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Imagined Landscapes of the Middle Ages


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor: Dr Kate Franklin
  • Assessment: a 4000-word essay (80%) and 1000-word response paper (20%)

Module description

Are there any connections between the Heroic Fantasy of Frank Frazetta, the new satanism, Excalibur, the Avalon sagas and Jacques Le Goff? If they met aboard some unidentified flying object near Montaillou, would Darth Vader, Jacques Fournier and Parsifal speak the same language? And if so, would it be a galactic pidgin or the Latin of the Gospel according to St Luke Skywalker? - Umberto Eco, 1986

In this module we set out to explore the history of the Middle Ages through landscapes of medieval imagination. If we define ‘imagined landscapes’ as the frameworks through which people in the Middle Ages situated themselves in text, in art, in historical argument and in built spaces, then we can undertake to trace the ways that imagined landscapes served both as the setting for medieval lives and as an agent in medieval history. Beyond this, by taking as our object the world as medieval people imagined it, we are confronted by a hybridisation of our data; we will look at epigraphy and epics, charters and poems, songs, site plans and sagas, romances and records of journeys.

As historians, what happens if we let the distinctions between these forms of landscape representation blur? How do we reconstruct medieval places that were read and recited as well as walked? Finally, we will also explore the afterlives of medieval spatial imaginaries in modernity, asking to what extent we continue to dwell in medieval landscapes.

Indicative syllabus

  • Introductions: medieval/imaginations
  • Beyond the castle walls
  • Gardens
  • Wilderness: knights of green and red
  • Strangers in distant lands
  • Otherworlds
  • 1001 nights
  • Heaven and hell
  • Romancing the ruins
  • Dreaming of the Middle Ages

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be:

  • familiar with historiographical narratives relating to the construction of medieval social space
  • familiar with primary text examples that shape/reveal the narrative construction of space in the Middle Ages
  • familiar with techniques of landscape production, perception and representation which shaped medieval cultures
  • able to reflect on the links between medieval imaginaries of space/place/landscape and early modern and modern perceptions of medieval places
  • able to analyse the relationships between and across genres of textual evidence informing on medieval spatial imaginaries
  • able to reflect critically on the similarities and differences between ‘literary’ and ‘historical’ texts as sources for culture history.