Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST21K1: Sensing Heaven on Earth: Experiencing Sacred Landscapes in Byzantium, 600-1000

Department: History

HIST21K1: Sensing Heaven on Earth: Experiencing Sacred Landscapes in Byzantium, 600-1000

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


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


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to concepts of landscape, memory and lived religion.
  • To explore current debates on landscape, memory and sensory studies and their contribution to the way we approach the medieval past
  • .To enhance students’ understanding of the history and culture of the Eastern Mediterranean by focusing on the Byzantine Empire, the longest Christian empire in the medieval period, one of the major agents in medieval Afro-Eurasia.
  • To analyse landscapes of worship and the way they shape identities and worldviews.


  • Landscape is an elusive term best described as the world as people perceive it. In this module, we will examine the role of religion in everyday life and how sacred landscapes were transformed in people’s minds into powerful places
  • We are going to explore a series of cases studies examining the interrelationship between religious experience and space: from the microcosm of a church to the way whole cities became spaces of worship; the construction of pilgrimage sites and their affective dimensions; the power of processions and other rituals and their role in shaping communal identity; the experience of time and the way it shaped understandings of the sacred
  • We are going to examine ritual, material culture, architecture, and iconography synthetically along with texts; from looking into votive graffiti to golden mosaics and icons perceived to be created by non-human hands; from exorcisms to prayers for rain, from sacred movement in the biggest city of the medieval world to small villages and the stories attached to miraculous relics
  • We will explore the utility of digital tools, resources and methods of analysis for the study of medieval sacred landscapes and ritual.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Knowledge and understanding of theoretical approaches to landscape and ritual studies and their applicability to medieval studies.
  • An awareness of current approaches to Byzantine cultural history in the period of 600-1000.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Skills for understanding and developing research in medieval history and material culture especially in terms of current theoretical discussions and methodologies on experience and landscape.
  • Interdisciplinary skills for interpreting visual, material and written evidence for the study of identity, ritual and landscape experience, together with their limitations.
  • Skills in research, critical analysis and evaluation of a variety of literary and material sources, and skills in communicating research outcomes
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 and 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:
  • Examinations test students' ability to work under pressure, to prepare for examinations and direct their own programme of revision and learning, and develop key time management skills. The 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 coursework will test student’s ability to communicate ideas in writing, present clear and cogent arguments succinctly and show appropriate critical skills as relevant to the particular module.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 17 17 in Term 2 1 Hour 17
Seminars 7 7 in Term 2 1 Hour 7
Preparation and Reading 176
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Examination Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Seen open book examination 2 Hours 100%
Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Coursework assessment consisting of a short essay (max. 2,000 words) or assignment of equivalent length e.g. source commentaries 2,000 words excluding footnotes and bibliography. 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative work done in preparation for and during seminars, including oral and written work as appropriate to the module. The summative coursework will have a formative element by allowing students to develop ideas and arguments for the examination and to practice writing to similar word limits.

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