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Unit information: Speaking with Authority: Women and Power in the Middle Ages (Level I Special Field) in 2022/23

Please note: It is possible that the information shown for future academic years may change due to developments in the relevant academic field. Optional unit availability varies depending on both staffing, student choice and timetabling constraints.

Unit name Speaking with Authority: Women and Power in the Middle Ages (Level I Special Field)
Unit code HIST26024
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Holdenried
Open unit status Not open
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School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Unit Information

Unusually for medieval women, Hildegard of Bingen (d.1179), Bridget of Sweden (d.1373) and Catherine of Siena (d.1380) were among the most influential public voices of their day. Joan of Arc (d.1430) led the French army to victory. Claiming to be divinely inspired, these women freely castigated kings and bishops, emperors and popes, exhorting them to reform and spurring them on to political action. As numerous surviving letters attest, their advice was frequently sought and heeded by Europes most senior secular and religious leaders. Yet, female claims to divinely inspired leadership provoked much anxiety and attempts by the Church hierarchy to curtail the public voices of women. Making full use of the womens own writings, as well as of different materials produced by male clerics we will ask why men distrusted female claims to divine authority (especially after 1200) and explore the public voices of women.

Your learning on this unit

  • To place students in direct contact with the current research interests of the academic tutor
  • To enable students to explore the issues surrounding the state of research on women in medieval Europe
  • To develop students’ ability to work with primary sources
  • To develop students’ abilities to integrate primary source material into a wider historical analysis
  • To develop students’ ability to learn independently within a small-group context
  • To develop knowledge of the variety and types of writings used by women to express their views and experiences in the Middle Ages
  • To develop knowledge and understanding of the contribution made by key male figures and their texts c.1150-1400 to the medieval debate about the ‘discernment of spirits’
  • To enable students to reflect on how wider intellectual, institutional and social developments shaped the way in which women’s capacity to mediate the divine word was understood in the West c.1150-1400

How you will learn

Classes will involve a combination of 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.

How you will be assessed

1 x 3500-word Essay (50%) [ILOs 1-8]; 1 x Timed Assessment (50%) [ILOs 1-8]


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. HIST26024).

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.