HST6031: The Dawn of Modernity in the Late Middle Ages

15 credits (Semester 2018-19: Autumn | Semester 2019-20: Autumn)

Module Leader: Professor Martial Staub

Module Summary

This module seeks to reassess the picture of the late Middle Ages as an age of crisis and decay to be replaced by the Renaissance and modernity. It aims to show how groups of innovative people invented a new world characterised by international capitalism, man-centred subjectivity and claims of communal participation, and why their new world(s) became the dominant framework of European history for the centuries to follow. The first modern European colonies in the near Atlantic Ocean were both a laboratory for, and a crucial step to, the successful establishment of a new world within and without Europe.

Module aims

This module introduces you to historical transition, its agents and its perception. In addition to summary knowledge of a particular society and its sources, it provides you with an awareness of the complexity of innovation processes and the way they interact with representations of the self, the community and the others. On completion, you should also be able to reflect on the impact of past perception on the historical research.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, you will be able to demonstrate:

  1. Broad knowledge of late medieval European societies and their dynamism;
  2. An understanding of group-led innovation in specific traditional societies;
  3. An ability to appreciate critically Euro-centrism in historiography and historians' thinking of "historical transitions" (Renaissance) by testing the secondary literature and the primary sources;
  4. An advanced ability to deal with the specificity of medieval sources, both textual and non-textual, and to address broad methodological issues.


Learning hours
Seminar hours Tutorial hours Independent Learning
10 1 139

The module will be taught in five, two-hour classes. Each will focus on a particular question and be located around its discussion in the primary and secondary historical literature. Seminars will combine a thematic approach of the topic and a focus on defining moments of late medieval history. Themes addressed in the seminars may include topics as diverse as the importance of international trade in late medieval societies (including slave trade), the participation of the popular and of local communities to power, or the challenge of traditional conceptions of authority by both humanism and lay people's religiosity. Defining moments may range from the Black Death to the Western Schism or the conquest of the Canary Islands.You will use a wide variety of textual and non-textual materials through which to explore the seminar topics. As the interpretation of the transition between medieval and modern history has been both debated for more than a century and deeply renewed in recent time, a rich and engaging literature is available on the topic that feeds into wider debates as to the nature of historical investigation. Classes will enable you to share knowledge, debate controversial issues and listen and respond to the views of others in a structured environment. You will, in addition, have an individual tutorial with the module leader in which to discuss the work you will write for assessment for this module.



Assessment methods
Assessment % of final mark Length
Coursework 100% 3000 words

You will prepare a short paper (not more than 3,000 words) which demonstrates an ability to handle bibliographical resources and which explores one of the key themes raised by an in-depth study of a particular topic in late medieval history.



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