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The Medieval Imagination

Tutor: Danielle Park

Module type: MA Option

Module code: HIS00097M

Credits: 20

The medieval imagination encompasses the religious and the spiritual which was not only expressed through Church discourse, but through encounters with pilgrimage, crusade, and the miraculous. We will examine understanding of these encounters and how medieval audiences interpreted and interacted with these ideas. Encounters with the supernatural were not confined to the miraculous. Medieval romances describe encounters with other worlds where the very frontiers between the real and the other could be crossed. On the other side was the realm of the fantastical populated by fairies, ghosts, and werewolves. Such creatures could also populate the real world. Missionaries to the Mongols expected to see ‘monstrous races’ - including dog-headed men and men with faces in the middle of their chests. These ideas translated into map-making; real and imagined places sat alongside each other on medieval world maps (mappae mundi).

This module explores how medieval Europeans constructed the world around them taking a thematic approach that encompasses both spiritual and secular spheres. We will begin by examining broad concepts of medieval wonder before moving onto consider how medieval men and women imagined the worlds around them encompassing religious experiences, and fantastic encounters with ghouls and demons. Our sources include not only written accounts of miracles and visions but also material culture including tapestries depicting the apocalypse and maps depicting heaven looking down on a world populated by man and myth. We will use these materials to consider the medieval world view, and what these sources can tell us about medieval mentalities.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

    • Introduction: Medieval Wonder
    • Miracle Stories: Visions of God and Intercessions of the Saints
    • Merlin and Magic: Curses, Chivalry, and Creatures of Imagination
    • Medieval Fantasy Romance: Crossing Borders into ‘New Worlds’
    • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
    • Mappae Mundi and the ‘Unseen’ Geography of the Middle Ages
    • Dealing with the Demonic: Medieval Ghost Stories
    • Revealing Revelations: Medieval Depictions of the Apocalypse


Preliminary Reading

    • Arnold, John H. Belief and unbelief in Medieval Europe. London: Hodder Arnold, 2005
    • Bartlett, Robert. The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008
    • Watkins, Carl. History and the Supernatural in Medieval England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
    • Whalen, B.E. Dominion of God: Christendom and Apocalypse in the Middle Ages. Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press, 2009


For more information, please visit the module catalogue.