Time and Place: 1861: The Coming of the American Civil War (V1425)

15 credits, Level 5

Spring teaching

In 1861 the United States stood on the brink of civil war. Seven Deep South states had seceded from the Union in the wake of Abraham Lincoln's presidential victory. By April all hopes of peace had been extinguished.

In this module you probe the causes of a conflict that resulted in the deaths of at least 620,000 Americans. We begin with President Polk's decision to go to war against Mexico in 1846, a disastrous policy mistake that resulted in divisive political debate over the expansion of slavery into territory ceded by the Mexicans after their surrender. 

We chart the:

  • ill-fated Compromise of 1850
  • subsequent demise of a national party system that had held the Union together since the 1830s
  • rise of North-South tensions in the wake of passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act
  • sources of southern proslavery nationalism in the 1850s
  • outbreak of sectional infighting in Kansas
  • rise of the antislavery Republican Party
  • South's response to Lincoln's election
  • refusal of most northerners to allow the southern states to secede from the Union.

Although the module is primarily political in focus, close attention is given to the social and economic context in which the sectional crisis occurred


48%: Lecture
52%: Seminar


100%: Coursework (Essay)

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 150 hours of work. This breaks down into about 23 hours of contact time and about 127 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

We regularly review our modules to incorporate student feedback, staff expertise, as well as the latest research and teaching methodology. We’re planning to run these modules in the academic year 2023/24. However, there may be changes to these modules in response to COVID-19, staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let our applicants know of material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.


This module is offered on the following courses: