This module is designed for students who are attempting medieval topics for their dissertations as part of the MA in History. It is founded on the principle that you cannot grasp the significance of an historical source if you do not first understand (a) the history of the ‘genre’ to which it belongs and (b) the mechanics of its transmission and preservation – on the principle that all students of medieval history must grasp the issues addressed by disciplines of codicology and palaeography even if they do not themselves work directly with manuscript evidence.
This means, for example, that for dissertations that make heavy use of charters it is necessary 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 sort of document, to grasp 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 factoids which it supposedly contains.
Needless to say, it will not be possible to cover all the complexities in the ten sessions available for this course. The famous series Typologie des Sources du Moyen Âge Occidental, published by the Institut d’études médiévales (Belgium), runs to over eighty-five volumes, each concerned with a different ‘type’ of source or manuscript. Since we cannot hope to cover anything like that much ground, the course will confine itself to introducing you to ten common types of source which you might well encounter in your work, and to the problems which they raise.
By the end of the module, students should have grasped:
The course will be taught by means of ten two-hour seminars during Lent Term—on Mondays at 10am–12noon in County Main Seminar Room 4. Each seminar will proceed by considering representative examples of the type of source with which it is concerned. Pdf files containing these texts and reproductions from the relevant manuscripts can be derived from the Hist424 sister-site on Moodle. The texts are presented in their original languages (usually Latin) along with translations into modern English and images of the manuscripts in which they are preserved. (The emphasis is on English sources, but if participants would like to consider Celtic or Continental documents that can be arranged.) You are expected to attend having studied the texts and researched the questions for discussion. Where necessary specific items and tasks will be allocated to different members of the group in advance of each session.
There exist many excellent introductions to the study of medieval sources and manuscripts, but the following are strongly recommended, chiefly as background reading:
The assessment will consist of three items:
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