Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2010-2011 (archived)


Department: History


Type Open Level 3 Credits 60 Availability Available in 2010/11 Module Cap 15 Location Durham


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • This module will provide students with the opportunity to study in detail a selection of particularly important manuscripts dating from the early and high middle ages.
  • By close attention to their historical contexts it will enable students to understand the forms and techniques of, and the rationales for such volumes.
  • Reciprocally, it will provide training and experience in deploying the evidence of manuscripts for broader historical and cultural debate.
  • Concurrently, it will expose students to the work and practices of modern palaeographers, art-historians and textual scholars as well as of medieval historians.


  • At the beginning of the course students acquire the knowledge and practical skills to understand and interpret early medieval illuminated manuscripts, exploring how, why and by whom such books were made and decorated, and what the historian can learn from their script, text and ornament.
  • This knowledge is then applied to studying the role of the illuminated book in cultural history, examining the evolution of its form and decoration in a variety of contexts, and the various uses to which it was put by a series of monarchs, monks and missionaries.
  • Key themes studied include: Irish and Insular manuscripts; Italian books and their influence in Anglo-Saxon England; the books of Charlemagne and of later Carolingian, Ottonian and Salian emperors (especially those with ruler imagery); the manuscripts of 'imperial' bishops and monastic reformers; the development of abbey scriptoria in Normandy and Flanders; the Norman Conquest and English libraries; the illuminated Psalters and giant Bibles of the Twelfth Century.
  • Comparisons - between, for instance, the books of Charlemagne and Charles the Bald, of Ethelwold and Dunstan, and those of Normandy and Flanders - help to sharpen appreciation of the similarities and differences between the characters, areas and 'movements' in question. Diachronistic analysis (exploring, for example, what the illuminators of the Ottonian era owed to their Carolingian predecessors) permits an approach to medieval perceptions of the past and of authoritative exemplars therein.
  • One key theme running throughout the course is the interrelationship between England and her various neighbours: the recoverable travels of patrons, scribes and artists, and the circulation of books and exemplars will be studied for the light they shed on this process. Another is the nature, identity and work of scribes and illuminators - of whom the earliest considered here were certainly ecclesiastics, the latest paid professionals. Some have left statements and images bearing on their work and profession, which will be interrogated.
  • The course ends with the rise of paid professional book-scribes and artists, inexorably displacing their monastic equivalents: we shall explore how and why this came about and with what consequences, and how it relates to broader changes in church, state, culture and education.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A detailed knowledge of some of the principal illuminated manuscripts produced in Western Europe between the sixth and the twelfth centuries, and of their historical contexts.
  • An understanding of the roles of decorated books in early medieval societies, of the techniques of their creators, and of the motives of their patrons.
  • An ability to understand and interpret primary visual evidence of decoration and script, and to combine it with relevant primary documentary sources for historical debate.
  • An awareness of the relevant modern art-historical, palaeographical, textual and historical literature, and an ability to compare and evaluate their sometimes divergent conclusions.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Subject specific skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/History/ugrads/ModuleProformaMap/;
  • Students will acquire skills in close argument and analysis combined with use of a wide range of evidential proof, and in the imaginative, conceptual development of hypotheses.
Key Skills:
  • 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 30 mins 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) three-hour 100%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 25%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Unseen examination (essay paper) two-hour 100%

Formative Assessment:

For most seminars throughout the course, students will be required to prepare a short presentation based on a particular illuminated manuscript, an aspect thereof, or a document relating thereto. This provides regular structured practice - with formal and informal feedback- in interpreting the visual primary material. At an early stage, one or more written texts based on this regular 'exercise' will be collected and 'marked' to provide clear help and guidance in this key skill. The course is also designed to include first-hand experience of medieval manuscripts, and hence the opportunity to put into practice, in a closely supervised context, the training provided in the seminars for reading and explicating such artefacts as a whole. 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