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Reading & Writing in Late-Medieval England - HIS00124H

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Tom Johnson
  • Credit value: 40 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22

Module summary

Late-medieval England was awash with writing – from posters and pamphlets put up in the streets, to letters and books that people wrote at home. More and more people could read and write, and more and more of that writing was in English, which came to be used as a language of literature, government, and more controversially, religious debate. Even though the majority of the population were still unable to read, this was a world increasingly dominated by the power of writing. What did this technological transformation mean for social relations, for faith and belief, for politics?

This module explores this major development in cultural history through an exciting range of primary sources, provided in translation, from the cryptic manifestoes of political rebels, to the treatises of lollard heretics, to the lavishly illustrated romances of the gentry (and plenty more in between). It asks students to think about the world of writing as it existed before the advent of printing, as a way of understanding our own age of proliferating media change.

Language requirements: 

- Sources in Latin, Middle English, and French will be translated; no knowledge of these languages is required.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2021-22 to Spring Term 2021-22

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

Students who complete this module successfully 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. Orality and literacy in the Medieval World

  2. From memory to written record?

  3. Writing in the countryside

  4. Schools and education

  5. Reading for devotion

  6. Writing and rebellion

  7. English, French, and Latin

  8. Paper, parchment, and ink

  9. Scriveners and notaries

  10. Books and miscellanies 

  11. Letters

  12. Documents and archives

  13. Lollards and their books

  14. Reading for pleasure

  15. The print revolution?


Task Length % of module mark
Essay (4000 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 (4000 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:

Clanchy, M. T. From Memory to Written Record: England 1066-1307. 2nd ed., Oxford: Blackwell, 1993.

Scase, Wendy. Literature and Complaint in England, 1272-1553. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Da Rold, Orietta, Paper in Medieval England. Cambridge: Cambridge 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.