As the following list of available modules shows, Durham's rich libraries, its excellent archives, and its unusually large staff of medievalists and Renaissance specialists provide the opportunity for students at postgraduate level to approach the study of the Middle Ages and Renaissance from an interdisciplinary perspective.
Important note: We cannot guarantee that all modules will run in any given session. The list of modules below are expected to run in 2012-13; some modules will only run if a minimum number of students register for them.
Following the decline of Roman rule in North West Europe, a new culture and political identity emerged in Britain. The Anglo-Saxons left a cultural legacy of language, documents, metalwork, manuscripts and artefacts which attest to an extraordinary period of history, artistic expression and political and social development within which the English identity was forged, the language created and the landscape we see today was moulded. Drawing on the expertise of four specialists in the period from different areas of research, this module aims to capture the remarkable essence of the Anglo-Saxon achievement by means of interdisciplinary teaching using a wide range of sources. It comprises eight two-hour seminars across two terms. Each specialist will lead two seminars focused on their particular area of expertise.
We begin the first term by laying the historical foundations, considering the problems that beset researchers studying the very outset of the Anglo-Saxon era, and exploring the early development of Anglo-Saxon kingship and religious faith. This is followed by a foray into the world of Anglo-Saxon literature, focusing first on the heroic poem Beowulf, and then on the figure of Archbishop Wulfstan, a giant of the late Anglo-Saxon church and state.In the second term students examine the remarkable artistic achievements of the Anglo-Saxons in metalwork, wood- and stone-carving, and manuscript illumination, gaining insight into their visual imagination and technical genius. The term also includes two archaeological field trips to nearby churches at Escomb and Jarrow, where students will consider the surviving architectural and sculptural evidence, as well using the knowledge acquired over the previous seminars to consider the sites in their broader historical and physical context.
THEO57630 Christian Northumbria 600–800
Convenor Dr C.E. Stancliffe
Within a relatively brief period Northumbria went from being a missionfield to becoming one of the major religious and cultural centres in Europe. This module, which will be based on a study of the original sources, will include such topics as the christianisation of Northumbria, the different influences which met and mingled there (Irish, Gallic, Roman), the interaction between Christianity and heroic Germanic society, the relationship between monasticism, the contemplative ideal, and pastoral care, the work of Bede, and the artistic, cultural and scholarly achievements of the Northumbrian church. The literary sources will be studied in English translation, and will include both works originally written in Latin, such as Bede's Ecclesiastical History , and also the early form of an Old English poem, 'The Dream of the Rood', which is engraved in runes on the Ruthwell Cross. It will also involve consideration of artifacts produced at this time, especially carved stone crosses and manuscripts, several of which are in the collections owned and housed by the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral.
ENGL53030 Old Norse
Convenor Dr David Ashurst
The object of this module is to enable students to acquire or deepen a knowledge of the grammar and vocabulary of the Old Norse language, and an ability to read both prose and poetry in Old Norse. An introduction to the historical culture of Iceland and Norway in the period c. 900–1300 is also offered. No previous knowledge of Old Norse is required; students who have already studied the subject, however, will be given ample opportunity to increase their understanding. The module will normally be taught in the Michaelmas term, so that students may use it as a preparation for the module Warrior Poets in Heroic Societies, or for dissertation work requiring a knowledge of Old Norse language, literature or mythology; alternatively, it may be taken in its own right, as a useful accomplishment for students whose primary expertise is in other areas.
ENGL41330 Warrior Poets in Heroic Societies
Convenor Dr David Ashurst
This module examines the role, craft and representation of warrior poets in Anglo-Saxon England and medieval Iceland, two related but distinct societies that inherited Germanic heroic values. It will normally run in Epiphany term so that students can already have taken the Old Norse (Icelandic) module if they wish. It begins with the Old English poems 'Widsith', 'Deor' and the sections of Beowulf that represent poets in action, and then moves on to the Old Icelandic Egils saga, with its portrayal of Egill Skallagrimsson in his cultural context as warrior poet, worshipper of Odin and worker of magic. Particular poems composed by Egill and others for the Norwegian king Erik Bloodaxe are studied. Possible romance influences on the depiction of the poet as warrior and lover are then investigated in the saga of Kormak and of Gunnlaug Snake-tongue. Finally it examines the roles of warrior poets in the context of early Scandinavian Christianity through discussion of the figures and work of the Icelanders Sighvat Thordarson and Thormod Kolbrunarskald, both of whom were associated with King Olaf the Saint.
ENGL41630 / HIST42230 The Anglo-Norman World
Convenor Dr Neil Cartlidge
This module explores the history, literature and society of north-western Europe in the period 1066–1300, with particular attention to England and northern France. Topics to be considered may include: the creation of Arthurian literature and the importance of origin myths, Anglo-Norman romance, Hagiography, especially the Lives of Christina of Markyate and Thomas Becket, Crusades and the life and career of Richard Coeur de Lion, Theological writing, for example Anselm of Canterbury, Ailred of Rievaulx and Robert Grosseteste, the political challenges of the Barons' Revolt and the production of the Song of Lewes, the survival of Old English, historical writing in England, the world of the court and court satire.
HIST41430 The Archaeology of the Book: Codicology and Culture from Antiquity to the Renaissance [not running in 2012-13]
Convenor Prof. Richard Gameson
The book, in its evolving forms, was fundamental to medieval and renaissance culture. Not only was it central to the preservation and transmission of knowledge, it was the vehicle for an incomparable range of craft and artwork. Changes in the circumstances of production (e.g. from monastic scriptorium to urban atelier) and in technology (most famously the invention of movable type and hence printing) dramatically affected the presentation and spread of learning. Accordingly, the study of the book is central to understanding western society. This course is a systematic exploration of the medieval and renaissance book, from its basic materials, through the various conditions of production and decorations, to evidence of use. It provides focused and stimulating training in understanding the forms and utilising the physical evidence of manuscripts and early printed books in relation to cultural and literary history which is a sine qua non of most advanced work in medieval and renaissance studies. Simultaneously, it opens up the history of the book, and illumination, as fields of study in their own right. Extensive use is made of slides and reproductions to show particlarly revealing examples of features and phenomena; one or more sessions examining medieval manuscripts and early printed books in Durham collections will provide a structured and carefully supervised opportunity for putting the skills into practice, paving the way for exploration of material relevant to each individual's particular interests.
HIST42530 Palaeography: Scribes, Script and History from Antiquity to the Renaissance [not running in 2012-13]
Convenor Professor Richard Gameson
The major script types practised during this long period of European history will be examined in chronological order; the forms of writing will be studied in relation to their contexts and functions, and practice will be given in learning how to read them.
[If you would like to take a course in paleography on a not-for-credit basis, please speak to the MA Director, Dr Luke Sunderland]
ENGL41130 Middle English Manuscripts and Texts
Convenor Dr Neil Cartlidge
This module will encourage participants to look beyond the modern printed editions in which Middle English texts are now most often read, to the medieval manuscripts on which those editions are based. On the one hand, these manuscripts provide a great deal of information – for example, about the relationships between texts, the generic expectations of medieval readers and even the geographical origins of their scribes; on the other hand, they make very problematic many of the concepts on which students of literature are used to relying – concepts like ‘the text’, ‘the book’, ‘authenticity’ and even ‘literature’. Accordingly, the emphases of this module will be both pragmatic (providing opportunities for participants to develop palaeographical, codicological and editing skills) and theoretical (providing scope for discussion of various critical and methodological problems). The module will be focused on the textual histories of works by Chaucer and Hoccleve (i.e. two fifteenth-century traditions), and on some particular late-thirteenth and early-fourteenth-century manuscripts.
ENGL53630 Narrative Transformations: Medieval Romance to Renaissance Epic
Convenor Prof. Corinne Saunders
The dominance of fiction in the modern world is rooted in the narrative transformations of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. This module will explore the theory and practice of fiction from Antiquity onwards and the ways in which some of the great story-matters have been refashioned through the interplay between various genres – epic and romance, history, fable, and novel. Texts will be drawn from a wide range of material but will be read in selection. Seminar topics will include: The Art of Lying: Homer's Odyssey and Plato's Republic ; First Fictions: Roman Novels, Greek Romances; Unity and Closure: The Structure of Romance; Romancing Troy; Arthurian Romance; Writing Women; ‘Open Manslaughter and Bold Bawdry': Humanist Responses to Medieval Romance; Protestant Romance/Humanist Epic: Spenser's Faerie Queene and Sidney's Arcadia.
MELA44130 Texts and Cultures I: Contact and Conflict
Convenor Dr Luke Sunderland
This module will focus on contact and conflict between cultures. Topics are likely to include crusade chronicles, travel narratives, ‘New World’ literature, and competition between languages. The module will help you to develop a perspective informed by cultural material in a range of vernaculars and from a range of national traditions. You will analyse texts and cultural materials produced between 1100 and 1700, which are likely to include canonical literary texts as well as other material reflecting current research agendas. Materials studied were originally composed in a variety of languages, which may include Spanish, German, Italian, French, and English, however texts will be used in English translation in seminars. Rather than dealing with each national tradition in isolation, seminars will move between material from different times and in different languages in order to encourage a comparative approach. Each seminar will explore the set theme through the lens of particular texts or cultural material, and will be led by a relevant subject specialist. Students will then select a topic to research under the guidance of a specialist supervisor, then produce a 5,000-word essay for summative assessment. Students may wish to take this module alongside the complementary Texts and Cultures 2, but it is equally possible to take the module alongside something completely different.
MELA44030 Texts and Cultures II: Visual and Verbal Cultures
Convenor Dr Luke Sunderland
This module will investigate ways in which medieval and renaissance knowledge was shaped by the visual and verbal forms in which it was presented. Topics are likely to include theatre; scientific illustrations; hieroglyphs, emblems and devices; and word and image in manuscript culture. The module will help you to develop a perspective informed by cultural material in a range of vernaculars and from a range of national traditions. You will analyse materials produced between 1100 and 1700 originally composed in a variety of languages, which may include Spanish, German, Italian, French, and English. Texts will be used in English translation in seminars. Rather than dealing with each national tradition in isolation, seminars will move between material from different times and in different languages in order to encourage a comparative approach. Each seminar will explore the set theme through the lens of particular cultural material, and will be led by a relevant subject specialist. Students will then select a topic to research under the guidance of a specialist supervisor, then produce a 5,000-word essay for summative assessment. Students may wish to take this module alongside the complementary Texts and Cultures 1, but it is equally possible to take the module alongside something completely different.
HIST 42430 Power and Society in the Late Middle Ages
Convenor Dr Len Scales
What were the sources of power in the late middle ages? And how and by whom was power exercised? This module focuses on political power and explores the interaction of power, authority, institutions and structures of rule with ideas, assumptions, and discourses within a range of political and constitutional settings, such as kingdoms, lordships, regions, cities and city-states. One of the principal themes of the module is the way in which power was communicated, legitimised, negotiated, and (and on occasion, violently) contested and challenged. It will examine the interaction between power and society; structures of authority; channels of power; the lineaments of political community and the vocabularies and modes of political discourse. There will also be the opportunity to examine the development and character of various types of ‘political public' and the role of ‘public opinion'.
ENGL53130 Renaissance Humanism
Convenor Dr Robert Carver
This module aims to introduce students to the broader literary and intellectual contexts from which English Literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries emerged. We will begin with the revival of classical learning in Italy at the start of the fourteenth century (Petrarch, Boccaccio et al.), tracing its spread to the north and the emergence of a ‘Republic of Letters' (Respublica litterarum) which, by the sixteenth century, covered the whole of Europe. A wide range of texts and excerpts will be dealt with, including Petrarch's Canzoniere, Boccaccio's Decameron , Pico's On the Dignity of Man , Machiavelli's The Prince, Erasmus' The Praise of Folly, Sir Thomas More's Utopia, Castiglione's The Courtier, the love poems of Johannes Secundus, and Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophil and Stella. Texts will be chosen both for their intrinsic richness and for the light they can cast on the particular achievements of Renaissance English literature.
ENGL53530 Renaissance Tragedy
Convenor Dr Barbara Ravelhofer
The module will give participants the opportunity to look in detail at genres such as neo-Senecan drama, comitragedy, tragic histories, or revenge tragedy. Individual sessions will examine the work of the best-known playwrights of the period (e.g. Marlowe, Webster, Middleton, Jonson or Ford), as well as lesser-known but fascinating tragic writers such as Chapman, Shirley or Marston. Examples of tragic theatre will range from the later sixteenth to the early seventeenth century. We will consider, as appropriate:
- classical and contemporary theories of tragedy
- notions of tragedy present in non-dramatic genres
- Continental European analogues
It is expected that course participants familiarise themselves with a demanding reading list and prepare for one or two literary texts per week during the course.
THEO41530 Worship and Reform in Britain 1530–1662
Convenor Professor Alec Ryrie
The Reformation was a political, theological, social and cultural event: but it was also a lived experience. This module asks what that experience meant to the people who made it and who were made by it, by examining the worship and spiritual life of English-speaking Protestants of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. At the heart of the module is that most enduring of English devotional texts, the Book of Common Prayer: its formation, the bitter disputes surrounding it, and its rivals and alternatives in England, Scotland, Ireland and New England, up to and including the period of the British Civil Wars. We will also consider the use of music in Protestantism; the nature of private devotion and household piety; the cult of martyrs; radical Puritan pieties such as fasting and prophesyings; and the ceremonial revival and the beginning of 'Anglicanism'. Throughout we will keep theology and worship in its political context, and British events in their European context: in order to ask why questions of worship and Christian living were so politically and socially explosive in the early modern period.
HIST42630 Courts and Power in Early-Modern Europe and the New World
Convenor: Dr Toby Osborne
This module is taught comparatively and with an emphasis on the New World as well as Britain and Continental Europe. The range of topics studied will include: Monarchical government; Nobilities; Empire; Political culture and the Public Sphere; Elite culture and patronage; International diplomacy. Students will be able to focus on one of these topics in their written work, but will be expected to engage with the full range through oral presentations and discussion.
HIST42730 Negotiating Life in the Early-Modern World
Convenor Dr Adrian Green
This module introduces students to the historical literatures about a range of problems and topics including: Social structures and social stratification; Patriarchy; Identity; Sex, Bodies and Reproduction; Disease and mortality; Food and Famine; the Learned Professions; Crime and Punishment, Housing; Material Culture and Consumerism. Students will be able to focus on one of these topics in their written work, but will be expected to engage with the full range through oral presentations and discussion.