Revolutions of the Mind: Political Thinking in Britain from Hobbes to Mill

RevolutionsThis introductory course sketches a brief history of British political thought during one of the most interesting periods in modern European intellectual history. We will begin by asking questions such as what constitutes the contours of British political thought and can one speak of a British Enlightenment? We will survey the ideas of major thinkers from Hobbes, Locke, and Hume to Burke, Bentham and Mill. We will also pay particular attention to the Scottish Enlightenment, British responses to the French Revolution, and the political thinking of the British Romantics.

Reading List

Required books: a small number of copies of the books will be on reserve in the library

  • Roy Porter, The Creation of the Modern World. The Untold Story of the British Enlightenment (Norton, 2000)
  • Iain Hampsher-Monk, A History of Modern Political Thought. Major Political Thinkers from Hobbes to Marx (Blackwell, 1993)
  • Primary Source Extracts (will be provided in your course reader)

Required articles: these will be provided in your course reader

•Tim Harris, “In Search of a History of British History of Political Thought” and Colin Kidd, “The Matter of Britain and Contours of British Political Thought” in British Political Thought in History, Literature and Theory, 1500-1800, ed. by David Armitage (Cambridge, 2006)

•Mark Salber Phillips, “Historical Distance and the Historiography of eighteenth-century Britain” in History, Religion, and British Intellectual History 1750-1950, ed. by Stefan Collini et al. (Cambridge, 2000)

•Quentin Skinner, “The rise of, challenge to, and prospects for a Collingwoodian approach to the history of political thought” and Iain Hampshire-Monk, “The history of political thought and the political history of thought” in The History of Political Thought in National Context, ed. by Dario Castiglione and  Iain Hampsher-Monk (Cambridge, 2001)

•J.G.A. Pocock, “Political thought in the English-speaking Atlantic, 1760-90” parts I & II in The Varieties of British Political Thought, 1500-1800, ed. by J.G.A. Pocock, Gordon J. Schochet, Lois Schwoerer (Cambridge, 1996)

•Roy Porter, “The Enlightenment in England” and Nicholas Phillipson, “The Scottish Enlightenment” in The Enlightenment in National Context, ed. by Roy Porter and Mikuláš Teich (Cambridge, 1981)

•Gertrude Himmelfarb, “The British Enlightenment: The Sociology of Virtue” in The Roads to Modernity (Knopf, 2004)

•Simon Haines and Christopher Strathman, “British Romanticism” in European Romanticisms, gen. ed. Stephen Prickett (Continuum, 2010)

•Marilyn Butler “Romanticism in England” and Gwyn Williams, “Romanticism in Wales” in Romanticism in National Context, ed. by Roy Porter and Mikuláš Teich (Cambridge, 1988)

•“Revolution”, “Democracy”, “Political Economy” in An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age, 1776-1832, gen. ed. Iain McCalman

•Simon Bainbridge, “The Historical Context” in Romanticism, gen. ed. Nicholas Roe (Oxford, 2005)

Background Reading

  •  Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837, revised edition (Yale, 2009)
  •  Paul Langford, Eighteenth-Century Britain: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford 2005)


1 Final Essay (2,500-3,000 words): 50%

1 Final Exam: 50%

Seminar Hours: 8 x 1 hour 15 minutes (total 10 hours)

Lecture Hours: 12 x 1 hour 15 minutes (total 15 hours)