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2022/23 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

HIST5875M Lifecycles: Birth, Death and Illness in the Middle Ages

30 creditsClass Size: 10

Module manager: Dr Iona McCLeery

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

This module is not approved as an Elective

Module summary

Traditional approaches to history tend to see politics and major events affecting the masses as somehow separate from the life and death of individual people. Yet it is often the case that the sudden death, aging, illness, or insanity of key individuals profoundly influences policy making and government. This is the case even in modern times when a cult of leadership persists despite the stabilizing effect of administrative procedure.In the Middle Ages when popes, lords and monarchs ruled absolutely (at least in theory), much depended on their ability to make decisions and act on them. Taking the premise that the individual's state of health and well-being matters as much as their age and social status, this module explores birth, childhood and rites of passage, old age, illness, death and injury as integral to political culture and government. The impact of plague on politics has long been understood, but it is important also to assess the role of other 'natural' aspects of the human lifecycle on medieval behaviour. Chronicles, hagiographical texts, archival documents and the surviving visual and material evidence inter-relate the 'social' and the 'political' much more closely than is often recognized. Rather than simply mining these texts for descriptions of battles, healthcare data or evidence of attitudes towards death, students on this module will explore how medieval authors constructed and presented health and disease, primarily of the leading figures on whom they focused, examining what these concepts meant politically, in order to understand more fully the relationship between lifecycle, life events and the ways in which they are recorded for posterity.


On completion of this module, students should be able to:
- demonstrate that they can express opinion and develop an argument in both oral and written expression in a sophisticated manner.
- identify and discuss a wide range of primary sources for various lifecycle events such as growing up, illness, aging and dying.
- analyse the major debates of historians about medicine, childhood, death and the construction of history, understanding how their arguments are constructed based on the primary sources they use and their theoretical approaches and methodologies.
- evaluate the ways in which stories of accident, injury, illness and rites of passage shaped narratives of political events, recognizing the role of the individual lifecycle in these events but also understanding the symbolic status of health and the body in medieval culture.

Learning outcomes
To develop students' skills in understanding different debates and theories, constructing arguments in both written and oral form at a sophisticated level, and interpreting primary evidence through analysis of the way in which health and disease and other aspects of the individual human lifecycle affect political events and major developments in government and society in medieval Europe.


- Introduction
- Politics of health
- Ideas about life, death, aging and illness in medieval writings
- Fertility, conception and birth; Childhood and adulthood
- Illness
- Trauma and disability
- Royal madness
- Plague and 'public' health
- Aging and retirement
- Dying and death

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours278.00
Total Contact hours22.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)300.00

Private study

- Seminar preparation
- Reading primary and secondary sources
- Preparing class papers

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Student progress will be monitored through class contributions and preparation.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay3,000 word assessed essay to be submitted by 12 noon, Monday of examination week 250.00
Essay3,000 word assessed essay to be submitted by 12 noon, Monday of teaching week 850.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

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: 29/04/2022 15:25:10


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