Marvels, Monsters and Freaks 1780-1920 - HIST5075

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2022 to 2023
Spring Term 5 30 (15) Steven Taylor checkmark-circle


Society has always been fascinated by those deemed different and over time, unusual people have been viewed and constructed in a myriad of ways. The course explores the continuities and changes surrounding those classed as different. Broadly, the course will investigate the changing nature of difference from the 1780s to the 1920s. It will examine the body and mind as contested sites; spaces occupied by those considered different; the establishment of normality versus deviance; the changing conceptions of difference over time; relationships between unusual people and the wider society. Using a broad range of sources, from novels to film, the course will trace the shifting cultural constructions of difference.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 30
Private study hours: 270
Total study hours: 300

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods:

Essay 1 3,000-words 30%
Essay 2 3,000-words 30%
Take-home Test 1,500-words 20%
Seminar Participation 20%

Reassessment methods:
Reassessment Instrument: 100% coursework.

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List:

Bogdan, Freak Show (1988)
Shattuck, The Forbidden Experiments: The Story of the Wild Boy of Aveyron (1980)
McDonagh, Idiocy: A Cultural History (2008)
Garland Thompson, Freakery (1996)
Feidler, Freaks (1978)
Tromp, (ed), Victorian Freaks (2008)
Porter, A Social History of Madness (1987)
Dale and Melling, Mental Illness and Learning Disability Since 1850 (2006)
Durbach, The Spectacle of Deformity (2009)
Sander L Gilman, Difference and Pathology (1985)
Turner, and Stagg, (eds) Social Histories of Disability and Deformity (2006)
Ernst, (ed) Histories of the Normal and Abnormal (2006)

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Students who take this module will have obtained a deeper historical understanding of the nature of cultural constructions of difference.
2 They will have appreciated the dynamics of the relationship between medical practitioners and unusual bodies.
3 They will have learned to navigate through a rich and complex historiography, and current controversies surrounding unusual people.
4 They will have utilized a wide range of primary materials including medical and scientific journals, contemporary accounts, illustrations, film, depictions and memoirs.
5 They will have engaged with concepts pertinent to the remit of the programme, especially the body and mind as contested spaces; cultural constructions of the body in different historical periods; the relationship between difference and societal norms and institutionalisation and treatment regimes.

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Through in-depth utilization of primary and secondary material depending on the level of the students (whether 5 or 6), students will be able to synthesize different types of historical information effectively.
2 Written assignments will encourage self-directed learning, critical expression, fluent prose and a sophisticated understanding of the subject. Students will be able to reflect on their experience and identify future directions for research via teacher feedback.
3 Class discussions, group work on complex historical issues and oral presentations will emphasize communication skills and encourage team-building.


  1. Credit level 5. Intermediate level module usually taken in Stage 2 of an undergraduate degree.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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