Accessibility statement

Revolution in the Streets: Faith, Poverty, & Religious Ferment, c.1200 - HIS00082H

« Back to module search

  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Sethina Watson
  • Credit value: 40 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

At the end of the twelfth century, religion took to the streets. Monks and nuns had sought salvation by abandoning the world, but a new generation headed into the city streets to forge lives among the destitute and despised. Theirs was a period of huge social change. Urbanization created new riches, and new social problems. Victims of the profit economy became objects of concern, and models for a new religious life. Poverty was now a religious preoccupation. From the streets came voices of dissent, and heresy, proclaiming the corruptions of wealth. Radicals like Francis of Assisi became beggars and preachers. And women led new calls, as mystics and beguines, embracing voluntary poverty to care for the poor and diseased, outside the structures of the church. These voices were inspiring, but also dangerous; the more extreme became objects of wonder, attracting biographers whose writings survive.

This module will explore this era of religious ferment, of social change and social challenge, 1170–1250. It focuses on the city streets of England, Flanders and France, but looks, too, into Italy and Germany. It uncovers the upheaval of the profit economy through the social responses, religious zeal and controversies that were produced by the clash between urban wealth and poverty. It looks at the new forms of religious life -- the radical preachers, mendicants, and beguines – as well as the leper-houses and hospitals, and the sick and paupers they served. At its heart is the new public space of the marketplace, and the radical voices it enabled. To do this, we will deploy a range of source material, including lives of saints, chronicles, law, theology, regulations and court inquests. All material will be provided in English.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2022-23 to Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to in depth study of a specific historical topic using primary and secondary material;
  • To enable students to explore the topic through discussion and writing; and
  • To enable students to evaluate and analyse primary sources.

Module learning outcomes

On completion of this module a student will:

  • Grasp key themes, issues and debates relevant to the topic being studied;
  • Have acquired knowledge and understanding about that topic;
  • Be able to comment on and analyse original sources;
  • Be able to relate the primary and secondary material to one another; and
  • Have acquired skills and confidence in close reading and discussion of texts and debates.

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1 of the autumn term, and a 3-hour seminar in weeks 2-5 and 7-9 of the autumn term and weeks 2-5 and 7-10 of the spring term. Both the autumn and spring terms include a reading week for final year students and so there will be no teaching in week 6. Students prepare for and participate in fifteen three-hour seminars. One-to-one meetings will also be held to discuss the assessed essay.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

1. Three lives in a changing world: anchorite, layman and hospitaller
2. Two views of Poverty: Caesarius of Heisterbach and Valdes
3. Lepers: those who give and those who suffer
4. Poverty and Revolution I: Longbeard and the London revolt  
5. The profit economy and its critics I: scholars and dirty money 
6. Poverty and Revolution II: Pope Innocent III and the 'Deviants'
7. The profit economy and its critics II: St Frances takes to the streets
8.  New voices: Mary d'Oignies and Jacques de Vitry
9. The rise of the Beguines
10. Hospitals and the Charitable Revolution 
11. Experience: emotions and Charity
12. Experience: the poor and agency
13. Order, Disorder and 'the Woman Question'
14. Franciscan Poverties
15. Challenging Paradigms




Task Length % of module mark
Essay 4,000 words
N/A 50
Online Exam
Online Exam
8 hours 50

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students will be given the opportunity to do practice gobbets and then required to write a 2,000-word procedural essay relating to the themes and issues of the module in either the autumn or spring term.

For summative assessment, students complete a 4,000-word essay which utilises an analysis of primary source materials to explore a theme or topic relating to the module, due in week 5 of the summer term.

They then take a three-hour closed examination for summative assessment in the summer term assessment period comprising: one essay question relating to themes and issues, but showing an awareness of the pertinent sources that underpin these AND one ‘gobbet’ question (where students attempt two gobbets from a slate of eight).

The essay and exam are weighted equally at 50% each.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 4,000 words
N/A 50
Online Exam
Online Exam
8 hours 50

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive written feedback that will include comments and a mark 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 procedural work during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline unless submitted in week 5 of the summer term, in which case these are available within 25 working days. 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 term 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:

Sharon Farmer, Surviving Poverty in Medieval Paris: Gender, Ideology and the Daily lives of the Poor. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002.
Michel Mollat, The Poor in the Middle Ages: An Essay in Social History, trans. by Arthur Goldhammer. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978.
Walter Simons, Cities of Ladies: Beguine Communities in the Medieval Low Countries, 1200-1565. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.Carol Symes, A Common Stage: Theatre and Public Life in Medieval Arras. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007

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.