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Common Knowledge: Publics, Power & Information in Fifteenth-Century England - MST00059M

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  • Department: Centre for Medieval Studies
  • Module co-ordinator: Information currently unavailable
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20

Module summary

Late-medieval England was awash with information, from gossip and rumours to sermons and songs, to pamphlets, bills, and letters. This was an era in which vernacular English was gaining ground as a language of literature, government, political discussion, and more controversially, religious debates; it was a period when a broader base of society – from gentry families like the Pastons of Norfolk to ordinary townsmen gathering in taverns – attempted to keep abreast of the latest news and political developments; and a time when more and more people used, collected, and circulated written material. This module will explore these developments as part of a developing information culture in fifteenth-century England. What were people expected to know and what did they actually know? How did they go about finding something out, and what could they do with this knowledge? Who or what controlled the circulation of information? Answering these questions will help us to understand the complexities of late-medieval English society and culture, the concept of a ‘public sphere’, and introduce us to an array of primary sources.

Each week we will look at a different genre or media of information exchange in the context of a wider historiographical theme. Working closely with sources such as literary texts, letter collections, bills, commonplace books, petitions, and sermons (among others) will help us to understand the diversity of available material from this period, and the range of critical interpretations that go with them. It will also direct our discussions towards broader debates about heresy and dissent, New Historicism, and political culture.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2019-20

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:

  • Developed ideas about information and authority in late-medieval England

  • Experience of close engagement with an array of primary materials

  • Knowledge of key historiographical themes in late-medieval social and political history

  • An understanding of the important theoretical concepts in this area

Module content

Late-medieval England was awash with information, from gossip and rumours to sermons and songs, to pamphlets, bills, and letters. This was an era in which vernacular English was gaining ground as a language of literature, government, political discussion, and more controversially, religious debates; it was a period when a broader base of society – from gentry families like the Pastons of Norfolk to ordinary townsmen gathering in taverns – attempted to keep abreast of the latest news and political developments; and a time when more and more people used, collected, and circulated written material. This module will explore these developments as part of a developing information culture in fifteenth-century England. What were people expected to know and what did they actually know? How did they go about finding something out, and what could they do with this knowledge? Who or what controlled the circulation of information? Answering these questions will help us to understand the complexities of late-medieval English society and culture, the concept of a ‘public sphere’, and introduce us to an array of primary sources.

Each week we will look at a different genre or media of information exchange in the context of a wider historiographical theme. Working closely with sources such as literary texts, letter collections, bills, commonplace books, petitions, and sermons (among others) will help us to understand the diversity of available material from this period, and the range of critical interpretations that go with them. It will also direct our discussions towards broader debates about heresy and dissent, New Historicism, and political culture.


Teaching Programme:
Students will attend eight weekly two-hour seminars in weeks 2-9.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

  1. Introduction: Reading, Writing, and Literacy
  2. Letters: Work, Home, and Communication
  3. Vernacular Literature: Authors and Authorities
  4. Commonplace Books: Collecting and Circulating Texts
  5. Public Spaces: Noise, News, and Rumour
  6. Bills, Petitions, and Popular Politics
  7. Preaching: Piety and Heresy
  8. A Public Sphere in Late-Medieval England?

Assessment

Task Length % of module mark
Essay/coursework
3500-4000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules

None

Additional assessment information

Students are able to submit a draft essay for feedback, the deadline for which is the beginning of Week 9.

Reassessment

Task Length % of module mark
Essay/coursework
3500-4000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Draft essays - feedback will be given before the end of term, if submitted within the deadline given.

Final essays - feedback will be given within six weeks of submission deadline.

For further information on feedback, please consult the CMS MA Handbook

Indicative reading

Justice, Stephen. Writing and Rebellion: England in 1381. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1996.

Crick, J and Alexandra Walsham (eds). The Uses of Script and Print, 1300-1700. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Clanchy, Michael T. From Memory to Written Record: England 1066-1307. Oxford: Blackwell, 1993.

Fox, Adam. Oral and Literate Culture in England, 1500-1700. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 2000.

Youngs, Deborah. Humphrey Newton (1466-1536): an early Tudor gentleman. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2008.



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.