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Unit information: Repressed or Risque?: Victorian Sex and Sexuality (Level H Special Subject) 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 Repressed or Risque?: Victorian Sex and Sexuality (Level H Special Subject)
Unit code HIST30024
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Victoria Bates
Open unit status Not open




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


Since the work of theorist Michel Foucault, historians have extensively debated the apparent ‘double standard’ and sexual repression (or lack thereof) of Victorian men and women. This special subject will pay attention to such debates, with particular attention to questions around whether we can treat ‘the Victorians’ as a homogeneous category. We will examine how (expected) Victorian sexual behaviour differed according to class, race, age and gender. The unit will also consider how best to approach sexuality as a historical concept, in the light of recent scholarly emphasis that sexuality is a socially-constructed notion rather than a ‘natural’ one. In order to address these key themes the unit will address a number of important topics relating to sex and sexuality in Victorian Britain, including homosexuality/heterosexuality, sexual consent, the medicalisation of sex, sex education and prostitution.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have developed: 1. an in-depth and detailed knowledge and understanding of the nature and development of Victorian sexuality and its impact both during and after this period. 2. the ability to work at an advanced level with primary sources; 3. the ability to integrate both primary and secondary source material into a wider historical analysis; 4. the ability to learn independently within a small-group context; 5. a deeper awareness of how to approach a long term historical analysis; 6. the ability to select pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate more general historical points; 7. the ability to derive benefit from and contribute effectively to group discussion; 8. the ability to identify a particular academic interpretation, evaluate it critically and form an individual viewpoint; 9. the acquisition of advanced writing, research, and presentation skills.

Teaching details

Seminars - 3 hours per week

Assessment Details

3,500 word essay (50%) 2-hour unseen written exam (50%)

Both the essay and exam will assess ILOs 1-9 by assessing the students’ understanding of the unit’s key themes, the related historiography as developed during their reading and participation in / learning from small group seminars, and relevant primary sources.

Reading and References

  • Beccalossi, Chiara, and Ivan Crozier (eds), A Cultural History of Sexuality in the Age of Empire (Berg, 2011)
  • Paula Bartley, Prostitution: Prevention and Reform in England, 1860-1914 (London: Routledge, 2000)
  • Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1. An Introduction, trans. Richard Hurley (New York: Pantheon, 1978)
  • Houlbrook, Matt and Harry Cocks, Palgrave Advances in the Modern History of Sexuality (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)
  • Mason, Michael, The Making of Victorian Sexuality (OUP, 1995)
  • Toulalan, Sarah and Kate Fisher, (eds), The Routledge History of Sex and the Body, 1500 to the Present (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011)