Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST3981: Inventing Humanity

Department: History

HIST3981: Inventing Humanity

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • • A pass mark in at least ONE level 2 module in History


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to advanced themes in medieval scholarship and intellectual history
  • To develop students’ understanding of the way historians think through the ideas, beliefs and assumptions of the high middle ages.


  • Deplored as a period of dogma and intolerance, yet simultaneously revered as an era of progress and innovation, the central middle ages have attracted the interest of the greatest minds in medieval scholarship. This course addresses some of the most fundamental questions that this period raised - and continues to raise - about the nature and purpose of mankind, about the relationship between faith and reason, about knowledge and desire, and about how to reconcile the conflicting concepts of renaissance and repression. This module seeks new paths through these seminal debates, via themes including identity and the self, vice and virtue, gender and the body, science and spirituality, and beauty and love.
  • The medieval mind operated with diverse conceptual and cultural impulses to create a response to the business of being human as subtle and varied as it appears strange and glorious. The module thus seeks to challenge the conception of a ‘long twelfth century’ obsessed by sin, and weighed down by the shackles of organised religion, arid scholasticism, and arrant misogyny. Likewise, it seeks to re-examine the romanticised tableaux of an epoch dominated by philosophising poets, chivalric heroes and damsels consumed by the ardour of courtly love. In a period whose history and historiography is so profoundly concerned with human nature and conduct, the prominent concerns of love, sin, knowledge and nature are examined and employed in a far more nuanced and dynamic way. Throughout the course and its range of sources (historical, literary, scientific, theological), these issues will be explored alongside the various ways in which they have been approached and appropriated by modern scholarship from Charles Haskins, C.S. Lewis and Richard Southern to Marc Bloch, Umberto Eco and Caroline Walker Bynum

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A broad understanding of the way scholars of the period, and historians in later times, have understood the world of ideas in the high middle ages.
  • A broad understanding of how the medieval mind conceptualized major questions in human society.
  • An ability to write reflexively about the way history engages with the world of ideas of the middle ages.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Subject specific skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/history.internal/local/ModuleProformaMap/
Key Skills:
  • Subject specific 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 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:
  • 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 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. In addition, seen Examinations (with pre-released paper) are intended to enable Level 3 students to produce more considered and reflective work;
  • 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.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 21 Weekly in Terms 1 & 2; 2 revision lectures 1 hour 21
Seminars 7 3 in Term one, 3 in Term two; 1 in Term three 1hour 7
Preparation and Reading 172

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 maximum of 2000 words, not inclusive of scholarly apparatus 50%
Essay 2 maximum of 2000 words, not inclusive of scholarly apparatus 50%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Seen examination [paper to be made available not less than twenty-four hours before the start of the examination] 2 hours 100%

Formative Assessment:

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 tutorials; At least one oral presentation or short written assignment.

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