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Reading and Writing in Medieval England - Semester 1 - HIS00199H

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

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 manifestos 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.

Related modules

Students taking this module must also take the second part in Semester 2.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

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 and a 3-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11 of semester 1. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW). Students prepare for and participate in eight three-hour seminars in all.

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

  1. Orality and literacy in the Medieval World
  2. Writing and power
  3. Writing and devotion
  4. Paper, parchment, and ink
  5. Schools and education
  6. English, French, and Latin
  7. Reading for business
  8. Reading for pleasure


Task Length % of module mark
Text Commentaries & Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative work, students will produce a text commentary.

The summative assessment will consist of two parts, to be submitted together:
a) Two text commentaries of 500-750 words; and
b) One 1,500-word essay.

The commentaries comprise 50% and the essay 50% of the overall mark for this module. Summative assessments will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Text Commentaries & Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative task, students will typically 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 formative work 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:

  • M.T. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record: England 1066-1307 (2nd ed., Oxford: Blackwell, 1993).
  • Wendy Scase, Literature and Complaint in England, 1272-1553 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
  • Orietta Da Rold, 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.