The Art of Death: Representations, Rituals, & Records in Medieval Europe - HI789

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2020 to 2021
(version 2)
Autumn 5 30 (15) DR E Guerry checkmark-circle


This module explores the place of death within medieval European culture, focusing especially on the visual and material evidence of relics, tombs, architecture, wall paintings, and illuminated manuscripts. It will begin by examining how ideas about death and the dead were expressed in works of art from Late Antiquity until the arrival of the Black Death in 1348. Our primary sources will be set within the context of literary, visual, documentary and liturgical evidence. Together, we will examine these sources from different disciplinary perspectives in attempt to determine how the study of medieval death and contemporary anxieties about the afterlife can inform us about how people lived in the Middle Ages.


This module appears in the following module collections.

Contact hours

This module will be taught through one 1-hour lecture and one 2-hour seminar each week, with the exception of Enhancement Week and one week that will be dedicated to coursework feedback.

Method of assessment

This module is assessed by:

Source Analysis (3000 words) - 20%
Term Paper (3000 words) - 20%
Examination (2 hours) - 60%

Indicative reading

Binski, Paul (2004). Becket's Crown (New Haven, 2004)
Binski, Paul (1996). Medieval Death: Ritual and Representation (London, 1996)
Brown, Peter (1982). The Cult of the Saints (Chicago, 1982)
Camille, Michael (1992). Image on the Edge (London, 1992)
Horrox, Rosemary (1994): The Black Death (Manchester, 1994)
Le Goff, Jacques (1986). The Birth of Purgatory (Chicago, 1986)
Saul, Nigel (2001). Death, Art, and Memory in Medieval England (Oxford, 2001)

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes of this module are that, on completion of this module, students will be able to:

- Demonstrate skills that enable them to work with a variety of historical sources, including visual evidence (e.g., sculpture, paintings, stained glass) and documentary sources (e.g., wills and coroners' records), and to evaluate their relative strengths and limitations, and to interpret these sources.
- Provide an overview of the development of the visual culture of death in medieval Europe and an understanding of artistic innovations within the context of wider artistic, economic, devotional, social and epidemiological developments.
- Demonstrate an awareness of different disciplinary approaches to the theme of death in the Middle Ages (especially art-historical, social-historical, theological, and literary), and to approach a specific monument with an understanding of its potential as evidence addressing different disciplinary concerns.

The intended subject specific learning outcomes of this module are that, on completion of this module, students will be able to:

- Demonstrate the ability to construct robust historical arguments drawing intelligently on primary and secondary sources, and to present these arguments.
- Demonstrate skills of conceptualisation, reflexivity, critical thought and epistemological awareness.
- Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the past and particular aspects of the historiography and methodology, assisting them in other courses.


  1. Credit level 5. Intermediate level module usually taken in Stage 2 of an undergraduate degree.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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