Centre for Medieval & Early Modern Studies

MA by coursework


This unique programme provides the opportunity for intensive study across a range of disciplines, including history, literary studies, art-history, archaeology and the study of material culture. Students are challenged to engage with the evidence and methods of different disciplines in order to equip them with the wide range of research techniques crucial for studying the period.

The MA provides a thorough grounding in the skills required for advanced study in the medieval and early modern periods, as well as a core course in interdisciplinary study and an exciting and varied range of optional modules. In addition, students produce a final dissertation of 12-15,000 words, for which they receive one-to-one supervision.

From September 2013, MA students will have the opportunity to sign up for a language course free of charge (subject to a minimum attendance requirement). For details of the languages offered see http://www.kent.ac.uk/languages/.

The MA is available both full-time as a year-long course, and part-time over two years. More flexible study arrangements are also possible. To download the current MA Dossier please click here.


Core course

Reading the Evidence

This core course introduces students to different types of evidence, and to the relationship between evidence, disciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, analysis, method and argument. The teaching is based around categories of evidence and the ways in which scholars have written about them, using detailed work on primary-source examples. In addition to this explicit engagement with interdisciplinarity, which introduces students to the different approaches they will encounter in the weekly research seminar and in the series of options courses taught by staff across the Faculty, the course encourages students to think about the process of constructing a dissertation in relation to published work within the field. The assessment relates to both of these interrelated aims.

Skills courses

Beginners Latin

The aim of the module is to give students a firm foundation in Classical Latin, both vocabulary and grammar (accidence and syntax), using a modern course with precisely that objective in mind. The Centre also provides a short intensive start-up course at the beginning of term, intended to kick-start your Latin learning by reviewing basic grammar and covering the main Latin paradigms.

Beginners’ French is offered as an alternative course to students who already have good Latin; it may also be possible to arrange to take one of the many other languages offered by the University.

Palaeography & Manuscript

Palaeography is the study of handwriting. This module aims to teach students how to read a variety of scripts, in Latin, English and French, that were used in western Europe from late antiquity to the early modern period. Students will learn how to properly transcribe a document, in accordance with palaeographical conventions; they will also learn to recognise particular types and families of scripts, which will in turn allow them to start dating the manuscripts.

The module also aims to provide students with a grounding in codicology – the study of books - and diplomatic - the study of the formal qualities of a document. Students will get the opportunity to work with original documents and learn how these were constructed and to what purpose, how to approach them as historical sources and how to formally describe them.

Optional modules
These vary from year to year; below is a selection of modules recently offered.

Chaucer & Gower

This module will introduce students to the poetry and poetics of two Middle English writers, Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower.  Readings will be drawn from their respective vernacular tale collections (Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Gower’s Confession Amantis) with a view to comparative analysis of these works and a particular emphasis on selected tales each has in common. 

Chaucer and Gower were themselves friends and literary colleagues who lived and worked in and around London in the second half of the fourteenth century. Reading Chaucer alongside Gower gives us a useful vantage from which to compare their different literary styles and critical preoccupations, especially as today Chaucer is too often considered in isolation from his literary milieu. 

One reason for this is that Gower has long been reputed to be the more ‘moral’ of the two, and yet on close inspection that appellation may not stick. Gower doubtless has a more urgent and candid political voice, whereas Chaucer is difficult to pin down within the context of current events. Yet Gower dwells on serious if sensational human interests—incest, social rebellion, homosexuality—that Chaucer refuses to touch or refers to only obliquely.

In this course we will consider how each poet envisaged his literary enterprise. What did they use their texts for?  For whom were they written?  Why did they write in different ways?  Topics we may cover include sexual politics and social poetics; patronage; writing in the vernacular; and courtly love and conduct. 

The inquiries we make will depend, to a large extent, on the interests and initiatives of individual students.

The Consolidation of English Protestantism, c1558-c1625

This course will examine the uneven and contested spread of Protestantism in Elizabethan and Jacobean England through original sources, and the strategies by which they can now be interpreted. Evidence includes official formularies and directives, puritan proposals for reform, polemical texts, spiritual diaries, catholic recusant literature, and constructions of the godly preacher and godly bishop. Themes will include the ambiguous character of the Elizabethan settlement, divisions among protestants over discipline, doctrine and piety, the persistence of Roman Catholicism, and the impact of Protestantism on parochial life and popular culture. A central issue will be the tensions arising from the state church’s dual role as bastion of political stability and vehicle for evangelism.

Word & Image in Tudor England

The module is structured around a selection from six key topics: poetry, portraiture, and ‘self-fashioning’ in the Henrician and Elizabethan courts; ‘private’ miniatures and sonnets; emblems and emblem books; iconomachy and iconoclasm; women and visual-verbal culture; and death, elegies and funerary arts. Each seminar will examine a set of visual texts (reproduced in books, or available from the slide library) alongside selected literary texts (which will probably be best made available in the form of a handbook that students will buy), and criticism. Where possible relevant documents in the Cathedral Archives and Library and/or surviving material culture (such as funerary monuments in the Cathedral) will also be studied, and students will be encouraged to initiate their own ‘case studies’ of visual-verbal imagery and culture based on local archives (thereby drawing students’ attention to research possibilities in the field locally). Issues of ongoing concern to the course are the consumption and social function of visual-verbal imagery, the spaces in which such imagery was used, the ways in which writers approached visual-verbal relations in the period and, more generally, the possibilities and problems of interdisciplinary criticism.

Shakespeare & Material Culture

The module will explore the original staging practices and material qualities of theatrical performance which shaped the drama which Shakespeare wrote. It will consider the role of material culture outside the theatre in a partially literate society in a period before mass production, examining the way it functioned to define gender and social differences between individuals. The majority of the seminars, however, will be spent analysing the role of material culture within the genres of comedy, tragedy and history, engaging students with a wide range of Shakespeare’s writing and with the conditions under which it would have been performed

Encountering the Holy: Devotion and the Medieval Church

This module will draw on the research interests of Dr Barbara Bombi (History) and Dr Sarah James (English), both of whom work on aspects of ecclesiastical history, theology and literature between c. 1180—c. 1530. The course, which will be structured chronologically, traces the development of devotional theories and practices as they affected both religious and lay communities, and will draw on a range of source materials, including legal documents, philosophical and theological treatises, and literary texts. Topics will include the papacy and theology, preachers and pastoral care, eucharistic theology, religious guilds and mysticism.

Early Medieval Archaeology: Europe after Rome AD 410-846

Rome continued to play a defining role in European history long after it had ceased to be the centre of the Roman Empire. This course looks at the profound changes that took place in Europe in the aftermath of the collapse of Roman rule. It will also examine changing attitudes towards Rome as it was repeatedly re-imagined. The course will serve as training in the use of archaeological sources for those students who have primarily studied other disciplines such as History and English Literature. But it will also deepen and extend knowledge of this period for those who have already studied archaeology. Topics will include late Roman society, the creation of new ethnic identities, the collapse of the Roman economy, the afterlife of Roman towns, changes in rural settlement, the formation of new kingdoms, early medieval Kent, Anglo-Saxon and Carolingian views of Rome.

The Crisis of Church and State

This module will draw on the research interests of Dr Barbara Bombi (History), who works on aspects of ecclesiastical history, theology, Medieval canon law and Medieval political thought c. 1180—c. 1320. The course will be structured chronologically, tracing the development of political theories and practices of government developed by popes and lay rulers during the thirteenth century. Topics will include the ideas of papal power, ideas of state in England, Germany and Italy, the clash between papacy and lay rulers, the rise of new political subjects within Medieval Europe, especially towns.

Palaces, Princes and Portraits

Three case studies will be examined, each of which experienced distinctive and sometimes rapid phases of growth, accompanied by significant changes of function: Hampton Court (1515-39 and 1689-94), Whitehall (the 1540s, 1619-22, 1686-91) and Somerset House (1547-52, 1620-35, 1776-96).  This enables us to focus on specific moments in political history (the 1530s and 40s, the 1620s, 1689, the late 18th century), juxtaposing the changing needs of government, the vicissitudes of the crown’s and the nation’s finances, changes in building methods and architectural language, and the development of the fine arts, especially painting.  The expansion of London and the emergence of a public sphere for the arts form the overall context within which these developments will be analysed.

Reading the Early Modern Town: Canterbury, an International City

The teaching will focus on a number of inter-related themes which will be studied through differing types of evidence from written and printed texts to objects and standing buildings. Consequently, certain seminars will take place outside the seminar room, looking at the evidence in situ. Topics covered will include topography, civic governance, house and household, commercial practices and premises, Anglicans and dissenters, immigration and city-central government relations, as a way of examining issues such as space, power, patronage and responses to changing social, political and economic conditions. Students will be encouraged to think comparatively, both nationally and internationally, to assess Canterbury’s place within early modern European society.

Reading the Medieval Town: Canterbury, an International City

The teaching will focus on a number of inter-related themes which will be studied through differing types of evidence from written and printed texts to objects and standing buildings. Consequently, certain seminars will take place outside the seminar room, looking at the evidence in situ. Topics covered will include topography, civic governance, urban defence, house and household, commercial practices and premises, parish church development, the place of religious houses, pilgrimage and city-crown relations, as a way of examining issues such as space, power, patronage and responses to changing social, political and economic conditions. Students will be encouraged to think comparatively, both nationally and internationally, to assess Canterbury’s place within medieval European society.

Town Life

The course will be concerned with town life in the late 14th and early 15th centuries; the late 15th and early 16th centuries; and the mid to late 16th century. Students will be introduced to the secondary literature appropriate to these periods and to a range of primary sources including chronicles; the financial, administrative and legal records of urban society; testamentary records; and the materials of the ecclesiastical courts, royal records, as well as literary sources. It is intended that special use will be made of the manuscript evidence of the town of Kent, including Canterbury, Sandwich, Fordwich, Folkestone, Faversham, Lydd, New Romney, Hythe and Rochester. Particular attention will be given to the impact of plague on urban society; the social and economic nature of the urban family and household; neighbourhood, parish and community relations; literacy; piety; the roles of women, crime and disorder; space and time; the urban politics of the Reformation.

English Medieval Art

This module offers a broad-ranging introduction to the study of the visual art produced or owned in England in the Middle Ages, focusing on the period c. 1200-c. 1450. In our seminars we will be discussing works of art as physical objects (considering, for example, artists, materials, and techniques), looking critically at the secondary literature, and debating about interpretative strategies for the 21st century (art) historian. Some of the themes that will be of particular interest will be: the functions of storytelling images; art and medieval death culture; and the iconography of monstrosity. The architecture, stained glass, and monumental sculpture of Canterbury Cathedral will be a particular focus of the module.

The Gothic Imagination: English Art & Literature in the Later Middle Ages

This module will draw on the research interests of Dr Sarah James (English) and Dr Alixe Bovey (History), both of whom work with the art and literature of England between c. 1200—c. 1500. The course will be structured as a series of chronological case studies, in which the relationships between literary texts and works of art are considered in a variety of contexts. Issues of patronage, production, and audience will be considered, as will the complex relationships between orality, aurality, literacy, and visual culture. Topics will include the art and literature of medieval London c. 1340; the Gawain manuscript; visionary literature and devotional imagery; and the Lollard critique of images.

The Idea of the Renaissance

Beginning within Art History, this postgraduate module will take an interdisciplinary approach to explore ‘The Idea of the Renaissance’. It will seek to analyse the uses to which the term ‘Renaissance’ has been put, and its continued relevance for the academic study of an ill-defined period of European cultural history (1300-1600?). Unlike other descriptive terms used to define historical periods – ‘medieval’, ‘baroque’ and certainly ‘early modern’ – the idea of cultural ‘rebirth’ at least had its origins within the thought of the period, and with this concept of rebirth came also a sense of an altered relationship between a modern present and past antiquity. While few scholars would now agree with the total cultural history that the idea of the Renaissance defined for a nineteenth-century thinker like Burckhardt, the concept still has meaning and currency in art historical, literary and philological studies. To give an indicative example, the module might begin with a classic case study: the Primavera of Sandro Botticelli, and the parallels that exist with the Stanze of Angelo Poliziano in the novel way in which both artist and poet revive the art of antiquity. It would then develop beyond a particular case to approach other aspects and other questions raised by the ‘Idea of the Renaissance’: how is the Renaissance different from earlier revivals of classical antiquity (what Panofsky called ‘renascences’) and what precisely of antiquity did it revive (the forms or the substance – i.e. paganism); how is the Renaissance related to ‘humanism’; to ‘modernity’; to an emphasis on the lives of significant individuals (most recently discussed as ‘self-fashioning’). Was the Renaissance purely an Italian phenomenon, or did Northern Europe, including England, have its own Renaissance? Has the idea of the Renaissance distorted our view of what came before: ‘the Middle Ages’? Drawing on other case studies – for example, the relationship between manuscripts and printed books – this module will address these questions and also provide a historiographical survey through selected readings of the concept of the Renaissance.

Parliament, Representation and Political Culture in England c.1399-1601

The English Parliament holds a central position in the historiography of the English-speaking world. From the teleological approach of the Whig historians to modern revisionism, scholars have debated the nature and pace of Parliament’s development and its relationship to other parts of the English polity. This module will begin by examining the ‘Dark Century’ of English parliamentary development, beginning with the ‘Lancastrian Constitutional Experiment’ and ending with the tyranny of the ‘New Monarchy’ of the early Tudors. Sandwiched between the much better known Parliaments of the Three Edwards and Queen Elizabeth and the early Stuarts, this period nevertheless witnessed important changes in the balance between the three constituent parts of Parliament (King, Lords and Commons) and fundamental changes in the nature of the sources available to historians and other scholars. The module will then look at the Parliaments of Elizabeth’s reign, exploring the notion of the ‘Monarchical Republic’ and the challenge of female monarchy.  It will explore those changes through focusing on individual Parliaments, the problems they confronted, and the sources available to both contemporaries and modern observers to make sense of them. A wide range of primary sources  - from the poetry of the early Lancastrian period and the official parliamentary records of the mid-fifteenth century to the early Tudor diaries of MPs, draft legislation of Thomas Cromwell and the official parliamentary proceedings of Elizabeth’s reign – will be deployed to understand both the business of Parliament and the contemporary response to its proceedings. To what extent did this period see fundamental changes in English political culture and what light can the study of Parliament shed upon these developments?

Anglo-Saxon Churches: Archaeology, Architecture, History

Many of the thousands of medieval churches that are such a familiar element in the English landscape originated in the late Anglo-Saxon period. These buildings tend to have extremely complex histories but unravelling them is hugely rewarding because they provide evidence for understanding many aspects of medieval social, intellectual, artistic, political and economic history. In the first half of this course we will focus on how to go about investigating churches and dating them using a range of case-studies. In the second half we will focus on some of the best surviving Anglo-Saxon churches. Students should gain confidence in using architectural and archaeological evidence, in how to look carefully at medieval churches, and also learn about a range of Anglo-Saxon sites. There will be opportunities for site visits and in their written work, students will be able to research a particular building, or some related aspects of Anglo-Saxon art, architecture or history.

Grand Designs and Initimate Liaisons: Life at home in early modern England

The household was the most important space in the kingdom in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: that was when England first learnt that ‘a man’s house was his castle’, and that the household was a ‘little commonwealth’ whose head resembled the king ruling his kingdom and Christ his church. These ideas became a political ideology of rule that gave household action authority – what happened in houses directly affected the nation.
This module asks what effect this had on everyday life – what was it like to live in an early modern house? How did the physical environment and material conditions of the household shape everyday activities such as dressing and undressing; eating; sleeping; praying; preparing, storing, cooking and serving food; courting and sex; conversation; reading; instructing children and servants; leisure activities; cleaning and laundering; gossiping or arguing?
It approaches these questions from a variety of disciplines, introducing students to the physical spaces in which activities took place and the material objects that shaped them, as well as primary textual sources such as conduct literature and prayer books, religious treatises and sermons, legal documents describing ordinary and extraordinary events within houses, diaries, letters, inventories and wills. We will be examining local houses and objects in relation to national discourses of domestic life, and the course should appeal to students with historical, literary, architectural or archaeological backgrounds.

Before Shakespeare: Early English Commercial Storytelling on stage and in books

Although Shakespeare's works continue to attract ongoing critical and popular debate, the decade in which Shakespeare began his career as an actor and then writer in the theatre continues to be overlooked by scholarship, partly because so few plays survive from the period. This module will examine the early period of theatre and book history, beginning with the newly established market for printed prose fiction and the surviving documents and foundations of the early theatres before examining the major performance texts from the period: the Queen's Men and the boy companies plays. Students will need to consider texts as printed phenomenon and as cues for performance, and relate theatrical texts to the other kind of fictional publications available in the print market. They will need to consider the different early theatre companies and their various repertories as rivals as well as collaborators, and determine the importance of the various authors in relation to the material they produced. This will entail a wide range of primary sources, mostly printed, to understand the transformation of entertainment culture in the 1580s, as well as an engagement with ongoing work at Shakespeare's Globe into original practices of staging.

MA students are able to take any option modules offered within the Faculty of Humanities. Please consult www.kent.ac.uk/humanities for links to Schools within the Faculty and their modules being offered.

MEMS Option Modules 2012/13

MT861: The Gothic Imagination: English Art and Literature in the Later Middle Ages
MT864: Reading the Medieval Town: Canterbury, an International City       
MT872: Grand Designs and intimate liaisons: life at home in early modern England
MT874: Before Shakespeare: Early English commercial storytelling on stage and in books
MT871: Anglo-Saxon Churches: Archaeology, Architecture, History
MT859: Word & Image in Tudor England



Centre for Medieval & Early Modern Studies, Rutherford College, University of Kent, Canterbury, CT2 7NX

Telephone +44 1227 823140. Fax +44 1227 827060. contact us

Last Updated: 10/04/2014