BA History and Sociology / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Revolutionary Cities: The Urban World of the Middle Ages

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST21252
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course explores a series of interconnecting developments which placed cities at the centre of power and innovation in the medieval world in the period c.1000 to c.1500. So transformative was this process that we might conceptualise these cities as revolutionary. We will explore how power was constructed within cities. In addition we will examine competing concepts of the city as an embodiment of sin or of holiness. Alongside this will we question how wealth was generated within cities and how some of the consequences of a profit economy and rising population were managed through welfare provision and charitable activity. Central to the module is the importance of landscape, and how monuments, topography, and rural hinterlands shaped urban socio-religious and political communities. Finally, we will assess how learning (especially the rise of universities) and history-writing enabled cities to position themselves as centres of knowledge, memory and identities


Restricted to History programmes, History joint honours programmes and Classics and Ancient History programmes (please check your programme structure for further details).

This module is restricted to History programmes and History joint honours programmes (please check your programme structure for further details).


- To understand how medieval cities changed over the course of the period c.1000-c.1500.

- To understand the diversity and complexity of the medieval city and how this is reflected in modern historiography.

- To analyse transformations in the medieval city in the light of contemporary source materials.

- To prepare students for further specialization in medieval history at level 3.

Learning outcomes

- To acquire knowledge of the multi-faceted nature of the medieval city.

- To understand the diversity of medieval city-types.

- To understand how and why the urban world is fundamental to understanding the wider medieval world.

Intellectual skills

- Evaluate different historical and historiographical viewpoints.

- Read, interpret, and analyse a range of primary source materials.

- Know how to approach the unfamiliar in order to further understand cultural difference.

Practical skills

- Essay writing

- Formulate critically analytical interpretation

- Autonomous research

- Search for and retrieve information from a variety of sources

- Harmonize material from different source-types and perspectives

Transferable skills and personal qualities

- Work collaboratively as part of a team

- Work independently

-  Organise and present information and interpretation clearly and concisely in written and verbal forms

- Empathize with the unfamiliar and appreciate diverse cultures

- Critical thinking and analysis

Employability skills

Students can expect to develop an important set of skills which will be highly valued in the workplace: - Convey complex ideas concisely via written and verbal communication skills - Collaboration in team settings - Acting autonomously and take leadership and responsibility (through independent learning, seminar preparation and contribution, assessment activities) - Critical thinking and analysis - Locating, organising and interpreting large quantities of evidence.

Assessment methods

Source analysis - 30%

Research essay - 70%

Feedback methods

Feedback method Formative and Summative
Verbal feedback via Source analysis and peer review exercise  Formative
Written feedback on coursework submission via turnitin Summative
Additional one-to-one feedback (during office hours or by appointment)  Formative


Recommended reading

Benes, Carrie. E., Urban Legends. Civic Identity and the Classical Past in Northern Italy, 1250-1350 (University Park, Pa: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011)

Brasher, Sally Mayall, Hospitals and Charity: Religious culture and civic life in medieval northern Italy (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017)

Bruzelius, Caroline, Preaching, building, and burying: friars in the Medieval city (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2014)

Clark, Peter (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Cities in World History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)

Dumolyn, Jan and Brown, Andrew, Medieval Urban Culture (Turnhout: Brepols, 2017)

Geltner, Guy, Roads to Health: infrastructure and urban wellbeing in later medieval Italy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019)

Goodson, Caroline, Lester, Anne E. and Symes, Carol (eds), Cities, Texts and Social Networks, 400-1500. Experiences and Perceptions of Medieval Urban Space (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010)

Lapidus, Ira Marvin, Muslim Cities in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1984) · Lilley, Keith D., City and Cosmos. The Medieval World in Urban Form (London: Reaktion, 2009)

Oldfield, Paul, Urban Panegyric and the Transformation of the Medieval City, 1100-1300 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019)

Phipps, Teresa, Medieval Women and Urban Justice: commerce, crime and community in England, 1300–1500 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020).

Rawcliffe, Carole, Urban Bodies. Communal health in Late Medieval English towns and cities (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2013)

Scott, Tom, The City-State in Europe, 1000-1600: Hinterland – Territory – Region (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)

Wickham, Chris, Sleepwalking into a New World. The Emergence of Italian City Communes in the Twelfth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015)

Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Paul Oldfield Unit coordinator
Stephen Mossman Unit coordinator
Georg Christ Unit coordinator

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