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Unit information: Medieval Mind (Level C Special Topic) in 2015/16

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Unit name Medieval Mind (Level C Special Topic)
Unit code HIST14017
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Pohl
Open unit status Not open




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


Medieval Mind: Sex and the Supernatural

Christina died in the early thirteenth century but rose from her coffin and floated to the ceiling of the church in which her funeral was taking place. Back with the living, she kept throwing herself into ovens and howling terribly. Her family chained her up, but an educated friar accepted her explanation that her suffering would get others to heaven, and he wrote The Life of Christina the Astonishing to publicise her example. Do these different reactions to Christina’s behaviour reflect fundamental differences in the way people in medieval Europe understood themselves and the world around them? Or do they make sense within a single mindset? This unit will explore attitudes to sex and the supernatural in order to understand the extent to which medieval people shared common beliefs and values, and the extent to which they thought in different ways. In so far as there were differences, how should they be contextualised? Clergy versus laity? Aristocracy versus peasants versus townspeople? Learned versus popular? Or if they shared common beliefs, where did they come from? Topics will include: sexual practices and sexual deviance, miracles, saints, devils, imaginary monsters, tales of courtly love, illness and what to do about it, death and the afterlife, gargoyles and erotic imagery.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will have:

1. an understanding of the ways in which medieval people experienced and conceptualised sex and the supernatural

2. an awareness of the diversity of medieval culture

3. developed the skills necessary to find and analyse primary sources

4. developed the capacity to subject secondary works to critical scrutiny.

Teaching details

Weekly 2 hour seminars

Assessment Details

1 x 2 hour exam . This tests ILOs 1-4.

Reading and References

  • Thomas of Cantimpré, The Life of Christina the Astonishing, tr. M.H. King (Toronto, second edition, 1999)
  • Baldwin, J.W., The Language of Sex: Five Voices from Northern France around 1200 (Chicago, 1994)
  • Bartlett, R., The Natural and Supernatural in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 2008)
  • Bynum, C.W., Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley, 1987)
  • Camille, M., Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art (London, 1992)
  • Finucane, R.C., Miracles and Pilgrims: Popular Beliefs in Medieval England (London, 1977)
  • Karras, R.M., Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing Unto Others (New York, 2005)
  • Richards, J., Sex, Dissidence and Damnation: Minority Groups in the Middle Ages (London, 1990)
  • Ward, B., Miracles and the Medieval Mind (Aldershot, revised edition, 1987)