The Making—and Unmaking—of the United Kingdom: 1283 to the Present

Course Title:  The Making—and Unmaking—of the United Kingdom: 1283 to the Present

Fee: $38 minus $6 if registered by Jan. 15

Dates:  Wednesdays, January 29, February 5 & 12

Time:  9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Location:  Mercer Community Center, 2648 Margaret St., Mercer


The objective of this course is to survey the long and complicated history of the multinational state known as the United Kingdom. Today the country is much in the news because of the ongoing political crisis caused by “Brexit”—its 2016 vote to leave the European Union. In fact, the crisis caused by Brexit has been building for a very long time: its roots lie in the distant past—in the English Crown’s conquest, over a period of some 500 years, of its nearest neighbors Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Only since the end of that period of conquest in 1801 has the “United Kingdom” as we know it even existed.

Today the future of that multinational state is not assured. For not only did these three conquered countries “make” the United Kingdom, they may yet prove to be the unmaking of it. Committed and well-organized nationalist, independence-demanding movements challenging the very existence of the UK have developed over time in all three countries—and are still growing and active today. Understanding these historical complexities is essential, for only then can we make sense of the current precarious predicament of the first Western nation to develop a representative form of government and one of our oldest and closest allies.

Course structure:  The course will be given in 3 sessions, each 3 hours long, covering the following topics:

Class 1: The Making of the United Kingdom: England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, 1283-1801

Class 2: Resistance and the Growth of Nationalism in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, 1700-2014

Class 3: Brexit and the Fault Lines of a “Precariously United Kingdom”


Requirements:  The only requirements are an interest and desire to explore and understand the historical complexities of a profoundly critical juncture in the evolution of one of the Western world’s foundational democracies.

Instructor: Mary Magray, Ph.D. Mary Magray has an MA in European history and a PhD in British and Irish history, with a focus on women and religion. She has been teaching a wide variety of European history courses to students of all ages for more than thirty years, including the history of early Irish and British Christianity at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is the author of The Transforming Power of the Nuns: Women, Religion, and Cultural Change in Ireland, 1750-1900, published by Oxford University Press in 1998, and is currently an instructor in the Division of Continuing Studies at UW–Madison.