Research Skills for Medievalists (HISM018)

StaffDr Helen Birkett - Convenor
Professor Sarah Hamilton - Lecturer
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level7
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

You will learn how to read and transcribe medieval texts, and to recognise different scripts and abbreviations. The module will also teach you how to understand the technical descriptions of manuscripts found in printed and online catalogues, and provide you with the basic training needed to produce your own descriptions and critical editions of manuscript material. To help develop these practical skills, some seminars will be held in research libraries with access to original documents (e.g. Special Collections at the University of Exeter, Exeter Cathedral Library, and/or Devon Record Office). 

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Identify the main letter-forms and abbreviations used in the most common forms of medieval script
  • 2. Understand the basic rules of transcription and be able to transcribe medieval documentary material with an acceptable level of accuracy
  • 3. Locate primary sources and understand the technical descriptions provided by cataloguers and archivists
  • 4. Understand the theory and practice of producing critical editions of medieval texts

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 5. Develop practical research skills relevant to the primary material you will study as an independent researcher
  • 6. Recognise the differences between source types and our approaches to them
  • 7. Understand and apply the correct terminology

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 8. Demonstrate capacity for independent critical study and thought
  • 9. Work as an individual and with a tutor and peers in an independent, constructive and responsive way (e.g. lead a group discussion or task).
  • 10. Demonstrate the ability to learn and put into practice highly specialized new skills over a relatively short period of time

Syllabus plan

Over the course of two terms, the module will cover topics such as the following:


  • Roman Scripts
  • Early Insular Scripts
  • Insular Square Minuscule
  • Caroline Minuscule
  • Diplomatic
  • Protogothic Script
  • Gothic Scripts
  • Cursive Scripts
  • Codicology
  • Bibliography
  • Textual Editing

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 activities2222 x 1 hour seminars
Guided independent study278Independent study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay plan2-sides A4 maximum1-10Verbal and/or written feedback

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
Essay403,000 words1-10Written and verbal feedback
Research proposal201,000 words1-10Written and verbal feedback
Exam402 hours1-10Written feedback

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
3000 word essayEssay1-10Referral/deferral period
1000 word research proposalEssay1-10Referral/deferral period
ExamExam1-10Referral/deferral period

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Web based and electronic resources:


  • Electronic Sawyer

  • ‘Kemble’

  • Marburg Lichtbildarchiv


Manuscripts and Book History



  • Hill Museum and Manuscript Library: School

  • InScribe: Palaeography Learning Materials

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

  • M. P. Brown, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 (London, 1990)
  • B. Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1990)
  • R. Clemens and T. Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Ithaca, 2007)
  • A. Derolez, The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books (Cambridge, 2003)
  • M. B. Parkes, English Cursive Hands 1250-1500 (Oxford, 1969)
  • L. D. Reynolds (ed.), Texts and Transmission: A Survey of the Latin Classics (Oxford, 1983)
  • L. D. Reynolds and N. G. Wilson, Scribes and Scholars: A Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature,2nd edn (Oxford, 1974)

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date