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Revolution in the Streets: Faith, Poverty and Religious Ferment, c.1200 - Semester 1 - HIS00209H

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Sethina Watson
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

At the end of the twelfth century, religion took to the streets. Monks and nuns had long sought salvation by abandoning the world, but a new generation headed into city streets to forge lives among the destitute and despised. Theirs was a period of huge social change. Urbanization created new riches, and new social problems. Victims of the profit economy became objects of concern, and poverty a religious preoccupation. From the streets came voices of dissent, and heresy, proclaiming the corruptions of wealth. Radicals, including Francis of Assisi, became beggars and preachers. And women led new calls, as mystics and beguines, embracing lives of service to the poor and diseased, outside church structures. These voices were inspiring, but also dangerous; the more extreme became objects of wonder, attracting biographers whose writings survive.

This module explores this era of religious ferment, of social change and social challenge, 1170–1250. It focuses on the city streets of England, Flanders, and France, but also looks to Italy and Germany. It uncovers the upheaval of the profit economy through the social responses, religious zeal and controversies that were produced by the clash between urban wealth and poverty. It looks at the new forms of religious life -- the preachers, mendicants, and beguines – as well as the leprosaria and hospitals, and the sick and paupers they served. At its heart is the new public space of the marketplace, and the radical voices it enabled. To do this, we deploy a range of source material, including saints’ lives, chronicles, law, exempla, charters, regulations and court inquests, all provided in English.

Related modules

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

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

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. Three lives in a changing world: anchorite, merchant, hospitaller
  2. Religious life breaks out of the monastery
  3. Telling Tales: Caesarius of Heisterbach and exempla
  4. Leprosy: a case study
  5. Longbeard’s revolt
  6. Scholars and Dirty Money
  7. Innocent III and the troublemakers
  8. St Francis takes to the Streets


Task Length % of module mark
Portfolio : Text Commentaries and Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students will be given the opportunity to produce text commentaries in seminar, including a written commentary.

For the summative assessment students build a portfolio of two parts, to be submitted together:
a) Two text commentaries of 500-750 words; and
b) One 1,500-word essay which reflects on the significance of the chosen texts in light of scholarship and sources from across the module.
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
Portfolio : Text Commentaries and Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Formative work will be live marked in seminar and supplemented by the tutor giving 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

During the module, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

  • Sharon Farmer, Surviving Poverty in Medieval Paris: Gender, Ideology and the Daily Lives of the Poor (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002).
  • Adam J. Davis, The Medieval Economy of Salvation: Charity, Commerce and the Rise of the Hospital (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2021).
  • Carol Symes, A Common Stage: Theatre and Public Life in Medieval Arras (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007).

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.