The Power of the Written Word in Early Medieval Britain - MEMS8900

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2022 to 2023
Spring Term 7 30 (15) checkmark-circle


An extraordinarily rich, multilingual corpus of writing survives from early medieval Britain. This material takes many physical and literary forms, including stone and metal inscriptions, and, on parchment, histories, hagiographies, elegies, riddles, epics, charters, liturgical rites, and so much more besides. Collectively, it attests to the vitality of the written word in a diverse range of social and political contexts in a period that is often, erroneously, described as a 'dark age'. The aim of this module is to provide students with an appreciation of the breadth and depth of the surviving textual corpus from early medieval Britain, equipping them with the technical and methodological skills to engage directly with this material for a wide variety of intellectual enquiries. Particular emphasis will be placed on the multilingual nature of this corpus and its ‘social logic’: what does the composition, use and reception of these artefacts tell us about the societies that produced them? Throughout, we will encounter some of the most celebrated literature from the period, including Beowulf, Asser’s Life of King Alfred, and Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica; we will also meet some texts and artefacts that to date have received relatively little attention. By the end of the module, students will have gained a keen awareness of the exciting possibilities that this corpus offers researchers for exploring the social, cultural and political worlds of early medieval Britain.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 22
Private study hours: 278
Total study hours: 300

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods
Source analysis 2,000 words 25%
Essay 4,000 words 75%

Reassessment methods
100% coursework (4,000 words)

Indicative reading

The University is committed to ensuring that core reading materials are in accessible electronic format in line with the Kent Inclusive Practices. The most up to date reading list for each module can be found on the university's reading list pages:

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Engage confidently with a wide variety of primary textual and material sources from early medieval Britain
2 Demonstrate a thorough understanding of the range of surviving forms of written material from early medieval Britain, including its chronological and geographic distribution
3 Convey understanding of the methodological frameworks and techniques applicable to the study of medieval texts
4 Express a critical awareness of the scholarly discourses and debates surrounding the textual corpus from early medieval Britain, particularly in relation to issues of multilingualism, literacy and identity
.5 Appreciate the myriad ways in which this textual corpus can be utilized for intellectual enquiry and research

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Deal with complex issues both systematically and creatively, make sound judgements in the absence of complete data, and communicate their conclusions clearly in writing and orally
2 Demonstrate self-direction and originality in tackling and solving problems, and act autonomously in planning and implementing tasks at a professional or equivalent level
3 Identify a range of solutions involving large quantities of data and abstract concepts in order to make decisions about complex problems in a variety of contexts
4 Take responsibility for an independent research project, including identifying appropriate primary material and an appropriate question, and undertaking self-directed research and learning to bring the project to completion


  1. Credit level 7. Undergraduate or postgraduate masters level module.
  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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