Interpreting the Middle Ages (HISM023)

StaffSimon Barton - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF LevelM
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module aims to introduce students to a variety of inter-disciplinary research skills and to different topics within the field of Medieval Studies. At a series of two-hour workshops, students will analyse a wide range of evidence - including artistic works, written documents, and material objects - and explore some of the questions these different types of source materials elicit and the methodologies that can be deployed to tackle them. The module is team-taught and draws on the expertise of a range of specialist tutors in the various different disciplines and topics studied.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. demonstrate a detailed knowledge and understanding of a range of different kinds of sources from the middle ages;
  • 2. demonstrate a critical awareness of past and current scholarly debates relating to the middle ages.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. orientate him/herself quickly within cultures with which he or she is initially unfamiliar; engage critically with a broad range of cultural phenomena, including musical works, texts, material artefacts (including manuscripts), institutions, and public discourses;
  • 4. understand the assumptions on which his or her own approaches to cultural analysis are based;
  • 5. argue at length and in detail about aspects of the cultures studied, supporting the argument with textual evidence and with opinions from secondary literature;
  • 6. access, and use critically, printed and, where appropriate, electronic learning resources identified as useful by the course tutors; find independently and evaluate critically other relevant resources;
  • 7. using recommended bibliographical tools, present a critical bibliography giving a balanced overview of an aspect of the subject.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 8. manage own learning time and learning activities, where appropriate with guidance from course tutors;
  • 9. undertake independent researches on the basis of a taught course;
  • 10. negotiate individual assessment tasks and/or topics with course tutor(s), identifying own areas of strength and interest;
  • 11. present information and arguments on a designated or negotiated topic to a group of listeners and respond to questions and responses from the group;
  • 12. adopt a critical approach to the selection and organisation of a large body of material in order to produce, to a deadline, a written or oral argument of some complexity;
  • 13. demonstrate ability to combine a variety of IT skills in researching and reporting on a topic.

Syllabus plan

The seminars on offer will vary slightly from year to year depending on the size of the group taught (8 hours for one student, 12 for two students, 16 for three students, 20 for four or more students), student interests and other factors. 

Sessions to include a selection of topics in various disciplinary areas falling within the three broad strands as identified below (sessions are subject to staff availability): 

A. Interpreting the Arts 

(exploring primary sources that lend insight into cultural and artistic life; these may include literary, musical, and art works) 

1. ‘Interpreting Medieval Music' 
2. ‘Authorship in the Middle Ages' 
3. ‘Theoretical Approaches to Reading Medieval Literature' 
4. ‘Dante as Literary Historian'

B. Interpreting Social Contexts

(exploring texts that lend insight into the secular and the religious in medieval society; these may include liturgy, chronicles, charters, legal texts, concilia and epistola) 

5. ‘Confession and Preaching Manuals' 
6. ‘The European Medieval Economy' 
7. ‘Papacy and Society in the 14th century' 
8. ‘Liturgy and Ritual' 

C. Interpreting Material Culture

(exploring material objects that lend insight into habits and tastes of medieval society; these may include archaeological objects (e.g. buildings), books, and costume) 

9. ‘Text and Image in Medieval Manuscripts' 
10. ‘Space and Architecture in Medieval Literature'

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
SLT8-20including 8-20 hours of seminars, depending on the number of students: The module is taught primarily through seminars. Students benefit from varied teaching styles and methods, but in all cases a high degree of preparation and participation is expected. Students are required to give presentations. Students are given an opportunity to discuss essays individually with the relevant tutor at the planning stage, and detailed feedback is given once marking is complete.
GIS280private study

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
Essay 1503500-4000 words
Essay 2503500-4000 word

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

M.T. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record (2nd ed. Blackwell, 1993) 

Richard Hoppin, Medieval Music (New York: Norton, 1978) 

Hans Robert Jauss, Towards an Aesthetic of Reception (Brighton: Harvester, 1982). 

A.S. McGrade, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Philosophy (Cambridge: CUP, 2003). 

Alastair J. Minnis, and A.B. Scott, Medieval Literary Theory and Criticism c. 1100-c. 1375: The Commentary Tradition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991). 

Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (London/N.Y.: Methuen, 1982). 

Brian Stock, Listening for the Text: On the Uses of the Past (Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990).

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