Optional Modules

Not all these options will be available every year; it will depend on staff availability.However, since they are usually taken by only a few people a year, it is possible for students to negotiate with supervisors as to the detailed content of their Options.

I: History

1.Medieval Monasticism. After a general introduction to early Christian monasticism, both conventual and eremitic, this option is centred on the variety of organized religious life available in the twelfth century: Benedictine, Cistercian, Carthusian, Austin Canons and hermits. Some of these represented tradition, others marked a definite break, or a movement for reform. Why did this variety arise and how did they all find support in contemporary society? While examples are mainly English, the option also looks at monasticism as a European movement.

2.Historical Writing in Twelfth-Century England. This option is concerned with the special characteristics of the way history was written in the Middle Ages. It examines the place of history in the intellectual life of the period and the influence of education and library genres on the historians themselves. The texts chosen for special study in translation will depend on the particular interests of the students concerned. Texts may be studied in translation; where appropriate, visits to examine manuscripts in the B.L. or the Bodleian may be arranged.Some texts may also be seen via reproductions of manuscripts on library websites.The illumination, presentation and annotation of chosen texts may also be analysed.

3.Christian Hagiography. Saints, shrines and relics were important features of medieval life, but they all had their origins in the late Roman period. So too did the different kinds of hagiography, from historical narrative to romantic fantasy. Cults originated at the saints' tombs and the most primitive records are entries in martyrologies. The power of saints, both protective and curative as well as sometimes vengeful, were recorded in hagiographies which, by the time we reach the thirteenth century, had as their purpose the formal canonization of their subjects. This option allows ample scope for research.

4.English Local History. Medieval England has left us a rich legacy of documentation as well as landscape and standing remains which can assist in the study of local history. As well as focusing on a particular location, be it town, village, building or region, this option also provides guidance on the techniques of local study such as archive searching and landscape analysis. Opportunities can also be provided for development of skills gained in the core course in Latin and Palaeography.

5.The Crusades. Despite the loss of important materials such as the archive of the Temple, the documentary and archaeological material available for the study of the crusades is relatively abundant, and it is backed by a rich secondary literature. The main years of crusading endeavour have traditionally been seen as the centuries between 1095 and 1291 and there remain many important subjects which can be studied during this period. However, new work on the crusades in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries has opened up further possibilities for research into the later crusades. The university library has a very good collection of printed sources and secondary works on the crusades.

6.The Hundred Years War. The claim to the French throne which Edward III made in 1337 has been taken as a fundamental turning point in Anglo-French relations and also in western European history as a whole. The series of wars to 1453 and the two major diplomatic settlements (1360 and 1420) form the necessary background to this option, but there is ample opportunity for individual interests to be pursued, such as arms and armour, strategy and tactics, the organisation of armies, the social and economic aspects and the rise of nationalism. A reading knowledge of French is helpful but not essential.

7.Ireland and her Neighbours in the Later Middle Ages. The Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in the 1160s, bringing English lordship and new settlement from mainland Britain, marked a major turning point in the political development of the British Isles.How did this process of conquest and colonisation occur?What was the impact on Ireland?How secure was English rule?Why was Ireland attacked from Scotland in 1315?What brought Richard II to Ireland in the 1390s?What part did Ireland play in the Wars of the Roses?Tragically, many original sources perished in the Irish civil war in 1922.Fortunately, material in earlier publications, transcripts, and other archives sheds enough light on these and numerous other questions to offer scope for continuing investigation, revision and debate.

8.European late-medieval Hagiography. A wide range of European narrative sources are now available, including both Saints' Lives and accounts of their Passions. These hagiographical texts, together with documentary sources, make it possible to examine models of holiness and spirituality in regions such as France and the Low Countries, and to look at their interaction with medieval mentalities and social forces.Students will be encouraged to consider: Spiritual movements (including both mysticism and heresies); forms of the religious life (including laypeople, beguines and hermits); the role of gender and social construction; and the connection of hagiography with regional and national identities, and civic or dynastic politics.Knowledge of Latin will be important.

9.Kingship and Queenship in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century France. In the late 12th century, King Louis VII of France told an English chronicler that the kings of France lacked the wealth of the kings of Sicily, Germany or England, but that what they and their kingdom had was "bread, wine and joy". This option will explore the ways in which the Capetian rulers of France exploited such advantages as they had, including their reputation as "the most christian king", their reputation for supporting the flourishing schools of Paris, and the reflected glory of their Carolingian predecessors, to forge for themselves by the mid-thirteenth century an image of unrivalled glamour and prestige. The kings in question include the shrewd thug, Louis the Fat, the complex and formidable Philip Augustus and, last but not least, St Louis: the queens include the alluring Bertrade de Montfort, the formidable if ugly Adela of Maurienne and the even more formidable Blanche of Castile, as well as the elusive Eleanor of Aquitaine.

10.Urban civilisation of late-medieval Europe. The emphasis of this option will be on towns as theatres and agents of change.Obviously, economic development, the pattern of trade, and whether change is long-distance or local, all interact with urban development.Furthermore, towns had an important and developing political role. This appears in three ways: one, in the various intricate and exceedingly interesting forms of urban self-government. While towns played crucial parts in the evolution of forms of government involving consent, they were also theatres of revolt; revolt sometimes within a town, sometimes by the rulers of townsagainst external powers. Second, in some areas towns and their representatives played important roles in the government of states. Third, and by no means least, towns were principal theatres for the development of relations between artistic, intellectual, and religious life. This option will make use of studies on particular towns in more than one country.

11.From Agincourt to Bosworth: War and Politics in Fifteenth-Century England. When Henry V defeated the mighty French army in the mud of Agincourt in 1415, England's future looked bright and secure, both at home and in her struggle in France. The following five decades dramatically reversed the picture: minority rule, mighty magnates and military conflict was what the future held in store.The wars with France and the civil wars were obviously and repeatedly linked. Had Henry V not died leaving an infant heir, England and France might have become united. Had not the English empire in France collapsed, the civil wars might never have come about. The proposed subject is one which involves the consideration of interactions of the most interesting kind. Not only those between success and failure at home and abroad, but also those between an England in crisis and an ascendant France. The death of the most controversial of monarchs, Richard III, on the battlefield of Bosworth provides a fitting climax to this dramatic and highly intriguing period of English history.

12.Medieval Population. Shifts in the size of the population play a prominent role in many historical explanations of change in the medieval period.This option enables students to explore these hypotheses, examine the evidence for demographic change, and consider its social consequences.The course offers the opportunity to research a wide range of topics in an English or European context, including estimating the overall size of the populations, mortality and fertility levels, family structure, or the various stages of the life cycle.Investigating the impact of demographic change might involve studying agrarian crisis and famine, rebellions, the rise of certain social groups (such as merchants, entrepreneurs, the gentry), or even considering whether there was a 'golden age' of the peasantry.

13.The French Church in the 11th to the 13th Centuries. The French Church in the High Middle Ages played a leading role in monastic reform – these centuries see the apogee of the Cluniac order, as well as the emergence of the eremitic monasticism of the Cistercians, Carthusians, etc. Within the secular church, reform agendas were often played out in the political arena, as the French church enjoyed a close, but often uneasy, bond with the Capetian monarchy and with aristocratic society. The French Church too played a determining role in the cultural life of France, for its churchmen commissioned many of the most important buildings and artefacts of the period, wrote most of the romances and chronicles, and, in the schools and emerging University of Paris, set the intellectual agenda in theology and philosophy for the rest of Europe.

14. The Papacy in the Middle Ages. In the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries the expansion of the papal states and the burgeoning bureaucracy of the Roman curia ensured great growth in the papacy's temporal and spiritual power. In the fourteenth century the papacy moved to Avignon and in the fifteenth century popes became great Renaissance princes. The Middle Ages was a time of momentous events such as the eleventh-century Gregorian reform movement, the pontificate of Innocent III, and the epic conflict between the papacy and the Hohenstaufen dynasty. This option will consider the structure of the medieval Church and the nature of papal government. It will allow students to explore the concepts of papal primacy and papal monarchy, as well as the impact of papal jurisdiction and its relation to canon law and conciliar legislation.

15. Minorities in the Middle Ages. This option will explore the treatment of minorities during the Central Middle Ages. Students will have a chance to explore the status the medieval Church afforded a range of diverse religious groups including pagans, heretics, Jews and Muslims. It will also examine the Church's treatment of social outcasts such as lepers, homosexuals and prostitutes. In particular the module provides the opportunity to examine the papacy's response to minority groups and the establishment of the papal inquisition. Students will be able to investigate a range of sources including treatises of canon law, conciliar legislation and theological texts.

II: Literature

1. From Epic to Romance in Medieval Latin This option will study a number of post-classical cycles of varying types. The focus will be on the development of the epic tradition as a vehicle for didacticism or entertainment. In the earlier works the question of reception will be considered, in the light of Christian works of morality; with the later works the concern will be with Latin epic as an experimental field of competing traditions, from oral to written, popular to courtly, classical to vernacular, monastic to clerical.

2. Medieval Romance This option can focus on one specific body of literature, chosen in atreement iwth the tutor. Students are encouraged to consider a range of different critical approaches to the texts. Attention is paid to questions of audience, of manuscript context, and of textual variation, as well as to matters of literary tradition and interpretation.

3. The Medieval LyricThis option also will focus on one specific literature, chosen from the following: Old Occitan. This course studies the lyrics of the troubadours. The troubadours are considered as poets of courtly love, of satire and of humour; The Medieval English lyric (secular and religious); Medieval French poetry. (Good reading knowledge of French required).

4. Medieval DramaThis option can be taken in two modes, either focussing on one specific literature or as an inter-disciplinary option combining two of the following: The origins of medieval drama; Medieval French Drama. An analysis of the main types of French medieval play through the study of outstanding examples of each type, and with some emphasis on questions of staging. Texts include Le Jeu d'Adam, Le Jeu de Saint Nicolas, Courtois d'Arras, Le Jeu de la Feuillée, Le Miracle de Théophile, La Farce de Maistre Pierre Pathelin. English Medieval drama.

5. Warriors and Heroes: The Old French EpicThe purpose of this option is to study gender construction and social tensions in the medieval French epic. Special attention will be given to the moral and physical depiction of the male hero, the importance of lineage and womenfolk, and power relations within the texts under scrutiny. The chansons de geste included are: La Chanson de Roland, La Chanson de Willame and extracts from the Guillaume d'Orange cycle, Girart de Roussillon, and Raoul de Cambrai.

6. Old English Language and Literature: Beginner's course Students with no previous knowledge of Old English are given basic instruction in the language. They then read a selection of set texts in the original language and are expected to be able to translate and comment on passages from them. The selection will include The Battle of Maldon, The Wanderer, The Dream of the Rood, and substantial passages from Beowulf(the whole of which will be read in translation). It may also be possible to make special arrangements to provide an option for students who already know Old English but who would like to extend their study.

7. DanteThis option concentrates on the formal and ideological make-up of Dante's masterpiece, the Commedia. In particular, by assessing the poem in the light of the poet's other works and the cultural and historical context in which he wrote, special attention will be paid to the extraordinary and radical novelty of the Divine Comedy's style and intellectual ambitions. A reading knowledge of Italian is advisable but not essential.

8. Chaucer Students who have not studied Chaucer before will be given the opportunity of studying a selection of Chaucer's major poetry in chronological order, comprising the dream poems, Troilus and Criseyde, and a number of the Canterbury Tales. Those students who have followed an undergraduate course on Chaucer will be able to extend their knowledge of Chaucer's oeuvre by concentrating on unfamiliar texts. Students will be encouraged to explore the critical response to Chaucer's works, and some attention will be given to issues of manuscript study and edited texts.

9. Occitan Culture, c. 1100-c.1500. Medieval 'Occitania' is most famous for the lyric poetry of the troubadours, and for the dramatic conflicts centering on the Cathar Heresy. However, these are only two aspects of a rich and varied culture that flourished also in Northern Spain and Northern Italy. Troubadour poetry is the starting point of the phenomenon of courtly love. It is also the first vernacular to be treated like Latin, as a language of written and grammatical authority unrelated to any 'national' status. Occitan texts attracted patrons beyond both the Alps and the Pyrenees. Beyond the love lyric, there are didactic, moralizing and scientific texts, saint's lives, chanson de geste and romances. In the 14th and 15th centuries, as French became the dominant language in a region that was also partly under English rule, and partly the seat of the papal court at Avignon, we find attempts to preserve and teach Occitan poetry (the 'Leys d'Amours'), as well as evidence that Occitan was used as a teaching medium.However, by the 15th century, French had become the language of choice for writers, especially in Provence.

10. Medieval Masculinities This option explores a range of roles inhabited by men in medieval literature, and investigates the ways in which the boundaries of masculinity are defined and negotiated through contrasts or contests with other men or with non-men. After an introduction to ideas of sexual physiology in the Middle Ages, the course will offer a variety of areas to explore. Representations of Christ from knight to mother may be examined through texts including a selection of lyrics and excerpts from Julian of Norwich and Piers Plowman. The majority of texts will be English or Scottish, but there will be opportunities to consider agreed texts in translation.

III: Medieval Culture (including Archaeology and Architecture)

1. Medieval Christian Spirituality. This option is concerned with the development of differing spiritual traditions within medieval Western Christianity. Students will read a wide range of material relating to the origins of Christian spirituality, and may select from texts by different authors, and from differing traditions, in discussion with the option tutor.Possible foci may include: Spiritual Commentary on the Bible, Monastic Spirituality, Popular Cults and Devotions and Biblical texts.

2. Letters and Letter-Collections. This option will study sample letters from a number of collections, including Cicero, Pliny, Seneca, Jerome and one or more medieval writers. The emphasis will be on literary analysis, including the role of rhetorical strategies, and the use of generic borrowings and intertextual allusion. We will consider issues such as generic classification and typology; the relationship between the letter-form and other forms of first- and third-person narrative; and the connection between letter writing, and classical and Christian ideologies of friendship. The option will also examine the significance of the letter-collection in relation to traditional dichotomies between public and private, fact and fiction, literature and history.

3. Art and Death in the Middle Ages. This option will consider how death, the preparation for the Last Day and the commemoration of life, provide a powerful motivation for works of art and architecture in the Middle Ages. We will study images of the Last Judgement in paintings, sculpture and stained glass. We will analyse the designs and meanings of tombs, chantries and other funerary monuments, and examine the contractual arrangements between patrons and artists. We will look at the images which these patrons had made of themselves and of those associated with them. Finally, we will see how monuments could be used to establish dynastic, political and Episcopal authority and continuity.

4. Architecture and Pilgrimage in Late Medieval Italy. This option investigates church architecture in Italy from the mid-thirteenth to the mid-fifteenth century concentrating on three cities in particular: Florence, Siena and Venice. It explores church architecture typologically focusing on devotional buildings with different functions and so it considers separately cathedrals, monastic churches, pilgrimage churches and oratories. Besides this, smaller structures which might be considered architectural in conception are also explored. This option aims to set such structures in an historical, religious and social framework to help elucidate aspects of their form. In particular, it considers how the designers of these structures responded to the changing demands of official religion on the one hand and popular piety on the other.

5. Manuscript Production and Collection in EnglandAt the heart of this option is the study of medieval books: how they were made; how they were illustrated; how they were read and studied; how they were bought, collected or given as gifts. The activities of particular scribes and artists may be studied, or the libraries of monastic houses or individual bibliophiles. Equally, the development of certain special types of book, such as illustrated Saints' Lives, or liturgical manuscripts such as missals or psalters, may be taken as a focus. The option has no fixed syllabus. Students are invited to pursue existing interests, or to identify topics from the range outlined above.

6. The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England. This option is available only to students with previous archaeological training. The option is divided into two chronological parts: the fifth to eighth centuries and the ninth to eleventh centuries, reflecting the different character of the evidence as well as the changing nature of society and economy.The first part examines the rise of the English state and the development of technology and economy. Themes running through the option are the changing landscape, social structure, religion, and the emergence of towns.

7. Exile, Displacement and Writing in Humanist Europe Exile and its varying relations to geographical displacement and the activity of writing is a perennial topic with a long tradition in classical, medieval, and Renaissance European literature. It might be the subject of juridic or philosophical debate, a literary pose, a political reality, an aspect of the Pilgrimage of Life, a psychological or artistic state, or a metaphor. The aim of this option is to explore this tradition and these various modes of exile writing, principally through the media of French and Latin, and with a particular focus upon humanist writers. A knowledge of French is essential, and some knowledge of Latin would be important. A knowledge of Italian would be helpful, but not essential.

8. Burial Archaeology. This option is available only to students with previous archaeological training. Burials are among the most frequent, and sometimes most spectacular traces left of past societies, whether they be in the pyramids of ancient Egypt, the Iron Age barrows of central Europe, or the ship burials of Saxon and Viking Europe. What can we learn about the nature of past societies from the ways in which they disposed of their dead? Can we reconstruct differences of wealth and status from burials? What roles do disciplines such as anthropology and history play in the creation of theoretical approach to burial archaeology? These questions will be asked using case-studies from different regions of the world in both prehistoric and historic contexts.

9. The Archaeology of Medieval Europe OR: Introduction to Byzantine Archaeology. These options are designed for students who have little or no prior knowledge of the study of archaeology.For discussion of possible foci please talk to the Programme Director and to Dr Dark.

10. Architectural Patronage in France in the 12th and 13th centuries. This period in France saw the construction of some of the most magnificent buildings in Europe, from the great series of gothic cathedrals, monastic houses of the new reformed movements (and some impressive Benedictine rebuildings), through castles and palaces, to stone merchants' houses, major bridges and fine hospital halls. This option will explore the funding and patronage that lay behind these building campaigns. Much of that patronage reflects lay piety; much reflects clerical wealth, and the ability of many clergy to engage with the logistics of construction. Some patronage, whether lay or ecclesiastical, male or female, was very personal, but much was communal, involving and giving rise to lay confraternities. This option will be essentially interdisciplinary, using both written, documentary, and material, archaeological evidence to illuminate the subject.

11. Material Culture and the Viking World. This module focuses on the cultural meaning and significance of portable artefacts produced and consumed by communities in the Viking Age (8th-11th century) Northern Europe. Students will gain a grounding in the style and materiality of Viking age objects from both an archaeological and an art-historical perspective. They will learn how to critically assess this class of the archaeological record in the investigation of key aspects of Viking-age society from production mechanisms though to trade, and from the expression of social identity (age, gender, status, ideology) through to cultural interactions triggered by the expansion of Scandinavian pirates, traders and immigrants across the Northern Seas.

12. Community and Space in Early Medieval Western Europe. The investigation of domestic spaces – houses, settlements and their surrounding fields – provides a local and uniquely social perspective on some of the major cultural changes bound up with the emergence of medieval communities in Western Europe from the 5th -10th centuries. Students will gain a critical appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of using archaeological evidence to reconstruct early medieval settlements within their wider landscape settings. They will also learn how the adoption of new, theoretically-informed approaches can be used to uncover socially relevant meanings in the architecture, spatial layout and economy of contemporary inhabited spaces.

13. The Archaeology of the Military Orders. The military orders embodied the spirit of the medieval crusading movement. Combining military capability with a monastic lifestyle, they played a fundamental role in guarding and consolidating Crusader states and supplied military resources, largely funded by sophisticated provisioning networks in Europe. It is impossible to separate general crusader archaeology from the archaeology of the military orders. In the Middle East, the urban complexes of the orders are some of the most important institutions in Crusader cities and include some of the best examples of Crusader-period architecture, whilst the fortresses of the orders include some of the largest and most advanced. In the Baltic, the successful establishment of a military order state has left significant material traces, particularly in the form of spectacular castles.

14. Animals in Medieval European Society. In the Middle Ages, people shared their lives with animals at a level which is difficult for us to imagine. Numerous species of wild and domestic mammals, birds and fish were fundamental for food, raw materials, traction, transport, and also for communicating meaning in multiple media encompassing church art to heraldry. Animals were used to express social status. The use of animals thus permeated every aspect of medieval society. The archaeological study of animals focuses on bones, leather and fur recovered from medieval sites, but it is also completely interdisciplinary, integrating a range of written and artistic sources with material culture. Archaeologists are particularly interested in how medieval Europeans manipulated their environments or 'niches', and responses to animals represent some of the most visible examples of this early bio-engineering.

15. Venice in the Medieval Mediterranean. The city of Venice was unique in medieval Europe in many respects. It arose from a series of settlements in a western Adriatic lagoon, which broke away from the influence of the Byzantine Empire to establish an independent city state. Following the Fourth Crusade in 1204, Venice grew at the expense of Constantinople and ultimately came to dominate the Eastern Mediterranean politically and militarily. Its Republic became known as 'La Serenissima' – the 'most serene'. Venetian colonisation has left significant material traces across the region, and archaeologists have been concerned with everything from inter-cultural exchange between Venice, its Christian colonies and the Muslim World, through to the imposition/adoption of distinct symbols of Venetian dominion.

IV: Medieval Vernaculars

Special training in a medieval vernacular may be provided if the need arises.Those available include:

Olad and Middle French, Anglo-Norman, Medieval Italian, Old and Middle English, Middle Welsh,

Old Irish, Old Norse, Old Occitan.

Page navigation

See also

  • The School of Humanities
  • Department of History
  • GCMS - Links

 

Search Form

A-Z lists