British Naval Power in the Era of Steam 1815-1945 (HISM320)

Lecturer(s)Dr Duncan Redford
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15.00
Pre-requisitesThose of entry to the MA programme
Duration of ModuleOne term (11 weeks)
Total Student Study Time300 hours in total, including 2 hour seminar per week

Module aims

The module aims to provide the student with detailed knowledge and a critical understanding of the role and influence of British seapower in the projection and maintenance of British power between 1815 and 1945. More specifically, the module aims to enable students to examine the main theories of seapower in the context of British naval policy on the seas. The module allows students to explore the connections between technical innovation, economic and industrial policy and high strategic policy. The module will also provide a framework for critical consideration of the main schools of the historiography of British naval policy, and will allow students to develop the key historical skills of working with primary and secondary sources and of researching and writing history to a high standard.

Intended learning outcomes

Module-specific skills

1. Understand key events and ideas in naval history
2. Analyse naval history in relation to aspects of national, political, social, economic, industrial and technical history, among others.
3. Display an understanding of the importance of naval warfare in the development of Britain.

Discipline-specific skills

4. Ability to think and write broadly about large themes over a relatively long span of history.
5. Ability to deploy historical argument, based on professional standards of evidence use.
6. Ability to judge between the views of different historians on the topic.

Personal and key skills

7. Independent study and group work, including participating in oral seminar discussions.
8. Ability to digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.

Learning and teaching methods

Weekly two-hour seminar focussed on a set theme. Students will be required to undertake preparatory reading of primary and secondary materials. Individual and group presentations will serve as the basis for discussion guided by the module tutor. Essays will be assigned, discussed and returned in individual tutorials.


One essay of 3000 words based on primary sources; one essay of 5000 words; seminar presentation.


One essay of 3000 words (worth 38% of overall assessment) and one essay of 5000 words (worth 62% of overall assessment).

Syllabus plan

1. Navy and Society, 1815-1945
2. The Navy, imperial defence and 'Pax Britannica'
3. Technical Revolution 1815-1880
4. Challenges to Naval Supremacy, 1880-1914?
5. The Grand Fleet
6. The Submarine 1900-1918
7. Naval policy and procurement between the Wars
8. The Navy and Aircraft, 1914-39
9. The Second World War at Sea, trade defence
10. The Second World War at Sea, power projection
11. The Significance of Sea Power in British History

Indicative basic reading list

Indicative basic reading list:
Correlli Barnett, Engage the Enemy more Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War (Hodder & Stoughton, 1991)
C.J. Bartlett, Great Britain and Sea Power, 1815-1853 (Clarendon Press, 1963)
John F. Beeler, Naval Policy in the Gladstone-Disraeli Era 1866-1880 (Stanford University Press, 1997)
Robert Gardiner & Andrew Lambert, eds., Steam, Steel and Shellfire: The Steam Warship 1815-1905 (Conway, 1992)
Andrew Gordon, The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command (John Murray, 1996)
Colin S. Gray, The Leverage of Sea Power: The Strategic Advantages of Navies in War (Free Press, 1992)
Eric Grove, The Royal Navy since 1815 (Palgrave, 2005)
Paul G. Halpern, A Naval History of World War I (UCL Press, 1994)
John B. Hattendorf et al, eds., British Naval Documents, 1204-1960 (Navy Records Society Vol.131, 1993)
Nicholas A. Lambert, Sir John Fisher's Naval Revolution (South Carolina UP, 1999)
Paul M. Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery (Macmillan, 2nd ed. 1983)
Bernard Semmel, Liberalism and Naval Strategy (Allen & Unwin, 1986)
John Terraine, Business in Great Waters: The U-Boat Wars 1916-1945 (Leo Cooper, 1989)
Geoffrey Till, ed, The Development of British Naval Thinking (Routledge, 2008)

Indicative web based resources e.g. Webct:
19th Century British Newspapers (Nineteenth Century British Library Newspapers)
British Periodicals collections I and II (British Periodicals Online)

Other resources:
Maps, charts, films, cartoons and statistical data.