Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST1641: Decline and Crisis? Europe, 1300-1500

Department: History

HIST1641: Decline and Crisis? Europe, 1300-1500

Type Open Level 1 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap 120 Location Durham


  • Normally an A or B grade in A-Level History, or an acceptable equivalent (e.g. in terms of Scottish Highers or lB)


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • to introduce students to the key themes and developments in western Europe during a period with which they are probably unfamiliar
  • to introduce students to the rich and complex historiographical debates on the period
  • to introduce students to examples of different kinds of primary sources used by historians of the late Middle Ages


  • In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love. They had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. (1949 film, The Third Man) Decline and crisis are problematic terms in understanding the importance, and defining features, of the late Middle Ages. Crisis was never far away: the period was one of war, famine, and plague. But fragmentation and decay were not universal; disintegration in one aspect of life was not the precondition of decline in another. More than that, social unrest and political disorder could be the very conditions from which extraordinary artistic and cultural activity arose. The Dutch historian Johan Huizinga described this period as the Autumn of the Middle Ages, a seasonal metaphor that captures perfectly the fascination of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, which defy simple categorization. Should we see this period as the end of the Middle Ages, or as the beginning of a new order? Or can we, and should we, try to approach it in its own right? And, if so, what is its significance? On this module you will experience the world of courts, castles, parliaments, and battlefields, and encounter nobles, peasants, merchants, and monks. You will learn from the astonishing literature, art, and architecture of the period, which remain among its most enduring legacies.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • knowledge of the interplay between the cultural, economic, social, political, intellectual, and religious developments of the period
  • an understanding of the changing historical interpretations of, and approaches to, the significance of the late Middle Ages
  • the capacity to use independent critical judgment in the assessment of the significance of primary and secondary sources on the period
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Reading and use text and other source material critically and analytically, addressing questions of content, perspective and purpose at an advanced level;
  • Handling and critically analysing varying interpretations of a given body of historical evidence;
  • Managing a body of evidence or information, particualrly gathering, sifting, synthesising, organising, marshalling and presenting information consistent with the methods and standards of historical study and research;
  • Assembling evidence to address issues, constructing an argument and supporting it with evidence to permit and facilitate the evaluation of hypotheses;
  • Intellectual independence and research, including the development of bibliographical skills, the ability to research, use, evaluate and organise historical materials, and to present independent research in written form.
Key Skills:
  • self-discipline, self-direction, initiative, the capacity for extended independent work on complex subjects, the development of pathways to originality, and intellectual curiosity;
  • discrimination and judgement;
  • ability to gather, organise and deploy evidence, data and information, and familiarity with appropriate means of identifying, finding, retrieving, sorting and exchanging information;
  • analytical ability, and the capacity to consider and solve complex problems;
  • structure, coherence, clarity and fluency of written expression;
  • intellectual integrity, maturity and an appreciation of the validity of the reasoned views of others;
  • imaginative insight.

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:
  • Lectures to set the foundations for further study and to provide the basis for the acquisition of subject specific knowledge. Lectures provide a broad framework which defines individual module content, introducing students to themes, debates and interpretations. In this environment, students are given the opportunity to develop skills in listening, selective note-taking and reflection;
  • 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.
  • 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.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 21 weekly in Terms 1 and 2 1 hour 21
Seminars 7 3 in Term 1; 3 in Term 2 and 1 in Term 3 1 hour 7
Preparation and Reading 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Examination Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
two-hour written examination 2 hours 100%
Component: Essay Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 2000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Written assignment of 1500-2000 words submitted in Michaelmas 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