Barbarism and Civilsation: Medieval and Early Modern Europe

Module code: HS1001

Module co-ordinator: Professor John Coffey 

In the popular imagination, medieval and early modern Europe is renowned for both its barbarism and its civilisation. This was the era of Crusades and universities, of the Black Death and Renaissance art, of Inquisitions and the birth of modern science. This module will introduce you to an enthralling and paradoxical stretch of European history, from Charlemagne to Louis XIV, from the Vikings to the discovery and colonisation of the New World. We will consider how medieval and early modern Europeans sought to construct and maintain civility and how their understanding of 'barbarism' and 'civilisation' differed markedly from our own. The module will explore the period through its social, political, religious, and cultural history respecting the strangeness of the past while identifying its lasting legacies to modern Europe.

By the end of the module, you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a grounding in major themes and debates in medieval and early modern European history c. 800-1700
  • Evaluate popular stereotypes of medieval and early modern 'barbarism'
  • Explain how Europeans sought to construct and maintain civility
  • Explain the value of different approaches to the past, including social, political, religious, and cultural history
  • Analyse a variety of primary sources (textual and non-textual) by asking critical questions about their provenance, purpose, preservation, and historical value
  • Demonstrate oral communication skills in a small-group setting
  • Locate specific persons, events, and artefacts in their historical setting and chronological sequence
  • Demonstrate command of a chosen essay topic


  • 21 hours of lectures
  • 3 hours of practicals/workshops
  • 8 hours of tutorials
  • 168 hours of guided independent study


  • Chronological exercise (40%)
  • Essay, 2,500 words (60%)