MEDV1085 Medieval Narratives in the Modern World: Nationalism, Terrorism and Popular Culture

Reading List

Discovery module overview

Module Summary

Module Summary

The Middle Ages are often perceived as being in the distant past, and as such, irrelevant in the twenty-first century. Yet the medieval past still has currency in the modern world. This module will examine the use and adaptation of medieval images and narratives in political and popular culture, considering how agendas for the present and future can be fulfilled by making claims about the past. By examining the use of the medieval past in nationalist narratives, the rhetoric of the War on Terror, and popular culture alongside medieval primary source material, students will gain an understanding of how the present often co-opts the past, and how the past is always understood through the lens of the present. The module will look beyond the question of accuracy or inaccuracy in modern depictions of the Middle Ages to consider the aims and effects of these depictions.


The objectives of this module are:

  • 1. To explore the use and adaptation of medieval narratives and medieval history in modern political and popular culture.
  • 2. To critically analyse a range of sources and to examine the relationship between medieval primary source material and modern adaptations.
  • 3. To formulate sophisticated and nuanced arguments in written and verbal form.
  • 4. To further develop generic and transferable skills.


The module will be divided into three thematic sections. After an introduction in week one, the first section (weeks 2-4) will examine the way the medieval past is co-opted to justify nationalist narratives, considering, for example, the adoption of Joan of Arc as a figurehead by the far right in France or the relationship between the film Braveheart and the campaign for Scottish independence. The second section (weeks 5-6) will consider the rhetoric of 'crusade' in the War on Terror as well as the acts of 'medieval barbarity' attributed to terrorists. The final section (weeks 7-10) will analyse the way popular culture - movies, television, video games, and literature - makes use of medieval images and narratives. By considering popular franchises such as The Lord of the Rings, the hit series Game of Thrones, or supernatural romances such as the Twilight, students will investigate the portrayal of gender and power in both medieval texts and their modern adaptations. The lecture in week 11 will bring the course to a conclusion, and students will make their presentations in the week 11 seminar.
The subjects covered in workshops/lectures and their accompanying seminars may vary from year to year depending upon which members of the teaching team are available and as certain subjects rise or fall in prominence.

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module students should be able to:

  • 1. Identify and evaluate the use and adaptation of the medieval past in political and popular culture.
  • 2. Identify and discuss as evidence a wide range of primary sources (both medieval and modern) including literature, artwork, documents, and films.
  • 3. Demonstrate that they can express their opinions and develop an argument using both oral and written expression.

Skills Outcomes

  • - Study and interpretation of primary sources, including material culture and films
  • - Development and substantiation of students' own arguments
  • - Historical comparison between medieval narratives and their contemporary adaptations

Assessment and teaching

Assessment and teaching


Assesment type Notes % of formal assesment
Essay 1 x 2,000 word essay, due by 12 noon Monday of week 8 40
Essay 1 x 2,000 word essay, due by 12 noon Monday of revision week 40
Group Project Group presentation 10
Report Reflective summary of presentation 10
Total percentages (Assessment Coursework) 100

Private Study

  • -Preparatory reading for lectures and seminars.
  • -Engaging with the work of other seminar participants.
  • -Researching and writing essays.
  • -Researching and presenting the verbal presentation.
  • -Writing a reflective report on the presentation.

Progress Monitoring

Progress is monitored through formative feedback on the essays and the presentation. Performance will be assessed through a verbal presentation and three written pieces of work: two essays of 2,000 words length and a reflective report on the presentation exercise of 1,000 words.

Teaching methods

Delivery type Number Length hours Student hours
Lectures 11 1 11
Tutorial 11 1 11
Private Study Hours 178
Total Contact Hours 22
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits) 200

Reading List

Reading List
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