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Space, Architecture and Landscapes of the Middle Ages


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 5
  • Convenor: Kate Franklin
  • Assessment: two 2000-word assignments (50%) and a 48-hour online examination (50%)

Module description

The medieval period is sometimes thought of as a long, strange (and perhaps even ‘dark’) time during which people across Europe and the Mediterranean occupied the ruins of classical civilisations and slowly constructed something out of 'barbarian' mud and the bones of Rome that we now call 'modernity'. This module sets out to consider the medieval period on its own terms. We will frame the medieval period and societies as historically rooted in the phenomena that came before and constructing the frameworks of our contemporary world, but we will spotlight the following questions: If the medieval period saw the emergence and coalescence of new cultures, new forms of political life and new modes of interaction, how can we study these through the spaces that they co-constructed? How are our historical ideas of 'medieval time' tied to the spaces imagined, designed, built, reconstructed, inhabited and destroyed during the period we study?

In this module we will explore the built spaces and ordered landscapes of the medieval world. We will define medieval as the period between late Antiquity and the early modern period of the fifteenth century, and investigate the ways that social life was structured by architecture, settlement and infrastructure. At the same time, we will use the study of built space and spatial imagination to help us define the medieval period in positive terms, and in ideological and material relations to historical periods coming before and after. We will look at archaeological, architectural and historical data in order to reconstruct a layered understanding of how cities were built, lived in and experienced. The module will take a broad approach to the question of urbanism, or the rise of cities and urban life: we will explore key arguments about the historical trajectories of urbanism based on the case studies of western cities, and compare examples from global contexts, including the 'Islamic city' as a historic category, and the 'nomadic city' as an apparent contradiction. Most critically, we will situate the medieval city in its landscape. As we think about the built spaces and architectural forms, institutions and emergent social relations within cities, we will explore how these were conceived in relationships with rural places, vernacular or village architecture, connective infrastructures, and frontiers and wild nature.

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will:

  • have a holistic understanding of the medieval city both as a system of spatial relationships, and as a set of historical ideas about time, space and embodied experience
  • be able to trace the history of medieval built spaces, and discuss the continued relevance of these spaces in the present.

Recommended reading

  • Abu Lughod, J. 1987. 'The Islamic City: Historic Myth, Islamic Essence, and Contemporary Relevance'. International Journal of Middle East Studies 19(2). 155-176.
  • Boas, A. 1999. 'The city and urban life'. Crusader Archaeology: the Material Culture of the Latin East. Routledge.
  • Brisbane, M. et al. 2012. The Archaeology of Medieval Novgorod in Context: Studies in Centre-Periphery Relations. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
  • Gardiner, M. 2000. 'Vernacular buildings and the development of the later medieval domestic plan in England'. Medieval Archaeology 44:1. 159-179.
  • Hadley, D.M. and Letty Ten Harkel. 2013. Everyday Life in Viking-Age Towns: Social Approaches to Towns in England and Ireland, c. 800-1100. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
  • Horden, P. 2000. 'Ritual and public health in the early medieval city'. In S. Sheard and H. Power (eds). Body and City: Histories of Urban Public Health. Aldershot. 17-40.
  • Johnson, M. 2002. Behind the Castle Gate. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Kennedy, H. 1985. 'Polis to medina: urban change in late antique and early Islamic Syria'. Past and Present 106. 3-27.
  • Krautheimer, R. 1942. 'The Carolingian revival of early Christian architecture'. The Art Bulletin 24(1). 1-38.
  • Nelson, J. 2001. 'Aachen as a place of power'. Topographies of Power in the Early Middle Ages. Brill. 217-242.
  • Nicholas, D. 1997. The Growth of the Medieval City From Late Antiquity to the Early Fourteenth Century. Routledge.
  • Trindade, L. 2006. 'Jewish communities in Portuguese late medieval cities: space and identity'. Religion, Ritual and Mythology: Aspects of Identity Formation in Europe, edited by Joaquim Carvalho. Pisa University Press. 61-81.
  • Lilley, K. 2009. 3. 'Founding a city, founding a world; and 5. Moral topographies'. City and Cosmos: the Medieval World in Urban Form. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.  77-94 and 131-157.
  • Ward-Perkins, Bryan. 1997. 'Continuists, Catastrophists, and the Towns of Post-Roman Northern Italy'. Papers of the British School at Rome 65. 157-176.
  • Wickham, C. 2005. 'Cities'. Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800. 591-692.
  • Wynne-Jones, S. 2013. 'The public life of the Swahili stonehouse', 14th-15th c AD. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 32: 759-733.