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Unit information: Marvels and Monsters (Level I Lecture Response Unit) in 2015/16

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Unit name Marvels and Monsters (Level I Lecture Response Unit)
Unit code HIST20049
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Donkin
Open unit status Open




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


If the natural world itself provokes wonder, curiosity and fear, the human imagination has filled it with further marvels, from werewolves and dog-headed saints to unicorns and talking trees. This unit explores the close relationship between the monstrous and the marvellous from Antiquity to the Enlightenment. It considers the experience of wonder and the construction of the monster in relation to broad movements of historical change, such as expanding European awareness of the rest of the globe and scientific engagement with the natural world. Themes may include ways in which curious creatures, inherited from classical texts, populated travellers' tales of the Far East and the Americas; how monstrosity was ascribed to nearer neighbours as a strategy of exclusion; and how wonders of nature were displayed in church treasuries and princely cabinets of curiosity as expressions of power. We will also ask how the development of scientific enquiry reframed the marvellous and recast the Middle Ages as an age of monstrous credulity.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have developed: (1) a broad understanding of the ways in which Western peoples conceptualised the marvellous and the monstrous from Antiquity to the Enlightenment; (2) the ability to analyse and generalise about how and why attitudes towards these matters changed over time and what those attitudes and changes tell us about the societies concerned; (3) the ability to select pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate more general issues and arguments; (4) the ability to identify a particular academic interpretation, evaluate it critically, and form an individual viewpoint.

Teaching details

1 x 2-hour interactive lecture per week.

Assessment Details

One summative coursework essay of 3000 words (50%) and one unseen examination of two hours (50%). Both elements will assess ILOs 1-4.

Reading and References

B. Bildhauer and R. Mills, The Monstrous Middle Ages (Toronto, 2003)

J. J. Cohen, Monster Theory: Reading Culture (Minneapolis, 1996)

L. Daston & K. Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750 (New York, 1998)

R. J. W. Evans & A. Marr, eds, Curiosity and Wonder from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment (Aldershot, 2006)

S. Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World (Chicago, 1991)