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Durham Mlac Dissertation Topics

About this Module

This module is compulsory for students starting a year abroad in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures. The module aims to offer students an opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge of an aspect or aspects of their studies by researching and writing a research project in the target language in an area in which the School can offer specialized supervision. By providing experience in planning, documenting, and writing an extended piece of work, the TLRP will increase the facility of students to express themselves at a suitable academic level in the target language, and will offer experience in presenting and referencing a piece of writing according to standard academic conventions. The TLRP will provide invaluable practice, particularly at the level of the inculcation and assimilation of primary research skills, for students taking a dissertation module in MLAC and for those hoping to progress to postgraduate study.

The TLRP aims to develop and enhance strategies for independent learning and initiative, foster a genuine commitment to research and the utilization of appropriate research methodologies, provide the ability to organize and manage a longer project, and offer the ability to write fluently and accurately in the target language. By focusing on questions of intercultural awareness at an advanced intellectual level, the TLRP offers a forum for academic engagement and reflection in matters of critical interest relevant to the contexts and environments under discussion. The TLRP seeks to enhance the employability of students by allowing them to demonstrate their ability as independent learners and researchers in the context of a research project that dovetails with the University’s Principles for the Development of the Taught Curriculum. Skills will be developed specifically through an extended enquiry-led activity that will provide students with the competences to succeed in the world of work and the ability to manage their own intellectual and professional development. By focusing specifically on questions of relevant intercultural interest, students will develop as international citizens so that they can make a positive contribution to an increasingly globalized society.

Preparation and Topic Selection

Students will receive generic training for the TLRP through the School’s On-going Induction Programme, which addresses questions of specific relevance and focuses on the inculcation and development of key research skills, notably: academic research, academic writing, evaluating and using sources, and approaches to textual analysis. They will receive language-specific instruction as part of their second-year core language modules and will be expected to have taken AT LEAST TWO culturally relevant modules in the language(s) in which the TLRP is to be conducted. This will give crucial developmental experience in planning and executing intellectual responses to cultural stimuli, be they literary, filmic, artistic, linguistic, or otherwise.

To facilitate allocation, students will be asked towards the end of the epiphany term in their second year to prepare two statements of interest of up to 100 words for each language, offering an intellectual justification for why they want to work on a particular area. The topics should be substantially differentiated from one another and display creative and intellectual ingenuity, but must harmonize with the designated areas of cultural expertise in the list of topics and specialisms. Please note that as a result of the availability of specialist supervision, arrangements vary considerably between departments, and so students should take care in selecting areas that support their research interests.

As there are strict quotas as to the number of students that can be supervised by any given supervisor, students will be advised to articulate their thoughts as clearly as possible. Preferences will be ranked by the Year Abroad Officer for each language and students will be assigned to supervisors on the basis of topic selection and the availability of specialist supervision. In a face-to-face meeting organized in the summer term of Year II, the supervisor will help students explore and shape an approach to the TLRP, and will assist with compiling a preliminary bibliography, so that students can pursue a guided course of reading.


In addition to online materials accessible via the Library, materials for each topic area will be made available on DUO, and if students are travelling to destinations where internet access is limited, they will be expected to make sensible use of these in advance. The specific formulation of the TLRP will be discussed in conjunction with the student’s supervisor, and students will follow an agreed programme of reading on their Year Abroad whilst supplementing their work by displaying evidence of independent research and bibliographic initiative. As students are expected to spend AT LEAST seven months in the host culture if studying a single language, or AT LEAST four months in each host culture if studying two languages, it is expected that they will engage with the TLRP as soon as they arrive, and that they will work towards initial consultation with their supervisor within one month of arrival.

Supervisors will give feedback via email at three distinct phases of production: (a) an initial proposal of no more than 200 words outlining an approach to the agreed topic area; (b) a 500-word essay plan outlining the direction to be explored in the project and listing key bibliographic items that have already proven to be useful; and (c) a 500-word sample from the essay. In each instance, comments and feedback will be given to the student on standardized TLRP feedback proformas, copies of which will be logged with the School Year Abroad Administrator. To ensure parity of treatment between students completing the TLRP, supervisors will not be expected to read additional drafts or to give any other form of additional guidance.

Assessment Permutations

Students taking a 40-credit dissertation will be required to complete the TLRP in relation to a single language. For students taking 40-credit dissertations in French, German, Italian, and Spanish, the TLRP will be 5,000 words in length. For students taking 40-credit dissertations in Arabic or Russian, the TLRP will be 4,000 words in length.

Students studying two languages at final year will be required to complete shorter TLRPs for both languages. For students taking French, German, Italian, and Spanish, the TLRP will be 2,500 words in length, while for students of Arabic or Russian, the TLRP will be 2,000 words in length.

Submission and Feedback

Finalized TLRPs must be submitted electronically by 1 September in advance of the Michaelmas Term of the final year of study. Assessment will evaluate students’ ability to assimilate, understand, and analyse critically the primary and secondary material associated with their topics, their powers of intercultural awareness, their ability to present a sustained argument with suitable evidence, and their ability to express themselves fluently and accurately in the target language, paying due attention to the relevant conventions of academic writing. Students will also be expected to produce a full and proper bibliography. Students will receive written feedback on standardized TLRP feedback proformas by the second week of the Michaelmas Term, and key aspects of good practice applicable to the dissertation will be discussed with the relevant supervisor.

The TLRP is not credit-bearing, but it will be graded by percentage on the student’s degree transcript, and will in this way have a direct impact on student employability. Students who pass the TLRP will proceed to the BA in Modern Languages with Year Abroad. Those who fail the exercise will be deemed to have failed the Year Abroad and will be transferred to the BA in Modern Languages Without Year Abroad.

Overall Academic Coordinator:

Dr Penny Johnson (penelope.johnson@durham.ac.uk), Room ER234, Elvet Riverside

Administrative Coordinator:

Ms Kathleen Lowson (kathleen.lowson@durham.ac.uk), Room A35 Elvet Riverside

Course Summary


This four-year Joint Honours degree allows you to further your interest in the study of a modern European language and related cultural topics alongside exploring different periods and themes of history.

Year 1

You will take a compulsory language module. This is a single module for all languages studied post-A Level and a double module for beginners’ languages. These compulsory modules focus on the four skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. In addition, you choose either one or two from a wide range of modules dealing with various aspects of the literature, film, art, history and politics of the culture you are studying. These cultural modules aim to develop your independent research and analytical skills as well as introducing you to the culture in question.

All first-year modules are intended to function as introductions to and more general overviews of areas of study in which it is possible to specialise later in the degree.

In the first year, you will take up to three modules in History. These may be chosen from the wide range of first-year modules available, but you must choose at least one module in Medieval/Early Modern History and at least one module in Modern History. There are no compulsory History modules on the Joint Honours degree.

The History modules on offer change each year, as they reflect the research interests of staff; therefore we cannot guarantee in advance that a particular module will be running. Some of the modules running in recent years have included:

  • Tensions of Empire: British Imperialism 1763-1963
  • Reformation Europe, 1500-1650
  • New Heaven, New Earth: Latin Christendom and the World, 1000-1300
  • The Birth of Western Society, 300-1050 AD
  • The Making of Modern Africa: Change and Adaptation in sub-Saharan Africa, 1880-2000.

Year 2

You will continue to take a compulsory language module, in which you will continue to develop the four skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. In addition, you will choose one, two or three from a wide range of modules on the literature, film art, history and politics of the culture you are studying. All second-year modules build on skills and knowledge acquired in the first year and allow you to specialise more in areas which interest you (from medieval literature to contemporary film).

In the second year, you will take up to four modules in History, choosing from those available in year two. Second-year History modules tend to focus more on particular periods and events, and there are fewer survey courses. One of the History modules you take may be ‘Conversations with History’. This is a seminar-driven, student-led module, which encourages you to think about the way in which history is written. Students choose one from a range of possible strands in this module, each of which focuses on a particular historical debate or phenomenon. You must choose one History module which is either Medieval or Early Modern; and one which is Modern (the Conversations strand will count as one of these choices). There is no other restriction on choice.

There are no compulsory History modules for students on the Joint Honours degree.

Conversations strands:

  • The Usable Past
  • The Built Environment
  • History and Guilt
  • Power and Peoples
  • Inventing the Middle Ages
  • Monarchy
  • Empire, Liberty and Governance.

Other modules in previous years have included:

  • Hard Times: British Society c. 1800-1901
  • Modern China’s Transformations
  • The American Half-century: the United States Since 1945
  • The King’s Two Bodies: Rulership in Late Medieval Europe
  • The Ottoman World, 1400-1700.

Year 3

The third year is spent abroad as an English assistant in a school, as a student in a university or in employment of some kind. During the year abroad you complete a Target Language Research Project related to the country you visit supervised by a designated Year Abroad project supervisor.

Students do not take any assessed modules in History during the third year.

Year 4

You will continue to take a single core language module, developing your skills to an advanced level. You will also choose from a wide range of specialist modules on literature, film, art, history and politics in the language you are studying, and you may be able to take a specialist language modules such as translation or interpreting.

These modules are designed around staff research expertise. All fourth-year modules build on skills and knowledge acquired earlier in the degree and allow you to specialise still further in areas which interest you (such as the work of a particular writer or the culture of a particular period).

You will usually take the equivalent of up to three modules in History, though it may be possible to take the equivalent of up to four by varying the number of Modern Languages and Cultures (MLAC) modules chosen. You may choose a triple-module Special Subject, taught entirely through seminars, which involves close study of primary sources. This involves working in a small group with a specialist in the field – with a three-hour seminar every week. You may instead choose to do supervised independent research leading to the writing of an extended dissertation.

Depending on your other choices, you may be able to take one other single module in the third year: third-year History single modules are all strongly reflexive in character, encouraging you to think about the ways in which historical knowledge is produced.

You will choose your own dissertation topic, through consultation with a supervisor. There are some limits, set by the availability of primary material and the expertise of supervisors, but the potential range of topics is very wide indeed. You will research and write a dissertation either on a historical topic (supervised by the History Department) or on an aspect of culture or cultural production (supervised by MLAC). As with modules at other levels, the precise choice of Special Subject and third-year single modules changes from year to year. Some of the History modules that have run in recent years are:

Special Subjects:

  • A World Turned Upside Down: Radicalism in the English Revolution
  • The Disappearance of Claudine Rouge: Murder, Mystery and Microhistory in Early Modern France
  • Light Beyond the Limes: the Christianisation of Pagan Europe, 300-1000
  • From War to Cold War: US Foreign Policy, c. 1944-1948.

Single modules:

  • Anglo-Saxon Invasion? The Search for English Origins
  • Revolution and History
  • Interpreting Conflict in Post-Colonial Africa
  • History of American Capitalism.

We review course structures and core content (in light of e.g. external and student feedback) every year, and will publish finalised core requirements for 2019 entry from September 2018.

Study Abroad


The Department participates in the University-wide overseas exchanges with:

  • Boston College (USA),
  • the University of British Columbia (Canada),
  • the University of Hong Kong (China) 
  • the National University of Singapore (Singapore).

If you study on the four-year Joint Honours in Modern European Languages and History degree, you will spend your third year abroad at a European university or a work placement as part of the University’s ERASMUS exchanges.

School of Modern Languages and Cultures

We attach great importance to your time abroad, during the third year of your degree, which you may spend as an English assistant in a school, as a student in a foreign university, or in employment with an overseas organisation. This is a time of enormous linguistic and personal development from which you should gain a high level of fluency in your language(s) and enjoy a unique opportunity to make new friends, appreciate new cultures and learn to work and study in new ways. Employers at home and abroad are impressed by the lasting benefits, especially in increased linguistic confidence, intercultural agility and general self-motivation. During the year abroad you will complete an academic assignment related to each of the countries in which you stay. You will need to pass these in order to fulfil the requirements of the BA in Modern European Languages and History (with Year Abroad).

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