Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST3963: The Wonder of the World: Frederick II (1194-1250) in Life and Legend

Department: History

HIST3963: The Wonder of the World: Frederick II (1194-1250) in Life and Legend

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 modules in History.


  • • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • • None.


  • To develop subject-specific knowledge concerning the reign of Frederick II, by examining Frederick’s methods and doctrines of rule, the character of his territories, the international politics of his reign, and his posthumous memory and its influence.
  • to enable students to engage with the methodological and source-critical problems raised by the attempt to study the thought, personality and actions of a major historical figure from the relatively remote past.
  • to give students the opportunity to understand, and reflect critically upon, the ways in which the medieval past has been, and continues to be, appropriated and reinterpreted in modern societies.
  • to reflect the department’s aims relating to study at Level 3.


  • To his enemies he was Antichrist, the new Nero, who would torment Christ’s faithful in the last days of humankind. And among those enemies were popes, great scholars, and holy men. To his followers, many of them no less learned, devout, or powerful than his opponents, he was stupor mundi: the wonder of the world, bringer of the new Golden Age of which the ancients had spoken. But even the bare facts of Frederick II’s life are remarkable enough. His rule spanned thirteenth-century Europe, from Hamburg to Palermo – and, for a time, to Jerusalem itself. His charters and letters asserted the rule of the whole world. Contemporaries marvelled at his dazzling, multi-ethnic, multi-faith court, where Muslims, Jews and Greeks rubbed shoulders with the emperor’s Italian and German companions, and at Frederick’s own knowledge of multiple languages and many fields of learning. They gazed in wonder at his entourage of Saracen warriors, acrobats, and dancing-girls, and at his menagerie of exotic beasts. His achievements included the bloodless recovery of the Holy Sepulchre for Christendom (attained while under papal excommunication). In his Sicilian kingdom he built upon the strong foundations laid by his Norman forebears to establish the most fearsomely powerful autocratic state in Europe. Yet Frederick’s reign was to end amid fear and lurid controversy, after his formal deposition from the imperial throne at a general Church council under the pope himself. Even in death the emperor would not lie down, and people were still expecting his marvellous return many years later.
  • But who and what was Frederick II of Hohenstaufen in reality? This course aims to strip away the accumulated layers of myth to get closer to the man and monarch, to his world and his times. Was he really the unique and marvellous figure that some have believed, or in fact an altogether more conventional thirteenth-century monarch? How did he rule his vast domains? Was his learning really as great or as exceptional as was long imagined? But the myths must concern us too, since they can reveal much about the hopes, fears and fantasies that western Europeans, from the thirteenth century to the twenty-first, have projected onto those who have claimed power over them.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students will gain subject-specific knowledge relating to the life and reign of Frederick II, the political, intellectual and cultural worlds of his time, and the ways in which his memory has been important in modern societies.
  • Students will gain experience of handling source materials and analysing their content with reference to current debates in the field.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Subject specific skills for this module can be viewed at:
  • http://www.dur.ac.uk/history.internal/local/ModuleProformaMap/
  • In addition, students will be able to construct an argument in written form, based on an understanding both of the qualities of medieval sources and of their capacity for manipulation and distortion by modern readers.
Key Skills:
  • Key skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/history.internal/local/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: 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:
  • 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 30 mins 1
Seminars 19 Weekly in Terms 1 & 2 3 hours 57
Revision Sessions 1 Revision 2 2
Preparation and Reading 540

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%
Source 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); 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