The Medieval Natural World

Module code: HS3696

Module co-ordinator: Dr Richard Jones

The attempt to explain nature - and by so doing order and control the material world - has been one of humanity’s greatest intellectual challenges. It has been an enterprise that has historically defined who we are and continues to do so into the modern era. Despite the size and complexity of the task, this has never discouraged people from trying. Every age and culture has made its own contribution. The middle ages were no different. How people came to understand nature during this long period, sandwiched as it were between the great age of philosophy that preceded it and the ages of science and discovery that would follow, is the subject of this third year module. 

This option will introduce you to a very different world whose ideas have largely been dismissed. There are signs, however, that medieval ideas are once again being to find application within modern society.

The module is supported by a dedicated book, The Medieval Natural World by Dr Richard Jones.

Topics covered

  • Universal theories
  • Astrology and astronomy
  • Meteorology
  • Geography
  • Being human
  • Animals
  • Plants
  • Minerals
  • The Book of Nature


10 three-hour sessions.


  • Essay, 2,500 words (50%)
  • Field trip cards (50%)
Field trip is a Google app. The University of Leicester is the first university partner and is currently developing ways of delivering materials to the app. It is location based and centred on site-specific cards popping up on users’ screens while out and about. You will be asked to identify three UK places with natural world relevant material such as a church font with ornate foliate carving, a place-name or a mural painting. You will be asked to write an engaging and lively description of each (up to 350 words), explaining its historical significance. This will be published (subject to editorial) on the app.