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The Medieval Imagination - HIS00097M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Danielle Park
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

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.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2022-23

Module aims

The module aims to:

  • Develop skills of source analysis and interpretation;
  • Assess a range of source material and relevant secondary works; and
  • Develop students’ powers of evidence-based historical argument, both orally and in writing.

Module learning outcomes

After completing this module students should have:

  • Understood how the medieval imagination encompassed the supernatural - including interactions with the miraculous and the magical
  • Have formed ideas about the complexities of medieval culture
  • Be aware of the variety of ways that supernatural encounters could manifest and whether they formed part of a licit discourse with Church doctrine or manifested in illicit communications with the magical or demonic
  • Be familiar with the wide range of sources available for the study of the medieval imagination in this period, how modern historians can use them, and what their pitfalls are

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Students will attend eight weekly two-hour seminars in weeks 2-9.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

  1. Introduction: Medieval Wonder
  2. Miracle Stories: Visions of God and Intercessions of the Saints
  3. Merlin and Magic: Curses, Chivalry, and Creatures of Imagination
  4. Medieval Fantasy Romance: Crossing Borders into ‘New Worlds’
  5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Mappae Mundi and the ‘Unseen’ Geography of the Middle Ages
  6. Dealing with the Demonic: Medieval Ghost Stories
  7. Heaven and Hell: Communicating with the Dead
  8. Revealing Revelations: Medieval Depictions of the Apocalypse


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 Word Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will complete a 2,000-word formative essay, due in week 6 of the term. They will then submit a 4,000-word assessed essay for summative assessment in week 1 of the following term.

For further details about assessed work, students should refer to the Taught Masters Degrees Statement of Assessment.


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 Word Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment, students will receive oral feedback at a one-to-one meeting with their tutor and written feedback consisting of comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission. Tutors are also available in their student hours to discuss formative assessment. 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. 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:

Arnold, J.H., Belief and Unbelief in Medieval Europe (London: Hodder Arnold, 2005), ch. 1

Le Goff, J., The Medieval Imagination (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), Introduction

Watkins, C., History and the Supernatural in Medieval England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), Chapter 1

D’Avray, D., Medieval Religious Rationalities: A Weberian Analysis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), Preliminaries

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.