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HIST424: Medieval Primary Sources - Genre, Rhetoric and Transmission

Not available in 2014/15

Course Convenor: Dr Paul Antony Hayward

Hist424 aims to inculcate an appreciation of the importance of genre and codicology for the study of medieval  history. A great many different genres of historical document have survived for the Middle Ages, and each was subject to its own rules and its own patterns of transmission. If the information that they contain is to be used to sound effect, it is essential to understand these features and how they have changed over time.

This means, for example, that for dissertations that make heavy use of charters it is crucial to understand how ‘the charter’ has evolved as a document from its Roman origins down to the end of the Middle Ages and how use of various media to preserve charters (single sheets, papyrus, vellum, cartularies, and printed books) helped to shape their contents and form. There was, to be sure, a definite continuity of practice, but charters differ in their rhetoric and format according to the time, region and institution in which they were produced, and many were ‘edited’ in the process of being re-copied from the original sheets on which they were first issued. Since many charters are known only from the later copies found in ‘cartularies’, it is crucial, if you are attempting to use this kind of document, to understand the processes of reproduction operating in the relevant milieu in order to be able to assess properly the data that they contain.

Moreover, these processes are themselves significant for what they have to say about the attitudes and culture of the persons and communities who produced them. Indeed, the rhetoric and the history of a document often tells us more about the world in which it was produced than the facts which it supposedly contains.

The following genres may be convered:

  • Charters and Cartularies
  • Letters and Letter Collections
  • Annals and Chronicles
  • Rhetorical Histories
  • The Later Medieval Chronicle
  • Hagiography
  • The Medieval Miscellany
  • Liturgical Books
  • Poetry and Song

Taught: Lent Term

Assessment: (a) A short essay of 1,500 words on a manuscript (or group of manuscripts) relevant to your research (worth 30 per cent); (b) A long essay of 3,500 words on the characteristics of a particular genre or type of historical source (worth seventy per cent).

Preliminary Reading:

  • Clemens, R., and T. Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Ithaca, NY, 2007). VSR.B+
  • Clanchy, M. T., From Memory to Written Record, England, 1066-1307 (1st edn, Oxford, 1979; 2nd edn, Oxford, 1993). MVE.I.

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