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Durham University

Postgraduate Modules 2019/2020

Module Description

Please ensure you check the module availability box for each module outline, as not all modules will run in each academic year. Each module description relates to the year indicated in the module availability box. Please be aware that modules may change from year to year, and may be amended to take account of, for example: changing staff expertise, disciplinary developments, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback.

Department: English Studies

ENGL41130: MIDDLE ENGLISH MANUSCRIPTS AND TEXT

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2019/20

Prerequisites

  • None.

Corequisites

  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.

Aims

  • The nature of Middle English writing is profoundly conditioned by the physical circumstances of its transmission. Before the invention of the printing-press, every text and every book was a unique product. On the one hand, this presents a challenge to scholars attempting to edit medieval texts, especially in the case of texts like The Canterbury Tales or Piers Plowman, which survive in large numbers of copies. On the other hand, it means that there is a very great deal of evidence about the provenance and reception of medieval literature that can be deduced from its physical context. The purpose of this course is to encourage students to look beyond the modern editions (on which, as undergraduate students, they will have been expected to rely) and to examine Middle English texts in their original contexts. They will be introduced to a selection of medieval manuscripts that have been particularly influential on modern understandings of medieval literature. They will be invited to engage in current debates about how to analyse and present such evidence (e.g. in the form of modern textual editions) and given the opportunity to put their theories into practice. Alongside work on particular Middle English texts and manuscripts, this module will also help students acquire some of the specific skills required for advanced work in medieval studies.

Content

  • The palaeographical and codicological skills will be taught by means of a diverse range of examples (including both edited texts, texts in facsimile and photographs). Editorial skills and issues, similarly, will be demonstrated by reference to the challenges posed by a range of different texts. The module is likely to include Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, earlier fourteenth-century manuscripts (such as the Auchinleck MS and BL MS Harley 2253), and texts by some of Chaucer's literary successors (such as Hoccleve, Lydgate, and King James I of Scotland). Other cases for study may include the eccentric Northumberland MS (which contains some original additions to the Canterbury Tales) and the so-called Findern manuscript (which contains a number of lyrics copied by, and possibly composed by, a circle of fifteenth-century women). Critical and theoretical commentary on the material contexts of medieval literature is extensive and widely available, and students will be expected to familiarize themselves with it.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • On completion of this module, students will be capable of reading and analysing Middle English texts in their original contexts. They will understand the intellectual problems implicit in the presentation and contextualisation of medieval texts; and be in a position to undertake such studies themselves. They will know how to go about extracting evidence for the circulation and social context of such texts from the surviving manuscripts. They will have looked in detail at a number of specific cases (including key texts by Chaucer). And they will have engaged with some of the broad intellectual issues raised by the course, both in terms of the theory of medieval literature and of literary theory more generally.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • o They will be able to: 1) Read accurately the scripts commonly in use in English manuscripts between 1250 and 1500 2) Interpret scribal systems of abbreviation and punctuation 3) Present an edited text and an editorial apparatus, together with the appropriate annotation and/or glosses/glossary 4) Understand the principles by which medieval books were constructed, and use that understanding to deduce information about the circulation of texts 5) Use dialectological analysis 6) Evaluate different editorial methodologies (stemmatological, cladistic etc.), and put them into practice.
  • More generally, they will have familiarized themselves with a number of Middle English texts and manuscripts; and they will have developed a deeper understanding of the particular critical issues raised by the material contexts of medieval literature.
Key Skills:
  • Students studying this module will develop:
  • an advanced ability to analyse critically;
  • an advanced ability to acquire complex information of diverse kinds in structured and systematic ways;
  • an advanced ability to interpret complex information of diverse kinds through the distinctive skills derived from the subject;
  • expertise in conventions of scholarly presentation and bibliographical skills;
  • an independence of thought and judgement, and ability to assess acutely the critical ideas of others;
  • sophisticated skills in critical reasoning;
  • an advanced ability to handle information and argument critically;
  • a competence in information-technology skills such as word-processing and electronic data access;
  • professional organisation and time-management skills.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • As well as familiarising students with a selection of medieval manuscripts and texts, this course will emphasize the acquirement of practical skills, such as a facility in reading medieval scripts. Specific information about particular texts, manuscripts and editorial methodologies will be introduced as the course progresses; and students will be encouraged to debate the relevant issues. In line with the practical and material emphases of the course, assessment will include the option to undertake one editing exercise. In addition, all students will undertake an essay-assignment, allowing more discursive work on particular texts or issues. (Students who prefer to undertake a second essay-assignment INSTEAD of the editing exercise will be allowed to do so.)
  • Typically, directed learning may include assigning student(s) an issue, theme or topic that can be independently or collectively explored within a framework and/or with additional materials provided by the tutor. This may function as preparatory work for presenting their ideas or findings (sometimes electronically) to their peers and tutor in the context of a seminar.

Teaching Methods and Contact Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 9 Fortnightly 2 hours 18
Independent student research supervised by the Module Convenor 10
Preparation and reading 272
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
EITHER One Summative Editing Exercise 40%
OR One Summative Essay 3,000 words 40%
PLUS One Summative Essay 3,000 words 60%

Formative Assessment:


Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University


    If you have a question about Durham's modular degree programmes, please visit our User Guide. If you have a question about modular programmes that is not covered by the User Guide, or a query about the Postgraduate Module Handbook, please contact us using the Comments and Questions form below.