BA Classics / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

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

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST31362
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
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. The key processes we will be examining are acculturation, assimilation and identity formation.


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 (eg assimilation) and diasporas.

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

Source Analysis Exercise - 40%

Research Essay - 60%

Feedback methods

Feedback Method Formative or Summative
Oral feedback on seminar handout, seminar participation, group discussions and presentations Formative
Written feedback on coursework submissions via Turnitin Summative
Additional one-to-one feedback (during office hours 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, 2010) 
  • 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)  
  • S. Mossman (ed.), Debating medieval Europe. The early Middle Ages, 450-1050 (Manchester, 2020) 
  • 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
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Charles Insley Unit coordinator

Return to course details