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Space, Architecture and Landscapes of the Middle Ages


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 5
  • Convenor: Dr Kate Franklin
  • Assessment: a 500-word primary source analysis (17%), 500-word modern scholarship summary (17%) and 2000-word essay (66%)

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'. In this module we consider the medieval period on its own terms, and ask:

  • 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?

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.

We take a broad approach to the question of urbanism, or the rise of cities and urban life, exploring key arguments about the historical trajectories of urbanism based on the case studies of western cities, and comparing 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.