Medieval Research Skills (HISM182)

StaffDr Helen Birkett - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level7
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

You will learn how to handle, 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, as well as directing you towards the key printed and online resources used by professional researchers. 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) and you will gain experience of conducting research in these environments.

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 principles of transcription and know how to transcribe medieval documents with an acceptable level of accuracy, within the limits of individual linguistic capabilities.
  • 3. Locate primary sources and understand the technical descriptions provided by cataloguers and archivists.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Develop practical research skills relevant to the primary material you will study as an independent researcher.
  • 5. Recognise the differences between source types and our approaches to them.
  • 6. Understand and apply the correct terminology when discussing medieval scripts and documents.
  • 7. Gain experience of archival and library repositories central to research in the discipline.

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. Follow bibliographical leads and be able to use dictionaries and lists of abbreviations as appropriate.
  • 11. Gain knowledge of a variety of professional and public working environments.

Syllabus plan

The module consists of seven seminars which will cover palaeography, diplomatic and codicology. Where relevant, seminars will take place in research libraries and will involve handling medieval material.

  1. Introduction
  2. Formal Scripts to c.1200
  3. Formal Scripts from c.1200
  4. Late Medieval Cursive Scripts
  5. Diplomatic
  6. Codicology
  7. Bibliography and Using the Archives

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 Activities147 x 2 hour seminars
Guided Independent Study136Private study and preparation, online learning exercises

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Online exercises linked to seminars (seminars 1, 5 and 6: multiple choice questions; seminars 2, 3 and 4: transcriptions)Multiple choice: 3x approx. 30 mins 1-9Online feedback; verbal comments in individual tutorials (if requested)

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
Portfolio of transcriptions from medieval sources502000 words1-9Written comments on portfolio; verbal comments in individual tutorial
Online examination (combination of transcriptions, multiple choice questions and interpretative commentary) 502 hours 1-9Online feedback; verbal comments in individual tutorial

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Portfolio of transcriptions from medieval sourcesPortfolio1-9Ref/def period
Online examinationOnline examination1-9Ref/def period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • 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)
  • A. Derolez, The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books (Cambridge,2003)
  • M. Drogin, Medieval Calligraphy: Its History and Technique (New York, 1989)
  • S. Harrison Thomson, Latin Bookhands of the Later Middle Ages, 1100-1500 (Cambridge, 1969)
  • M. B. Parkes, English Cursive Hands 1250-1500 (Oxford, 1969)
  • B. Shailor, The Medieval Book (Toronto, 1991)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Manuscripts and Book History


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

medieval studies, research skills, palaeography, manuscripts