Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST3753: The Black Death

Department: History

HIST3753: The Black Death

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 give students a detailed understanding of the history of the 1347-9 plague outbreak and subsequent medieval visits of pestilence both in Britain and elsewhere in Europe.
  • To develop students' critical approach to a wide range of source material including not only chronicles and administrative and legal documents but also literature, art and quantitative data series.
  • To acquaint students with the methods used by historians of the medieval economy and society and the techniques employed by those debating the psychological, cultural and religious impact of the pestilence.
  • To give students an understanding of the changing role of the Black Death as an explanation for historical development.
  • To contribute towards meetings the generic aims of Level III study in History.


  • The Black Death of 1347-50 stands unchallenged as the greatest disaster in documented human history, and yet there is still relatively little historical consensus surrounding one of the most horrifying and cataclysmic events of world history. What was the disease and how many people did it kill? How did contemporary society try to explain the disease and cope with such levels of mortality? How effective were their treatments of the Black Death? How far did medieval society descend into hysteria, driven by a heady mixture of millenarian beliefs in the end of the world and fuelled by rampant Antisemitism? What then were the long-term consequences of the Black Death and subsequent outbreaks of disease upon medieval society? On this special subject, we will use a diverse range of sources to explore these issues, that may include chronicles, administrative, legal and financial documents, literary and visual material, as well as the most recent scientific enquiry, to critically explore these historiographical debates.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A comprehensive and critical understanding of the history of the Black Death, medieval disease, and economic and social change in late-medieval Europe.
  • An ability to critically evaluate a range of historiographical debates and to demonstrate an understanding of the methods used by historians to evaluate the impact of the Black Death.
  • Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the nature and significance of medieval primary sources for the study of the Black Death and to use them to construct an original argument.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • reading and using 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; assembling evidence to address issues, constructing an argument and supporting it with evidence to permit and facilitate the evaluation of hypotheses.
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;
  • 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.

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 1 in Term 1: 1 in Term 2 30 mins 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 3000 words, not including footnotes and bibliography 34%
Essay 2 3000 words, not including footnotes and bibliography 34%
Source Analyses 3000 words, not including footnotes and bibliography 32%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Seen open book examination 3 hours 100%

Formative Assessment:

One formative essay of not more than 2500 words (not including footnotes and bibliography); preparation to participate in seminar and tutorials; at least one oral presentation, and practice source/gobbet work.

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