Accessibility statement

Tradition and Innovation: The Art of the 'Insular World' - HOA00071H

« Back to module search

  • Department: History of Art
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Jane Hawkes
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

The module introduces students to the varied arts of early medieval Ireland and Britain, the major works of art and architecture current in the region at this time, the issues involved in cultural transmissions of the visual, and the role historic art can play in constructing identity and ethnicity in the modern world.

Related modules

Students who have taken the I-level version of Tradition and Innovation: The Art of the ‘Insular World’ are prohibited from taking the H-version of the same module.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

The art of the Insular World (the islands of present-day Ireland and Britain) allows a vivid insight into the radical changes, economic, political and social, that marked the region in the early middle ages. It is a period that saw a continual migration and settlement of different ethnicities into the region and which, by the eleventh century, had made its mark on a complex society with an economically powerful ruling elite that embraced both ‘Church’ and ‘State’. It is a period that saw the continual activity of Christian missions both into the Insular world from the continental mainland, and into Europe from Ireland and Britain. It is thus a period that saw a constant interaction of cultures and traditions, pagan and Christian, secular and ecclesiastical, oral and literate, Northern European, Mediterranean and Byzantine. By studying the arts (jewellery-making, painting, carving) used to decorate a wide range of media (metalwork, manuscripts, ivory, stone and wood) produced in the region during this period we will explore the complexities of a visual culture that could be shaped by such interactions and, at the same time, could be consciously employed to shape perceptions of those cultures.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students should have an understanding of:

  • The arts of different media current in the Insular world

  • A knowledge of the historical contexts of the major monuments and artworks of the period and the region

  • Some of the issues involved in the cultural transmission of the visual languages of the time and place

  • Some of the complexities of imagery and meaning in early medieval religious art

  • The various scholarly interactions with the material and the factors informing them

  • How to identify and critically evaluate new source material through independent research


Task Length % of module mark
Advanced Assignment
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Advanced Assignment
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on assessed work within the timeframes set out by the University - please check the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback for more information.

The purpose of feedback is to help you to improve your future work. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further, you are warmly encouraged to meet your Supervisor during their Office Hours.

Indicative reading

  • Bede, the Venerable, Saint. Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Edited and translated by Bertram Colgrave. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022.
  • Bowersock G. W., Peter Brown, and Oleg Grabar. Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Post-classical World. Edited by Bowersock G. W. London, Harvard University Press,1999.
  • Campbell, James, Eric John, and Patrick Wormald. The Anglo-Saxons. London: Penguin Books,1991.
  • Ferguson, Everett. The Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. 2 vols. New York: Garland, 1997.
  • Hawkes, Jane. The Golden Age of Northumberland. Newcastle: Sandhill Press, 1996.
  • Backhouse, Janet, D.H. Turner, Leslie Webster, and Marion Archibald, eds. The Golden Age of Anglo-Saxon Art: 966-1066. London: British Museum Publications, 1984.
  • Lowden, John. Early Christian and Byzantine Art. London: Phaidon, 1997.
  • Murray, Peter, and Linda Murray. The Oxford Companion to Christian Art and Architecture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Webster, Leslie. Anglo-Saxon Art. London: British Museum Press, 2012.
  • Webster, Leslie, and Janet Backhouse, eds. The Making of England: Anglo-Saxon art and culture, AD 600-900. London: British Museum, 1991.
  • Youngs, Susan, ed. The Work of Angels. London: British Museum Publication, 1989.

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.