (eds), Wales Today (Cardiff, 1999)  
Trevor Herbert & Gareth Elwyn Jones (eds), People and Protest: Wales 1815-1880 (Cardiff, 1988)
Trevor Herbert & Gareth Elwyn Jones (eds), Wales 1880-1914 (Cardiff, 1988)
Trevor Herbert & Gareth Elwyn Jones (eds), Wales Between the Wars (Cardiff, 1988)
Trevor Herbert & Gareth Elwyn Jones (eds), Post-War Wales (Cardiff, 1995)
Geraint H. Jenkins, A Concise History of Wales (Cambridge, 2007)  
Philip Jenkins, A History of Modern Wales 1536-1990 (London, 1992)
Gareth Elwyn Jones & Dai Smith (eds), The People of Wales (Llandysul, 1999) esp. chapters by Neil Evans, Bill Jones, Chris Williams and Mari Williams  
R. Mefyn Jones, Cymru 2000: Hanes Cymru yn yr Ugeinfed Ganrif (Caerdydd, 1999)  
R. Merfyn Jones, ‘Beyond Identity? The Reconstruction of the Welsh’, Journal of British Studies 31 (1991)
Kenneth O. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation: Wales 1880-1980 (Oxford, 1980
Kenneth O. Morgan, Modern Wales: Politics, Places and People (Cardiff, 1995)
Prys Morgan (ed.), Glamorgan County History, Vol.6: Glamorgan Society 1780-1980 (1988)  Folio WG4.38G
Dai Smith, Wales! Wales? (London, 1984)  
Dai Smith, Wales: A Question for History (Bridgend, 1999)  
David Smith (ed.), A People and a Proletariat: Essays in the History of Wales, 1780-1980 (London, 1980)  
Charlotte Williams, Neil Evans and Paul O’Leary, eds., A Tolerant Nation? Exploring Ethnic
Diversity in Wales
(Cardiff, 2003)  
Chris Williams, Capitalism, Community and Conflict: The South Wales Coalfield, 1898-1947 (Cardiff, 1998)
Gwyn A. Williams, When Was Wales? (London, 1985)   
Gwyn A. Williams, The Welsh in their History (London, 1982)