HS3T25-Medieval Magic and the Origins of the Witch-Craze

Module Provider: History
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Autumn term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2020/1

Module Convenor: Prof Anne Lawrence
Email: a.e.mathers-lawrence@reading.ac.uk

Type of module:

Summary module description:

The period from c.1100 to c.1500 saw important and influential changes in the conception and practices of magic; and yet, despite modern perceptions, this period did not experience a witch craze.  For much of the period, magical practice was dominated by learned men, most of whom were clerics.  This module looks in detail at the forms of magic which they attempted, and traces the gradual changes in attitudes towards magic.  We also look at historical debates about the causes of the early-modern witch craze, and study the evidence provided by late-medieval documents on questions such as the role of the Inquisition.

Part 3 Options involve the study of specific periods, subjects or types of history. This topic aims to investigate the changes in the conception of Magic and witchcraft between the high middle ages and the early modern period.

Assessable learning outcomes:

By the end of the module it is expected that the student will be able to:

  • identify and explain the main issues and events studied

  • acquire a detailed knowledge of the events through extensive reading in specialised literature

  • locate and assemble information on the subject by independent research

  • appraise critically the primary sources and historical interpretations of the subject

  • organise material and articulate arguments effectively in writing, both under timed conditions and in assessed essays.

Additional outcomes:
The module also aims to encourage the development of oral communication skills and the student's effectiveness in group situations. Students will also develop their IT skills by use of relevant web resources.

Outline content:

In the period studied by this module the Church moved from regarding belief in witchcraft as a popular superstition to declaring that failure to believe in witches and the threat they posed was heretical. This module traces the key points in this development in both Britain and Europe.  We pay special attention to the relationship between learned conceptions and practices of magic and those adopted by the rest of society.  This includes direct study of surviving instructions on how to perform different categories of magic.

Chronicles, law-codes and miracle stories will be examined for the range of beliefs and practices which contributed magic and witchcraft in the medieval period, culminating in the notorious, and influential, 'Hammer of Witches'. Political aspects of witchcraft, and the changes in the nature and functions of witchcraft accusations across the medieval and early-modern periods will be analysed, in order to understand the origins of the phenomenon of the witch-craze. 

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:
Seminars for which students must carry out full preparatory reading and research. Seminars rely on structured group discussion and may also include: seminar papers by students; discussion of evidence; team-based exercises and debates; study visit to a relevant location. Students are expected to carry out self-directed revision in the Summer term. Staff will be available for consultation as necessary.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Seminars 30
Project Supervision 1
Guided independent study: 169
Total hours by term 200 0 0
Total hours for module 200

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written exam 50
Written assignment including essay 50

Summative assessment- Examinations:
One two-hour paper requiring two answers to be taken at the time of Part 3 examinations.

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:
Students will write one essay of not more than 2,500 words, to be submitted electronically via Blackboard by 12 noon on the Monday of week 9 of the term. Five marks will be deducted if the coursework essay exceeds 2,625 words (ie 5% over the word limit).

Formative assessment methods:
1,000 words or 2 pages of A4 maximum to include, at the module convenor's discretion, an essay plan, bibliography, book review or other preparatory work towards the summative essay.

Penalties for late submission:

The Support Centres will apply the following penalties for work submitted late:

  • where the piece of work is submitted after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for that piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.
The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

Assessment requirements for a pass:
A mark of 40% overall.

Reassessment arrangements:

Students who fail Part Three are permitted one further attempt at a resit in each module they have failed. Students who fail Part Three will no longer be eligible for an Honours Degree but, assuming the necessary threshold after the resit (normally an overall average of 35% or above) is achieved, students will obtain a Pass Degree. Where a re-sit is permitted, students will be assessed on the failed element(s) ONLY in August. These will be capped at a maximum mark of 40%. Any element(s) already passed will be carried forward if it bears a confirmed mark of 40% or more. Failed coursework must be re-submitted by 12 noon, on the third Friday of August.

Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

1) Required text books: None

2) Specialist equipment or materials: None

3) Specialist clothing, footwear or headgear: None

4) Printing and binding: None

5) Computers and devices with a particular specification: None

6) Travel, accommodation and subsistence: None

Last updated: 15 July 2021


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