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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of History, Classics and Archaeology : Postgraduate (History, Classics and Archaeology)

Postgraduate Course: Literature and History in Early Medieval Britain and Ireland (PGHC11447)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course aims to familiarize students with both the possibilities and the challenges of using medieval literature as a source for historical investigation. Focusing on some of the most widely-used poems and prose epics surviving from early medieval Britain and Ireland, students will gain an understanding of the changing uses to which these sources have been put by historians and archaeologists, and encouraged to come to their own conclusions about the potential of such material to aid our understanding of past societies.
Course description Vernacular literature has always been a source of fascination for scholars of the early Middle Ages. Historians and archaeologists alike regularly turn to it, in the hope that it might evoke the living texture of the past more vividly than other dry and fragmentary sources allow. As a result, Old English epic poetry like Beowulf, stories from the Irish cycles like the Tain Bo Cuailnge, and the enigmatic elegies of the Welsh Gododdin poetry have always - whether consciously or otherwise - coloured historians' understanding of life in early medieval Britain. The results have undoubtedly been illuminating; but it remains true that many historians and archaeologists still approach literary evidence somewhat uncritically, hoping that it simply allows us with a straightforward window onto the past. The course aims to look more critically at both the problems and the possibilities of using literary evidence as a source for historical investigation, and asks what we as historians should do with the enigmatic literary remains of early medieval Britain and Ireland.

The seminar programme runs as follows:
1. Introductory meeting
2. Beowulf and Old English poetry
3. Tain Bo Cuailnge and the Irish cycles
4. Y Gododdin and the 'old poetry' of the Welsh
5. Literature as a window?
6. Authors and audiences
7. Thinking about the past
8. Pagans and Christians
9. Irony and satire
10. Vernacular and Latin literatures
11. Medieval literature and historical investigation
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2018/19, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  15
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 22, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 174 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 80 %, Practical Exam 20 %
Additional Information (Assessment) One 3000 word research essay (80%)
In class presentation (10%)
Seminar contribution mark (10%)
Feedback Students will receive extensive written feedback on all submitted work. They will also have ample opportunity to go over that feedback with the course organiser during scheduled office hours or via e-mail.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. analyze many of the major pieces of early medieval vernacular literature
  2. reflect critically on the possibilities regarding the use of literary evidence in historical investigation
  3. understand the ways in which previous scholars have used such evidence in their own work
  4. assess and evaluate the arguments of others with greater sophistication
  5. develop a greater capacity for self-directed study and independence of thought
Reading List
Clancy, J., Medieval Welsh Poems (Dublin, 2003)
Fulk, R. (ed.), Interpretations of Beowulf: A Critical Anthology (Bloomington, 1991)
Kinsella, T., The Tain (Dublin, 1970)
Liuzza, R., Beowulf: A New Verse Translation (New York, 1999)
Jackson, K., The Oldest Irish Tradition: A Window on the Iron Age (Cambridge, 1964)
Mallory, J. (ed.), Aspects of the Tain (Belfast, 1992)
Orchard, A., Pride and Prodigies: Studies in the Monsters of the Beowulf-Manuscript (Cambridge, 1985)
________, A Critical Companion to Beowulf (Cambridge, 2003)
Patterson, T., Cattle-Lords and Clansmen: The Social Structure of Early Ireland (London, 1994)
Woolf, A. (ed.), Beyond the Gododdin: Dark Age Scotland in Medieval Wales (St Andrews, 2012)
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills - effective retrieval of scattered and highly technical information
- ability to evaluate critically a range of relevant scholarly methodologies and to choose and apply successfully the most effective one(s) necessary to answer specific research questions
- ability to evaluate 'primary' sources of evidence of the past in order to draw valid conclusions about it
- ability to produce a sustained and effective analysis of a difficult research problem
- critical thinking and reading as applied to fragmentary evidence and/or scholarly argument
- ability to develop a strong grasp of complex subjects through directed reading
- ability to test, modify and strengthen one's own views through collaboration and debate
- ability to identify and carry out a viable research project with occasional supervision, but with readiness to take responsibility for one's own learning
- ability to approach problems with academic rigour, imagination and mental agility
- possession of an informed respect for the principles, methods, standards, values and boundaries of study in this area of enquiry, as well as the capacity to question these
- preparing balanced and accessible discussions of complex issues and detailed material
- composing concise but effective arguments to firm deadlines
- ability to work effectively and professionally in a seminar/group discussion atmosphere
- IT skills connected with Internet use, word processing and visual presentations
- command of bibliographical and library and/or archival research skills
- analytical reading skills
KeywordsLiterature,History,Early Medieval,Britain,Ireland
Course organiserDr Richard Sowerby
Tel: (0131 6)50 3854
Course secretaryMrs Lindsay Scott
Tel: (0131 6)50 9948
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