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The Making and Breaking of Industrial North-East England, 1770–1990

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About this course

Building on the momentum of the 2018 Great Exhibition of the North, this course sheds light on North East England’s dramatic industrialisation and deindustrialisation between 1770 and 1990. In this course, you will follow the awe-inspiring story of how North East England utilised its natural resources, notably its navigable rivers and voluminous coal deposits, to become a powerful and influential driver of wider industrialisation both nationally and internationally. You will analyse how, by engaging with the natural environment, people in the North East developed their trade and industry, leading to game-changing scientific and engineering innovations such as George Stephenson’s locomotive (1814).

By the 1880s, the River Tyne estuary was the largest coal exporter and the largest centre of ship repair in the world. The tonnage of the port’s vessels exceeded even that of the River Thames, accounting for an incredible one-ninth of the UK’s total shipping tonnage. Yet, astonishingly, only a century later, in 1980, the MV Lindo was the last ship to receive coal from Dunston Staiths.

The course focuses on five major pillars – technology, environment, society, politics and culture – to explore how and why the region embraced a rapid transition from protoindustrialisation, to industrialisation to post-industrialisation in little more than two centuries. It draws from archival research, oral histories and more recent media coverage, art installations and drama to reconnect the past to the present and future.

Participants will develop their skills in historical analysis, research and communication. The course also enables them to identify and make links to current practice in areas such as education, heritage and urban development.

Teaching and assessment

You will have the opportunity to take part in twelve 90-minute interactive talks in which the lecturer will cover major developments in the history of North East England and showcase a variety of approaches to studying the region’s past. These teaching sessions will take place from 4:30 to 6:00 pm, with the first half being delivered on Wednesdays (3, 10, 17, 24, 31 Oct. and 7 Nov.) and the second half on Thursdays (15, 22 and 29, 6 and 13 Nov, 20 Dec.). There will be scope for discussions in these sessions and students are expected to undertake preparatory reading.

Further support will be provided through an electronic learning portal, which will give you access to additional content, for instance pre-recorded lectures and historic video footage. A discussion board will allow students to post questions regarding set readings. The course leader will also run feedback and consultation hours in which you can discuss the plans for your assignments and any questions you may have.

The course leader is also organising an optional excursion that offers first-hand insight into areas such as industrial heritage and its environmental impact, bringing participants face-to-face with current practitioners.

The course will be assessed by one 2,500-word essay (to be submitted by 22 November) and by a take-home exam (exam paper being made available on 23 January, with scripts due the following day). Upon successful completion of both assessment components, you will receive a certificate of learning achievement.  The assessment is optional and if you chose not to complete it, you will receive a certificate of attendance instead.

Who would this course suit?

This course will suit anyone who has an interest in North East history and culture and who wishes to develop their analytical and writing skills. This module values and encourages students to contribute their own first-hand experiences of the region, and to participate in debates about conceptions and misconceptions of the region in the minds of those living beyond its borders. The module encourages participants to actively reconnect the region’s past to its present and future and to consider how deeper knowledge of local and regional history can help us to tackle the region’s most urgent challenges and problems.

To register your interest in this course, please complete our online form. We will then contact you with further details

Learn from the Best

Northumbria University’s Department of Humanities is ranked highly for both its research and teaching terms. In the last national assessment of research excellence (REF 2014), Northumbria historians were placed in the top 20 for their publications. The History programmes at Northumbria regularly score over 90% evaluation in student evaluations. Moreover, the department’s historians have a strong track record at working with community and heritage organisations in the North East.

Learning Environment

This course is based at our city campus where you will have access to cutting-edge facilities. Technology is embedded through all aspects of your learning activities. 

Research-rich Learning

This course will introduce you to primary sources and familiarise you with cutting-edge historical research. It is led by Dr Leona Skelton, who for over a decade has conducted research into the North East history and culture.



Course info

Award Type Certificate of attendance / certificate of learning achievement

Delivery Method Blend of lectures, seminars and self-directed study

Study Mode On-site, with distance-learning elements

Location City Campus

Start October 2019

Duration One Semester: weekly teaching sessions, an assessed essay to be submitted, and a take-home exam

This course explores the political, economic, social and environmental context of North East England’s rapid industrialisation and deindustrialisation between 1770 and 1990.

Each teaching week is dedicated to a specific theme.

1)    Introduction to the module

2)    Early modern foundations: an agricultural backwater?

3)    Rivers: a natural fortune?

4)    Coal: mining millions

5)    Mineral and metal technologies: lead, iron and steel

6)    Fisheries and forestry

7)    Salt, sand and soil

8)    The power of the water: steam, locomotion and hydroelectricity

9)    Working-class communities, women and education

10)    Local and central governance, post-industrial identity and regeneration, 1960-2010

11)    The Arts, leisure and tourism

12)    Past, present and future: reconnecting industrialisation and deindustrialisation to the present and future


We are happy to provide access to individuals with a variety of educational backgrounds. An underlying knowledge of British history will help you get the most out of this course but we are willing to consider a variety of qualifications and experiences. Core teaching material will be made available through our web-based learning portal, and students therefore need to have, or develop, a basic grasp of online modes of working. Assessments are pitched at Level 5 (second-year undergraduate level).

You can add relevant information when completing the ‘Register your interest’ form.


The module is led by Dr Leona Skelton ( Her principal research focus has been on infrastructure and environment, but her work extends to fields such as urban history and the history of public health. She recently published her second monograph, Tyne after Tyne: An Environmental History of a River’s Battle for Protection, 1529–2015 (Cambridge, 2017).

£ 500 (£ 350 with bursary)

Bursaries of £150 are available to anyone who can bring their first-hand experience of work, study or volunteering in the region to the seminar discussions. To apply for a bursary, please email and submit a statement of 500 words about your experiences explaining what experience you will bring to this course.




Please register your interest for this course and we will be in touch once we have confirmed dates.

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