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Wonders, Marvels & Monsters in Early Modern Culture - HIS00103C

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Sophie Weeks
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

What cultural work did a shining veal shank, the bird of paradise, sea monsters, and conjoined twins perform in early modern society? Through a focus on monsters, marvels, and wonders, this module will introduce students to a novel way of looking at key themes in early modern history, such as travel, globalization, natural history, science, philosophy, gender, sexuality, and disability. In addition to exploring these themes, the module will raise general questions about where (and even whether) people living c.1450-c.1700 drew the line between the normal and the abnormal; the natural and the supernatural; the ordinary and the miraculous. These questions are pursued through a selection of translated primary sources, including natural history, travel literature, broadsides, wonder books, philosophical texts, canonization trials and medical treatises. We will guide student groups in devising independent research projects, drawing on recent scholarship and utilising appropriate primary source reading.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

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 2-5, 7-8 and 10-11 (week 10’s workshop will be online), group tutorials in weeks 6 and 10, and a York Strengths Development Session (YSDS) in week 9. In all, students prepare for and participate in eight workshops, two group tutorials and one YSDS.

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

1. Starting to take monsters seriously: approaches to the topic
2. Travel and encounter
3. Making sense of the exotic
4. Team work training & your Historical Projects
5. Sources and meanings
6. Texts in their contexts
7. Reflecting on your Historical Projects &; your Employability (online)
8. Group Presentations workshop


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:

  • Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750 (New York: Princeton University Press, 1998).
  • Peter G. Platt, Wonders, Marvels, and Monsters in Early Modern Culture (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1999).
  • Maja Bondestam (ed.), Exceptional Bodies in Early Modern Culture: Concepts of Monstrosity Before the Advent of the Normal (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University 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.