Ritual Life in the Middle Ages 800-1200 (HISM410)

StaffProfessor Sarah Hamilton - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF LevelM
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module examines the importance of rituals in the lives of those living in Latin Europe in the central 
Middle Ages. Its central aim is to assess the extent to which there was a change in the significance of rituals across this period: historians of the pre-1050 period have emphasised the importance of collective consciousness and behaviour, and seen the world of people at this time as dominated by a series of individual and communal rituals, whilst historians of the long twelfth century (c. 1050-1200) have seen their period as marked by an emphasis on rational thought and individual behaviour. It also introduces students to the problems associated with recovering the evidence for ritual in this period. This module takes a thematic approach, studying those life-changing rituals which were universal, those which were personal, those of every-day life, those of public life, and those which were undertaken as a result to personal anxieties.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Students should have a detailed knowledge of the ritual life in this period, and have the ability to analyse and comment upon the debates about the development of specific rituals, and to place these debates in a broader context, that is as to whether the twelfth century represented a significant change in medieval mentalities.
  • 2. They should also have a knowledge of a variety of primary materials, drawn from different genres, and be able to evaluate them critically.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Students should demonstrate the ability to analyse and synthesise widely different types of historical material and evidence.
  • 4. They should be able to identify and understand the nature of original sources.
  • 5. They should have a critical understanding of key historical concepts and debates.
  • 6. Students should be able to research for themselves and present independent accounts and interpretations of different historical issues

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Capacity for independent critical study and thought.
  • 8. The ability to apply key bibliographical skills (including the use of on-line finding aids).
  • 9. The ability to construct and defend a sustained argument, both in written form and orally, using primary and secondary materials.
  • 10. Students should have the capacity to work as an individual and to work with a tutor and peers in an independent, constructive and responsive way (e.g. lead a group discussion or task).

Syllabus plan

1. Introduction: how does a ritual mean? 
2. Universal rituals: baptism and death
3. Life-changing rituals: coronation
4. Life-changing rituals: marriage
5. Life-changing rituals: knighthood and emancipation
6. Rituals of everyday life: feasts, dining, sleeping and hunting
7. Rituals of public life: political reconciliation and other forms of dispute settlement
8. Rituals of public life: warfare
9. Personal rituals for negotiating life: penance and pilgrimage 
10. The creation and adaptation of rituals: crusading
11. Conclusions, and review of the course.

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
SLT222 hours seminars
GIS143private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
seminar presentations

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 1625000 words
Essay 2: based on primary sources383000 words

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

H. Fichtenau, Living in the tenth century: mentalities and social orders, trans. P. J. Geary (University of Chicago Press, 1991)
Janet L. Nelson, Politics and ritual in early medieval Europe (Hambledon Press, 1986)
F. S. Paxton, Christianizing death: the creation of a ritual process in early medieval Europe (Cornell UP, 1990)
P. Cramer, Baptism and change in the early Middle Ages, c.200-c.1150 (Cambridge U.P., 1993)
G. Duby, The knight, the lady and the priest: the making of modern marriage in medieval France, trans. B. Bray (Penguin, 1985)
G. Koziol, Begging, pardon and favor: ritual and political order in early medieval France (Cornell U.P., 1992)
B. Rosenwein (ed), Anger’s past: the social uses of an emotion in the Middle Ages (Cornell U.P., 1998)
M. Strickland, War and chivalry: the conduct and perception of war in England and Normandy, 1066-1217 (Cambridge U.P., 1996)
M. C. Mansfield, The humiliation of sinners: public penance in thirteenth-century France (Cornell U.P., 1995)
H. Mayr-Harting, Ottonian book illumination, 2 vols (Harvey Miller, 1991)
C. Erdmann, The origin of the idea of crusade, English trans. M. W. Baldwin and W. Goffart (Princeton U.P., 1977)
K. Leyser, Communications and power: the Carolingian and Ottonian centuries (Hambledon Press, 1994)

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