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.

Poverty and Charity in the Spanish Empire HIST4260

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

Short Description

Poverty, which is estimated to affect the lives of approximately half of the world's population today, has long blighted humanity, but the way it has been understood, experienced, and managed has changed over time. This course introduces students to the upheavals in attitudes towards poverty and social assistance that took place across Europe in the sixteenth century, focusing on the Habsburg Empire. We will look at the ways in which poverty and charity were part of the story of the making of the Spanish Empire


10x1hr lectures; 10x1hr seminars over ten weeks as scheduled on MyCampus. This is one of the Honours options in History and may not run every year. The options that are running this session are available on MyCampus.

Requirements of Entry

Available to all students fulfilling requirements for Honours entry into History, and by arrangement to visiting students or students of other Honours programmes who qualify under the University's 25% regulation.

Excluded Courses





Examination (90 minutes duration)- 50%

Essay (2,500 words) - 40%

Seminar presentation with handout or PowerPoint (8 minutes) - 10%

Main Assessment In: April/May

Are reassessment opportunities available for all summative assessments? Not applicable for Honours courses

Reassessments are normally available for all courses, except those which contribute to the Honours classification. 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 for this course are described below. 

Course Aims

This course aims to:

■ Evaluate how religion, politics, and ideas have shaped attitudes towards poverty and social assistance strategies.

■ Explore the different attitudes towards poverty and the poor that developed in the sixteenth century, the experimentations with new forms of social assistance.

■ Investigate the complex roles that poverty and charity played in the making of the Spanish Empire.

■ Interrogate the historiographical frameworks that govern the way in which we conceptualise how attitudes to poverty and charity have changed over time. In particular we will question the idea of a sixteenth century threshold, and narratives of modernisation and secularisation.

■ Evaluate that 'poverty' signifies a social construct as well as a material condition and to understand how and why it has been contested across the ages.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

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

■ Evaluate and critically appraise a range of written, visual and material sources and use these to develop arguments regarding the ways constructions of poverty and charity have changed over time.

■ Engage with contemporary debates about poverty and charity in intellectual, social, and cultural history and to make assessments regarding the merits and demerits of different methodologies and theories.

■ Develop skills in written communication, demonstrating ability to critically assess a range of primary sources and secondary arguments and to construct a coherent and consistent independent argument.

■ Develop oral presentation skills, including the ability to introduce audiences to new material and to articulate analytic positions.

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.