BA Latin and English Literature / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Dreaming the Middle Ages

Course unit fact file
Unit code ENGL31422
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


We are ‘dreaming of the Middle Ages’, wrote Umberto Eco in a celebrated essay published in English in 1986, before going on to identify what he called ten ‘little Middle Ages’: the modern versions of the medieval found in all aspects of culture. This is more than ever true today, when dreams of the medieval flourish in computer games, films, novels, poetry and television; from the literary novel (Meek, To Calais, in Ordinary Time [2020]; Harvey, The Western Wind [2018]) to popular culture (The Hobbit films; Game of Thrones).

This new module explores these dreams of the medieval, doing so by beginning with the medieval culture itself. It pairs medieval source material (eg, excerpts from Malory’s fifteenth-century Morte d’Arthur) with later refashionings (Morris’s Defence of Guinevere [1858]; Tennyson’s Morte d’Arthur [1842]). It also examines the medievalist fabric of Manchester itself: the Town Hall (Alfred Waterhouse, 1870s); the John Owens Building (Waterhouse, 1869-87); the John Rylands Library (Basil Champneys, 1901) and asks why, in so many forms, are we still dreaming the Middle Ages.



The aims of this course are:

  • to introduce students to key texts and issues with an emphasis on the reception, in modernity, of medieval culture;
  • to introduce students to some further aspects of medieval written culture (not previously encountered in other modules);
  • to analyse the phenomenon known as ‘medievalism’, in modernity, and examine the ways in which medievalism’s artefacts interact with their cultural and historical contexts;
  • to consider the ways in which medievalisms have been mobilised in different periods of modernity either to confirm or critique existing understandings of gender, sexuality, nation, and race;
  • to read works in a range of different genres and media and to consider the relations between such written genres, and such media as the built environment;
  • in association with the above, to develop skills of critical thought, speech, and writing (particularly in relation to the articulation of medieval texts and artefacts with those of modernity).





Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • demonstrate a thorough familiarity with a range of texts and the ways in which they perpetuate ideas of the medieval;
  • demonstrate a critical understanding of modern medievalism;
  • apply various theories and concepts to the understanding of medievalism in modernity;
  • demonstrate an understanding of selected recent literary texts;
  • identify the use of medievalism in relation to modern culture more broadly.

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • think critically and make critical judgments about the presence of the past in modern and postmodern textuality;
  • analyse course texts in an effective and comprehensive manner;
  • identify and outline key problems and issues in modern medievalism;
  • synthesize and analyse information about recent medievalist texts;
  • reflect critically on such texts and artefacts;
  • develop and articulate a reasoned argument for a particular point of view;
  • draw reasoned conclusions using information drawn from the body of texts under study;
  • evaluate critical arguments advanced by critics within ‘medievalism studies’.

Practical skills

  • plan and execute independent research on both modern and medieval texts;
  • make good use of library, electronic, and online resources pertaining to the course;
  • independently evaluate and make use of other resources, especially as found in Manchester’s (or another) built environment;
  • speak and write clearly about modern and postmodern texts;
  • work effectively in a group on a small-group project; 
  • contribute to group discussion in class.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • retrieve, sift, organise, synthesise and critically evaluate material from a range of different sources, including library, electronic, and online resources;
  • deliver oral presentations in front of a seminar group;
  • produce written work using appropriate language for an academic audience;
  • produce written work that collects and integrates evidence to formulate/test a critical argument;
  • demonstrate good teamwork skills by acknowledging the views of others while working on a group project;
  • manage time effectively by scheduling tasks in order of importance.

Assessment methods

Group Project (40%)

Essay (60%)

Feedback methods

Formative Feedback Methods

  • Office hours 
  • Essay consultation week ahead of final essay 
  • Feedback, both individual and for the collective, on group project. 

Recommended reading

Alexander, Michael. Medievalism: The Middle Ages in Modern England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007)

Berns, Ute, and Andrew James Johnston. "Medievalism: A Very Short Introduction," European Journal of English Studies 15 (2011): 97-100

Biddick, Kathleen. The Shock of Medievalism (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1998)

Chandler, Alice. A Dream of Order: The Medieval Ideal in Nineteenth-Century English Literature (1970; London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971

D'Arcens, Louise, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Medievalism, forthcoming.

Eco, Umberto. Faith in Fakes: Travels in Hyperreality, trans. William Weaver (1986; London Vintage, 1998)

Ganim, John. Medievalism and Orientalism: Three Essays on Literature, Architecture and Cultural Identity (New York: Palgrave, 2005)

Matthews, David. Medievalism: A Critical History (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2015).

Trigg, Stephanie, and Thomas A. Prendergast. Affective Medievalism: Love, abjection, and discontent (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2018)

Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
David Matthews Unit coordinator

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