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BA History and American Studies

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:
Heroes and Holy Men: The Irish Sea World in the Viking Age, c. 780-1100

Unit code HIST31362
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by History
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course examines the Irish Sea zone during the height of Viking activity and locates that examination in the wider context of Viking activity across northern Europe.  It will focus on the impact of Viking activity – trading, slaving, raiding and settlement - across the Irish Sea and the extent that to which historians can talk of the Irish Sea as a ‘cultural zone’ by the eleventh century.


HIST31361 is restricted to History programmes, Classics and Ancient History programmes, History and American Studies and European Studies programmes (please check your programme regulations 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.


  • Students will be encouraged to engage with different perceptions of Viking activity and identity, using a variety of on-line and library resources.
  • Students will also engage with a range of primary sources, both documentary and material, to garner a greater understanding of the issues and debates around the formation of: (1) cultural provinces (2), the creation of new historical landscapes (e.g. the Viking Wirral) and (3) the emergence of new polities and identities during this period.
  • Students will also engage with the concepts and methodological approaches surrounding identity, acculturative processes and diasporas.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course you should be able to


Indicative Course Structure:

  • Culture and Society in the Heroic Age; background to the Vikings
  • Defining a ‘Culture Province’
  • The ninth century
  • Settlement, communities, languages and landscapes in the Irish Sea zone
  • Economies, Markets and Urbanisation in the Irish Sea Province
  • The Native Response
  • Dublin and the Vikings in Ireland
  • The English State and the Irish Sea
  • Assimilation and Acculturation in the Irish Sea Zone
  • The Normans and the Irish Sea in the 11th Century

Teaching and learning methods

  • 1 x 3 hour seminar and 1 x course unit office hour per week
  • Seminar reading lists and sourcebooks will be made available on Blackboard, as will links to digitised material and other online sources and databases
  • Lecture slides will be uploaded onto Blackboard
  • All coursework will be submitted and returned via Turnitin

Knowledge and understanding

Manifest knowledge and understanding of:

  • Debates around/interpretations of Viking identity
  • The political chronology of the Irish Sea area between 780 and 1100
  • Historical paradigms around the formation of cultural zones/provinces
  • The relationship between history and archaeology in terms of the interpretation of landscapes, settlement and place-names

Intellectual skills

  • Students should be familiar with and be able to use a range of different types of evidence, from documentary to material culture in their writing
  • Student should be able to place discussion of source material in a wider understanding of theoretical frameworks used by historians to explore group identity, ethnicity and the emergence of cultural provinces

Practical skills

  • Essay writing
  • Seminar participation and communication of complex ideas to a wider group
  • Document/artefact analysis and commentary
  • Identify the major historiographical debates underpinning the topic
  • The use of electronic resources for Historians, for instance the Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England (

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Present arguments and interpretations through oral and written communication
  • Independent research
  • Group working/working with peers
  • Contextualising data of different types
  • Critical thinking and analysis

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Critical thinking and analysis
Group/team working
Collaboration in team settings
Acting autonomously and take leadership and responsibility (through independent learning, seminar preparation and contribution, assessment activities)
Oral communication
Convey complex ideas concisely via written and verbal communication skills
Data handling
Written communication
Convey complex ideas concisely via written and verbal communication skills

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 40%
Written assignment (inc essay) 60%

Feedback methods

Written feedback on coursework submissions via Turnitin, and on exam papers in hard copy: summative

Oral feedback on group discussions and presentations: formative

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


Recommended reading

  • S. Brink and N. Price, The Viking World (Routledge, 2008)
  • C. Downham, The Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland (Edinburgh, 2007)
  • C. Downham, Medieval Ireland (Cambridge, 2017)
  • D. Griffiths, Vikings of the  Irish Sea (Stroud, 2009)
  • D. Griffiths, S. Harding and E. Royles (eds.), In Search of Vikings: Interdisciplinary approaches to the Scandinavian Heritage of North West England (Routledge, 2014)
  • D. Hadley, The Vikings in England: Settlement, Society, and Culture (Manchester, 2006)
  • D. Hadley and J.D. Richards (eds.), Cultures in contact: Scandinavian settlement in England in the ninth and tenth centuries (Turnhout, 2000)
  • K. Maund, Ireland, England and Wales in the Eleventh Century (Woodbridge, 1991)
  • P. Stafford (ed.), The Blackwell Companion to the Early Middle Ages: Britain and Ireland c. 500 – 1100 (Oxford, 2009)
    A. Woolf, From Pictland to Alba: Scotland 789-1070 (Edinburgh, 2007)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Charles Insley Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Assessment Method

Source Analysis, summative, 1500 words, 20%

Essay, summative, 2500 words, 40%

Exam, summative, 2 hours, 40%


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