Please note: there may be some adjustments to the teaching arrangements published in the course catalogue for 2020-21. Given current circumstances related to the Covid-19 pandemic it is anticipated that some usual arrangements for teaching on campus will be modified to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students and staff on campus; further adjustments may also be necessary, or beneficial, during the course of the academic year as national requirements relating to management of the pandemic are revised.

Exploration: Histories, Cultures, Politics GEOG4091

  • Academic Session: 2022-23
  • School: School of Geographical and Earth Sciences
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 4 (SCQF level 10)
  • Typically Offered: Either Semester 1 or Semester 2 (Alternate Years)
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes
  • Available to Erasmus Students: Yes

Short Description

This course examines the history and politics of exploration from the fifteenth century to the present day. The course argues that exploration has been crucial to the development of knowledge; to the expansion of imperialism; to geopolitical relations; and to the growth of capitalism.


2 hour lecture and 1 hour seminar bi-weekly

Requirements of Entry

Mandatory Entry Requirements

Fulfilment of entry requirements to Level 3 Geography

Excluded Courses




1.5 hour examination and an individual 2000 word project on a theme commensurate with the course syllabus.



In accordance with the University's Code of Assessment reassessments are normally set for all courses which do not contribute to the honours classifications. For non honours courses, students are offered reassessment in all or any of the components of assessment if the satisfactory (threshold) grade for the overall course is not achieved at the first attempt. This is normally grade D3 for undergraduate students, and grade C3 for postgraduate students. Exceptionally it may not be possible to offer reassessment of some coursework items, in which case the mark achieved at the first attempt will be counted towards the final course grade. Any such exceptions are listed below in this box.

Main Assessment In: April/May

Course Aims

Exploration has played an integral, although by no means uncontested, part in world history. In particular, it has been crucial to the development of knowledge; to the expansion of imperialism; to geopolitical relations; and to the growth of capitalism. This course examines the history of this most geographical of endeavours. The course has a number of aims.

1. To provide a chronological history of western exploration from the time of Columbus up to the Cold War focusing on key individuals, including Walter Raleigh, James Cook, Charles Darwin, John Franklin and Robert Scott.

2. To consider a number of factors that had a bearing on the conduct of exploration, on its reception and dissemination, and on its wider significance, including the motivations for exploration, whether they were scientific, for the purposes of discovery or concerned with personal heroics, for instance.

3. To consider the technologies of exploration and the practices of fieldwork; the institutions involved in supporting expeditions; and the visual cultures of exploration - whether in the field, in the lecture hall or in books and reports.

4. To examine the connections between exploration and wider contexts, including social and gender norms, imperialism, militarism, geopolitics and trade.

5. To consider the historiographies of exploration - the different ways in which histories of exploration have been written.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students will be able to:


Course Specific Skills:

a. review and critically evaluate the key theoretical precepts which underpin the study of the history of exploration.

b. identify and adapt the methodological issues that are relevant to the conduct of research into the history of exploration.

c. analyse critically how and why geographical and scientific ideas and practices have been produced and performed in particular times and places.

d. explain the ways in which different social, economic and political contexts have impacted upon the development and conduct of exploration.


Discipline Specific Skills:

a. synthesise information and recognise relevance and develop a sustained and reasoned argument with minimum guidance.

b. explain and discuss the contested and provisional nature of knowledge and understanding.

c. identify and evaluate approaches to problem-solving, acting autonomously with minimum supervision.


Personal and Key Skills:

a. collect and analyse information for themselves, using the full range of learning resources available.

b. focus on issues and assess priorities for themselves, undertaking research tasks with minimum guidance.

c. work in a team of mixed backgrounds and skills, interacting effectively and managing conflict where it arises.

d. assess documentation critically, and confidently applying their own judgement to a range of ethical, philosophical, methodological and theoretical issues.

e. select and manage information and evaluate and articulate weaknesses in the arguments of others.

f. communicate ideas, principles and theories effectively and fluently by written means in a manner appropriate to the intended audience.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.