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Gothic Histories: Medieval, Renaissance and Beyond

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Imagined accounts of historic events mixed with the spine-tingling effects of gothic atmosphere have become a popular theme in contemporary culture.

From monsters in the classical world to urban gothic fantasies about the post-industrial landscape, the potential of a ‘dark and stormy night’ has introduced novels and films and influenced newer genres such as gaming and comics.

Vampires, ghosts, and sinister villains have stalked the innocent in prose and poetry and when historical characters and events are added to the mix, the result is a fascinating array of alternative history and dark fantasy.

This module will examine the origins and development of this mix of real and extraordinary, providing an opportunity to examine how beliefs about supernatural and uncanny phenomena combine with popular interpretations of history. We will consider how this plays out in contemporary culture in a wide range of media and lifestyle choices, using examples from literature, folklore, archaeology, and art to understand the varied elements that contributed to the rise of this influential cultural theme.

Learning and teaching

The module will be delivered through nine 2-hour sessions. These sessions will consist of a mixture of lectures, audio-visual resources, class discussion and group work on specific topics relating to the module. The discussion and group work will enable students to think critically and contribute to the debates and topics presented during the lectures. Students will also be expected to read relevant printed material and use that as the basis for contributions in class. The discussion-led sessions and the lectures will be supplemented by resources available to the students via Learning Central.


  • Introduction: Historical Writing and the Gothic
  • Medieval Fantasies in Modern Fiction
  • Italy as a Gothic Landscape in the World of Shakespeare and his contemporaries
  • She-Wolves and the Demonic Feminine
  • Urban Gothic and the Perils of Urbanisation
  • The Colonial World Re-Imagined
  • Sailing Dark Waters
  • Monsters Old and New
  • Gothic Histories in Cardiff University’s Special Collections

Coursework and assessment

You will be expected to complete two pieces of assessed work:

  • a short critical review
  • a 1000-word essay.

There will be lots of help and support available for both assignments.

Reading suggestions

  • Kevin Corstophine and Laura R. Kremmel (eds), The Palgrave Companion to Horror Literature (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018)
  • Jerome De Groot, The Historical Novel (London and New York: Routledge, 2010)
  • Robert Mighall, A Geography of Victorian Gothic Fiction: Mapping History’s Nightmares (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.