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

Postgraduate Course: Nepotism and Venality: Corruption and Accountability in the Middle Ages (PGHC11586)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe spectre of corruption still haunts modern societies throughout the world, but how did medieval rulers define and combat corruption? Until recently the Middle Ages have been portrayed as an era of nepotism, venality, and other forms of systemic malfeasance (although not usually by medieval historians), and it has been argued that it was not until the rise of recognisably "modern" institutions of governance that these issues were addressed with any success. This course will demonstrate that medieval rulers not only recognised corrupt practices, but also tried to institute programmes of reform. Drawing on recent scholarship concerning the history of corruption, the course challenges the narrative that associates anticorruption programmes with modernity.
Course description There has been growing interest in the history of corruption and recent work has recognised the importance of situating the meaning and practice of corruption in its historical context. Hitherto, it has been assumed that the successful implementation of anticorruption campaigns are related to modernisation and the development of the nation-state and its mechanisms of accountability. However, recent scholarship challenges these assumptions and highlights the ambiguity concerning what were -- and are -- considered corrupt practices, and how far anticorruption programmes were successful in eliminating these problems. This course uses as its working definition of corruption, that of the political scientist Michael Johnstone: "the abuse, according to the legal or social standards constituting a society's system of public order, of a public role or resource for private benefit." As this definition makes clear, it is important to historicize corrupt practices. Nevertheless, it is clear that those in positions of authority in the medieval world, like their predecessors in ancient Greece and Rome, and other pre-modern societies, recognised corrupt practices and attempted to curtail them through mechanisms of accountability, with varying degrees of success. Medieval people were also aware of the blurred distinction between licit and illicit practices. Accusations of corruption were used by those in positions of power -- as they are used today -- to stigmatize their political opponents, claim the moral high ground and, crucially, provide the legitimisation for their own authority. This rhetoric of malfeasance found its way into satirical texts and allegorical literature, as well as narrative and documentary sources. Royal courts and the papal curia became by-words for corruption, as is suggested by the popular medieval acronym ROMA (Radix Omnium Malorum Avaritia -- Avarice the root of all evils), and the satirist Walter Map's depiction of the court of King Henry II of England as "Not Hell, but a place very like it." The modern historiography has also highlighted the limitations of state-centred approaches to the problem of corruption, emphasising the importance of the role of non-state actors. The seminars will make use of translated medieval primary sources to explore corrupt practices in several areas of medieval society, including royal governance, ecclesiastical institutions, and the urban mercantile arena. Students will explore documentary, normative, and narrative sources, as well as examples of the satirical literature mentioned above. The course will also introduce comparative materials from the Byzantine and Islamic worlds, especially texts that provided guides to good rulership ("mirrors for princes"). The seminars and readings will enhance the students' critical reading skills and encourage their ability to contribute to group discussions. It is hoped that the course will provide students with a more nuanced understanding of corruption and the attempts made to fight corrupt practices in the past.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least 3 History courses at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this). We will only consider University/College level courses. Applicants should note that, as with other popular courses, meeting the minimum does NOT guarantee admission.

** as numbers are limited, visiting students should contact the Visiting Student Office directly for admission to this course **
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  15
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 176 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Coursework:
4,000-word essay on a topic discussed with, and approved by, the Course Organiser
Feedback Students are expected to discuss their coursework with the Course Organiser at least once prior to submission, and are encouraged to do so more often. Meetings can take place with the Course Organiser during their published office hours or by appointment. Students will also receive feedback on their coursework, and will have the opportunity to discuss that feedback further with the Course Organiser.

The essay topic will be discussed with the Course Organiser in the Guided Study week. This feed-forward will ensure that the student's chosen topic is feasible, given available primary sources and access to suitable secondary historiography.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. understand the relevant areas of the history of the corruption in the Middle Ages
  2. execute defined research and produce structured and analytical essays on aspects of the course
  3. critically analyse the sources relevant to the course and be familiar with their strengths and limitations
  4. engage with other students through seminar discussion
  5. evaluate the historiography and debate surrounding the nature of medieval corruption and attempts to combat it
Reading List
ALTHOFF, Gerd, Rules and rituals in medieval power games: a German perspective (Leiden, 2020)

BRIOSCHI, Carlo Alberto Corruption. A Short History (Washington, DC, 2017)

CORDELLI, Chiara, The Privatized State (Princeton, NJ, 2020)

JORDAN, William Chester, 'Anti-corruption campaigns in thirteenth-century Europe', Journal of Medieval History, 35:2 (2009), 204-19

KREIKE, Emmanuel, and JORDAN, William Chester, eds. Corrupt Histories (Rochester NY, 2004)

KROEZE, Ronald, et al., eds., Anticorruption in History. From Antiquity to the Modern Era (Oxford, 2018)

LYNCH, Joseph H., Simoniacal Entry into Religious Life from 1000 to 1260. A Social and Economic Study (Columbus, Ohio, 1976)

LYON, Jonathon R., Corruption, Protection and Justice in Medieval Europe. A Thousand-Year History (Cambridge, 2023)

MAGUIRE, Henry, ed., Byzantine Court Culture from 829 to I204. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, (Washington, D.C., I997)

MARLOW, Louise, Medieval Muslim Mirrors for Princes. An Anthology of Arabic, Persian and Turkish Political Advice (Cambridge, 2023)

NOONAN, John T., Bribes (New York, 1984)

SABAPATHY, John, Officers and Accountability in Medieval England 1170-1300 (Oxford, 2014)
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Assimilate, process and communicate a wide range of information from a variety of sources.

Process and critically assess information derived from historical research, utilising theoretical and methodological knowledge and skills specific to the subject area.

Master practical skills in accessing and interpreting historical sources.

Construct and present a coherent argument driven by analysis of the primary sources.

Analyse, assimilate and deploy critically a range of secondary literature relevant and related to the student's individual research subject.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr William Aird
Tel: (0131 6)50 9968
Course secretaryMr George Bottrell-Campbell
Tel: (0131 6)50 8349
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