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The British Isles and the modern world, 1789–1914

The British Isles in the long nineteenth century was a place of rapid expansion and growth when the United Kingdom became the so-called ‘workshop of the world’. It was also a period of conflict and uncertainty, where poverty and political unrest prompted widespread anxieties about the nature of progress. Taking up these different perspectives, in this module, you 'll look at the landmark transformations of the period such as the political union of Britain and Ireland, industrialisation, the growth of cities, and the expansion of the British Empire. By focusing on one century, this module provides you with the space for a deep engagement with historical methods and debate.

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Module code




  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.

Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study
2 8 5

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

The ‘long’ nineteenth century (1789-1914) was an exceptionally vibrant and exciting period in the history of the British Isles. It was the epoch during which the ‘modern’ Britain and Ireland we know and experience today took shape. Spanning the French Revolution (1789) to the First World War (1914), this module explores the rapidly changing social, cultural, political and economic landscapes of the British Isles during this period and investigates both the causes of this dizzying change and its effects on individuals and institutions.

The nineteenth century was, on the one hand, hugely exhilarating. The ‘Industrial Revolution’ fundamentally changed the nature of work and the economy. New ideas of political reform resulted in the involvement of ‘ordinary’ citizens in the government of the country for the first time. Vast cities grew, national and class identities developed, and the global power of the United Kingdom reached a peak. Yet, at the same time, such rapid and fundamental change also bought turbulence and fear. Riots, famine, poverty, conflict (both civil and international) and government repression were all prominent features of the nineteenth century alongside more ‘progressive’ developments.

The module includes the study of historical documents of many kinds from the period itself and also introduces a range of fascinating historical debates.

The module will equip you with:

  • an understanding of the ‘long’ nineteenth century as a period when the British Isles experienced unprecedented change
  • insight into the nature of modernisation and the ways it changed daily life in the British Isles
  • an appreciation of how international trade, migration and cultural exchange shaped events in Britain and Ireland
  • an awareness of the development of competing and complementary religious, national and class identities

This module will teach you about the landmark developments of the period, such as industrialisation, the growth of cities, campaigns for political reform and the expansion of the British Empire. However, it is not solely concerned with long-term historical changes and big historical processes. You will also study the impact of these new developments on everyday life through, for example, the experience of working in a factory or a day in a workhouse, attending church or visiting the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Throughout, the module also takes an expansive and questioning approach to the history of the British Isles. You will be asked to think about the changing boundaries of the ‘nation’ and the emergence of the United Kingdom as a legal and political entity. You will study the rise of the British Empire and the development of global trade and will explore how ideas and events from overseas helped to shape national and regional history in the British Isles.

You'll study the nineteenth century through a wide and interesting array of historical texts and images. From personal accounts of everyday life to official inquiry and parliamentary debate, you will explore the different ways that contemporaries described and understood their lives. You will also use prints, cartoons and photographs, as well as objects and artefacts as evidence. You will learn how historians build a picture of the past from a multitude of sources and how you can critically interpret narratives about the past by understanding how and why they were created.

Teaching will be organised chronologically across the three printed books and in associated online activities (which include specially commissioned audio-visual materials).

Book 1: Ambition and Anxiety, 1789 to 1840 
This book introduces you to a period in which social and economic relations, which had been relatively stable for centuries, began to unravel as a result of deep shifts in the nature of the economy and political turmoil in Europe. You'll study these shifts through the history of the industrial revolution, the growth of cities and the rise of the working class. You'll also explore the significance of global connections to British history by tracing the influence of the French Revolution on political change in Britain and by considering the links between the Atlantic slave trade and the British economy.

Book 2: Confidence and Crisis, 1840 to 1880 
This focuses on the so-called ‘Age of Equipoise’, a period of stability and optimism about the future progress of the nation. You'll look at the reasons behind this optimism via consideration of the rise of the middle class, the impact of sanitary reform on cities and the decline of radicalism, but you will also see how the roots of further uncertainty were to be found in the Irish famine, the New Poor Law and the campaign for political rights for working men.

Book 3: Decline and Renewal, 1880 to 1914 
The final book considers the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as a period in which change continued but was met with greater uncertainty about its costs and benefits. You'll look at mass consumption and politics, and their effects on working-class life, as well as the rise of empire and the impact of imperial culture on the British Isles. Alongside this, you'll consider the increasingly divisive nature of the Irish question, the rise of the Labour Party and the women’s movement. You'll end the module by looking back at the nineteenth century as a whole to evaluate the extent of change and how the nineteenth century helped shape the twentieth. 

You will learn

As well as providing an appreciation and understanding of a vibrant and exciting period in the history of the British Isles, and equipping you for further historical study, by working with a variety of historical sources, you'll develop your own skills of analysis and argument. You will further develop your skills in critical reading and in written expression, learning how to analyse complex contemporary documents, how to evaluate and participate in debates, and how to express an argument clearly and persuasively in written form. The module will guide you through the rich archive of online documents and information available to all students through The Open University Library, and you'll improve your ability to find and use these resources.

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. This module will be taught through a blend of methods that may include online tutorials and moderated online discussion forums. This blend of methods is designed to help you benefit from tuition, whatever your circumstances.

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.

Future availability

The British Isles and the modern world, 1789–1914 starts twice a year – in February and October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024 and February 2025. We expect it to start for the last time in February 2030.


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

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 2 module and you need to have the study skills required for this level, obtained either through OU level 1 study, or by doing equivalent work at another university.

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

Preparatory work

No preparatory work is required, but having studied Discovering the arts and humanities (A111), or The arts past and present (AA100), and Voices, texts and material culture (A105) (both now discontinued) would be an advantage. 


Start End England fee Register
28 Sep 2024 Jun 2025 £3636.00

Registration closes 05/09/24 (places subject to availability)

01 Feb 2025 Sep 2025 £3636.00

Registration closes 09/01/25 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in February 2030.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

If your income is not more than £25,000 or you receive a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

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 monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Joint loan applications

If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

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

Employer sponsorship

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

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module 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 module.  

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, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

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

Please 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 information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2025. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules

This information was provided on 14/04/2024.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of less than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

All teaching material for this module is delivered via three printed books and online via the module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module materials
  • audio and video content
  • assessment guide
  • access to online tutorials and forums.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying A225 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our disability support pages.