Magic in the Middle Ages: Sources (HIH3266)

StaffDr Catherine Rider - Convenor
Dr Jennifer Farrell - Lecturer
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15.00
NQF Level6
Pre-requisitesAt least 90 credits of History at level 1 and/or level 2
Co-requisitesHIH3267 Magic in the Middle Ages (Context)
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module will focus on the sources available for studying magical practices, and attitudes to magic, in medieval Europe. It will use a range of sources, including theology, church law, magical texts, scientific and medical texts, and trial records. Students will be expected to evaluate the reliability and value of these sources as well as to explain their significance within the wider context of the subject.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Have a detailed knowledge of the different sources available for the study of medieval magic, together with a very close specialist knowledge of those sources which the students focus upon in their seminar presentations and written work.
  • 2. Analyse the complex diversity of the sources studied.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Analyse closely original sources and to assess their reliability as historical evidence. Ability to focus on and comprehend complex texts
  • 4. Understand and deploy relevant historical terminology in a comprehensible manner
  • 5. Follow theories and evaluate critically the often complex reasoning of contemporary discourses

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 6. Independently and autonomously study and work within a group work, including presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning.
  • 7. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.
  • 8. Present complex arguments orally.

Syllabus plan

This module will focus on primary sources relating to the following subjects:

1. Medieval Concepts of Magic (classical and Christian; magic and paganism; magic and the Church)

2. Popular Magic (divination, magic and medicine, magic and sex)

3. New Kinds of Magic (Arabic astrological magic, ritual magic, natural magic, magic in literature)

4. The Background to the Witch Trials (the theology of demonic magic, the image of the witch, witchcraft and women, prosecuting magic, the first witch trials)

The introductory session offers an overview for students who may have little background in the subject, exploring concepts of what magic is and its role in society. The co-requisite module will also provide close analysis of the social and cultural context of medieval magic and the historiographical debates surrounding it. The seminars will focus on sources for studying magical practices and attitudes to them, allowing students to develop their skills and knowledge more fully. Some of the sources will be presented by individual students; others will be presented by students working in groups; and on others there will be open discussion. Students will be expected to prepare for seminars by reading and/or evaluating the respective sources in advance, and will discuss the issues raised therein in the seminar itself.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities44Seminars (22x2hr)
Guided independent study256Reading and preparation for seminars, coursework and presentations

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar discussionOngoing through course1-6, 8Oral from tutor and fellow students

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Portfolio702 assignments totalling 4000 words1-7Verbal and written
Individual Presentation3020-30 minutes1-8Verbal and written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
PortfolioPortfolio1-7Referral/deferral period
PresentationWritten transcript of 20 minute presentation.1-8

Re-assessment notes

The re-assessment consists of a 4,000 word portfolio of source work, as in the original assessment, but replaces the individual presentation with a written script that could be delivered in such a presentation and which is the equivalent of 20 minutes of speech.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

P. G. Maxwell-Stuart (ed./trans.), The Occult in Mediaeval Europe (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)

A. Kors/E. Peters, Witchcraft in Europe 400-1700 (2nd edn, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000)

J. Shinners, Medieval Popular Religion: a Reader (Broadview Press, 1997)

W. Klingshirn, 'Isidore of Seville's Taxonomy of Magicians and Diviners', Traditio 58, 2003

St Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana bk 2, chs. 19-24, trans. R. Green (Clarendon Press, 1995)

St Augustine, City of God, trans. H. Bettenson, bk. 10, chs. 8-12 (Penguin, 2004).

R. Kieckhefer, Forbidden Rites: a Necromancer's Manual of the Fifteenth Century (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997)

Chretien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances, trans. W. Kibler and C. Carroll, (Penguin, 1991)

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Key words search

Magic, medieval history