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Medieval Europe - 20 credits (HS1101)

Module convenor: Dr Jenny Benham

Caerphilly Castle, Wales

Course Description

The module provides an introduction to the history of Europe during the Middle Ages. Europe between the years 1050 and 1320 was a dynamic region experiencing rapid  social, economic and cultural change. This period saw the rise of castles and knights, of towns and trade routes, of faith and heresy, new learning and crusades. Old certainties were being challenged and new vistas of knowledge and geographical expansion opened. Modern states and governments began to form, and the old empires crumbled. This module draws on original records and commentaries, written and visual evidence, to examine this transformation of Europe from a continent emerging from the Dark Ages to the dawn of the Renaissance.

Credits: 20

Availability of module: Every year

Prerequisites: N/A

Necessary for: N/A

Teaching methods

A range of teaching methods will be used in each of the sessions of the course, comprising a combination of lectures and seminar discussion of major issues. The syllabus is divided into a series of major course themes, then sub-divided into principal topics for the study of each theme.

The aim of the lectures is to provide a brief introduction to a particular topic, establishing the salient features of major course themes, identifying key issues and providing historiographical guidance. The lectures aim to provide a basic framework for understanding and should be thought of as useful starting points for further discussion and individual study. Where appropriate, handouts and other materials may be distributed to reinforce the material discussed.

The primary aim of seminars will be to generate debate and discussion amongst course participants. Seminars for each of the course topics will provide an opportunity for students to analyse and further discuss key issues and topics relating to lectures


Students will be assessed by means of a combination of one 2,000 word assessed essay [50%] and one two-hour unseen written examination paper in which the student will answer two questions [50%].

Course assignments:
The Assessed Essay will contribute 50% of the final mark for the module. It is designed to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to review evidence, draw appropriate conclusions from it and employ the formal conventions of scholarly presentation. It must be no longer than 2,000 words (excluding empirical appendices and references).

The Examination will take place during the second assessment period [May/June] and will consist of an unseen two hour paper that will contribute the remaining 50% of the final mark for this module. Students must write 2 answers in total.

Summary of course content

  • Western Europe in the 11th century: the Carolingian legacy
  • The Frontiers of Europe: Byzantium and Islam
  • Thinking Medieval: Sources and Problems
  • Social Structures, Economies and Assumptions
  • Medieval Mental Horizons
  • Purity and Danger’: The Medieval Body
  • ‘The Three Orders’: Concepts of Medieval social Structure
  • Warfare and Society
  • The Economic Revolution: peasants, merchants and artisans
  • Church, Learning and Society
  • The Church (1): Bishops and Priests: cathedrals and parishes
  • The Church (2): Monks and Friars: monasteries and welfare
  • The Papacy and the Empire
  • The Crusades
  • The Threat of Medieval Heresy
  • Peter Abelard and the New Learning of the Twelfth Century
  • State Formation
  • France: the growth of monarchical control
  • England: the limits of governmental control
  • The Empire: the failure of an ideal
  • The Italian City States
  • Spain, Portugal and the Reconquista

Learning outcomes

  • demonstrate a broad knowledge of Medieval European History and an understanding of significant general themes in the period ca. 1000-1350
  • identify strengths, weaknesses, problems, and/or peculiarities of alternative historical/ historiographical interpretations
  • evaluate the merits and demerits of alternative views and interpretations
  • formulate and justify their own arguments concerning broad issues and events on a range of themes, in seminar discussion
  • present their understanding of such issues and events clearly and concisely in one piece of unassessed course work and one assessed essay of not more than 2,000 words
  • deepen their understanding of the broad themes and developments considered in the course through a study of appropriate sources in English translation.
  • communicate ideas and arguments effectively, whether in class discussion or in written form, in an accurate, succinct and lucid manner.
  • formulate and justify arguments and conclusions about a range of issues, and present appropriate supporting evidence
  • an ability to modify as well as to defend their own position.
  • an  ability to think critically and challenge assumptions
  • an ability to use a range of information technology resources to assist with information retrieval and assignment presentation.
  • time management skills and an ability to independently organise their own study methods and workload.
  • work effectively with others as part of a team or group in seminar or tutorial discussions.   

 Suggested book purchases

Malcolm Barber, The Two Cities. Medieval Europe, 1050-1320, 2nd edn (Routledge, 2004)
William Chester Jordan, Europe in the High Middle Ages (Penguin, 2001)

Suggested preparatory reading

Robert Bartlett, The Making of Europe. Conquest, Colonisation and Cultural Change, 950-1350 (Penguin, 1993)
Marcus Bull, Thinking Medieval: An Introduction to the Study of the Middle Ages (Palgrave, 2005)
Jacques Le Goff, Medieval Civilisation, 400-1500 (Blackwell, 1988)
Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Europe, 400-1500, new edn (Blackwell, 2005)
George Holmes, ed. The Oxford [Illustrated] History of Medieval Europe (O.U.P., 1988)
R.I. Moore, The First European Revolution (Blackwell, 2000)