Lessons from History

Take a look at historical global phenomena and disasters to see what lessons can be taken forward to help better prepare the world to tackle global challenges

Module details

  • Offered to 3rd & 4th Years
  • Thursdays 16.00-18.00
  • 2 term module worth 5 ECTS
  • Available to eligible students as part of I-Explore
  • Extra Credit or Degree Credit where your department allows
Degree credit module options by departmentHow to enrol

In Lessons From History you will spend time exploring different historical disasters. These include technical, environmental, health and social disasters.

For each disaster, you will work through a cycle of activities that will develop a range of different skills.

Beginning with the whole class together, we will consider what it means to understand a historical event. How much do you need to know? How many perspectives do you need to consider? Is it ok to not know things about an event? We will then consider each new event together, identifying important aspects to guide your independent research.

Working in teams, you will research what happened and develop your own ‘knowledge base’ that documents the facts, controversies and mysteries about each event, whilst also considering what types of information and sources are available.

You will write your own question and answer in your team for each disaster and you will receive really detailed feedback about your writing – specifically aiming to develop your persuasion and argumentation skills.

In class, there will be many opportunities to develop your negotiation and communication skills – both within your teams and between teams. Some of the disasters that we study are selected by the lecturer, but you will also have the opportunity to pick different disasters in your teams and to vote on one disaster to study as the final cycle of the module.

By the end of the module, every student will have explored thinking and writing about history in new ways and we work together as a class to help everyone write their own individual essay. We will look at how each skill we have developed in the module can help you write your essay – and there will be lots of writing support and time available in class. You will have lots of opportunities to discuss your essay ideas – and help other students think about their ideas, before following a writing formula to help you write something very individual and personal to you.

This module will be delivered online making full use of our virtual classroom. Each session will be highly interactive including activities, discussion and close interaction with your peers and teachers. To understand more about how we teach online interactively, visit the Change Makers Online Learning page.

*The module specification below is subject to final committee approval and is therefore subject to change.*

Information blocks

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module you will be better able to:

  • develop a systematic knowledge and critical understanding of historical events
  • synthesise a set of key learning points from historical events and their legacy
  • apply these to current approaches to managing global challenges, suggesting areas where improvements could be made
  • identify areas for further self-directed study and develop considered insights using inputs from a range of sources and disciplines to construct a critical review of our attempts to manage the world in which we live
  • engage with the ethical, social, economic and political aspects of historical events
  • plan, monitor and evaluate your own learning, and develop methods of accountability within your teams


Indicative core content

This module examines of a number of key historical events that can inform our thinking about risk and disaster management, and reflect the complexity of our interactions with the world. You will develop your own understanding of these events, before considering the event from a specific perspective. A range of events will be considered (some set events and some nominated by students) which might include:
Nuclear sign

  • Chernobyl (nuclear safety)
  • Aral Sea Regression (ecosystem destruction)
  • Challenger Disaster (technological and political disaster)
  • South East Asia Tsunami (large scale, multinational natural disaster)
  • Haiti Earthquake (natural disaster with problematic disaster response)
  • Great Chinese Famine (food security)
  • Sudan Conflict (war and fragile states)
  • Eyjafjallajökull Eruption (risk management)
  • L.A. Riots (civil unrest)
  • B.S.E. Crisis



  • Practical/Examination: (Individual and Group) – team based learning comprehension quizzes  (20%)
  • Coursework: short answer questions applying key learning points to contemporary issues and strategy. Includes annotated bibliography, knowledge base, question and 250-word answer (40%)
  • Coursework: (Individual) - Essay integrating learning from several of the events covered to create a plan for future disaster management - 1,500-2,000 words (40%)

Key information

  • You are expected to attend all classes and undertake approximately 85 hours of independent study in total during the module. Independent study includes preparation for classes and assignments, wider reading and guided research relevant to the module.  
  • Sufficient time will be set aside for all assessments to be completed in-class.
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 6 course. See Imperial Horizons level descriptors [pdf]

My Journey

This module is really unique and designed in a very intricate way to help you develop the widest range of skills possible while learning about history. 

Read about how students in the 2020-21 class describe their own experiences of completing this module: visit the Lessons from History Student Journey page.

"This course is so far the best course I have ever attended at Imperial. It is an intellectually stimulating, fun and well structured course. I definitely recommend this course for anyone to broaden their horizons!"
"I found the content of this module was both varied enough to keep things interesting, but also linked which allowed us to build on previous knowledge. Feedback was provided very promptly and was always specific and thorough."
"It's lovely to have a module where the students are trusted to decide how best to structure the course. Working in teams this way has been a new and valuable experience. I love being able to research (and be marked on) what grabs my interest in a topic each cycle. Great course!"
"Loved this course, really was one of the highlights of my year."
"Really enjoyed this course. The lecturer made the course incredibly fun and really encourages students to research topics they find interesting."
"I have absolutely loved this course! The way the course is taught forces students to really engage with the content rather than just passively listening to a lecturer talk."