Interpreting the Middle Ages (HISM183)

StaffProfessor Yolanda Plumley -
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level7
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

• To acquire broad knowledge of the sources available in the field of Medieval Studies;
• To develop a deep understanding of the problems of interpretation posed by a variety of genres of evidence;
• To acquire advanced critical skills and analytical methods
• To develop the skills in order to improve critical writing

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. Engage critically with a broad range of cultural phenomena, including texts, material artefacts (including manuscripts), institutions, and public discourses.
  • 4. Demonstrate understanding of the assumptions on which 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 engaging with opinions from secondary literature.
  • 6. Access, and use critically, printed and, where appropriate, electronic learning resources identified as useful by the course tutors; and find independently and evaluate critically other relevant resources.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Manage own learning time and learning activities, where appropriate with guidance from course tutors.
  • 8. Undertake independent research on the basis of a taught course.
  • 9. Negotiate individual assessment tasks and/or topics with course tutor(s), identifying own areas of strength and interest.
  • 10. Present information and arguments on a designated or negotiated topic to a group of listeners and respond to questions and responses from the group.
  • 11. 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.
  • 12. Combine a variety of IT skills in researching and reporting on a topic.

Syllabus plan

Workshops will address a selection of source material within the following three broad strands: 

A. Interpreting Social Contexts
[exploring texts that lend insight into secular and religious society in the medieval period; exact topics will vary according to tutor expertise and availability but may include chronicles, charters, legal texts, liturgy, concilia and epistola]

B. Interpreting the Arts
[exploring primary sources that lend insight into cultural and artistic life; these may include artistic, literary and musical works]

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]

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 Activities2211 x 2 hour seminars
Guided independent study278Independent study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar discussionOngoing through course1-12Verbal from peers and tutor

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
Commentary on a medieval source or set of sources332000 words1-12oral and written
Essay674000 words1-12oral and written

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Commentary on a medieval source or set of sourcesCommentary on a medieval source or set of sources1-12Referral/deferral period
Essay 4000 wordsEssay 4000 words1-12Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

John Arnold, What is Medieval History? (London: Arnold, 2007).
M.T. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record , 2nd ed. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993). 
Richard Hoppin, Medieval Music (New York: Norton, 1978). 
Hans Robert Jauss, Towards an Aesthetic of Reception (Brighton: Harvester, 1982).  
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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Key words search

Medieval Studies, Middle Ages, Cultural Studies