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MA Medieval and Early Modern Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Wonders, Miracles & Supernatural Landscapes in Medieval & Early Modern Europe

Unit code HIST63192
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by History
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The course will be structured as a series of case studies that will allow us to encounter different geographical locations, time periods, and historical sources. These are grouped thematically in order to draw out important approaches, and also in order to put medieval and early modern examples into a comparative framework. Seminar sessions may cover the following (or similar) material:
- Encountering Wonders, Miracles and Supernatural Landscapes
Saints and Miracles
- Saints, Pilgrimage and Sacred Places in the Medieval World
- Miracles and the Urban Landscape
Reading Extraordinary Landscapes
- Locating the Afterlife in Medieval Europe: Purgatory, Classical Learning and the Kingdom of Hell
- Reading About Natural Disasters and Prodigious Events in the Early Modern World (John Rylands Library)
- Geographies of the Afterlife in Post-Reformation Culture
Monstrous Places
- Monstrous Landscapes in the Medieval World
- Monsters, Devils and Saints: European Encounters with non-European Lands
Shaping the Supernatural Landscape
- Wilderness and the Tamed Medieval Landscape
- Wondrous Landscapes and the Evidence of Folklore
- Student research essay presentations and concluding discussion

This module is team taught and the precise content of seminar topics may vary in any given academic year according to the availability of specific teaching staff.


This course will examine the ways in which wonders, miracles and supernatural landscapes shaped the lives of medieval and early modern people. It will also examine how and why extraordinary phenomena in which the sacred and natural intersect are of increasing interest to historians, opening up important new questions and insights within historical scholarship. Across the course, we will draw upon a range of textual, visual and material sources: from manuscript chronicles to printed histories and antiquarian treatises; devotional objects including relics; and maps and cosmographies. We will treat the landscape itself as a source, and examine exciting new historical work that takes this approach. An important aspect of the course will be an examination of the resources that medieval and early modern people could draw upon in order to understand the extraordinary facets of the worlds in which they lived: the biblical, early Christian, classical, and historical texts, images and objects that they used to better understand the mysteries of the world around them and to inscribe their own meanings upon the landscape

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding:
- Describe and analyse the specific manifestations of miracles, wonders and supernatural landscapes explored through the case studies in this course.
- Demonstrate an awareness of the sources that medieval and early modern people drew upon in shaping their own understanding of these places and phenomena.
- Articulate the fundamental role of religion in shaping medieval and early modern understandings of the natural world.
- Articulate the transformations and continuities in this material across the medieval and early modern periods.

Intellectual skills :
- Engage critically with relevant fields of historical research and interdisciplinary approaches to articulate the ways in which historical approaches to this material have changed over time.
- Locate a range of relevant primary sources and analyse them in a sophisticated way that takes account of their production, meaning, audiences, and influences.
- Formulate research questions that build upon and engage with existing research.

Practical skills:
- Formulate, research and write essays that make sustained historical arguments utilising primary and secondary sources.
- Assess the work of historians and historiographical trends through essay writing and also the preparation of a book review.
- Articulate a response to various primary and secondary sources, as well as to comments by other students, in a seminar context.
- Compile systematic bibliographies and to present them according to scholarly conventions.
- Manage a sustained program of regular weekly work.
- Gain experience in problem solving, leadership and teamwork.

Transferable skills and personal qualities :
- Articulate and develop informed and reasoned argument in written and oral form.
- Organise own learning through self-management and work to deadlines.
- Using ICT for research and presentation purposes.
- Display fluent presentation skills orally.
- Write fluent continuous prose.
- Demonstrate the ability to work in a group and show leadership.
- Identify, analyse and apply a wide range of data to formulate and solve problems.
- Ability to bring analytical and research skills to bear on the formulation and design of proposals.

Teaching and learning methods

11 x 1.5 hour seminars.

One session will be taught offsite utilising the rare manuscript and print holdings of the John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Seminar and background readings will be placed or signposted on Blackboard, which will also contain links to relevant web-sites and course information. Assignments will be submitted online via Turnitin on Blackboard.

Assessment methods

Book review, 1000 words (25%)

Research essay, 3000 words (75%)

Recommended reading

' Philip Almond, Heaven and Hell in Enlightenment England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994)
- Eric Jorink, Reading the Book of Nature in the Dutch Golden Age, 1575-1715, trans. Peter Mason (Leiden: Brill, 2010)
- Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature 1150-1750 (New York: Zone Books, 1998)
- John Howe and Michael Wolfe (eds.), Inventing Medieval Landscapes: Senses of Place in Western Europe (Gainesville: Florida University Press, 2002)
- Richard Jones, The Medieval Natural World (London: Pearson, 2013)
- Kathy Lavezzo, Angels on the Edge of the World: Geography, Literature, and English Community, 1000-1534 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006)
- Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1991)
- Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory (London: Fontana, 1996)
- Philip M. Soergel, Miracles and the Protestant Imagination: The Evangelical Wonder Book in Reformation Germany (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)
- Alexandra Walsham, The Reformation of the Landscape: Religion, Identity and Memory in Early Modern Britain and Ireland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011)
- Carl Watkins, History and the Supernatural in Medieval England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)
- Diana Webb, Saints and Cities in Medieval Italy (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007)
- Simon Yarrow, Saints and their Communities: Miracle Stories in Twelfth-Century England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006)

Study hours

Independent study hours
Independent study 150

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Clare Vernon Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Medieval and early modern Europeans experienced the physical world in ways that were embedded within a tangible sense of the wondrous. A strong sense of the supernatural shaped how Europeans used, interpreted, debated, and recorded their impressions of the extraordinary physical world around them. This was evident in a variety of locations and forms - from miraculous healings associated with saints and pilgrimages, to interpretations of earthquakes and floods as precursors of the Apocalypse, and tales of haunted landscapes that were collected and retold. Perceptions of wondrous natural landscapes likewise shaped how Europeans imagined landscapes that lay beyond the limits of the familiar physical world: from Hell, Purgatory, and the Heavens, to the distant lands beyond Europe. For European Christians, the extraordinary properties of the natural world provided a rich set of examples of God's direct presence, but also became matters of debate bound up with temporal political and geographical concerns: from the spread of Christianity in the early medieval world to the polemical unfolding of the early modern Reformation and its aftermath. Beliefs surrounding wondrous landscapes also reveal rich insights into the formation of personal, local and regional identities.

Pre-requisite units: None

Co-requisite units: None

Available as a free choice unit: Yes

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