Postgraduate MA Medieval History optional modules

You may choose to study one of the core modules from the other pathways as one of your options.

Other modules available include:

Across the Divide: China and its Neighbours in Texts and Material Culture

This module is a case study of the Liao dynasty (907-1125) that dominated eastern Eurasia for at least a century, but which is little known and barely studied because its rulers were not Chinese and did not control the traditional heartlands of the Chinese empires. The chief scholarly question about ‘conquest dynasties’ like the Liao has been: to what extent were they influenced by China? But were the parties involved really so distinct? What else was going on apart from fighting? How can we best describe and analyse frontier systems? This module seeks answers to these questions through critical examination of texts (in translation) and of material remains.
Assessment: Written assignment

Aspects of Byzantine History 

Topics covered vary from year-to-year.

Previous modules have included: 

  • Byzantine Society: this module takes a broad perspective on Byzantine society, concentrating on the middle Byzantine period (7th-11th centuries). We work our way from the top – the emperor, the court, the bureaucracy – to the bottom of the social ladder, i.e. the peasants and the unfree. We approach the social structures of Byzantium from a variety of angles, looking at the court, family structures, provincial society, merchants etc. We use a range of sources, from the court hierarchies defined in the Taktika to legal sources on land ownership, and from historiography to first-hand accounts of captivity, and apply a comparative approach when useful.
  • Narrative and the Material: this module focuses on the narrative account of Nicholas Mesarites, an eyewitness to the failed usurpation attempt of a member of the aristocracy, John Komnenos 'the Fat' (1200). One of five contemporary accounts, Mesarites' report is distinguished by its great attention to detail, expressed not only in descriptions of the buildings of the palace and the relics kept there but also by attention to the physical, the body, the sounds and sights of the 24-hour coup. The module studies the way that Mesarites constructs his narrative but also the way modern historians construct their narratives of this event.

Assessment: 4,000-word essay

Beyond the Frontier: History and Culture in Late Medieval Iberia

This interdisciplinary module presents you with an exciting opportunity to study the history and culture of late medieval Iberia, through an exploration of the rich primary source evidence for relations between peninsular Christians, Muslims and Jews and engagement with a variety of methodological approaches to medieval Iberian studies. The module is divided into three thematic units, each of which is concerned with exploring a number of central concepts through examination of primary texts and modern scholarship: political culture (kingship, empire, frontier society); religious culture (reconquest, pilgrimage, convivencia); popular and literary culture (daily life, warfare, humour and sin).
Assessment: Written assignment

Byzantine Archaeology and Material Culture

The module surveys the history of archaeological practice as it concerns the post-Roman East, and explores key aspects of the Late Roman and Transitional (‘Dark-Age’) archaeological record, different archaeological strategies, and how archaeological literature can be used to understand some of the major long-term changes that characterise the period AD 300-800. It focuses in particular on interpretative themes such as Christianisation, invasions, demographic changes, the transformation of urban culture, and changes in rural settlement, agriculture and artisanal production.
Assessment: Written assignment

Byzantine Art and Architecture

This module ensures a thorough grounding in the monuments of Byzantium, and an understanding of the methodological issues and problems confronting modern scholars. Lectures provide a chronological survey of the monuments from the foundation of Constantinople in 324 until the end of the Byzantine empire (1453).
Assessment: Written assignment

Conquest, Colonisation and Identity...

... Eurasian Frontiers in Texts and Material Culture

Conquest and colonisation are widely seen as modern (or at least post-medieval) phenomena, but both occurred frequently before 1500 and around the world. Historical texts are well known to have played a central role in the construction of national identities in modern East Asia and in Scandinavia. The purpose of this module is to critically examine the way textual evidence (in translation) can be used alongside archaeological evidence for understanding society and politics in two contrasting regions, northern China and Iceland, for the period c. 900 to c. 1200.
Assessment: Written assignment

Crusade, Jihad and Cross-Cultural Encounters on the Medieval Iberian Frontier, c.1031–c.1212

The period 1031–1212 was formative in medieval Iberian history. It saw the collapse of the caliphate of Cordoba and the subsequent fragmentation of political authority in al-Andalus, which was only to be re-established in the wake of successive invasions by the Almoravids and Almohads, Islamic fundamentalists from North Africa. The strength and confidence of the Christian kingdoms of Iberia also increased significantly during these years, as can be seen from the progression of territorial conquest and colonisation that culminated in the 'miraculous' victory at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. In this module you will examine the political, cultural and social history of the Iberian peninsula from the middle of the eleventh through to the early thirteenth century, with a focus on the changing nature of cross-frontier relations between Christians and Muslims.

Subjects for consideration will include: the development and implementation of Christian ideas of 'reconquest'; the influence on cross-cultural encounters of ideologies of crusade and jihad; the problems associated with the creation of multi-faith frontier societies; and the evolution of peninsular Christian understandings of the past, both recent and more distant. Throughout the module you will approach the subject through close analysis of the range of Latin, vernacular and Arabic primary sources that are available in translation both in print and on the Internet; other forms of evidence (artistic, architectural, archaeological) will be incorporated where appropriate.
Assessment: Written assignment

Empire and Identity

The module is in two parts, linked by questions of how contact with the Roman Empire changedpeoples’ perceptions of themselves and how this was represented in particular through their material culture. The first part considers the ‘Romanisation’ debate of the last hundred years, from the ‘top-down’ view of Haverfield and his successors, who brought to bear their own experiences of European colonialism and imperialism, through to more recent ‘bottom-up’ analyses employing post-colonial and related analyses, to the current position where the term can be seen as counter-productive. The second part looks at the construction of ‘barbarian’ identities in the later Roman period (mainly the 4th and 5th centuries). It considers the construction of ‘ethnicity’ in the 20th century, from Kossinna on, and its relationship to material culture (if there is any). The recent discussions of the construction of ‘identity’ rather than just ‘ethnicity’ are considered. Particular use is made of the rich textual and archaeological evidence for the (Visi-)Goths.

Both parts of the module seek to deconstruct traditional views and show how new thinking is necessitating profound review of previously accepted categories of ‘ethnicity’ in favour of considerations such as age, gender and status.
Assessment: Written assignment

Fantasy and Fandom: Writing Back to the Medieval in Modern Fantasy

From heroes and quests to magic and hidden identities, modern fantasy has looked to the literature of the medieval period for inspiration. Yet it has also consistently transformed and reshaped its source material, rewriting the significance of key motifs and ideas in order to address the issues of its own time and place of production.

This module will examine the ways in which modern fantasy writing both adopts and adapts the culture, language, characters and narratives of medieval texts, and in so doing identifies its authors as an (albeit diverse) fandom. Although not fanfiction in the strictest terms, modern fantasy writing often shares with it the desire to extend and appropriate the plots and protagonists of earlier texts, and to challenge or re-examine them by writing in an avatar who explores the textual world in a metaphorical representation of the author’s own discovery of the original work.

This module will look at forerunners for this in the medieval period too, and will encourage you to analyse the communally-driven nature of textual production and circulation in the Middle Ages, as well as the communities of interest which have written fantasy in response, from the late nineteenth century to the present.  The module will provide the opportunity to examine a range of fantasy writing, which may include texts from George MacDonald and William Morris through C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien to contemporary writers such as Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, J. K. Rowling and Ursula LeGuin.
Assessment: Written assignment

Funerary Archaeology

This module presents a critical review of interpretative themes and theoretical approaches in contemporary funerary archaeology and explores its significance for social and cultural interpretation in world archaeology, anthropology and history. The evidence-rich character of this field of study allows for in-depth analysis of relationships between religious beliefs, cultural ideals, values, social agency and symbolic representation. The module focuses on a range of interpretative themes, including social interpretation, cultural identity and personhood, body treatment and individuality, ritual practice, political power, and past belief systems, drawing widely on cross-cultural and inter-disciplinary case studies from all parts of the world and ranging in time from the Palaeolithic to the 21st century AD.
Assessment: Written assignment

GIS and Spatial Analysis

This module aims to develop your knowledge and understanding of the theory and practice of landscape analysis using Geographical Information Science (GIS). It introduces you to GIS history, theory and implementation, including aspects such as data models and modelling, data structures and different GIS paradigms and software. There is intensive training in ArcGIS software, and the module covers the application of GIS to landscape studies, including the practical creation of GIS databases and models for landscape archaeology and history research. This module is designed to develop practical skills in GIS and there are plenty of opportunities to apply these in both class and independent study contexts.
Assessment: Written assignment

Greek/Latin (Beginner)

These modules provide an intensive introduction to Greek or Latin. They aim to provide you with the basic linguistic skills needed to acquire a reading knowledge of Greek or Latin for the purposes of research.
Assessment: Class test or examination 

Greek/Latin (Advanced)

These modules consolidate linguistic skills to enable you to work independently on Greek or Latin texts in the original language, building upon existing knowledge. They develop analytical and critical skills by means of advanced grammar and reading classes focusing in detail on a text or texts. Texts chosen will generally reflect the interests of students in the group.
Assessment: Take-home paper or examination 

Landscape Archaeology

This module introduces the theoretical foundations of landscape archaeology, key interpretative approaches, current trends in landscape studies and the fundamental investigative and recording techniques used in landscape archaeology, including topics such as landscape characterisation, documentary source materials, and remote sensing of landscapes. You also receive a broad introduction to diverse landscape types and their study (e.g. riverine, wetland, littoral, island, and urban), and interpretative themes such as landscapes of belief. The module includes a one-day field trip with linked seminar classes.
Assessment: Written assignment

Magic, Monsters and Marvels in the Medieval World

Be captivated by the magic of medieval literature: devils and demons; fairy kings and queens; ghosts and ghouls; magical powers, miracles and marvellous objects; prophecies and potions; witches and wizards.

Familiar to us from childhood fairy tales and modern fantasy literature, this collection of the uncanny and supernatural is a constant presence in the world of medieval romance and related literature - as well, perhaps more surprisingly, in the world of medieval religion. Join us in strange adventures and otherworldly encounters as we examine some of the Middle Ages’ most tantalising and gripping literature. In exploring the exotic, often improbable worlds created by our texts we’ll examine their relationship to the very real realm of the possible and consider how various varieties of magic were used to shed light on wider issues of contemporary - and modern - interest, including science, religion, medicine, gender and psychology. Alongside the works of authors such as Chaucer, Gower, the Gawain-poet and Henryson, we’ll study a host of fascinating medieval romances from across the British Isles and also examine collections of miracles and prophecies, hosts of magical objects and buildings, and sequence of spells and charms. Throughout, we’ll ask what role magic and the supernatural played in our texts and in the world in which they were read and produced.
Assessment: Written assignment

Mapping the Middle Ages: Cultural Encounters in the Medieval East and West

This module explores perceptions of place, power, and belonging in texts produced in medieval Europe between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. It will introduce you to medieval perceptions of peoples and places, and strategies of alienation and marginalisation which to our modern eyes are at once culturally distinct and eerily familiar.

We will consider how medieval authors conceptualised travel across the known – and the unknown – regions of the world, and the ideological assumptions implicit in these imaginings. We will explore the relationship of these verbal (and on occasion visual) maps to the early development of ethnography (writings about other peoples); and consider the place of these imaginings in both medieval colonisation projects and the resistance strategies of colonised peoples. Major themes include perceptions of race, gender, monstrosity, and the body; the limits of community; marginalisation and margins; the fantastic; the relationship between visual and literary cultures; and travel, both real and imagined.

The module is organised geographically, moving from early orientalist conceptualisations of the far-East to similarly imaginative and fraught constructions of the far-West. Alongside our key texts, we will be looking at medieval maps, and exploring digital mapping technologies to chart the mental worlds, and physical journeys, of our medieval travellers.
Assessment: Written assignment

Material Culture

This module provides an introduction to material culture studies in Archaeology, drawing on the wider range of approaches to materiality in related disciplines such as Anthropology and History. It establishes a foundation in material culture theory, analysis and interpretation that underpins current approaches to investigation, as well as providing a basis for your individual study. Key themes include classification, technology, functionalism, symbolism, agency theory and signification, production, exchange and consumption, and the materialities of gender, ethnicity and status. The module comprises a mix of lectures, seminar classes, and hands-on study of material culture, with case studies drawn especially from prehistoric Europe, the classical world, medieval Europe, numerous ethnographic sources, and present-day western societies.
Assessment: Written assignment

Old English 1

These modules offer the opportunity to begin the study of literature written in Old English, the variety of English used in the British Isles by Anglo-Saxons until shortly after 1066. Students read a selection of texts in the original language and investigate their literary, cultural, historical and artistic contexts. 
Assessment: Written assignment and examination

Old Norse

This module offers the opportunity to begin the study of literature written in Old Norse-Icelandic, the language used across Scandinavia, Iceland and some parts of the British Isles in the medieval period. You will read a selection of texts in the original language and investigate their literary, cultural, historical and artistic contexts. In semester one, you will read selections from an appropriate Saga of Icelanders such as Hrafnkel's saga or Gunnlaug's saga and, in semester two, you will read selections of Eddic poetry.
Assessment: Written assignment and examination

People and Places in the West Midlands, c.1000-1500

This module offers the opportunity to study various aspects of medieval society, culture and the economy with a particular focus in the West Midlands from c. 1000 to 1500. It will introduce you to a variety of topics in medieval local history and broaden your understanding of the development of the region across the period.
Assessment: Written assignment

Please note: this is taught via four Saturday day classes

Popular Unrest in Later Medieval Europe

The module will examine the nature and contexts of popular unrest in later medieval Europe from c.1200 until c.1550, as well as their complex and lively historiographies. This will include a comparison of different types of medieval revolts and their specific socio-economic contexts. It has often been pointed out that there was a particularly high number of popular revolts after the first arrival of the Black Death, and one focus of the course will be the examination of the relevance of the changed economic social, and cultural climate in the post Black Death period to the nature of popular unrest.  Were popular revolts a symptom of a crisis of feudalism?  Was serfdom in decline and did revolts have anything to do with this?  We will examine the revolts themselves more closely through a variety of primary sources and try to ascertain what the aims and motivations of the rebels were, and how contemporary commentators viewed them. Other areas covered include: the involvement of women in popular unrest; how popular revolts were organised; how distinctions can be drawn between revolts and protests or indeed a riot and rebellion; and how manifestations of popular discontent differ according to different contexts and in different countries.
Assessment: Written assignment

Reading French, German, Italian, Russian or Spanish for Researchers

You will only focus on one of these languages. You will be taught by a mixture of tutor-led and workshop sessions, typically alternating between the two. Tutor-led sessions give instruction on the grammatical and lexical features of the language, based on a progressive reading of the prescribed coursebook. In the workshop sessions, you will undertake language exercises, including translation of texts into English, under the guidance of your tutor.
Assessment: Class test

The Economies of the Late Roman, Byzantine and Frankish East

This module surveys the economic history of the post-Roman East (4th – 15th c.) Lectures first review critically a range of approaches to pre-modern economies and explore their value for historical enquiries. Subsequent topics include: the study of parameters of long- and short-term changes; key trajectories; evolving forms of land tenure and taxation; the state’s involvement in the economy; the roles of the Church and the law; and the impact of the Italian mercantile republics.
Assessment: Written assignment

The Fourth Crusade

This module will examine the background to, the course and aftermath of the Fourth Crusade which ended in the conquest of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine empire. Reasons for 1204 will be sought in East-West relations, political, ecclesiastical, economic, and in the history of crusading. The aftermath, 57 years of Latin rule in Constantinople and the foundation of three successor states in Anatolia and the Balkans, will be studied. Narratives of the event, both Latin and Greek, will be the basis of study, as will papal letters and Latin and Greek documents in translation.
Assessment: Written assignment

Understanding Medieval Literature

This module offers the opportunity to explore a diverse range of medieval literary texts from the pre-conquest period through to the early Tudor period. Its aim is to facilitate confident engagement with the texts in their original language, awareness of the range and variety of English literature in the period, and understanding of the cultural contexts in which that literature was originally produced, ‘published’ and read. Guided by a team of specialist staff you will read a number of texts that rank among the greatest achievements across all English literature and will acquire a solid appreciation of some of the major trends and debates in current scholarship. Texts studied may vary from year to year but will include some of the following: the Old English epic Beowulf (taught by means of en face edition); early Middle English romance and devotional literature; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the finest Arthurian romance of the period; Troilus and Criseyde, arguably Chaucer’s greatest work; late medieval and Tudor drama. There will also be plenty of room for you to explore and to develop your own reading programme in relation to the key texts.
Assessment: Textual analysis exercise and 3,000-word essay

Vikings in the North Atlantic

Traditionally the study of the Viking expansion has been shaped by an overdependence on textual evidence and tendency to be shaped by nationalist historiographies. Increased archaeological excavation, new technologies and scientific methods, and increased study of place-name evidence means that the colonisation of the North Atlantic is now much better understood. This module therefore requires students to critically engage with a diverse body of evidence and diverse methodologies for understanding the past. Students will be invited to consider how and why people from Scandinavia interacted with pre-existing populations in the northern British Isles, Greenland and North America, and how and why colonisation took place in uninhabited places such as Iceland. Issues covered will include the chronology of the colonisation, ethnicity and identities across the region, socio-economic structures, and aspects of religion and burial practice, material culture and settlement archaeology.
Assessment: Written assignment

Writing Medieval Communities: Places and Spaces

How and where were books made in medieval England? What do we know of the producers and centres of production? What evidence do we have for contemporary readers and reading circles, for local and regional textual communities? How did the printing press impact upon manuscript culture? This module explores these and other crucial aspects of medieval and early Tudor literary culture and gives students the opportunity to examine in detail the production and reception of vernacular and Latin books in an increasingly literate society. Working through a series of test cases students will explore the nature of professional and amateur book productions, the environments in which books were made, sold and read, and the kinds of readers who made use of them. Topics may change from year to year but will address some of the following issues: ‘bestsellers’ and centres of book production in London; the role of government and City clerks in producing literary manuscripts; professional book production in the provinces (universities etc); the domestic household and literary patronage; ecclesiastical contexts for book production; the use of literary texts as inscriptions in domestic and religious buildings; the circulation (and censorship) of secular and religious texts in the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII.
Assessment: Written assignment

Writing Medieval Communities: Regions and Nations

This module offers an introduction to strategies of communal identification in medieval literature, from the early Middle Ages to the early modern period. It interrogates concepts of regional and national identity in literature produced in English, Scots, French, Welsh and Latin (the latter three will be read in translation, with opportunity for work with original languages in the context of assessment). It offers an opportunity for you to engage with national literatures beyond English, and to explore English literature in a comparative perspective. Texts studied will include: Middle Welsh prose literature; the Matter of Britain in chronicle and romance (including Arthurian material); and the late medieval and early modern ballad tradition. Youwill also be introduced to a range of contemporary critical perspectives, relating to the history of the nation/ nationalism, interrogating their medieval utility; as well as considering the relationship of the medieval to contemporary national, and nationalist, discourses.
Assessment: Written assignment