Investigating the Elizabethans (Online)


The Elizabethan world witnessed some of the most momentous and memorable events in English history. This course will focus on the experiences and reactions of individuals to these changes, events and issues, as well as exploring the ways in which people lived, worked and survived this era of rapid change.

Elizabethan England was an exciting and turbulent place in which to live. International exploration and the growth of a global economy combined with the emergence of new ideas about religion and the way that society worked to create a vibrant cultural life. The legacy of Elizabethan society persists today, in the works of William Shakespeare and a continuing fascination with the lives of Elizabeth I and her subjects. Elizabeth’s Protestant religious settlement established the basis of the Church of England that survives today but called into question her subjects’ beliefs and ways of making sense of the world around them. It also brought England into conflict with Catholic powers, with a constant threat of invasion and warfare. This course will look at a range of aspects of life in Elizabethan society, from everyday life in the counties to life in towns and the great city of London. Students will be invited to explore a range of contemporary source materials, from private correspondence and printed materials to portraits and woodcut images. We will also pay attention to what material culture can tell us, considering architecture and gardens as well as textiles and the surviving materials of domestic life.

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

Unit 1: Elizabethan Society

  • Preconceptions
  • The shape of society
  • Appearance and degree
  • Defamation and dispute
  • Disorder
  • Variation between regions

Unit 2: Family, Community and Identity

  • Marriage
  • Children
  • Household and community
  • Portraiture
  • Death
  • Tomb monuments

Unit 3: Religion

  • Building the Elizabethan church
  • Religious life before the Reformation
  • Changes to religious life
  • Conformity
  • Protestant propaganda
  • Resistance
  • Catholic persecution

Unit 4: The Economy

  • The rural economy
  • Enclosure
  • Sheep
  • Rabbits
  • Arable farming
  • Occupations and cottage industries
  • Wealth and worth
  • Economic problems

Unit 5: Parish and County

  • How it all worked
  • Regional variations
  • Duty and service
  • Patronage
  • Defence
  • Law and order
  • Vagrancy and vagabondage
  • Poor relief
  • Charity provision

Unit 6: London and the Towns

  • Towns
  • Port towns
  • London
  • Guilds and livery companies
  • Finance
  • Urban households
  • London life
  • Immigration

Unit 7: Education, Knowledge, Skills

  • Education
  • Curriculum
  • Universities and the Inns of Court
  • Apprenticeships
  • Female education
  • Literacy and books

Unit 8: Buildings, Homes and Gardens

  • The Great Rebuilding
  • Farmhouses
  • Urban architecture
  • Public buildings
  • New builders
  • Gentry and noble houses
  • Architects and builders
  • Domestic life and interiors
  • Gardens

Unit 9: Popular Culture

  • Changes
  • Feast days and festivals
  • Accession Day
  • Ballads
  • Morris dancing
  • Travelling entertainers
  • Mystery and mummers plays
  • Plays and playgoing
  • Sports

Unit 10: Exploration and Discovery

  • Explorers
  • Opening up the world
  • America
  • Finance
  • Drake and the circumnavigation
  • The impact of the New World on the Old World
  • Life at sea
  • The Elizabethan age of exploration

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


Credit Application Transfer Scheme (CATS) points 

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £30 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £30 fee. 

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education, you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee. 


Digital credentials

All students who pass their final assignment, whether registered for credit or not, will be eligible for a digital Certificate of Completion. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so. 

Please note that assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail. 


Description Costs
Course Fee £385.00
Take this course for CATS points £30.00


Dr Janet Dickinson

Janet Dickinson specializes in the cultural and political history of elites in early modern England and Europe. She has recently worked on a collection of 'drowned books' from a seventeenth century shipwreck and what they can tell us about travel and cultural exchange. She has won a series of teaching awards for her work with students at OUDCE.

Course aims

To explore life in Elizabethan England, as experienced by people across the social scale. It will focus on the experiences and reactions of Elizabeth’s subjects to the rapid changes of the period and its key events and issues, as well as exploring the ways in which people lived, worked and survived. We will look at a range of aspects of life in Elizabethan England at all social levels, from the everyday lives of ordinary people to the beliefs and experiences of those who sought to lead and to govern society. Students will have the opportunity to explore a range of contemporary source materials, from letters and books to images and portraiture. We will also pay attention to the material culture of Elizabethan England, looking at architecture and gardens as well as textiles and the surviving materials of domestic life.

Course objectives

This course will enable participants to:

  • explore how people lived in and made sense of the Elizabethan world.

  • understand how people came to terms with the rapid changes and events that took place in this period.

  • critically engage with recent scholarship on the subjects covered and to carry out their own assessment of a range of primary source materials.

Teaching methods

  • Guided reading of texts and internet resources.
  • Research topics with student feedback.
  • Different discussion formats eg very structured or informal.
  • Set questions on primary materials as part of ongoing assessment

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be expected to have gained the following skills:

  • the ability to analyse and evaluate a range of different primary source materials and to use this to build their own analyses of the subjects covered during the course.

  • the ability to critically appraise and engage with the relevant scholarly literature.

  • to communicate their own assessments of the subjects covered via engagement with other students in the course discussion forums and at greater length in the two written assignments.

By the end of this course students will be expected to understand:

  • the ways in which individuals and groups across society patterned and conceptualised their lives and the world around them.

  • the impact of religious, economic and social change on peoples’ lives.

  • how historians use primary sources to build their interpretations of the past.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.