Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2010-2011 (archived)

Module HIST3873: Worlds Apart: The City in Late Medieval England

Department: History

HIST3873: Worlds Apart: The City in Late Medieval England

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


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


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To extend students' understanding of the development of the city in England between the 13th and 15th centuries.
  • To provide students with the opportunity to work with different types of source-material and to apply them to the study of late medieval English cities.


  • The industrial and post-industrial city has featured prominently in modern literature as a crucible of architectural, economic and technological innovation and as a source of social dislocation and disintegration. Such contrasting views of the modern city are hardly surprising, however, since the city has always been characterised by extremes: polluted, crowded and dangerous, and yet also a place of opportunity and creativity. Throughout history the city has proved remarkably resilient and city life has been able to renew itself, drawing upon a set of ideas about the city's own distinctive identity within the wider world. Aristotle wrote that men came to live in cities in order to live a good life. In the memorable phrase of the great Annaliste historian, Fernand Braudel, ‘every town is, and wants to be, a world apart'.
  • This course explores the pre-industrial city, specifically, the city in late medieval England. The main focus is upon the public life of the city, for the period between 1250 and 1500 saw the growth of a vibrant and dynamic public culture in English cities. One aspect of this cultural achievement was the writing of civic histories and the establishment of civic archives.
  • This course will draw extensively upon the extraordinarily rich primary sources produced by the civic governments of major medieval English cities such as London, Bristol, Coventry, Norwich and London. o The course begins by exploring contemporary ideas of what a city and city life should be like, through the study of a range of artistic and literary sources including Thomas More's early sixteenth-century description of Utopia. The focal point of the course, however, is a discussion of how cities dealt practically as well as ideologically with the problems and possibilities of urban living. In particular, it considers how civic rulers and their subjects dealt with the challenge of bringing order to their cities. o Among the themes of the course are: the nature of public authority and the development of civic government; the purpose and policing of civic legislation; the notion of citizenship and the meaning of civic virtue; the creation of civic myths and history; the function of the market-place as a site of commercial exchange; the role and importance of civic ritual and ceremonial; the performance of civic drama and the idea of the city as a stage; the regulation of public health and sanitation; the concept of town planning; and the construction and reconstruction of urban housing.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • An understanding of the cultural history of late medieval English cities.
  • A familiarity with and critical understanding of a range of primary sources (historical, literary, artistic, architectural and archaeological) relating to late medieval English cities.
  • An understanding of the changing historical interpretations of and approaches to the nature and significance of urban development in late medieval England.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • http://www.dur.ac.uk/history.internal/local/ModuleProformaMap/Index.htm
Key Skills:
  • http://www.dur.ac.uk/history.internal/local/ModuleProformaMap/Index.htm

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 hour 57
Revision Sessions 1 Revision Term 3 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:

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