HIS-30102 - The Art of Dying: Death and Society in Medieval and Early Modern Europe
Coordinator: Ian Atherton Room: CBB0.046 Tel: +44 1782 7 33205
Lecture Time: See Timetable...
Level: Level 6
Credits: 15
Study Hours: 150
School Office: 01782 733147

Programme/Approved Electives for 2022/23


Available as a Free Standing Elective






Barred Combinations


Description for 2022/23

'Dying well' was a fundamental concern for all in medieval and early modern Europe, but what did that mean? This module will explore the history of death in medieval and early modern Europe from c. 1000 to c. 1750.
If our society has what Geoffrey Gorer has called a 'pornography of death', whereby all practices surrounding death should be done out of public view, just like sexual pornography, it is important to understand how public death and dying were in medieval and early modern Europe. The module takes a comparative approach, comparing and contrasting ways of dying, burial, attitudes to good and bad death, especially suicide, expectations of the afterlife, and the experience of famine and plague, in medieval and early modern Europe. The ways in which a society treated death reveals a great deal about its assumptions and ideas, and so this module offers a fascinating insight into the social, religious and cultural history of a world which is very different from our own.
For an introduction, see Philippe Aries, Western Attitudes toward Death from the Middle Ages to the Present (1976), or dip into his The Hour of Our Death (1981).

To explore attitudes towards and depictions of death in medieval and early modern European society and its functions in organizing the thought world of its peoples, in order to advance students' historical and historiographical knowledge as well as their ability to make meaningful comparisons across time, using a wide variety of primary and secondary sources.

Talis Aspire Reading List
Any reading lists will be provided by the start of the course.

Intended Learning Outcomes

analyse the role of social and religious change and their effects on position of and attitudes to death, dying and the dead in medieval and early modern Europe: 1,2
evaluate continuity and change in the longue durée
and thereby develop the ability to make meaningful historical comparisons across time: 1,2
analyse a variety of visual and literary sources for the history of death, while addressing the issues of genre, content, perspective and historicity: 1,2
evaluate scholarly debates on this topic, in particular the idea of `living with the dead¿ in medieval and early modern culture in order to empathise with medieval and early modern mentalités regarding death: 1,2

Study hours

150 hours: 12 x two-hour seminars, 12 x one-hour workshops, 50 hours seminar preparation, 30 hours extended document commentary preparation, 34 hours preparation for and completion of 24-hour take-home examination.

School Rules


Description of Module Assessment

1: Commentary weighted 50%
Extended document commentary
EITHER a c.1000-word comparative commentary on primary sources set by the tutors OR a curated exhibition on the material culture of death (submitted as a powerpoint). Students will be expected to demonstrate a comparative approach.

2: Open Book Examination weighted 50%
Unseen examination
An unseen twenty-eight hour take home examination in which students will be expected to answer two essay questions from a list of 8. Students will be expected to demonstrate a comparative approach. Although you have twenty-eight hours, you should normally expect not more than four hours active working time. Word limit: c. 2,000 words