Animals and the Medieval Imagination


Code: MDVLGH13

Credits: 15

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, travellers returned from the East with knowledge of extraordinary and exotic beasts, and translations of Aristotle’s works suggested new ways of thinking about animals. We will look at the place of animals in the medieval belief system, to consider how people thought about animals from religious and philosophical perspectives, and how their attitudes were formed by daily experience of animals. Medieval theologians emphasised the differences between humans and animals, especially the superiority of human rationality and the belief that human souls would have an afterlife while animals’ souls would not. But the ecclesiastical authorities’ notions of the correct interpretation of animal symbols or use of animal bodies did not always prevail, and attitudes to animals that contradicted the apparently stringent medieval policing of the border between human and animal can be found among all social groups. In this course we will look at different approaches to the history of animals, and explore their place in the medieval world view (c.1000-1500). A particular emphasis will be placed on primary sources, texts and images, and students will be encouraged to consult manuscripts for their assessed essay. The aim of the course is not only to deepen students’ historical understanding and further their analytical skills but also to give students interested in planning their own research projects experience in the techniques of reading medieval manuscripts. One of the classes will take place at the British library where students will be assigned a particular manuscript or manuscripts to examine according to their research interests.

Assessment: One essay of up to 3,000 word essay.

Course tutor: Sophie Page, History Department.

Time and location:

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