Skip to main content

Unit information: Research Skills for Medievalists in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

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. Holdenried
Open unit status Not open




School/department Arts Faculty Office
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This unit provides 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 seminars 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

On successful completion of this unit the students will have:

1. 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.

2. The ability to read the handwriting of some categories of medieval MSS.

3. The ability to identify those skills necessary for their own subject specialisms and be equipped to practise those skills in their option units and dissertation.

4. Some understanding of and be able to draw upon skills used by those practising related disciplines within the broader area of medieval studies.

5. An understanding of 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 and/or Monastic Archives.

Assessment Information

4,000 word portfolio - ILO's 1-5 (Summative)

The portfolio is assessed on a pass/fail basis. 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)

Research Skills Notebook (Formative)

Students must also compile a 'notebook' to accompany this unit. 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.

The notebook 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.

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 medievale (Turnhout, 1995).