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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of History, Classics and Archaeology : History

Undergraduate Course: Damnation and redemption in the medieval world: a journey through Dante's Inferno and Purgatorio (HIST10403)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits40 ECTS Credits20
SummaryDante's Star Trek-like journey through his imaginative realms of the afterlife is an incredibly vivid, complex, timeless, and incredibly influential discussion of the meaning and purpose of human existence encompassing politics, religion, emotions, society, along with intellectual and ethical ambitions. In Inferno and Purgatorio, that is vividly brought to life by Dante's encounters with tragically flawed historical and mythological characters from across Europe and the Mediterranean, who undergo diverse punishments for their sins in highly visionary settings. This course explores those two realms of Dante's afterlife, which respectively deal with eternal damnation and redemptive penitence, together with the medieval world that inspired them, and their legacy and influence through the centuries.
Course description While exploring in depth most of Dante's Divine Comedy, this course also offers an advanced analysis on the medieval world and its incredibly rich legacy. Of the three sections of the Divine Comedy, Inferno and Purgatorio have always been overwhelmingly favoured because of their dramatic gallery of complex, flawed, and colourful inhabitants, the far from clear-cut accounts about their lives and deaths, and their vivid settings and punishments. The structure of the course closely reflects those of Dante's Inferno and Purgatorio, which are explored in the first and second semester respectively: after an introductory session providing guidance and an overview of the Divine Comedy and its context, each seminar explores one of the sections of Inferno and Purgatorio, with their different categories of sinners. Each seminar will include the reading, discussion and contextualisation of the text of one of those thematic sections. The last seminar of each semester will explore the legacy of Dante's work. Indeed, while providing food for thought for themes that are still of key relevance today, the Divine Comedy has been described as a compendium of medieval learned and popular culture, and is also one of its most influential works because of the profound influence that it exerted over authors, thinkers and artists through the centuries.

Content note: Being a course about damnation and Hell, every week touches upon potentially sensitive or difficult topics. Please read this summary of the content of Dante's Inferno:; with a more redemptive and cheerful outlook in Purgatory:
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Students MUST NOT also be taking Dante's Inferno: medieval society, sin and eternal damnation (HIST10396)
Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  0
Course Start Full Year
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 400 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 44, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 8, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 348 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Coursework:
4 x 3,000 word essay (100%)
Feedback Students are encouraged to design their own essay topics and they will receive formative feedback on a plan and a bibliography prior to submission of the essay. Students will receive written feedback on their coursework, and will have the opportunity to discuss that feedback further with the Course Organiser during their published office hours or by appointment.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate command of the body of knowledge considered in the course
  2. Read, analyse and reflect critically upon relevant scholarship
  3. Understand, evaluate and utilize a variety of primary source material
  4. Develop and sustain scholarly arguments in oral and written form, by formulating appropriate questions and utilizing evidence
  5. Demonstrate independence of mind and initiative, intellectual integrity and maturity, an ability to evaluate the work of others, including peers.
Reading List
The text and commentary of the Divine Comedy is available online in the Princeton Dante Project:
P. Hainsworth and D. Robey, Dante: a very short introduction (Oxford, 2015).
R. Swanson, Religion and devotion in Europe, 1215-1515 (Cambridge, 1995).
R. Jacoff (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Dante (Cambridge, 2007), ebook.
R. Lansing (ed.), The Dante Encyclopedia (Garland, 2000).
J. R. Woodhouse, Dante and governance (Oxford, 1997) ebook.
P. Boyde, Human vices and human worth in Dante's Comedy (Cambridge, 2006).
A. Morgan, Dante and the medieval other world (Cambridge, 1990).
N. R. Havely, Dante's British public readers and texts, from the fourteenth century to the present (Oxford, 2014) ebook.
H. Bloom, The western canon: the books and school of the ages (London, 1995).
The Cambridge history of Christianity, volume 4: Christianity in Western Europe, c. 1100-1500 (Cambridge, 2010), ebook.
The Central Middle Ages: 950-1320, ed. D. Power (Oxford, 2006).
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills ability to draw valid conclusions about the past
ability to identify, define and analyse historical problems
ability to select and apply a variety of critical approaches to problems informed by uneven evidence
ability to exercise critical judgement in creating new understanding
ability to extract key elements from complex information
readiness and capacity to ask key questions and exercise rational enquiry
ability critically to assess existing understanding and the limitations of knowledge and recognition of the need regularly to challenge/test knowledge
ability to search for, evaluate and use information to develop knowledge and understanding
possession of an informed respect for the principles, methods, standards, values and boundaries of the discipline(s), as well as the capacity to question these
recognition of the importance of reflecting on one's learning experiences and being aware of one's own particular learning style
openness to new ideas, methods and ways of thinking
ability to identify processes and strategies for learning
independence as a learner, with readiness to take responsibility for one's own learning, and commitment to continuous reflection, self-evaluation and self-improvement
ability to make decisions on the basis of rigorous and independent thought.
ability to test, modify and strengthen one's own views through collaboration and debate
intellectual curiosity
ability to sustain intellectual interest
ability to make effective use of oral, written and visual means convey understanding of historical issues and one's interpretation of them.
ability to marshal argument lucidly and coherently
ability to collaborate and to relate to others
readiness to seek and value open feedback to inform genuine self-awareness
ability to articulate one's skills as identified through self-reflection
ability to approach historical problems with academic rigour
ability to manage and meet firm deadlines
flexible, adaptable and proactive responsiveness to changing surroundings
possession of the confidence to make decisions based on one's understanding and personal/intellectual autonomy
ability to transfer knowledge, learning, skills and abilities flexibly from one context to another
ability to work effectively with others, capitalising on diversities of thinking, experience and skills
working with, managing, and leading others in ways that value their diversity and equality and that encourage their contribution
Course organiserDr Kirsty Day
Course secretaryMiss Lauren Smith
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