BA History / Course details

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
The Normans between Islam and Byzantium: multicultural encounters in the Mediterranean World

Unit code HIST31991
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by History
Available as a free choice unit? No


This module offers an in-depth analysis of medieval multiculturalism by exploring the movement of Norman migrants, travellers and conquerors across multicultural frontiers within the medieval Mediterranean. Better known for ruling Normandy and England after 1066, the Normans also spread into Iberia, southern Italy and Sicily, North Africa and the Near East, and in doing so encountered the world of Islam and Byzantium. The Norman migrants established powerful states throughout the Mediterranean, especially the Crusading Principality of Antioch and the Kingdom of Sicily. The latter developed into a unique multicultural state inhabited by Muslims, Greeks and Latins, and governed by Norman Kings who dressed in Byzantine robes, resided in stunning Arab-Islamic palaces, promoted alleged crypto-Muslim eunuchs to positions of power, and commissioned magnificent multicultural monuments. This course then analyses the dynamics and impact of Norman movement within the Mediterranean world, and the range of multicultural encounters that occurred as a result.


HIST31991 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).


Via seminar activities and assessments, a diverse range of primary and secondary source material (library-based and online) will be employed to encourage students to examine - in the context of Norman movement in the Mediterranean - notions of multiculturalism, tolerance and frontiers, and to develop nuanced understandings of varied phenomena such as soft power, acculturation, diaspora and identity. Students will also engage with historiographical debates on the construction of medieval multiculturalism, on modern perception of Norman migration and explore some of the most contested historical themes in recent  scholarship.

Teaching and learning methods

  • 1 x 3-hour Seminar per week
  • Seminar reading lists and sourcebooks will be made available on Blackboard, as will links to digitised material and other online source/databases
  • Lecture slides will be uploaded onto Blackboard.
  • All Coursework will be submitted and returned via Turnitin

Knowledge and understanding

1) Understand the defining features of the multicultural Mediterranean world into which the Normans expanded in the period 1000-1200

2) Critically assess the parallels and contrasts evident in the experience of the different socio-religious communities which were ruled by the Normans.

3) Examine how identities and frontiers could be constructed and transformed in the Middle Ages

4) Evaluate the contested contemporary and modern perceptions of Norman movement in the Mediterranean.  

Intellectual skills

1) Understand the key historical models framing the multicultural Mediterranean and Norman movement across its multiple frontiers.

2) Evaluate the influences, value and limitations of the key sources: narrative, documentary and material.

3) Identify and evaluate the major historiographical debates underpinning the topic.

4) Assess the sociological and anthropological models underpinning identity formation, diaspora and multiculturalism.

Practical skills

1) Essay writing

2) Seminar participation and communication of complex ideas to a wider group

3)Analysis of evidence (both primary and secondary source) to establish independent interpretation.

4) Autonomous research

5) Utilisation of online databases and internet resources appropriate to the module.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

1) Present nuanced interpretations via advanced written and oral communication

2) Accomplish independent research projects

3) Work collaboratively as part of a team

4) Critical thinking and analysis

Employability skills

Students can expect to develop an important set of skills which will be highly valued in the workplace: 1) To convey complex ideas via written and verbal communication skills 2) The ability to collaborate in team-work settings. 3) Acting autonomously and taking leadership (through independent research, seminar preparation and contribution, assessment activities) 4) Critical thinking and analysis 5) Locating, organising and interpreting large quantities of evidence.

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Formative or Summative

Weighting within unit (if summative)

Source Analysis plan/group-task



Source Analysis



Research Essay



Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Verbal feedback on group discussions/in-class tasks


Written feedback on coursework submissions via turnitin



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


Recommended reading

1) A. Metcalfe, The Muslims of Medieval Italy (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009).

2) P. Oldfield, Sanctity and Pilgrimage in Medieval Southern Italy, 1000-1200 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014)

 3) B. E. Whalen, ‘God's Will or Not? Bohemond's Campaign Against the Byzantine Empire (1105-1108)’, in T. F. Madden, J. L. Naus and V. Ryan  (eds), Crusades: Medieval Worlds in Conflict (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010), pp. 111-26.

4) N. Hodgson,  ‘Normans and Competing Masculinities on Crusade’, Crusading and Pilgrimage in the Norman World, ed. by Kathryn Hurlock and Paul Oldfield (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2015), 195-213

5) J. Johns,  Arabic Administration in Norman Sicily: the royal Diwan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)

6) J. C. Birk, Norman Kings of Sicily and the Rise of the Anti-Islamic Critique: Baptized Sultans (Basingstoke: Palgrave,  2016)

7) G. A. Loud, Graham, A., ‘Norman Traditions in Southern Italy’, in S. Burkhardt and T. Foerster, eds., Norman Tradition and Transcultural Heritage: exchange of cultures in the 'Norman' peripheries of medieval Europe (Farnham, 2013), 35-56

8) A. V.  Murray, ‘How Norman was the Principality of Antioch? Prolegomena to a Study of the Origins of the Nobility of a Crusader State', in Family Trees and the Roots of

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Paul Oldfield Unit coordinator

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