Skip to main content

Unit information: Brief Encounters: Love, Labour, and Loneliness in Modern London in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Brief Encounters: Love, Labour, and Loneliness in Modern London
Unit code HIST20099
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Koole
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


For urban sociologist Georg Simmel, early twentieth-century cities were places of heightened sensory stimulation and social breakdown. As migration and urban expansion brought more people closer together, those people became emotionally and socially pushed further apart. In James Vernon’s terms, city dwellers became ‘distant strangers’ to one another—and to themselves.

This unit questions Simmel’s account of the modern city as a space of anomie. Focusing on London in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, it instead examines the many new forms of intimacy emerging over this period and how these intimacies shaped broader trends in the history of modern Britain. Using photographs, early films, court records, and other sources, students will explore the histories of public sex, tube and taxi travel, stress and urban neuroses, love letter writing and lonely hearts advertisements, and new spaces of commercialized leisure such as cinemas, nightclubs, and teashops. In so doing, they will examine not only the shifting historical possibilities for intimacy but also how those possibilities reshaped the very nature of love, personal space, and desire.

Intended learning outcomes

Successful students will be able to:

1.Identify and analyse a number of key themes and contexts in the history of intimacy in twentieth-century London.

2.Critically engage with contemporary and historical theories of modern selfhood and social relations.

3.Discuss and evaluate the key historiographical debates surrounding the histories of emotion, sexuality, and the senses.

4.Understand and interpret primary sources and select pertinent evidence in order to illustrate specific and more general historical points

5.Present their research and judgements in written forms and styles appropriate to the discipline and to level I.

Teaching details

1 x 2hr Seminar per week

1 x 1hr Seminar per week

Assessment Details

  • Portfolio Part 1: 750 word primary source analysis [10%] (ILOs 1-3)
  • Portfolio Part 2: 750 word broad question [10%] (ILOs 1-3)
  • 4000 word research project [80%] (ILOs 1-5)

Reading and References

Hayward, Rhodri, ‘Desperate Housewives and Model Amoebae: The Invention of Suburban Neurosis in Inter-war Britain’, in M. Jackson (ed.), Health and the Modern Home (London, 2007), pp. 42-62

Hindmarch-Watson, Katie, ‘Male Prostitution and the London GPO: Telegraph Boys’ “Immorality” from Nationalization to the Cleveland Street Scandal’, Journal of British Studies, 51, 3, (July, 2012), pp. 594-617

Laite, Julia, Common Prostitutes and Ordinary Citizens: Commercial Sex in London, 1885-1960, (Basingstoke, 2012)

Walkowitz, Judith R., Nights Out: Life in Cosmopolitan London, (New Haven: London, 2012)

Vernon, James, Distant Strangers: How Britain Became Modern, (Berkeley, 2014)