Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST2931: The Book of Hours in Medieval life & Art

Department: History

HIST2931: The Book of Hours in Medieval life & Art

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 introduce students to two particularly important and widespread types of illuminated manuscripts in relation to their historical contexts (predominantly the later middle ages, principally in England, France and Flanders).
  • To extend students' experience of using visual as well as textual evidence for understanding the past.
  • To enlarge students' understanding of the complementary approaches of historians and art-historians, and of the possible discourses between them.
  • To fulfil the generic aims for Level 2 History.


  • Books of Hours and Psalters survive in greater numbers than any other classes of decorated books; designed for, and owned by a wide spectrum of private individuals, ranging from royalty to burgher, they offer a particularly rich source for exploring the beliefs, tastes and visual world of medieval and early renaissance society.
  • The module will begin by exploring the forerunner of the Book of Hours (the decorated Psalter), and will then address the rise of the illuminated Horae itself.
  • Thematic consideration of the main elements of Horae provides a sharp lens through which to perceive contemporary attitudes to: time (sacred and secular), the saints, the Virgin Mary, death, and afterlife.
  • Detailed consideration of selected Horae produced for known individuals (notably Jeanne d’Evreux, Jean duc de Berry, and Anne of Brittany) provides the opportunity to explore the complex relationships between books and patrons, artists and designers, belief and taste, convention and innovation.
  • Examination of the output of the Rouen and Gent-Bruges 'schools' raises issues such as the mass-production and marketing of 'luxury' items both for the wealthy and for the frugal, along with the opportunity to evaluate the historical and art-historical significance of some of the most beautiful and seemingly naturalistic images of medieval and renaissance life to have come down to us.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A familiarity with the forms and functions of Psalters and Books of Hours in general, along with a detailed knowledge of selected examples.
  • An ability to employ the evidence of particular manuscripts in relation to their historical context, in order to explore broader issues of cultural history.
  • A familiarity with modern literature on Horae and psalters and about particular patrons and producers thereof, allied to an ability to draw upon and synthesise the work of historians and art-historians.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Reading and use texts and other source materials 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, particularly gathering, sifting, synthesizing, 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:
  • 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.
  • Assignments will test students' 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 16 Term 1 1 hour 16
Seminars 6 Term 1 1 hour 6
Supervised visit to Special Collections 1 2 hours 2
Preparation and Reading 176
Total 200

Summative Assessment

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

Formative Assessment:

One or more short assignments submitted in writing or delivered orally in a group seminar context.

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