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2022/23 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

HIST3530 Mapping the Middle Ages: space and representation from the Pacific to the Atlantic

20 creditsClass Size: 28

Module manager: Nick Evans

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

What would you draw if asked to make a map of your location right now? What would you include and what would you leave out? We see maps around us everywhere, from route planning in Google maps to the fire exit diagrams in public places. But has it always been like this? How did people understand and represent space before photography, satellites or global travel? The Middle Ages (c. 500-1500) is often stereotyped as a time when people had weird ideas about the shape of the world: it was flat, the sun rotated around it, people mixed up real information with myths and religious ideology. These are all misunderstandings about complex and sophisticated medieval ideas about space. They are also stereotypes perpetuated by myths of modern progress and mastery of the world - myths that supported colonial domination and exploitative strategies of globalisation. Using examples drawn from East, South and West Asia, Europe and North Africa, this module examines different medieval ways of mapping and describing space. It will examine how people developed ancient cartographic techniques and invented new ones, how map makers gathered knowledge and sought to represent physical space and how people used travel guides and diagrams to move through the world. It will also unpack the representation of the world as part of larger systems of thought, whether Buddhist, Jain or Christian. Above all, we will explore the drawing of space as a political and discursive act. To represent space is to make claims on it and to assert truths about it. To understand how other people have drawn the world is to see better the ways in which political power and resistance is mapped out in our everyday lives as well.


The aim of this module is to introduce students to different systems of medieval map-making from across Afro-Eurasia; to engage students with current historiographical debates about spatial representation as a strategy of power; to enable students to read medieval maps and geographical texts as expressions of space, time and identity; and to give students confidence analysing visual and textual sources from the Middle Ages.

Learning outcomes
On completing this module students will

1. be able to identify and describe visual representations of space from several different Afro-Eurasian knowledge traditions.
2. be able to discuss maps and geographical texts as sources for exploring the worldviews, ideologies and knowledge strategies of the societies that created them.
3. be able to examine the political significance of map-making and representation of space in the Middle Ages and as a continuing theme in the present.
4. be able to write about mapping in the Middle Ages using appropriate historical terminology, style of expression and historiographical framing.
5. be able to apply fundamental standards and practices of historical study for research, discussion, and assessed work.


Indicative themes may include: travellers’ tales, West Asian Cartography, East Asian cartography, specific types of maps from different cultures, itineraries and geographies, maps and religions, maps as contested spaces

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours178.00
Total Contact hours22.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Researching, preparing and writing assessments (75 hours); undertaking set reading for seminars (54 hours); self-directed reading around the topic (20 hours), reviewing and consolidating notes (21 hours); reflecting on feedback (8 hours).

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Students will receive formative feedback on their weekly exercises in order to enable them to choose the best three for expansion and final submission and this will also provide feedback on writing for the longer essay.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay3000 words due on Monday of Exam Week 160.00
PortfolioWeekly drawing exercises from which the best three are written up at the end, with a 500-word commentary each40.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

The portfolio of drawings is made up of spatial representations modelled on the historical examples explored in the course. Artistic merit is not a criterion for assessment. The resit for the 40% component will be a 2000-word commentary/short essay on a map or maps set by the tutor.

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 07/09/2022


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