Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST3933: Saints and Scholars: Learning, Love and Reform, 1050-1250

Department: History

HIST3933: Saints and Scholars: Learning, Love and Reform, 1050-1250

Type Open Level 3 Credits 60 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • A pass mark in at least TWO level two module in History.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To enable students to study one of the most significant periods of the Middle Ages, for which there is little current provision.
  • to extend students' understanding of the ways in which historians construct rather than record the past.


  • The period from the middle of the 11th century to the middle of the 13th, is one of dynamic, seisimic and permanent change in the history of western culture. Moreover the effects of changes wrought in this period had a long afterlife in shaping European political, economic, religious and intellectual thought and action, and the interaction of Europeans with the wider world. Amongst the most prominent changes are those in the way in which men, and women, thought about the world, the more prominent role of reason in intellectual matters – in this period we find the origins of modern science and of the university. So too changes operated in wider society. Traditionally regarded as the ‘age of faith’ this period produced a more questioning, less fundamental, way of interrogating authorities and sources in theology, law, medicine, as well as the liberal arts (logic, grammar, rhetoric and the mathematical arts). The growth of papal power goes hand in glove with these changes in how authority was articulated. Reform of the church was another symptom and cause of the regeneration of society; this period witnessed an explosion in movements of religious expression, from new orders such as the Cistercians, Franciscans and Premonstratensians to more extreme movements of povety and piety. Alongside these developments, the period is marked too by the rise in vernacular culture, in both romance and Germanic languages, a wide variety of literature made its entrance into European culture; authors of this period invented King Arthur, and the tradition of western romantic love. Finally, none of this would have been possible without basic and permanent economic change, the cathedrals and castles that remain speak of the vast amounts of money this period produced and by which its change was sustained. Numeracy went alongside literacy; change in mercantile and governmental practice – banks and parliament – are also the creatures of his period.
  • This course will focus upon the intellectual changes within this period, the reform of the church and the developments within medieval literature (broadly defined), to provide a coherent framework within which the period can be analysed and understood. Cultural change and cultural difference will be key elements of analysis, to explore the remarkable homogeneity of medieval culture. In addition the manner in which historians have constructed this period will be deconstructed.
  • The course will draw on a wide range of materials, which will ask different responses of the students. Intellectual life will form the first part of the course. Themes to be examined will include the rise of the schools and universities, the inherited body of learning from the classical period, changing attitudes towards interpretation of the Bible, the role of reason in medieval intellectual life, new translations from Arabic of Aristotelian philosophy, the rise of Natural Science, the learned tradition of medicine and the development of different types of law: church, roman and secular. Sources to be interrogated are: the letters of Abelard and Heloise, the writings of Anselm of Canterbury, Hugh of St Victor and John of Salisbury. Peter the Lombard’s Sentences and Master Gratian’s Decretum are both now available in English translation, the scientific writings of Adelard of Bath and Robert Grosseteste will be used, and the handbook on medieval medicine compiled by Faith Wallis. The second part of the course will examine church reform and the growth of government. Themes to be discussed include: the rise of the Papacy, monastic orders, church architecture, poverty movements, the rise of heresy, non-Christian communities and the West, relations with the Orthodox, the development of the idea of the common good, the rise of parliament. Sources to be interrogated include: contemporary monastic histories such as Orderic Vitalis, Papal letters, other letter collections, heresy trials and inquistion registers, debate treatises with the Greek church (Anselm of Canterbury and Anselm of Havelberg), treatises on government, Magna Carta, and the physical culture of church architecture. Finally the course will examine aspects of secular, vernacular culture, to balance the more Latinate culture explored above. Themes to be explored are: court culture and patronage, castle dwelling, romance and Germanic traditions, Icelandic Saga, Arthurian romance, Chansons de Geste (Songs of Deeds), troubadour culture and historical writing. Sources include: The Song of Roland, the Brut of Wace, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Chretien de Troyes, Wolfram von Eschenbach and Walther von der Vogelweide (one of the first Meistersingern), Laxdaela Saga, The Saga of Sigurdr Jorsalafarer, collections of troubador literature and medieval music, local castle sites and archaeology eg Barnard Castle.
  • In ll of the above material from Durham Cathedral library and the University Special collections will be used, for example, the six copies of Magna Carta and its re-issues; the Cathedral itself, and manuscripts of medieval theology, law and medicine.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • ability to balance study of the period itself with that of the historiographical frameworks with which it is surrounded, and the need to question those historiographical frameworks.
  • ability to work with a wide variety of sources and disciplines: political history, material culture, theological and literary sources.
  • appreciation of change and continuity within the past, and how this is interpreted within the historical discipline.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Subject specific skills for this module can be viewed at:
  • http://www.dur.ac.uk/History/ugrads/ModuleProformaMap/
  • In addition students will acquire the ability to handle different types of primary source material from different disciplines.
  • To reflect upon the nature of history as a discipline, by analysing the questions historians ask of their primary sources and/or the nature of the dabates among historians.
Key Skills:
  • Key skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/History/ugrads/ModuleProformaMap/

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:
  • 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 and 2 30 mins 1
Seminars 19 Weekly in Terms 1 and 2 3 hour 57
Revison Sessions 1 Revision Term 3 2 hour 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 scholarly apparatus 34%
Essay 2 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 34%
Sources Analyses 3000 words, not including scholarly apparatus 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), submitted in Term 1. This will be returned with written comments and a standard departmental feedback sheet. Coursework essays are formative as well as summative. They are to be submitted in two copies, of which one will be returned with written comments and a standard departmental feedback sheet. Preparation to participate in seminars and tutorials. At least one oral presentation in each term, and at least two practice sources/gobbets in each term.

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