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Unit information: Travel and Trade in the Global Middle Ages in 2021/22

Unit name Travel and Trade in the Global Middle Ages
Unit code HIST20132
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Donkin
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

Long before the ‘Age of Discovery’, the Middle Ages saw communication between distant regions and diverse cultures. Jerusalem and Mecca drew believers from three continents, merchants and mendicants crossed the Mongol Empire, and both raw materials and luxury goods such as silks and spices were traded over long distances. This unit considers the medieval world in terms of contact, exchange, and mobility, in one approach to the study of the Global Middle Ages. While focusing on the movement of people - as merchants, ambassadors, missionaries, pilgrims, crusaders, brides, or slaves – we will also address the circulation of objects and ideas. We will consider the communities, networks, bodies of knowledge, and infrastructures that allowed for travel and trade in this period. We will explore the dynamic spaces of exchange that this created, from the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean to the Sahara and the Silk Roads, as well as the port and the caravanserai. There will be opportunities to work with a rich range of written sources, including travel accounts, for example those by William of Rubruck, Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, and the fictive John Mandeville; manuals and itineraries such as Pegolotti’s Book of Descriptions of Countries; and correspondence, for instance that by Jewish trading families preserved in the Cairo Geniza. Visual and material evidence, from illustrated texts and pilgrimage certificates to the architecture of lodgings and warehouses, will offer us further perspectives on medieval mobility as it was imagined and experienced.

The unit aims to:

  • To introduce students to the varied individuals and groups who travelled during the Middle Ages, and the objects and ideas that travelled with them.
  • To illuminate the systems that supported medieval mobility and the spaces within which movement and exchange took place.
  • To support students to work with written, visual, and material evidence on this topic, and to place it within its historical and historiographical contexts.
  • To use mobility as a way of approaching the idea of the Global Middle Ages.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:  

  1.  Identify and analyse key themes in the history of medieval travel, trade, and mobility.
  2. Critically engage with theories, concepts and methodologies around the history of medieval travel, trade, and mobility.
  3. Discuss and evaluate the historiographical debates that surround the topic.  
  4. Interpret primary sources and select pertinent evidence in order to illustrate specific and more general historical points.  
  5. Present their research and judgements in written forms and styles appropriate to the discipline and to level I. 

Teaching Information

Classes will involve a combination of long- and short-form lectures, class discussion, investigative activities, and practical activities. Students will be expected to engage with readings and participate on a weekly basis. This will be further supported with drop-in sessions and self-directed exercises with tutor and peer feedback

Assessment Information

Summative Assessment;

1 x 3500-word Essay (50%) [ILOs 1-5]

1 x Timed Assessment (50%) [ILOs 1-5] 


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. HIST20132).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.