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Extraordinary Lives: The Medieval Worlds of Princes, Monks & Unconventional Women - HIS00102C

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Craig Taylor
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

The best way to enter a new world is with a personal guide. This module encounters the middle ages through the eyes of princes, townswomen, monks, crusaders, and defiant holy women, who reach out to us via some of the richest (and most fascinating) sources of the Middle Ages: memoirs, autobiographies and other types of life-writing. Their texts allow us to explore the worlds in which they lived. They can be highly confessional, posing questions of identity, experience, and emotions; but they also record things to be remembered: world-changing events, great ventures, stories of wonder and adventure, frustration and horror. Among those we meet are King Louis IX of France (1214-1270), a celebrated monarch and crusader to the Holy Land, builder of the Sainte Chapelle and (eventually) a saint, whose remarkable life was captured in four very different accounts. The highly personal memoir of the monk Guibert de Nogent (c.1055-1124) takes us into an earlier world of internecine warfare and urban revolt, but also allows us to glimpse daily life in castles and monasteries, as well as the emotional world of this dreamer and raconteur, and his favourite subject: his indomitable Mother. Margery Kempe (c.1373-c.1438) was a merchant’s wife, mother, and brewer of ale, who refused to live a quiet life. She worked with male ghost-writers to produce an autobiography that offers an unusual window into everyday life and into the self-fashioning of a woman whose religious devotion annoyed and inspired her contemporaries. Through these and other lives we enter the castle, monastery, court, and townscape, and look to the forces that shape their worlds, from gender, wealth and power, to Crusade, heresy and revolt. We will guide student groups in devising independent research projects, using well-chosen sources and inspired by recent scholarship.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To work closely with a type or range of primary sources that speak to a particular period of history
  • To equip students with group work skills at an early stage in their degree
  • To guide students in how historians deploy and select a mix of methods of analysis in order to construct an argument
  • To enable students to produce an independent piece of research based on primary source materials

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Be able to present a piece of work effectively as a group by making clear and coherent contributions in coordination with others
  • Have demonstrated the ability to work collaboratively in order to devise and complete a project
  • Have shown the ability to evaluate and apply quantitative and qualitative methods as appropriate for their inquiries
  • Have gained skills and experience in identifying and analysing primary sources in advance of project and dissertation work at later stages
  • Have combined the analysis of primary sources with critical discussion of a scholarly debate in order to develop a coherent historical argument

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1, 2-hour workshops in weeks 2-4, 7-8 and 11, and group tutorials in weeks 6 and 10. They will also participate in York Strengths online. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW). Students prepare for and participate in six workshops and two group tutorials, and complete two reflective online exercises in all.

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

  1. The Prince: Louis IX and the work that texts do
  2. The Renegade: Margery Kempe and emotions
  3. The Monk: Guibert of Nogent and wonder
  4. Project I: bibliographies and sources
  5. Project II: questions and cases
  6. Project III: Presentations


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

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment work, students submit a group project proposal in week 5 and participate in a group presentation in week 11.

For summative assessment, students submit a 3000-word essay as a group project in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Individual Project and Reflection
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment tasks, students will receive feedback in their tutorial and in their workshop. This feedback may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole module group.

All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For summative assessment tasks, 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:

  • Jay Rubenstein, ‘Biography and Autobiography in the Middle Ages’ Writing Medieval History, ed. Nancy Partner. (Oxford, 2005). 22-41.
  • Karen A. Winstead, The Oxford History of Life-Writing Volume I: The Middle Ages (Oxford, 2018).
  • Anthony Bale, Margery Kempe. A mixed life (London, 2021).

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.