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Exploring history: medieval to modern 1400-1900

This module is a varied and wide-ranging introduction to historical study and will teach you the techniques of professional historians. It covers: fifteenth-century France, Burgundy and England during the Hundred Years’ War; the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century; the civil wars of the British Isles in the seventeenth century; slavery and serfdom in the Atlantic world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; the development of nation states in western Europe following the French Revolution; and European imperialism in Africa. To ensure coherence and focus, the module is linked by common themes, enabling you to study a long chronological period.

Modules count towards OU qualifications

OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate-level module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code
Study level
2 8 5
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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Student Reviews

This module is an abundance of historical knowledge. It commences with France, England and Burgundy in the fifteenth century which...
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This is a great course. This has been my favourite course so far. It helps if you have background knowledge...
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What you will study

In this module, you’ll study some of the people, places and events that were significant in the development of the modern western European and Atlantic world. Joan of Arc, Martin Luther, Oliver Cromwell, William Wilberforce, Bismarck and King Leopold II of Belgium are all key figures in this period. The study material is brought together by three themes that run throughout, and that reflect particular historical areas of study and methodologies: state formation; beliefs and ideologies; and producers and consumers. Through these themes we trace the development of modern states and their institutions; the role of religious and secular beliefs in motivating human action; and the ways that the concerns of producers of goods and customers in the market drive historical change.

So, for example, we look at how religious differences created a revolution in the seventeenth century; and how the demand for cotton in European markets drove the development of the American slave economy and at the ways in which some European powers used colonial enterprises to establish themselves as significant states in great-power politics.

Each of the six subjects listed above (or module blocks) corresponds to one of the periods studied and will teach you how historians have treated the subject as well as how to use the materials they used. There is a great emphasis on using original material such as documents – from Acts of Parliament to private letters – and visual sources – from buildings and sculpture to photographs and maps.

Each period is covered in one block of study over four weeks and is followed by a study week, when you will write an assessed piece of work.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. There will be tutorials which you are encouraged but not required to attend, their location will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2014. We expect it to be available once a year.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


This is an OU level 2 module and builds on the OU level 1 modules The arts past and present (AA100), {Voices and texts [A150]} and {Making sense of things: an introduction to material culture [A151]}. These OU level 1 modules develop skills such as logical thinking, clear expression, essay writing and the ability to select and interpret relevant materials. They also offer an introduction to a range of subjects in the arts and humanities.

If you have not studied at university level before, you are strongly advised to study at OU level 1 before progressing to OU level 2 study.

Your regional or national centre can advise you on where you can see reference copies of OU level 1 study materials. Some are also available from Open University Worldwide Ltd. We particularly recommend looking at these materials if you have not successfully completed OU level 1 study, or studied at an equivalent level elsewhere.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

You will find helpful advice on study skills in The Arts Good Study Guide (E. Chambers & A. Northedge, The Open University).


Start End Fee Register
03 Oct 2015 Jun 2016 Not yet available

Registration opens on 12/03/15

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2018.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your annual fees and spreads them out over up to a year, enabling you to pay your fees monthly and walk away with a qualification without any further debt. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in 10 OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Gift vouchers

You can pay for part or all of your tuition fees with OU gift vouchers. Vouchers are currently available in the following denominations, £10, £20, £50 and £100. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. You may, for example wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or request a call back.

Note: Your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fee and funding information provided here is valid for courses starting before 31 July 2015. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation. Fees for courses starting from 1 August 2015 will be available in March 2015.
This information was provided on 30/01/2015.

What's included

Module books; DVDs; and website.

You will need

The ability to play a DVD, either a DVD player or computer. You will also need to be able to print or download materials from the internet.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as it includes online activities, which you can access using a web browser.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer since 2008 you should have no problems completing the online activities.
  • If you’ve got a netbook, tablet or other mobile device check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you use an Apple Mac you will need OS X 10.7 or later.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information (including details of the support we provide).

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Gibbons, R (ed) Exploring History 1400-1900: An anthology of primary sources Manchester University Press £14.99 - ISBN 9780719075889
  • Wallace, P G (ed) The Long European Reformation: Religion, Political Conflict and the Search for Conformity 1350-1750 (2nd edition) Palgrave Macmillan £20.99 - ISBN 9780230574830

If you have a disability

The study of history requires a considerable amount of reading, and one of the skills we aim to teach you is to be able to select what is important from a large amount of material.

Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader. The printed study materials are available in the DAISY Digital Talking Book format. Other alternative formats of the study materials may be available.

One of the learning outcomes of the module is that you should learn to evaluate historical sources in a variety of media. So you’ll learn how to use visual texts (buildings, cartoons, plans, maps, photographs, paintings etc) as well as written ones. Work on visual texts will be assessed, but alternative assignments and exam questions can be requested, if necessary, via your tutor. Transcripts are provided for the DVD video. Using alternative methods to tackle the visual and aural tasks in the module should not affect your ability to complete the module successfully.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.