Ancient and Medieval History (V116) module summaries


Second Year

Ancient and Medieval History in Theory and Practice

  • 20 credits 

This module addresses questions to do with the nature of history and historical knowledge, particularly as they relate to the ancient and medieval worlds. Topics covered include issues in the philosophy of history (explanation, causality, objectivity etc.); the characteristics of different kinds of history and major trends in historiography. This is not a standard history module with a definite period/place focus, but a broader reflective module designed to aid independent thinking and reflection by students.

Research Methods

  • 20 credits

This module is designed to support students as they develop a topic on which to write their dissertation in your final year. It not only marks a crucial stage in their degree as a whole, but is also an important module in its own right. The Research Methods module will give students firsthand experience of the work of a historian as they learn to identify and frame a valid, intellectually coherent research question; identify, find and consider what primary sources they will use and how they will use them; consult with a specialist historian in whatever area it is they wish to work on; present their planned project to their peers; write a literature review that analyses what historians have made of the same subject, and start preliminary work on their dissertation proper by conducting two weeks’ worth of research.

Medieval Option A and Medieval Option B example modules: 

  • Each of the following modules are 20 credits

Rulers and Rebels of Early Islam

Islam is the newest of the great monotheistic religions. Its Prophet Muhammad died in 632, and within just 100 years the Islamic caliphate extended from the Arabian Peninsula across thousands of kilometres to the frontiers with China. How do we explain this success of Islam, known to some as the ‘second big bang’? How did Islamic rule impact the medieval societies that were subjected to it? How and why did people convert to Islam, and what was their relationship with Christians, Jews or Buddhists? Who were the caliphs and sultans of specific regions in the Islamic world? 

In this module, we will explore the early origins and development of Islam within the context of historical, social and cultural change in the Near East and Central Asia from late antiquity to the 12th century. Students will draw on a range of textual, archaeological and art historical evidence to examine the history of Islam in selected societies, and will gain an appreciation for the variety in experiences and strategies of those who joined and participated in the ‘House of Islam’ in the medieval period. 

Childhood and Adolescence in Medieval Europe

This course will explore the lives of young people in Medieval Society from ca. 1100 to 1500 focusing on Europe with a special emphasis on England. A society’s culture and a myriad of attitudes are revealed in the way it deals with its children and adolescents.  In this course we will look at the way historians have examined childhood and explore and test the argument made by some that there was no real concept of childhood in medieval Europe.

Crusading and Crusader Kingdoms

Few aspects of medieval history appear to have more contemporary resonance than the crusades, the so-called ‘wars of the cross’ that were fought by western Christians against a range of adversaries, including Muslims, pagans, heretics and Mongols. In this module we will examine the origins and development of the crusading movement in the central Middle Ages, from its formation in the late eleventh century through to its evolution and diversification in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. We will also study the nature of the frontier societies that were created by crusaders in the eastern Mediterranean, the Iberian peninsula and north-eastern Europe, and assess the impact that crusading had on the lives and mentalities of western Europeans in general. 

Crime and Public Order in Late Medieval Europe

Every society has to cope with internal conflict as well as with threats from outside. Such conflicts take different forms. There are different varieties of criminal activity or mass violence which can arise from a dissolution of social structures. External threats also have an impact on the workings of the social fabric. All societies have found ways to respond to crime and unrest. Mechanisms produced by medieval societies to deal with conflict and to combat crime and disorder in the form of legislation, courts and legal procedures will also be studied in this Optional Unit in their different contexts. 

A great variety of late medieval sources offer information on crime and disorder, on events, on their causes and on attempts to preserve peace. They include records from criminal trials which reveal bits of the medieval underworld and describe the procedures followed by the courts, normative sources like laws and statutes, records from towns with descriptions of unrest and spectacular criminal cases, books written by contemporary legal scholars trying to discuss legal procedure and to define criminal activity for the purpose of prosecution as well as narrative sources giving accounts of popular rebellions and warfare. Apart from the extensive literature on the subject, extracts from such sources will also be consulted. 

The Silk Roads

The Silk Roads were the main artery of global communication and exchange for at least a millennium: wealthy Romans wore Chinese silk and Chinese Buddhists used glass vessels made on the eastern edges of the Roman Empire. To reach these destinations required journeys through environments both welcoming and hostile, and encounters with a bewildering variety of peoples and languages, cultures and religions, friends and foes. The empires at the terminal points of these routes rarely communicated directly with each other. The Silk Roads consisted of many stages, each starting and finishing at an urban settlement wherein took place intensive interaction of all kinds, whether religious or commercial, military or personal. Such exchanges could result in the transmission – slowly and with many interruptions and modifications – of not just trade consignments, but also, for example, ideas and practices, religions and artistic motifs, from one end of Eurasia to the other. Most things (and people), however, travelled only part of the way, and these shorter journeys were the everyday reality of those who lived and travelled along the Silk Roads. 

The module will draw on textual, archaeological and art historical evidence to examine cultural diversity and change in selected societies that participated in interactions along the Central Asian trade routes. We will consider the Silk Roads from a number of different perspectives, including political organisation, trade goods and religion, and we will conclude with student presentations of their research into selected case studies. Alongside study of concepts particular to this topic, such as the transmission of Buddhism and the role of certain commodities, you will also be introduced to some of the methods and frameworks for analysis used in this field, such as interpreting evidence from material culture and an approach that looks outwards from Inner Asia. No prior knowledge is assumed. 

Society in the Viking World c.800-c.1100

What was the society that produced the Viking expansion like? What kinds of society were produced as a result of the migration of ‘Vikings’? To answer these broad questions we will look at society across Scandinavia, continental western Europe, the British Isles, Iceland and Greenland. We will examine what we know about the kings or lords who might have led or encouraged ‘viking’ activity and what their power depended on. But what was life like for the remainder of the population and can we detect their agency? What roles did women play in colonisation? How and why did people commemorate raiding and conquering overseas? How significant was slavery in Viking Age society and did it motivate ‘viking’ activity? What different forms of religious activity (pagan or Christian) existed in the Viking Age? In considering the impacts of the Viking movement we will investigate different forms of evidence for colonisation and conquest, from runes to DNA, to burial and settlement archaeology, to Icelandic sagas and the more conventional written sources. The Viking Age is often thought of in terms of men’s activities, of trading, raiding and military conflict between invading groups of Vikings against hapless victims in the British Isles and beyond. This module aims to consider the stories behind the ‘headlines’ provided by the chroniclers of Viking activity. Our aim will be to assess the shared and distinctive elements of the societies shaped by Viking activity. This subject is continuously changing as new archaeological discoveries challenge what we think about the Viking Age. 

Towns and Urban Life in the Middle Ages

Students taking this Option will look at the development of medieval towns between the tenth and sixteenth centuries, the period when the modern network of urban settlements was created. Covering northern and western Europe as well as the Mediterranean, the course will offer a long-term view of central aspects: urban society, the different roles and functions of towns, lordship, politics and government, including the problems of food supply and security, urban law and public order, aspects of urban topography, e.g. fortifications and street layout, the urban economy, the role of the Church in medieval towns and the significance of urban associations. This means that firstly structures have to be studied.  The chronological range of the course will begin at a time when a large majority of people lived in the countryside but this ratio began to shift and town became ever more important. 

The wide geographical coverage will include areas with surviving infrastructure from the Roman Empire as well as areas without pre-medieval urban settlements. Beginning with the early medieval urban landscape, students will study foundations or re-foundations of towns, their layout, the composition of their societies, their internal organisation and their economic roles. Following a survey of the structural features the course will focus on historical change, the evolution of long-distance trade, banking and finance, including state finance, and the links or rivalries between towns and cities, the creation of town leagues and alliances and their wider political importance. 

Sex, Money and Fighting: Women and Men in Imperial China

Present-day China is home to a fifth of the world's population, will soon be the world's largest economies, and is increasingly flexing its muscles on the global political stage. Today it is the last survivor of the major communist regimes, but for most of its history - over two thousand years - China was ruled by emperors working within a distinctive set of traditions that continue to resonate and to shape Chinese society to this day. This module considers how this history changes when viewed from the perspective of gender, but it is not an exercise in ‘women's history’. Instead women and their experiences are taken as integral to topics such as imperial rulership, religion, the economy, and the rise of literacy. Doing this alters our perceptions of these topics, but also highlights how little we know about men as men in history (rather than as kings, soldiers, farmers, etc). Major themes of the module will include representation (how people depicted other people) and agency (how much control people had over their own lives), and the tension between the ties of family and the loyalty owed to the imperial state. Studying a number of different dynastic periods, we will tackle topics and controversies that shed light on how a gendered approach to history really makes a difference.

Professional Skills Module

  • 20 credits 

This is a work placement module involving a minimum of 20 days in a work environment in the type of organisation or business sector to which history students might apply after graduation. It would provide an opportunity for a student to develop transferable skills such as team work, problem solving, and presentational skills and give them an opportunity to develop skills of self-reflection. It will also have 5 hours of contact time in introduction, mid-year review and end of year sessions.

Ancient History Option example modules

Each of the following modules are 20 credits

  • Cities and Monuments of the Ancient Mediterranean
  • Human Remains
  • Introduction to Sumerian Language and Culture
  • Britain in the Roman Empire
  • Roman Women: Matrons and Monsters
  • Mediterranean and European Archaeology
  • Practical Archaeology
  • Classical Epic
  • Imperial Rome
  • Imperial Egypt

Example Languages

Each of the following modules are 20 credits

  • Introduction to Ancient Egyptian A and Introduction to Ancient Egyptian B 
  • Intermediate Egyptian: hieratic
  • Introduction to Greek language 
  • Beginners Greek 1
  • Beginners Greek 2
  • Greek Prose Texts
  • Greek Verse Texts
  • Introduction to Latin Language 
  • Beginners’ Latin 1 
  • Beginners Latin 2 
  • Latin Prose Texts
  • Latin Verse Texts