1 year full time, 2 years part time
Starts September 2017

Intellectual History

This MA builds on Sussex’s long tradition of innovation and expertise in intellectual history.

Exploring the major transformations and discourses in intellectual life since 1500, you’ll focus on:

  • the history of political ideas
  • religious and economic thought
  • the Enlightenment
  • the history of science.

Democracy and rights, war and empire, and toleration and persecution are all studied historically. You explore the ideas of thinkers through their literary texts and their practical contexts.

Genuinely interdisciplinary in approach, the course examines the interrelations between philosophy, politics, science, religion and literature in Britain, Europe, North America and China.

“Sussex has been a great place to study for an MA. The commitment to teaching and the knowledge of staff have guided me to discover things for myself.” Peter HaltonIntellectual History MA

Key facts

How will I study?

Modules are taught in seminars, while specialist lectures, workshops and conferences organised by the Centre for Intellectual History give you access to cutting-edge historical research and debate.

A lunchtime seminar series provides training in research methodologies. Modules are assessed by term papers. You’ll also write a 20,000-word dissertation, supervised by an expert in the field.

Academic activities

History at Sussex has a thriving and animated research culture, with regular seminars, workshops and conferences on interdisciplinary research, and specific modules on research methods and skills. 

You’ll attend the Department of History’s weekly work-in-progress seminar throughout the academic year. 

Our postgraduate students run the well-established University of Sussex Journal of Contemporary History, an innovative online journal of creative and interdisciplinary historical research. 

Full-time and part-time study

Choose to study this course full time or part time, to fit around your work and family life. Modules for the full-time course are listed below.

For details about the part-time course, contact us at

What will I study?

  • Module list

    Core modules

    Core modules are taken by all students on the course. They give you a solid grounding in your chosen subject and prepare you to explore the topics that interest you most.

    • Dissertation

      60 credits
      Summer Teaching, Year 1

      This module gives you the opportunity to undertake supervised work on a dissertation of up to 20,000 words on a topic of your choice agreed with your supervisor. If you are studying part time, you will begin your background reading for the dissertation in the first summer term and vacation of their studies.


    Alongside your core modules, you can choose options to broaden your horizons and tailor your course to your interests.

    • Text and Critique in Social and Political Thought

      30 credits
      Autumn Teaching, Year 1

      The module explores the key texts of social and political thought and responses to them by contemporaries and subsequent critics. The module is organised around a reading of key sections from texts such as Hegel's Philosophy of Right and Marx's critique of Hegel.

    • War and Empire

      30 credits
      Autumn Teaching, Year 1

      You will focus on historical conceptions of warfare and its relationship with the creation and maintenance of empires, from antiquity to the 19th century.

      Beginning with ancient Athens, you assess the relationship between democracy, war and empire, concluding with debates about the “liberal empires” of the British and the French in the 19th century. The module give you a comprehensive understanding of the ideas of war and empire in European (and some non-European) political thought.

      You'll also pay close attention to the crucial legacies of Athenian and Roman models of empire for modern and early modern political thinkers.

      Further themes include:

      • the idea of universal monarchy
      • the theorisation of “Christian Empire”
      • debates about just war and just empire
      • the impact of commerce and trade on war and empire
      • the relationship between liberty and empire in the republican tradition
      • the 18th-century debate about “perpetual peace”
      • changing conceptions of the international state system.

      Seminars cover some of the most famous historical and contemporary empires and famous theorists concerned with war and empire.

    • Democracy and Human Rights

      30 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      In contemporary political philosophy, rights are often described as the necessary foundation of democratic government. It's thought that the democratic polity couldn't function without the establishment of and adherence to particular rights. The democratic values of individual equality, trust and compromise are said to help foster a political culture respectful of rights. And enshrining human rights in law is often said to ensure liberal governance.  

      The module starts by studying the first attempts to establish political systems based upon rights and contemporary criticisms and justifications of democracy. Democracy was often seen as a source of internal division, a dangerous motor of extremism and unnecessary innovation, and a cause of international instability (because of the usual support of the people for external wars). Yet it could also be described as a just and wise form of government that upholds a polity whose patriotic populace are devoted to the public good.

      You study authors who saw democracy and rights as mutually sustaining, from Condorcet and Thomas Paine onwards. You'll explore how such authors addressed the issues of necessity in politics and strove to secure national unity, commercial success and national defence. 

      You also scrutinise the presumed fit between rights and democracy by examining the origins of modern ideas about both concepts, from Aristotle's defence of the natural slave and scholastic ideas about rights to the 17th-century attempt to create a minimalist natural law and beyond. Enlightenment-era authors, especially in France and Scotland, put forward modules for reform. They intended to curb the perceived excesses of commercial society and protect certain civil liberties. Some reformers, such as the physiocrats, thought the assertion of rights was key to French economic and political revival – even if this was premised on the avoidance of democracy. For the physiocrats (and for so many early modern authors) there was no necessary connection between democracy and rights. The main goal of politics was to avoid the violence and irrationality associated with mob rule and the active role of the people as political agents.

      The module ends by studying current presumed connections between universal human rights and democratic governance.

    • Religion and Enlightenment

      30 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      Half a century ago, friends and foes of the Enlightenment were at least agreed that this phenomenon in European history was characterised by anti-clericalism and some degree of critical distance to religion. Today and for several years many scholars are defending an Enlightenment that is, if not a religious movement, at least intimately intertwined with religion. So while the concept of `Enlightenment values has retained its colloquial meaning in ordinary language, its basis in scholarship has been steadily eroded.

      Those in need of a clear concept of Enlightenment that is serviceable for public debate may be excused for thinking that the state of scholarly work has become exceptionally divided and confusing, especially concerning the issue of religion. The scholarly discussion has been so intensive and complex, that often it can be hard to see the simpler and more basic issues, and one cannot help but get a feeling that scholars are talking past each other, because they try and fail to mean the same thing by Enlightenment and religion.

      Much of the work that has been done has consisted in using the relationship between Enlightenment and religion to re-define the concept of either or of both. In fact, much of the discussion has been a succession of encounters between different kinds of history. More particularly, it has become a debate about the role of intellectual history in our understanding of the past, and since this form of history itself has undergone quite fundamental changes in the same period, it is hardly surprising that the outcome has been as unhelpful for the beating of drums as it has been encouraging for the necessary scepticism of scholarship.

      This module examines the relationship between religion and enlightenment across the Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, and radical Protestant worlds, in addition to scrutinising the relationship between enlightenment and Judaism, Islam, and the forms of religious practice in the Orthodox world. Traditional perspectives on the relationship between enlightenment and atheistic or anti-religious beliefs with also been examined.

    • The China Dream: Intellectual Discourses of Modernity from the late Qing Dynasty to the Present

      30 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

    • Toleration and Persecution

      30 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      The main aim of this module is to provide you with sound knowledge of the most important turning points in early-modern controversies about the nature of toleration and persecution. The module will survey key texts in their historical context, and examine themes that organise our understanding of toleration and persecution from the fall of Rome to this day. At the end of the module, you will be conversant with the great thinkers in this field, will be able to identify historical trends, and to understand and contextualise current controversies.

      The centralised state and its "monopoly on violence", in Max Weber's famous phrase, is a recent historical development. For most of European history, popes, church councils, kings, emperors, princes, greater and lesser nobility, and autonomous city governments vied for the right to lay down the law and to punish transgressors. When these authorities collided, the debate over toleration and persecution acquired complex layers of meaning. What the Church persecuted, the secular authorities sometimes preferred to tolerate, and vice versa. Their confrontations, which shook the whole of Europe, alternated with periods of co-operation. The Church established ethical and some legal standards, but on the whole had to rely on secular power for enforcement. The history of the interplay between Church and political authority illuminates all debate about persecution and toleration, from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment.

      In order to understand these developments, special attention will be paid to the ideas of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Machiavelli, Luther, Calvin, Botero, Bodin, Beza, Thomas Munzer, Grotius, Hobbes, Milton, Locke and writers of the English, American and French revolutions. The themes that the module covers are The Two Kingdoms; Reason of State; the history of human rights; theories of just war; sects and heresies; docile minds and docile bodies; salons, refugees and publications. Focus will be on early modern Europe, but with an eye on extra-European events, such as the role of persecution and toleration in the rise and demise of colonial empires.

Entry requirements

An upper second-class (2.1) undergraduate honours degree or above in history or another humanities or social science subject.

English language requirements

Standard level (IELTS 6.5, with not less than 6.0 in each section)

Find out about other English language qualifications we accept.

English language support

Don’t have the English language level for your course? Find out more about our pre-sessional courses.

Additional information for international students

We welcome applications from all over the world. Find out about international qualifications suitable for our Masters courses.

Visas and immigration

Find out how to apply for a student visa

Fees and scholarships

How much does it cost?


Home: £7,700 per year

EU: £7,700 per year

Channel Islands and Isle of Man: £7,700 per year

Overseas: £15,100 per year

Note that your fees may be subject to an increase on an annual basis.

How can I fund my course?

Postgraduate Masters loans

Borrow up to £10,280 to contribute to your postgraduate study.

Find out more about Postgraduate Masters Loans


Our aim is to ensure that every student who wants to study with us is able to despite financial barriers, so that we continue to attract talented and unique individuals.

Chancellor’s Masters Scholarship (2017)

Open to students with a 1st class from a UK university or excellent grades from an EU university and offered a F/T place on a Sussex Masters in 2017

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Chancellor’s Masters Scholarship

Sussex Graduate Scholarship (2017)

Open to Sussex students who graduate with a first or upper second-class degree and offered a full-time place on a Sussex Masters course in 2017

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex Graduate Scholarship

Sussex India Scholarships (2017)

Sussex India Scholarships are worth £3,500 and are for overseas fee paying students from India commencing Masters study in September 2017.

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex India Scholarships

Sussex Malaysia Scholarships (2017)

Sussex Malaysia Scholarships are worth £3,500 and are for overseas fee paying students from Malaysia commencing Masters study in September 2017.

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex Malaysia Scholarships

Sussex Nigeria Scholarships (2017)

Sussex Nigeria Scholarships are worth £3,500 or £5,000 and are for overseas fee paying students from Nigeria commencing a Masters in September 2017.

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex Nigeria Scholarships

Sussex Pakistan Scholarships (2017)

Sussex Pakistan Scholarships are worth £3,500 and are for overseas fee paying students from Pakistan commencing Masters study in September 2017.

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex Pakistan Scholarships

How Masters scholarships make studying more affordable

Living costs

Find out typical living costs for studying at Sussex.


Meet the people teaching and supervising on your course.

  • Faculty profiles

    Dr Anne-Marie Angelo
    Lecturer In American History

    Research interests: African American history, African diasporas, American History, Archives, black British history, Black Power, Cultural History, history and theory, history of creativity, Memory, Middle East and North Africa, Migration, Photography History, Theory and Practice, Post-Colonial Studies, race and ethnicity in global perspective, Television History, Theory and Criticism, Transnational history

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    Dr Hester Barron
    Senior Lecturer in History

    Research interests: childhood, class, coal mining, Education, History, labour, parenting, Politics, Second World War, society, twentieth century

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    Prof Robert Cook
    Professor of American History

    Research interests: History, Political History

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    Dr Vinita Damodaran
    Professor of South Asian History

    Research interests: Climate change, Energy, environmental history, Global history, indigenous peoples, Mining, South Asian history

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    Dr Tom Davies
    Lecturer in American History

    Research interests: 'race' and class, African American history, American History, American Studies, History

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    Dr Jim Endersby
    Reader In The History Of Science

    Research interests: charles darwin, darwinism, history and sociology of experimental organisms, history of botany, history of evolution, history of genetics, History of Science/Medicine/Technology, history of taxonomy and classification, History of the 19th and 20th-century life sciences, Hugo de Vries, Joseph Dalton Hooker, Oenothera Lamarckiana, science fiction, The Mutation Theory

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    Prof Martin Evans
    Professor Of Modern European History

    Research interests: European history

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    Prof Richard Follett
    Professor Of American History

    Research interests: American History, Atlantic History, Brazilian Football, Caribbean History, Emancipation, Historical Demography, Latin America, Plantation Societies, Public Health (Eighteenth & Nineteenth Centuries), Race Relations, Slavery, Sugar

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    Prof Martin Francis
    Professor of War and History

    Research interests: Comparative History, Empire, Feature Film, gender, Male and Female Fashion, Modern British history, Second World War

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    Prof Ian Gazeley
    Professor of Economic History

    Research interests: Food Consumption, Household Budgets, Living Standards, Nutrition, Poverty and inequality, Skill Differentials, Wages

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    Prof Tim Hitchcock
    Professor Of Digital History

    Research interests: Cultural History, Digital history, Digital Humanities, Economic And Social History, Gender and Sexuality, History of London, oral history, Social exclusion

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    Dr Hilary Kalmbach
    Lecturer in Middle East History

    Research interests: Cosmopolitanism, Cross-cultural interactions, Cultural History, Digital history, Egypt, Gender and Sexuality, Global history, Global Islam, History, History of Gender, Islam, Islamic Studies, Middle East and African history, Middle Eastern and African Studies, Religious History, Syria

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    Prof Claire Langhamer
    Professor Of Modern British History

    Research interests: history of emotion, history of love, Modern British history, social and cultural history

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    Dr Maurizio Marinelli
    Senior Lecturer In East Asian History

    Research interests: Beijing, Chinese History, Chinese Politics, ecological civilisation, Europe and China relations, Global history, Hong Kong, Intellectual History, Tianjin, Urban China, Urban geography

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    Dr Iain McDaniel
    Senior Lecturer In Intellectual History

    Research interests: Caesarism, democracy, Eighteenth-Century History, History of Political Thought, Intellectual History, Nineteenth-Century History, Republicanism, Scottish Enlightenment

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    Dr Jacob Norris
    Lecturer in Middle East History

    Research interests: Global history, Imperial/Colonial History, Middle East and African history, migration studies, palestinian history

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    Dr Gideon Reuveni
    Reader in History/Director of the Centrefor German Jewish Studies

    Research interests: Judaism

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    Dr Katharina Rietzler
    Lecturer in American History

    Research interests: 20th C history, American History, charity & philanthropy, Diplomacy & International Relations, History of international law, history of the social sciences, history of think tanks and expertise, International History, International Organization, International theory, Liberal internationalism, Postcolonial/Decolonial theory, Transnational history

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    Prof Lucy Robinson
    Professor in Collaborative History

    Research interests: Alternative Spiritualities/New Religious Movements, British party politics, Cultural History, Digital history, Economic And Social History, Gender and Sexuality, Memory, pedagogy, Popular Music, Social identities, Trauma, War and the media, War Studies, Youth

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    Dr Darrow Schecter
    Professor of Critical Theory and Modern European History

    Research interests: Critical Theory, critique of instrumental reason, Foucault, Gramsci, legitimacy, Libertarian socialism, Pasolini, systems theory

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    Mr Gerardo Serra
    Lecturer in Economic History

    Research interests: African Economic HIstory, History of Economic Thought

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    Dr Claudia Siebrecht
    Senior Lecturer in History

    Research interests: History

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    Prof David Tal
    Yossi Harel Chair In Modern Israel Studies

    Research interests: arms control, disarmament, Israel-Palestine, Political History

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    Dr Christopher Warne
    Senior Lecturer

    Research interests: Cultural History, European history, Everyday Life, Youth

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    Prof Clive Webb
    Professor Of Modern American History

    Research interests: Anglo-American relations, Political violence, race and ethnicity

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    Dr Gerhard Wolf
    Senior Lecturer In History

    Research interests: German history, Migration, War and violence in international politics

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An Intellectual History MA at Sussex will develop your skills in attention to detail, research, written communication and teamwork. Many of our graduates have gone on to careers in areas such as:

  • teaching, research and publishing
  • law and the Civil Service, 
  • museums, libraries and archives.

A number of our graduates opt to undertake further study.

Graduate destinations

92% of students from the Department of History were in work or further study six months after graduating. Our students have gone on to roles including:

  • visitor services, Harewood House Trust
  • data analyst, Deloitte
  • management consultant, InterConnect Communications.

(EPI, Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Survey 2015 for postgraduates)

Working while you study

Our Careers and Employability Centre can help you find part-time work while you study. Find out more about career development and part-time work

“I believe that my education, rooted in the humanities, gives me original perspectives that lead to innovative solutions.” Elia CasaliSales and Development
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