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Perspectives on Medieval History - HIS00009M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Tom Johnson
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

From documents, laws, and letters, to chronicles, lives, and material culture, medieval historians deploy a wide range of primary sources. But we don’t simply read what’s written. What we can study, and argue, depends on how we use our sources: that is, on critical toolkits that reveal new perspectives on and through material. New ideas develop in tandem with new agendas and approaches. Imagination and creativity are as important as recognising the limits of a source, and all three develop from an analytical grasp of material.

This core module provides a critical introduction to a selection of primary sources, recognising how methodological approaches go hand in hand with historical argument. The goal is to develop graduate-level command of material, to reflect on the different kinds of projects that can be carried out, and to foster students’ abilities in developing their own proposals for dissertations.

Seminars consider genres or categories of primary sources, to consider the challenges faced by historians in interpreting them as well as the different and exciting lines of analysis that might be open to us. The examples each year reflect the expertise of tutors and will encourage thought about the full range of materials available for medieval history. Together they develop students’ critical engagement with source material, and the analytical and interpretative skills necessary for research.

Students will also reflect on how medieval historians formulate projects, by identifying primary sources and defining research questions in dialogue with the work of other historians (historiography). Workshops will encourage students to put these ideas into practice in terms of their own fields of interest, to begin to develop a proposal for their own dissertation research.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

The aims of this module are to:

  • Introduce students to the critical skills and analytical methods applicable to the study of medieval history
  • Develop skills of source analysis and interpretation
  • Examine a variety of methodological approaches to the writing of history
  • Acquaint you with a wide range of sources used by historians, encouraging you to develop a familiarity with these materials together with the methodological, analytical, and interpretative skills necessary for your own research
  • Reflect on, and develop confidence in, the crafting of research

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Be aware of a range of thematic areas of research in medieval history
  • Be aware of a range of sources available for the study of key topics in medieval history and of how approaches to those sources have changed
  • Be able to evaluate and interpret diverse sources for research in medieval history
  • Be able to deploy a range of methodologies for investigating selected topics in medieval history
  • Be able to make informed and critical judgements about the sources and methods studied and to apply this understanding to the development of their own potential research projects
  • Have enhanced their skills in oral and written academic discussion, analysis and argument.

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend 2-hour seminars in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10, a dissertation launch in week 5, and a 2-hour workshop in week 11 of semester 1. Weeks 5 and 9 are Reading and Writing Week (RAW), reserved for formative and independent work. Students prepare for seven 2-hour seminars and 1 workshop in all.

Seminar topics will vary each year, but are likely to include a number of the following:

  1. Chronicles and Historical Writing
  2. Saints Lives
  3. Sagas
  4. Letters
  5. Law codes
  6. Charters and Cartularies
  7. Court records
  8. Inquisition records
  9. Accounts


Task Length % of module mark
3,000 word critical review
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students submit a 1,500-word formative essay in the first RAW week and a 500-word dissertation proposal.

Summative assessment—a critical review of 3,000-words— will be due during the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
3,000 word critical review
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will typically receive written feedback on their formative essay within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their seminars and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative essay during their tutor’s student hours—especially during week 11, before, that is, they finalise their plans for the Summative Essay.

For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For semester time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

  • Michael Clanchy. From Memory to Written Record: England 1066–1307. 3rd ed, (Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 2013.)
  • Judith Bennett. History Matters: Patriarchy and the challenge of Feminism. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006.)
  • John Arnold. What is Medieval History? 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2020.)

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.