School of History

HST7330 - Selfhood and Enlightenment in the Long Eighteenth Century

An examination of the ‘self’ through the philosophers and writers of eighteenth century Britain.

Module code: HST7330

Credits: 30

‘And who are you? said he’. ‘Don’t puzzle me said I’

Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy

The ‘I’, the self, has been puzzling people since antiquity. What is the self? Where does it reside? In the soul? Or the mind? What powers and faculties regulate and govern it?

This module examines these enduring questions as they were debated in Enlightenment Britain. Britain in the long eighteenth century witnessed the emergence of a distinctively modern concept of the self as an autonomous, rights-bearing individual.

But this version of selfhood competed with alternative accounts, emphasising the spiritual and social dimensions of subjectivity. Controversies proliferated as enlightened thinkers of both sexes grappled with the changing experience of individual existence in a society undergoing deep-seated social and cultural changes.

This module looks at some of the most important of these thinkers and writers. This includes John Locke, David Hume, Adam Smith, and Mary Wollstonecraft, and their anatomisations of selfhood.

Themes you will explore include personal identity; the secularisation of selfhood; gender, sexuality and subjectivity; the popular novel and selfhood; autobiography; the sympathetic self and commercial modernity.