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2022/23 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

HIST3002 Back to School in the Middle Ages: Schools, Teachers and Pupils in north-western Europe 700-1200

40 creditsClass Size: 16

Module manager: Professor Julia Barrow

Taught: Semesters 1 & 2 (Sep to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

Only a minority of young people went to school in north-western Europe (France, England and Germany) in the middle ages, but a portion of this educated minority was highly influential both culturally and politically. Studying schools and also literary education more widely (some of it took place at home) is essential for finding out about how several significant sectors of medieval society (clergy, monks, nuns, royal administrators and lawyers) were trained, and helps shed light on aspects of medieval politics, literature and book production and also religious activity such as prayer and liturgy. In chronological terms the module runs from the Carolingian period when the medieval school syllabus was essentially defined, to the twelfth century, when higher schools (future universities) developed, and when the numbers of schools as a whole increased rapidly to cope with new demands for literate administrators and lawyers. Anxiety about increasing numbers of schools led ecclesiastical authorities to try to strengthen their control over licensing these establishments in the twelfth century. Studying the 700-1200 period also makes it possible to trace the rather different trajectories of educational systems for men and women: although differences were not great in the eighth century, women were excluded from the development of higher education in the twelfth century. A wide range of primary sources in translation exists for this module across the whole timespan and these range from learned works by medieval scholars to textbooks (which means that we can examine how different subjects were taught), and also narrative sources and letters that shed light on how individual medieval people reacted to schooling. There is plenty of material for dissertations on a wide range of topics linked to the module.


This module aims to explore schooling in France, England and Germany in the earlier and central middle ages, investigating how subjects were taught (including the difficulties of teaching Latin to pupils whose first language was not Latin-based) and how schools were run. Attention will be paid not only to the achievements of the very learned but also to forms of schooling that provided basic literacy. Both boys and girls could be educated in this period and the module will investigate differences and also similarities between the educational opportunities available to each sex. The long timespan covered in the module (700-1200) will make it possible to trace cultural developments over a long period and map these on to wider social developments. Political implications (education was increasingly valued by rulers as a means of training administrators) will also be explored.

Learning outcomes
By the end of this module students will have
1. Build confidence in using and interpreting a wide range of primary sources in translation.
2. Identified and examined developing trends in education and in society as a whole over a long timespan.
3. Acquired skills in assessing historiographical debates on medieval education.
4. Learned to see how trends in historical thinking on education have developed over the last century.
5. Developed presentation skills.
6. Developed the skills needed to write about subjects at length and in depth.


The module will begin by placing medieval schooling in a wider context outlining other forms of training. It will look at differences between home and school education and the relationship between family and schooling. High-ranking women (e.g. Dhuoda in the early ninth century) often played a major role in the education of their children.

Indicative topics thereafter will include: elementary education in reading, writing and chant, with attention to teaching practices;

The development of the medieval school syllabus, focusing on the seven liberal arts from the eighth century onwards;

How schools trained up pupils for future careers (E.g. how were monks, nuns and clerics trained up for careers in the church? What differences can we see between monastic and cathedral schools?);

Natural sciences, mathematics and the introduction of Arabic learning into the Christian educational system;

Higher schools in the twelfth century (e.g. Paris) and the origins of universities; law and theology; the training of royal administrators; networking and social advancement.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours352.00
Total Contact hours48.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)400.00

Private study

Reading in preparation for seminars; researching, and writing, presentations; researching and writing essay; reading widely and in depth for revision for the examination.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Students will be expected to make use of office hours to consult about the preparation of presentations and also about choice of reading for presentations and essays. Ahead of these consultation sessions they will be asked to prepare notes to talk from. Feedback sessions will be offered after coursework has been marked and returned and students will be encouraged to attend these.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay4000 word essay due by 12 noon Monday of semester 1 exam week 240.00
Presentation1 individual presentation of 20 minutes, to be delivered throughout the module as directed 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
Online Time-Limited assessment48 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: 25/07/2022 16:34:45


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