Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST21G1: Political Authority, Religion and Community in Medieval Egypt c.900-c.1500

Department: History

HIST21G1: Political Authority, Religion and Community in Medieval Egypt c.900-c.1500

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap 48 Location Durham


  • A pass mark in at least ONE level one module in History


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To understand the different forms that political and religious authority took in medieval Egypt, and how this shaped the relationship of rulers to the populations they governed and to other political powers in the region.
  • To explore some of the key themes and developments in the history of medieval Islamic societies and to examine the particular form these took in Egypt.
  • To enable students to critically engage with primary sources and secondary literature on medieval Egypt.


  • This module explores the medieval history of Egypt between c.900 and c.1500 CE. During this period, Egypt was a political centre, with a succession of different rulers making Cairo their capital and ruling over neighbouring territories from their seat there. These rulers had various claims to political legitimacy, and distinct religious, cultural, and ethnic identities which shaped their varied relationships to the populations they governed. At the same time, this period saw significant shifts in the population at large. This is the period in which Egypt transformed from having a majority Christian populace to a Muslim one, and a time in which the city of Cairo gradually emerged as a major cultural centre of the medieval Islamic world. This module investigates the history of this period from the perspective of both the rulers and the wider population, examining how the former sought the legitimacy to govern and accommodated themselves in different ways with the local population. It also situates the history of medieval Egypt in relation to other territories which were ruled from Egypt, and to the various lands across the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Indian Ocean regions with which Egypt had contact through trade, migration, and warfare.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of the module, students will be able to:
  • outline the key developments in the political, social, cultural, and religious history of Egypt between c.900 and c.1500 CE;
  • demonstrate familiarity with the geography of Egypt and its surrounding region and with specific terminology related to this area of history;
  • make connections between the history of Egypt and that of the wider medieval Islamic world;
  • critically engage with different kinds of primary sources available for the history of this period, and apply different methodological approaches needed to engage with these;
  • evaluate the arguments of modern historians regarding the history of Egypt during this period.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Ability to identify and to critique conflicting historical interpretations
  • Deepening and extending historical understanding through focused, concentrated modules
  • Developing precision, depth of understanding, and conceptual awareness.
Key Skills:
  • The ability to employ sophisticated reading skills to gather, sift, process, synthesise and critically evaluate information from a variety of sources (print, digital, material, aural, visual, audio-visual etc.)
  • The ability to communicate ideas and information orally and in writing, devise and sustain coherent and cogent arguments
  • The ability to write and think under pressure, manage time and work to deadlines
  • The ability to make effective use of information and communications technology.

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:
  • 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. The additional summative assignments will test knowledge and skills specific to the module, such as analysis of relevant primary sources, or critical engagement with the historiography as demonstrated through book reviews and article abstracts.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 16 Term 1 1 hour 16
Seminars 7 Term 1 1 hour 7
Preparations and Reading 177
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 75%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay (wordcount not including footnotes and bibliography) 3,000 words 100%
Component: Assignment Component Weighting: 25%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Assignment or assignments (word count not including footnotes and bibliography where relevant) 1,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative benefits from the 1,000 word summative assignment and from work done during and in preparation for seminars.

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