Life at the Margins: Sinners, Deviants and Outcasts in Early Modern Scotland, c.1550-c.1750 module (HY31041)

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Module code


  • Level 3
  • Semester 2
  • History - School of Humanities
  • Coursework 100%


Through a series of case-studies of discrete marginal groups, including the poor, witches, criminals, migrants, sexual deviants, and Highlanders, this module aims to explore the experiences and treatment of the 'other' in early modern Scotland (c.1550-c.1750). Upon completion of the module, students will have acquired a comprehensive understanding of why early modern society regarded certain behaviours and backgrounds as abnormal or deviant, and how it went about policing the boundaries of the mainstream.

Weekly seminar and lecture content, taking the form of focused analysis of different marginal groups, would include:

  • Poverty and the Poor
  • Vagrants and Itinerants
  • Criminals
  • Witches
  • Highlanders
  • Migrants and Immigrants
  • Sexual Deviants
  • Religious Nonconformists
  • Women
  • Jacobites and Political Nonconformists


Dr Allan Kennedy


This module is assessed as follows:

  • 3,500 word Essay (45%)
  • Oral Presentation (15%)
  • Research Project (40%)


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Intended learning outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Students will develop sophisticated knowledge and understanding of the concept of marginalisation in early modern Scottish society. Through the lens of discrete marginal groups, including the poor, migrants, criminals, witches, sexual deviants, and Highlanders, students will attain an understanding of how early modern Scots defined the social mainstream, why they imposed certain limits, and how the boundaries of acceptability were policed. In so doing, students will deepen their knowledge about the ordering assumptions and underlying cultural codes of the early modern world.

 Subject-specific practical and intellectual skills and attributes

Students participating in this module will be expected to read widely from a range of secondary and theoretical materials. This will develop their skills in filtering large quantities of material for relevant information, weighing the quality of arguments, and locating and extracting fresh knowledge. The module will also include substantial use of primary materials, requiring students as a consequence to hone their skills in the critical analysis of original sources.

 Through careful consideration of the discrete case-studies within the overall context of social marginalisation, students will develop a nuanced understanding of the nature of early modern society and of the expectations, both implicit and explicit, underpinning it. Additionally, by exploring how the boundaries of social acceptability were policed, and how transgression of these limits was punished, students will have the opportunity to consider the process of state-building in the early modern period, and to ask what the relationship between ‘state’ and ‘society’ was during these centuries.

 Transferable, employability and enterprise skills and attributes

Through face-to-face interactions with the tutor and with classmates in a seminar setting, students will develop oral communication skills that will be of significant value in most professional environments.  Varied teaching strategies, incorporating large- and small-group discussion, group and individual tasks, and individual presentations, will allow them to develop these skills in a range of contexts. Seminar sessions will, additionally, encourage students to develop good listening and attentiveness skills, and these will also be developed during lectures. The module, and in particular its assessment diet, will similarly help students hone their written communication skills.

More broadly, the module – particularly through its reliance on collaborative work – will help students develop courteous, professional, and ethical behaviour patterns. Skills related to time management, personal organization, and self-motivation will also be sharpened during the module.