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Stories in Stuff: the medieval and early modern worlds in 20 texts and objects


Module description

In this module we take an exciting approach to the study of the middle ages and early modern world, by questioning the idea of the ‘primary source’ and asking:

What can we say about the past through the lens of a single thing?

Each class will start from a single object, whether an artefact or a text, and explore the historical narratives which emerge, and within which our sources are entangled. You will have a chance to learn about some of our staff’s favourite 'stuff’, and explore the processes of tracing evidentiary links and building historical argument. The class will be punctuated with conversations about:

  • the ways in which human beings interact with texts and objects
  • collection, curation and construction of archives.

During the module we will consider objects from across the middle ages and into early modernity, from north-western Europe to the Silk Road, and from the everyday to the exceptional. You will take away an enhanced awareness of the links between material and textual sources, and new skills in telling your own stories from 'stuff'.

Indicative syllabus

  • Introduction to course, collections and resources
  • Independent work
  • Introduction to approaches
  • Approaches: material texts, object narratives, archives in motion, object biography
  • Object case studies
  • Study days and one-on-one meetings

Learning objectives

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

  • compare the methodological challenges and possibilities presented by objects and texts to writing the history/archaeology of the medieval and early modern periods
  • reflect on the importance of asking interdisciplinary questions for the writing of medieval and early modern ‘history from below’ and/or history/archaeology of the everyday
  • analyse textual and material evidence from a range of methodological orientations
  • navigate and use online archives and collections, including basic palaeography, context and hermeneutics
  • explore in writing the possible research directions presented by an object/text, guided by methodological frameworks
  • design, propose and carry out an independent research project presented as a 2500-word essay
  • undertake an academically rigorous research project at any scale, based on an encounter with a text or object
  • critically interrogate arguments and narratives built on objects and texts, and be a critical consumer of historical and archaeological scholarship in the world.