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Unit information: History of the Book in 2021/22

Unit name History of the Book
Unit code AFACM0012
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Putter
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Humanities
Faculty Faculty of Arts


In this unit, we will study the fascinating history and development of the book as the main medium of the written word from its earliest incarnations (for example, codices made from papyrus) to the advent of print. Together we will trace the production, use and dissemination of books from rare luxury objects, venerated relics and personal keepsakes to everyday household items and mass-produced commodities. Drawing on original sources as well as scholarly literature, we will reflect critically on the various socio-cultural conditions and technological developments that determined how, why and by whom books were used during the medieval period (and beyond). In an age where the book in its traditional format is accompanied regularly, and sometimes challenged, by a variety of different, and increasingly digital, media, it is key for students of the Middle Ages to develop a detailed understanding about the ways in which books allowed medieval individuals and communities to communicate across time and space, exchange knowledge and codify memories. Books will be studied not merely as vehicles for content, but also, and importantly, as powerful material and symbolic objects. Through a series of interdisciplinary, team-taught seminars, the unit aims to provide students with a comprehensive, innovative and multi-faceted set of analytical tools and research techniques that will allow them to engage independently, confidently and competently with the rich world of medieval book culture.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of this unit, students will be able to

  1. demonstrate a detailed knowledge and understanding about the main cultural and technological developments in the history of the book in the Latin West between c.500-1500;
  2. work independently, confidently and competently with medieval primary sources in their original and/or digitised form;
  3. critically evaluate, compare and contrast different scholarly approaches;
  4. develop and justify their own independent interpretations and arguments according to the standards of good academic practice;
  5. present and discuss these interpretations and arguments in front of their peers and receive/provide peer-level feedback;
  6. express these interpretations and arguments at length in a written format, deploying advanced skills in selecting, applying, interpreting and organising information.

Teaching details

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous sessions, including work with manuscripts and discussion-based seminars.

Assessment Details

Summative assessment:

5,000 word essay, primary source based (100%)

Linked to ILOs 1-4, 6

Formative assessment:

In-class presentation

Linked to ILOs 1-5


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