Accessibility statement

The Global Middle Ages: the medieval period in a transcultural perspective


We are used to talking about our contemporary world as a globalised world and tend to view this as a recent phenomenon. Yet, the Middle Ages were an era during which the world opened up as never before, with travel and exchange across the globe. As well as the movement of people, this period saw massive growth in the movement of ideas, technologies, objects and foodstuffs; this makes the Middle Ages a fascinating place to explore from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Texts originally written in India could find, translation after translation, their way into Britain, as it is the case for the story of Barlaam and Josaphat, a story of two Christian saints actually based on a life of Buddha. Similarly, social practices could also make long journeys: the game of chess originates in the Indian world and came to Europe through Persian and Arabic mediation. This module will show how these exchanges were made possible, how they were thought of in the medieval world, and how we might explore what global meant during this period. Participants will be empowered to think about the Middle Ages beyond a Western framework. Through archaeology, history, art, literature, and politics, we will address what it meant to be global in the middle ages, and what this recognition means to us now.


Learning Outcomes

Subject content

  • A knowledge of processes of cultural exchange across different areas in the Middle Ages
  • An understanding of the Middle Ages from a transcultural perspective
  • An understanding of how medieval societies thought and acted ‘globally’
  • An awareness of the breadth and limits of the use of the category ‘Middle Ages’
  • A theoretical understanding of multicultural and multilingual interactions
  • An understanding of medieval practices of translation, text re-elaboration and their relationship with different medieval audiences
  • An understanding of material culture from a transcultural perspective


Academic and graduate skills

  • Read closely and critically, both primary and secondary material, at a high level
  • Articulate, orally and in writing, innovative and cogent critical arguments


Module Structure

The module is team-taught, and students will have one 2-hour seminar a week. 


Assessment for this module will be by a final essay of 3500-4000 words. Students can chose their topics and their disciplinary focus for this coursework, and will have the opportunity to submit a draft piece of work for discussion with their tutors. 

The final essay will be due in Week 1 of the following term. 

Key Texts

Key Texts

  • Abu Lughod, Janet 1989. Before European Hegemony. The World System A.D. 1250-1350. Oxford.
  • Allen, Rosamund (ed) 2004. Eastward Bound: Travel and Travellers, 1050-1550. Manchester.
  • Heng, G. 2011. "The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages II: Locations of Medieval Race." Literature Compass 8.5: 332-350.
  • McClure, J. 2015. A New Politics of the Middle Ages: A Global Middle Ages for a Global Modernity. History Compass 13: 610–619.
  • Rubiés, Joan-Pau 2009. Medieval Ethnographies. European Perceptions of the World Beyond. London and New York.
  • Tischler, Matthias M. 2014. "Academic challenges in a changing world", Journal of Transcultural Medieval Studies 1.1: 1-8.


Preliminary Reading

  • Holmes, C. and N. Standen 2015. “Defining the Global Middle Ages”, medieval worlds 1: 106-117.







Module: MST00060M 

Convenor: Dr Stephanie Wynne-Jones

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