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Late Medieval Sexualities - HIS00137M

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

Module summary

Late medieval societies were obsessed with understanding and classifying sexuality, from didactic handbooks outlining the many branches of the sin of lust, to Aristotelian scientific treatises on the mechanics of reproduction. Medieval authors were deeply interested in both the biological/psychological nature of desire itself, and in its expression through acts, identities, and social relations. These cultural and intellectual constructions of sexuality in turn informed the lived experience of sex through their influence on mechanisms of social control and regulation such as the law and pastoral care. The aim of this module is to investigate medieval understandings of sexuality and interrogate the relationships between theory and practice in the classification and regulation of sex.

This module looks at sexualities in late medieval Europe from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries. Our main focus will be on the cultures of England and France, though we will also bring in case studies from Germany, the Low Countries, and Italy. We will analyse medieval theoretical approaches and lived experiences of sexuality through a diverse range of primary sources in translation, including conduct literature, court documents, gynaecological treatises, and letters, as well as the histories of their interpretation. We will engage with fields such as queer/trans studies, feminist historical methodologies, and other theoretical approaches to thinking about the intersection of sexuality, knowledge, and power. We will explore the major controversies in the historiography of medieval sexualities such as the nature of premodern sexual categories and the question of whether medieval societies can be classified as heteronormative or pre-heteronormative. We will further interrogate the field’s relationship to broader scholarly questions of identity, power, and the radical political potential of medieval studies.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring 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:

  • An understanding of the history of late medieval sexualities and their relationships to intellectual and legal cultures.
  • Familiarity with relevant primary sources for late medieval sexual desires and identities and their interpretation.
  • An understanding of and ability to critique the key methodological and interpretive approaches to the history of late medieval sexualities.

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. ‘Compulsory heterosexuality’ and bourgeois self-fashioning
  2. The ‘monstrous’ woman and female sexual appetites
  3. Rape and the law
  4. Sex work and the late medieval town
  5. Locating the sodomite: queer identities and subcultures
  6. Transgender expressions, transgender desires
  7. Sex, race, and the ‘sodomitic’ Muslim in the Christian imaginary
  8. Debating the ‘persecuting society’


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 essay for formative assessment, due in week 6 of the spring term, for which they will receive an individual tutorial. They will then submit a 4,000-word assessed essay for summative assessment in week 1 of the summer term.

For further details about assessed work, students should refer to the Statement of Assessment for Taught Postgraduate Programmes.


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive written feedback consisting of comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission. They will also receive verbal feedback at an individual tutorial. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative 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. Supervisors are available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment for Taught Postgraduate Programmes.

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:

John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981)

Carolyn Dinshaw, Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999)

Ruth Mazo Karras, Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing Unto Others (London: Routledge, 2017)

Kim M. Phillips and Barry Reay, Sex Before Sexuality: A Premodern History (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011)

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.