Magic in the Middle Ages: Context (HIH3267)

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-requisitesHIH3266 Magic in the Middle Ages (Sources)
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module will examine how medieval people thought about magic, and the magical practices that they used, in the Middle Ages. In this period, ideas about what magic was, how it worked, and whether it was acceptable, underwent profound changes in response to the circulation of new magical texts in Europe from the twelfth century onwards, and in response to changing theological ideas about magic. This module will investigate key issues including how medieval churchmen thought about magic; popular magical practices; the contents and impact of magical texts; and how medieval anxieties about magic paved the way for early modern witch trials. It will also explore the debates in modern historiography surrounding these issues.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Evaluate the different complex themes in the history of medieval magic.
  • 2. Make close specialist evaluation of the key developments within the period, developed through independent study and seminar work.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Analyse the key developments within a particular historical environment.
  • 4. Focus on and comprehend complex issues.
  • 5. Understand and deploy historical terminology in a comprehensible manner.
  • 6. Follow the complex reasoning inherent in the discourse of the period.

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

Syllabus plan

TermĀ 1
- Medieval Concepts of Magic (classical and Christian; magic and paganism; magic and the Church)
- Popular Magic (divination, magic and medicine, magic and sex)

TermĀ 2
- New Kinds of Magic (Arabic astrological magic, ritual magic, natural magic, magic in literature)
- 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 will offer an overview for students who may have little background in this subject. The co-requisite module will also provide close focus on the historical sources available for detailed analysis of medieval magic, so complementing this module. The seminars will focus on the central issues in the history of magic in the Middle Ages, allowing students to develop their skills and knowledge more fully. Students will be expected to prepare for seminars by reading and 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 course.1-7, 9Verbal 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
Essay253000 words1-8Verbal and written
Unseen Exam502 questions in 2 hours1-8Verbal and written
Essay253000 words1-8Verbal and written

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Two essaysTwo essays1-8Referral/deferral period
Unseen ExamUnseen Exam1-8Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

R. Kieckhefer, Magic in the Middle Ages (Cambridge University Press, 1989)

K. Jolly, C. Raudvere, E. Peters, Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: The Middle Ages (Athlone Press, 2002)

N. Cohn, Europe's Inner Demons (Pimlico Press, 3rd edn 1993)

C. Fanger (ed.), Conjuring Spirits: Texts and Traditions of Medieval Ritual Magic (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998)

V. Flint, The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe (Clarendon Press, 1991)

K. Park, 'Medicine and Magic: the Healing Arts', in J. Brown/R. Davis (ed.), Gender and Society in Renaissance Italy (Longman, 1998)

G. Brucker, 'Sorcery in Early Renaissance Florence', Studies in the Renaissance 10 (1963)

K. Jones and M. Zell, '"The divels speciall instruments": women and witchcraft before the "great witch-hunt"', Social History 30 (2005)

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