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Medieval Craft: Literature & Technology, 800-1500 - ENG00122M

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. George Younge
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

What sets humans apart from the other animals? For some scholars, the answer to this question lies in their intellect (homo sapiens), ability to speak (homo loquens), capacity for worship (homo adorans), or even fondness for play (homo ludens). This module takes as its starting point Hannah Arendt's claim that men and women are primarily craftsmen or makers (homo faber), manipulating the world around them through the use of tools and technology. Over the course of the term, we will read a diverse range of literary texts that explore, represent, and interrogate concepts relating to craft.


While the module focuses mainly on the Middle Ages, it will also look backwards to classical and biblical precedents (the Bible, Plato, Aristotle, Arabic science), and forwards to the Arts and Crafts movement; the first week will focus on pre-medieval texts and the last on the nineteenth century. Each seminar centres on a particular theme–God as craftsman, sustainability, apprenticeships, gendered work, automata,  etc.–examining this in relation to relevant primary sources. As the module progresses, you will ask broader questions about the role of craft and technology in the Middle Ages and now. How did medieval people conceive of the aesthetic pleasure of the crafted object? Why is craft such an enduring metaphor for literary authors? At what point does technology become dangerous and threatening? Why do medieval writers prize certain forms of originality less highly than we do today? And when did a schism open up between craft and what we now call art?


Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

The aim of this module is to offer you an advanced introduction to issues relating to craft, technology and literature in the Middle Ages. The course will refine your ability to think broadly across literary genres, languages, and time.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module, you should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with the way medieval writers (and their modern interpreters) interrogate and represent crafts and technologies. 
  2. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with a wide range of literary works in translation and form a sense of the transformation of ideas over time.
  3. Critically appraise modern theories about craft in relation to medieval texts
  4. Produce independent arguments and ideas which demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 4500 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Essay 4500 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your module tutor, the MA Convenor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours  

Indicative reading

Calcidius, On Plato's Timaeus; the Vulgate Bible; excerpts from translations attributed to King Alfred the Great; Old English allusions to women's work; Hugh of St Victor, Didascalion and Bonaventure's, On the Reduction of Arts to Theology; Alan of Lille, Anticlaudianus; Geoffrey of Vinsauf’s Poetria nova; Theophilus, On Diverse Arts; the York Mystery Plays; the Gawain-poet, Pearl; John Ruskin; William and May Morris.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.