Ramsay MacDonald, Britain's First Labour Prime Minister: Traitor or Hero? (HIH1032)

StaffProfessor Andrew Thorpe - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level4
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The aim of the module is to use a case study of an individual politician to introduce students to the broad range of sources available to historians of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century British politics. Individual seminars (see topic list below) will focus on various sources, such as biographies and autobiographies, cabinet papers, speeches, party conference reports, party records, manifestoes, politicians’ diaries and correspondence, newspaper articles, cartoons, and film. You will have the opportunity to conduct your own research into these sources, consider their value and limitations, and use them to explore particular topics and themes. This module will help you develop skills in source analysis and research to provide a foundation for future historical work.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Understand and assess the main developments in the reputation of Ramsay MacDonald in the broader context of Labour party historiography.
  • 2. Work critically with a range of written and visual sources relating to the topic.
  • 3. Assess the sources in relation to the historical debates, purposes for which different contemporary sources were produced, and analyse and evaluate their reliability and usefulness for the study of Ramsay MacDonald and the Labour party more generally.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Identify the problems of using historical sources, e.g. utility, limitations, etc, and compare the validity of different types of sources.
  • 5. Answer a question briefly and concisely.
  • 6. Present work orally, respond to questions orally, and think quickly of questions to ask other students.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Conduct independent study and group work, including the presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning.
  • 8. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.
  • 9. Work with others in a team and to interact effectively with the tutor and the wider group.
  • 10. Write to a very tight word-length.

Syllabus plan

Weekly seminar topics may vary, but can include sources on: MacDonald as a political organiser; MacDonald’s political thought; MacDonald and the Great War; MacDonald as party leader; MacDonald as Prime Minister; the 1931 crisis and the National government. These themes will be approached by a variety of sources, as stated above.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities22 hour lecture: Introduction to module
Scheduled learning and teaching activities2010 x 2 hour seminars. At a meeting of the whole class generally a different group of 3-4 students will give a presentation to the whole class, followed by class discussion and working through the sources for that week carefully. Additional sources may be issued in the class and the lecturer will also use the time to set up issues for the following week
Guided independent study128Students prepare for the session through reading and research; writing five source commentaries and an essay and preparing one group presentation in the course of the term

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group presentation (3-4 students)10-15 minutes1-4, 6-7, 9Oral
Lowest mark from portfolio of 5 source commentaries500 words1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
4 highest marks from portfolio of 5 source commentaries602000 words (500 per commentary)1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments
Essay on Sources401500 words1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
4 highest marks of portfolio of 5 source commentaries4 highest marks of portfolio of 5 source commentaries1-5, 7-8, 10Referral/deferral period
1500-word essay1500-word essay1-5, 7-8, 10Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:


Howell, David, MacDonald’s Party: Labour Identities and Crisis, 1922-1931 (Oxford, 2002)


MacDonald, Ramsay, The Socialist Movement (London, 1911)


Morgan, Austen, J. Ramsay MacDonald (Manchester,1987)


Morgan, Kevin, Ramsay MacDonald (London, 2006)


Marquand, David, Ramsay MacDonald (London, 1977)


Ramsay MacDonald’s Political Writings, ed. B. Barker (London, 1972)


Thorpe, Andrew, The British General Election of 1931 (Oxford, 1991)


Thorpe, Andrew, A History of the British Labour Party (London, 4th edn., 2015)


Tiltman, H. Hessell, James Ramsay MacDonald: Labour’s Man of Destiny (London, 1929)


Wertheimer, Egon, Portrait of the Labour Party (London, 1929)


Williamson, Philip, National Crisis and National Government: Politics, the Economy and Empire, 1926-1932 (Cambridge,


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Key words search

Britain, Modern, Labour, Party, MacDonald, Leadership.