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2020/21 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

HIST2080 Voices of the People: Speech, Language and Oral Culture in Early Modern Europe

20 creditsClass Size: 28

Module manager: Dr John Gallagher

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2020/21

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

Early modern Europe was alive with voices. Exploring gossip, rumour, blasphemy, insult, slander, news, oratory, and song, this course offers a new way of understanding the history of speech, language, and communication in the early modern world. We will use a wide range of sources, from broadsheet ballads to anatomical texts, and from Inquisition records to accounts of New World explorations, to rediscover the cultures of orality and communication of the past. How do we write histories of speech in premodern periods? Is there an oral history of the Renaissance, or the Reformation? How can we listen to the voices of ordinary people in early modern Europe? This course uses the noisy world of early modern Europe to think about questions of politics, media, urban history, gender, social hierarchies, religious change, intellectual history, and the birth of European global empires.


The objectives of this module are:
- to explore and understand the history of orality, speech, and communication in early modern Europe
- to introduce the concepts associated with the history of oral culture in premodern periods
- to work critically with primary materials in seminars and through independent study
- to encounter new perspectives on the cultural, social, and political history of early modern Europe

Learning outcomes
On completion of this module, students will be able to
- understand the place of the spoken word in the history of early modern Europe
- relate the history of orality to questions of cultural, social, and political change
- work critically with sixteenth- and seventeenth-century sources
- use printed editions and online databases of early modern primary source materials
- present researched materials confidently
- write clearly and critically, engaging with primary and secondary source material


1. Introduction: early modern speechscapes
2. An oral history of the Renaissance
3. Religion, Reformation and the spoken word
4. Speech crimes: insult, slander, blasphemy
5. Rumour and gossip in early modern communities
6. The voices of women
7. Languages and anti-languages: non-standard and secret speech
8. The whispers of cities: oral communication and early modern politics
9. Singing and sociability
10. Silence in early modern Europe
11. Oral encounters in the early modern world
1. Introduction: early modern voices
2. Politics of the voice: practices of rhetoric and persuasion
3. Prayers, hymns, and catechisms
4. Controlling the tongue
5. Who gets to speak?
6. Informers & Inquisition: speech in the archives
7. Broadsheet ballads
8. Collecting words: dialects, identity, and history
9. Speaking books: languages and phrasebooks

Teaching methods

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours180.00
Total Contact hours20.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Students will be expected to read primary source extracts and secondary literature in advance of the seminars, as well as pursuing independent reading and research to prepare for class discussion, presentations, and assessments. Students will contribute VLE posts, and research and write an assessed essay.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Students' class contributions and VLE contributions will be assessed continuously and feedback offered where necessary. Individual and group tutorials will be offered to students.

Methods of assessment

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay2,000 words due 12 noon Monday, teaching week 8 semester 240.00
AssignmentVLE contributions, to be determined by tutor10.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)50.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Exam typeExam duration% of formal assessment
Unseen exam 2 hr 00 mins50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Exams)50.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 31/05/2019


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