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Unit information: Research Skills for Medievalists in 2015/16

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Unit name Research Skills for Medievalists
Unit code AFACM1001
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Wei
Open unit status Not open




School/department Arts Faculty Office
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This is a core unit taught in tb1 providing technical training in key skills through intensive exposure to and analysis of primary source materials. The main areas covered are palaeography, codicology, textual editing, diplomatic and bibliographic skills. Students also learn how to learn how to handle and describe manuscripts using the teaching collection in the Arts and Social Sciences Library. The unit comprises a series of integrated two-hour seninars led by academic staff from different departments. Experience of a broader range of material is gained by visits to local archives (currently the archives of the Cathedrals of Wells and Hereford). Students are also introduced to the terminology used by art historians describing medieval buildings.


The unit aims to equip students with the basics of the various technical skills that can be applied to their option units and their dissertation and ultimately equip them for research in medieval studies. Delivered by staff from different disciplines the unit will also raise the awareness of the students of different methodologies and approaches. Through preparation for and involvement in classes students will learn the value of regular practice of skills and achieve progress through a combination of group work and private study. Exposure to a range of physical sources such as different kinds of manuscript material and buildings trains the students to 'read' what they are looking at.

Intended Learning Outcomes

The students will at the end of the unit have a secure introductory grounding in the range of technical skills including the reading, transcription and description of manuscripts and the interpretation of different kinds of source material. They will be able to read the handwriting of some categories of medieval MSS. They will be able to identify those skills necessary for their own subject specialisms and be equipped to practise those skills in their option units and dissertation. They will have some understanding of and be able to draw upon skills used by those practising related disciplines within the broader area of medieval studies. They will understand the basic terminology supplied in critical editions of medieval texts, assess its significance for their own research and apply its conventions as appropriate.

Teaching Information

10 x 2 hour seminars + 2 whole day visits to Cathedral Archives.

Assessment Information

Students must produce write a portfolio of work totalling no more than 4,000 words. Feedback sessions can be arranged by the student with the tutors who taught and marked the relevant assessment task. The portfolio will comprise two elements (1) and (2):

(1) either:

a short piece of transcription, with notes on hand, dating, punctuation, abbreviations, etc. (This is in addition to the pieces set during classes and might be chosen with consideration to the student's own research interests. It can be a piece of English, Latin or other medieval language).


a detailed codicological description of a manuscript or manuscript fragment

(2) An essay of no more than 2,000 words, subject to be agreed with the MA Programme Director/those teaching the course. Suitable subjects could include: a discussion of the merits of different editing techniques; a study of a manuscript or group of manuscripts (codicology/type of document, description of hand(s), purpose, ownership - possibly including a transcription/edition of part of a document)

The portfolio is formally assessed on a pass/fail basis; the student will be given an indication of how well s/he did in each of the two components (1) and (2) for formative purposes and for the purpose of feedback on your progress.

Research Skills Notebook:

Students must also compile a 'notebook' to accompany this unit. This should be a dossier of material comprising:

1. any prescribed class work set during the course of the unit, such as transcriptions set as 'homework' for some of the palaeography and editing and textual criticism seminars, as well as exercises (termed 'tasks') which attach to most of the Research Skills elements. These should be compiled them into the Notebook. Details of the tasks will be circulated separately.

2. reflections on sessions held in local archives, including descriptions of primary sources you worked with.

3. any other independently-gathered material - e.g. from the internet - which has enhanced your acquisition of skills in working with primary sources.

Submission of a satisfactory Notebook is a requirement for the award of credit points for this unit, but the work is not awarded a mark for formative or summative purposes.

Reading and References

  • B.Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1990).
  • M.P.Brown, A Guide to written Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 (London, 1990).
  • M.Drogin, Medieval Calligraphy: Its History and Technique (New York, 1989).
  • M.B.Parkes, English Cursive Hands 1250-1500 (Oxford, 1969).
  • B. Shailor, The Medieval Book (Toronto, 1991).
  • B.Tock et al., Diplomatique médiévale (Turnhout, 1995).