Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST31B3: Family, Lineage and Dynasty in the Late Medieval City

Department: History

HIST31B3: Family, Lineage and Dynasty in the Late Medieval City

Type Open Level 3 Credits 60 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap 18 Location Durham


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


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to the concepts of family, lineage and dynasty in the towns and cities of late medieval Europe
  • To develop students’ critical thinking around the relationship between family and other forms of social structure and social inequality, such as gender, class and urban citizenship
  • To engage students with the historiographical debates about the significance of the late medieval urban family to the future shape and direction of European history: the roots of capitalism and economic modernisation; the trajectories and types of state formation; the dynamics of social mobility


  • In a late 15th-century book dedicated to the city of London, William Caxton lamented that he had seen and known in unnamed cities overseas families who had endured 'of one name and lineage' for 500 or 600 years, some for 1,000 years, but that in 15th-century London they could barely continue to the second generation, let alone the third. Successive generations of historians of English cities in the 20th century have followed Caxton to advance two central arguments. First, 'urban dynasties' in late medieval England were short-lived. Secondly, the absence of dynasties, or lineages, was a 'peculiarly English' phenomenon and a fundamental difference between English and continental towns, which reflected and explained diverging national trajectories of historical development. On closer inspection, Caxton's words are more intriguing. A London mercer and merchant adventurer, Caxton had spent time in Bruges, Ghent, and Cologne before setting up his printing press at Westminster in the mid-1470s. Caxton was making a claim about the shared inheritance of a concept of lineage. His observations placed London in a broader context of comparative and connected urban histories. They are directly relevant to the urban historiography of continental Europe, where questions about family and lineage – their definition, their social and political power – remain unresolved. They bear also on transnational questions about the nature of family structures and the distinctiveness of the European city within a global context. Through a rich variety of sources (historical, literary, artistic, architectural and archaeological), we will explore both 'ideas' and 'practices' of family in the late medieval city.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Understanding of the extent to which, and the ways in which, urban families conceptualised ‘family’ in terms of ‘lineage’
  • Assessment of whether there was a distinct language and idea of ‘lineage’, which was comparable and commensurate in different parts of urban Europe
  • Ability to examine the intersection between family, gender, class and citizenship, so as to interrogate enduring assumptions in the humanities and social sciences about the exceptional character of European cities and the unique character of the 'West’
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Integrating primary and secondary sources in a skilled and sustained manner
  • Engaging in deep, careful analysis of primary sources, while confronting methodological and conceptual challenges associated with advanced research.
  • Evaluating historical interpretations and encouraging students to position themselves within existing debates
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:
  • 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 0.5 hours 1
Seminars 19 Weekly in Terms 1 & 2 3 hours 57
Revision Sessions 1 Revision 2 hours 2
Preparation and Reading 540
Total 600

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 maximum of 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 34%
Essay 2 maximum of 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 34%
Source Analyses maximum of 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 32%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Seen open book examination 3 hourse 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.

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