BA Politics and Modern History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Seaborne State? Venice and the East 1150-1550

Unit code HIST31861
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by History
Available as a free choice unit? No


We will explore the history of Venice with a focus on the Serenissima’s relations with the Eastern Mediterranean in the late Middle Ages. How did Venice develop from a Byzantine duchy to one of the first early modern states? What was the role of Venetian international trade in the Eastern Mediterranean in the making of the Venetian state? How was this trade organized? How did trade overcome the barriers of religious conflict in the wake of the crusades? How did Venice thus relate to the Islamic world? What was the role of news and speculation in the making of a new public sphere? Responding to these questions we will encounter various aspects of Venetian history from political history and trade relations to questions of architectural expression and literary culture and Venetian views of the world and views of Venice in the world.


HIST31861 is only available to students on History-owned programmes; Euro Studies programmes; ClAH-owned programmes; and History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas (please check your programme structure for further details).

This module is only available to students on History-owned programmes; Euro Studies programmes; History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas; and CLAH-owned programmes. Available to students on an Erasmus programme subject to VSO approval.


  • Understand main developments in late medieval Venice
  • Understand the interconnection of diplomacy/political order and trade regimes
  • Critically engage with primary sources and relevant historiography
  • Sharpen understanding of critical theoretical approaches in history


Indicative Course Structure:

  1. Introduction – Venice as a model and historical reality
  2. The early history of Venice – from Byzantine outpost to maritime republic
  3. From regional to Mediterranean trade network
  4. Sinews of trade? Venice, Diplomacy and Empire
  5. Vectors of expansion: army and navy
  6. The rise of the sedentary merchant: family-firm-network
  7. Actors and vectors of trade: Investors, galleys and agents
  8. Venice in the East: Colonies and trading diasporas
  9. Venetian self-representation, architecture and living culture
  10. Venice and the church – an uneasy relation
  11. News, speculation and the rise of the public sphere

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures, seminars incl. directed reading, group work, enquiry based learning

Blackboard, e-learning

Excursion, presentations

Knowledge and understanding

  • Acquire knowledge of late medieval/Renaissance Venetian history
  • Understand basic concepts of Medieval trade and international systems
  • Understand main debates in historian historiography

Intellectual skills

  • Critically evaluate scholarship
  • Formulate and evaluate research questions
  • Analyse primary sources

Practical skills

  • essay writing
  • seminar participation
  • retrieval and application of material from specialist internet resources, including working with online databases
  • understanding different individual knowledge management solutions, incl. mnemonic devices, index-card systems and databases
  • oral presentation skills, including short presentations with short preparation time, discussion skills

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Written communication and informed discussion with peers
  • Working with databases
  • Critical text analysis (retrieval of data, compiling of information, analysis to gather (applicable) insights), historical consciousness (critical reviewing of actual trends)
  • Presentation skills including presentations with little preparation time as required in assessment centres.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
data- and knowledge management (business and personal ¿ in historical dimension), presentation skills, ability to compose a briefing paper, critical text/source analysis
Written communication
data- and knowledge management (business and personal ¿ in historical dimension), presentation skills, ability to compose a briefing paper, critical text/source analysis

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 70%
Oral assessment/presentation 30%

Feedback methods

Written feedback on all assessment tasks - summative

Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hour or by making an appointment) - formative

Recommended reading

Eric R. Dursteler (ed.), A Companion to Venetian History, 1400-1797, Leiden 2013 (UML eBook).

Ashtor, Eliyahu. 1983. Levant Trade in the Later Middle Ages. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press (UML eBook).

Lane, Frederic Chapin. 1973. Venice a Maritime Republic. Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press (UML eBook).

Lane, Frederic Chapin. 1944. Andrea Barbarigo, merchant of Venice (1418 - 1449). In Johns Hopkins University studies in historical and political science ; 62,1. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins Press.

Georg Christ. 2012. Trading Conflicts. Venetian Merchants and Mamluk Officials in Late Medieval Alexandria, Leiden: Brill.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Georg Christ Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Assessment Methods

Individual Presentation + Supporting Material (hand-out, slides)* OR source analysis OR literature review OR case study, summative, 7 minutes/1500 words, 30%

Essay, summative, 3500 words, 50%

Peer-assessment of 2 essays, summative, 1000 words, 20%

* We will first acquire the necessary presentation skills (essential for assessment centres, job interviews etc.) in class and have time for practice and training. Once we pass on to the marked presentation you will be well-prepared and confident about your presentation skills. You will prepare the presentation in your discussion groups in class with your peers and the teacher to give you advice and practical help.


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