Events Calendar
Jun 13 - Jun 27
10:30 - 12:30
A Harsh, Hard Existence? Medieval Life Revealed
short courses

Dates: 13, 20, 27 June 2019

Thursdays: 10.30 – 12.30

Course code: 18TON382

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Ever wondered about the day-to-day existence of our medieval predecessors, of the builders and occupants of medieval houses, castles, or churches? What did they eat? Or wear? What inspired them? Was life harsh and hard? Explore their lifestyle and culture through a variety of sources.

The medieval world is all around us in our cities, towns and villages: in our timber-framed houses and barns, castles, churches and cathedrals – these buildings are an integral part of today's landscape. But what do we know of the daily-lives of the people who lived or worshipped in them? Of the lifestyle of the builders who fashioned these magnificent structures with the simplest of tools? Or the craftsmen who have left us complex painted illuminated manuscripts? In a society where working on the land and the seasons determined productivity of food and the very survival of individuals, what inspired people? And what were the creative challenges that the workers faced in a world without our modern amenities? 

This course will delve into these questions using a wide variety of sources. We will examine contemporary writings, including personal correspondence, such as that from the Paston family letters; medieval manuscripts, books and literature; we will look at examples from the extant buildings and enquire into the architecture; using the work of research experts in the field of medieval culture, we will consider the English household finding out about food, clothing and travel. The medieval year was structured around the many religious festivals and feast days - consider how celebrations gave a lively basis to the lives of the men and women of all social strata. By exploring the day-to-day activities of our medieval forebears we will gain a wider appreciation of life and the vibrant creativity of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Suggested reading

Mortimer, Ian, The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England (London: Vintage, 2009) – this informative and entertaining book focuses on the fourteenth century and has received widespread acclaim for its approach to history. 

Woolgar, C.M., The Great Household in Late Medieval England (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1999) – 'It is no exaggeration to see in the historical landscape of the British Isles, in the houses, castle and religious houses, ruined or otherwise, a physical reminder of one of the most potent forces of the […] Middle Ages, the great household.'

Additional information

  • This course is suitable for all levels; no prior knowledge is assumed.
  • This course allows you to spend time exploring a subject for interest, among like-minded people, without formal assessment. 
  • There may be optional research/discussion activities during the course.

    Intended learning outcomes

    • To 'read' history through an appreciation of the lives lived during the medieval period.
    • To consider how the creative skills of the medieval craftsmen continue to influence our culture and artistic endeavours today.
    • To discover the vibrancy of the many varied sources available to aid the study of this period, including written primary and secondary sources, pictorial evidence from, for example, illuminated manuscripts and to enquire what and how web sources can enable research into the medieval period.
    • To enable students, if they wish, to embark on their own research and exploration of the Middle Ages.

      About the tutor

      Julia Cruse has a PhD in Medieval and Early Modern Studies and has taught undergraduates at the University of Kent. As a mature student she graduated from the University of Kent with a degree in History; her BA dissertation focused on the Paston letters. Her doctoral thesis continued her research into late medieval letter-writing and looked at gentry identity and the politics of letter-writing. She is currently continuing her exploration into the Tudor period with a focus on the Tudor palaces and the lives of the courtiers who lived in them. An ambition is to write her first novel based on her discoveries.


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