Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2010-2011 (archived)

Module HIST3813: Light Beyond the Limes: The Christianisation of Pagan Europe, 500-1000

Department: History

HIST3813: Light Beyond the Limes: The Christianisation of Pagan Europe, 500-1000

Type Open Level 3 Credits 60 Availability Available in 2010/11 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • A pass mark in at least TWO level two modules in History.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • to guide students towards attaining a broad understanding of the processes of early medieval Christianisation in northern Europe;
  • to teach them the value of comparing such processes across time and space in order to obtain a deeper understanding of individual cases;
  • to provide them with a teaching structure which fosters independent thought and the ability to engage critically with a wide variety of primary historical sources;
  • to ensure that they obtain a thorough familiarity with ongoing historical debates in this area of research.


  • This course will focus on one of the most important and complex cultural transformations of European history: the expansion of Christianity from the borders of the former Roman Empire into the ‘barbarian’ lands of the north. Beginning with Ireland in the sixth century, the course of conversion will take us via Anglo-Saxon England and Bavaria to the forested valleys of the Rhineland, then to the swamps and plains of Saxony and the frozen climes of Scandinavia. Conversion was rarely a straightforward process, but often one of confrontation, uncertainty and danger for all involved: it could proceed slowly or suddenly, peacefully or with savage bloodshed, in an organised or haphazard manner, depending on time and place. During the course we will explore different examples of Christianisation through the highly varied source material, which includes narrative histories, saints’ lives, chronicles, charters, letters, place-names and church legislation, while also touching on the archaeological sources that no historian of this period can afford to ignore. We will address broader issues of how modern historians approach the potentially sensitive issues of religious conversion and belief. How usefully have studies in anthropology, sociology and comparative missiology informed early medievalists to date? How far was early medieval conversion a matter of practical choice or social pressure, and how far one of personal belief? What did it mean to ‘convert’, or to be ‘pagan’ or, for that matter, ‘Christian’ in the early Middle Ages? And last but not least, what do we mean when we use such terms?

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • a sound comparative understanding of the history of Christian conversion in north-west Europe in the second half of the first millenium;
  • a detailed familiarity with a wide variety of primary historical sources, and the ability to deploy them skilfully with full critical awareness, both alongside one another and in light of archaeological evidence;
  • knowledge and understanding of how the historical understanding of medieval conversion and Christianisation has developed in the past, and how the debates continue among historians today.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Subject specific skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/History/ugrads/ModuleProformaMap/;
Key Skills:
  • o Key skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/History/ugrads/ModuleProformaMap/

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

  • Student learning is facilitated by a combination of the following teaching methods:
  • seminars to allow students to present and critically reflect upon the acquired subject-specific knowledge, methodologies and theories, and to identify and debate a range of issues and differing opinions. The seminar is the forum in which students are given the opportunity to communicate ideas, jointly exploring themes and arguments. Seminars are structured to develop understanding and designed to maximise student participation related to prior independent preparation. Seminars give students the opportunity to develop oral communication skills, encourage critical and tolerant approaches to reasoned argument and historical discussion, build the students' ability to marshal historical evidence, and facilitate the development of the ability to summarise historical arguments, think in a rapidly changing environment and communicate in a persuasive and articulate manner, whilst recognising the value of working with others and, occasionally, towards shared goals;
  • tutorials either individually or in groups to discuss topics arising from prepared work, allowing students the opportunity to reflect upon their personal learning with the tutor.
  • Assessment:
  • Unseen Examinations test students' ability to work under pressure under timed conditions, to prepare for examinations and direct their own programme of revision and learning, and develop key time management skills. The unseen examination gives students the opportunity to develop relevant life skills such as the ability to produce coherent, reasoned and supported arguments under pressure. Students will be examined on subject specific knowledge;
  • Summative essays remain a central component of assessment in history, due to the integrative high-order skills they develop. Essays allow students the opportunity to recognise, represent and critically reflect upon ideas, concepts and problems; students can demonstrate awareness of, and the ability to use and evaluate, a diverse range of resources and identify, represent and debate a range of subject-specific issues and opinions. Through the essay, students can synthesise information, adopt critical appraisals and develop reasoned argument based on individual research; they should be able to communicate ideas in writing, with clarity and coherence; and to show the ability to integrate and critically assess material from a wide range of sources;
  • Assessment of Primary Source Handling Students are assessed on their understanding of original primary sources, usually in print, their character varying according to the nature of the subject, and the students' ability to bring that knowledge to bear on 'cutting edge' research-based monographs and articles. Students are given the opportunity to discuss and articulate an understanding of changing interpretations and approaches to historical problems, drawing evidence from a body of primary source materials. Students are required to demonstrate skills associated with the evaluation of a variety of primary source materials, using documentary analysis for a critical assessment of existing historical interpretations.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Tutorials 2 Termly in Terms 1 & 2 0.5 hour 1
Seminars 19 Weekly in Terms 1 & 2 3 hours 57
Revision Sessions 1 Revision 2 hours 2
Preparation and Reading 540
Total 600

Summative Assessment

Component: Two Essays Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 maximum of 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 50%
Essay 2 maximum of 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 50%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 35%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Unseen examination (gobbet paper) 3 hours 100%
Component: Examiniation Component Weighting: 25%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Unseen examination (essay paper) 2 hours 100%

Formative Assessment:

One formative essay of not more than 2500 words (not including footnotes and bibliography), submitted in Term 1. This will be returned with written comments and a standard departmental feedback sheet. Coursework essays are formative as well as summative. They are to be submitted in two copies, of which one will be returned with written comments and a standard departmental feedback sheet. Preparation to participate in seminars and tutorials. At least one oral presentation in each term, and at least two practice gobbets in each term.

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