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Feast & Famine: Food, Power & Inequality in Medieval England - HIS00114M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Tom Johnson
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2019-20

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:

  • Developed ideas about the culture of food in medieval England
  • Experience of close engagement with an array of primary sources
  • Knowledge of key historiographical themes in medieval diet, consumption, and food
  • An understanding of the important theoretical concepts in this area

Module content

In medieval England, you were what you ate, because what you ate was closely related to your socio-economic status: if you were poor, you ate bread, pottage, and drank weak ale, while if you were rich, you ate meat, used spices, and consumed wine. This modules explores this fundamental relationship between food and inequality in the Middle Ages as a way of exploring the ‘biopower’ of medieval governance – the way in which power was exerted through control over the very means of life itself.

Food expressed and channelled inequalities of power in many ways. It was not only a daily necessity for the sustenance of the agricultural population, but also a fashionable commodity to be conspicuously presented and consumed by the powerful, a prominent way of bringing people together into communality and community, and abstinence from it a marker of intense spirituality. Food was thus quite literally a matter of life and death, and as such, tracing its production, movement, consumption, and ideological meanings opens up some fascinating ways of understanding power and governance in the Middle Ages.

The module will explore these themes through a range of evidence made available in translation (or in Middle English), such as court rolls regulating food production, literary treatises about hunting, the orders for guild feasts and pageants, and medieval recipe books. Using these sources, students will be encouraged to engage with a range of medieval food historiographies, from those concerned with diet and standards of living to cultural and political histories of consumption, as well as modern critical theory on food justice and biopolitics.

Teaching Programme:

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

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

  • Food consumption and inequality
  • Grain and governance in the peasant diet
  • Animal bodies: hunting, butchery, and carnality
  • Feasting and commensality
  • Holy hunger: abstinence and fasting
  • Starvation and charity
  • Recipes for living: regimens and medicine
  • The art of nourishment



Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

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

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



Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive written feedback consisting of comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission. 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. 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:

Woolgar, C. M. The Culture of Food in England, 1200-1500. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2016.

Dyer, Christopher. Standards of living in the later Middle Ages: Social change in England, c.1200-1520. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Bennett, Judith M. Ale, Beer and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World, 1300-1600. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.


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.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): changes to courses

The 2020/21 academic year will start in September. We aim to deliver as much face-to-face teaching as we can, supported by high quality online alternatives where we must.

Find details of the measures we're planning to protect our community.

Course changes for new students