The University of Southampton

HIST1136 Siena to Southampton: Medieval Towns and Cities

Module Overview

In this module you will examine ways in which historians have interpreted the renewal and flowering of urban life across Europe in the period 1000 to 1500. Based round a series of in-depth case studies – one of which will feature Southampton’s impressive remains, to be explored in the documentary record and on foot ? you will focus on a series of key debates: about the role of the economy in the development of urban life; the communal interests of towns, legal privilege and urban self-government; the domination of some towns and cities by powerful lords, and the resulting conflicts; and towns as centres for consumption, for specialist trades, supported by guilds and craft corporations. If towns and cities were privileged communities of citizens, conspicuous for their ‘bourgeois’ culture, you will consider how historians have exposed their darker side, as concentrations of poverty, crowded, and sometimes violent, with poor sanitation ? the Church’s teaching and mission developed a special appeal in these locations. Your analyses will be supported by urban chronicles, the records of trade and town government, town charters and the archives of merchants, guilds and the Church, topography and standing remains, as well as the depictions which have made the walled city so familiar to us in medieval art.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• Provide an introduction to medieval history and the sources used to write it • Using medieval towns and cities, to provide a route into a wider exploration of the medieval world • To investigate the causes of significant historical phenomena, the development of cities, urbanisation, commerce and other related features of medieval life

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Comparative examples, offering insights into crucial developments in European society, economy, law, politics and religion
  • The reasons behind the diversity of medieval towns and cities, and debates about their importance
  • Key types of medieval source and the context in which they were produced
  • Historical debates about the development of cities, urbanisation and commerce in medieval Europe
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Participate effectively in group discussion
  • Debate in seminar groups to deepen and refine understanding
  • Communicate your research findings convincingly in concise form, both orally and in writing
  • Manage your time
  • Develop your presentation skills
  • Develop the effectiveness of your writing
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Understand the relationship between primary sources and secondary literature, and the ways in which historians and those in related disciplines present their arguments
  • Employ your research skills to develop understanding of the topic
  • Make good use of library facilities and related on-line collections
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Evaluate critically and contextualise a range of sources
  • Assess secondary works and the ways in which they use primary sources
  • Engage with the scholarly literature
  • Participate fully in group discussions, developing arguments based on your reading, knowledge and understanding
  • Present your ideas and research findings in structured form, in essays and seminar presentations


Beyond an introduction and overview, topics will typically include: • Exchange, commerce, society and population • Medieval Southampton • Towns and power: government, authority and privilege • Capital cities • Crafts, trades and guilds • The Church and urban culture • The urban poor • Townscapes, buildings and defences • Ports, coastal and overseas trade • Planned towns of the Middle Ages

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • Weekly lecture and seminar • Group readings and debates on key sources • Short presentations by students • Group discussions including feedback from the tutor • Exploring the topography of medieval Southampton The lectures will provide general knowledge and context to help you develop your understanding of the subject, its key concepts and sources. You will consolidate this through independent reading of recommended texts, and through class study of key primary material. Discussion in seminars will help you develop your thinking about the topic, analysing sources and articulating critical argument. Learning methods include • Preparatory reading, including library work and individual research, prior to each class • Studying textual, visual and archaeological sources • Preparing and delivering short presentations on specific parts of the module • Participation in group and class discussion The module will make use of written and visual sources, along with the evidence of standing remains and archaeology. While it will look at towns and cities across Europe, it will encourage you to study some of the debates about urban life in a local context, including Southampton, Winchester and Salisbury, and to think about the dynamics of space in the medieval town. A guided study walk around medieval Southampton will be an integral part of the course.

Independent Study126
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

R. Britnell (1996). The Commercialisation of English Society, 1000-1500. 

C. Dyer (2002). Making a Living in the Middle Ages: the People of Britain 850-1520. 

E. Miller and J. Hatcher (1995). Medieval England: Towns, Commerce and Crafts, 1086-1348. 

C. Platt (1973). Medieval Southampton: the port and trading community, A.D.1000-1600. 

M. Kowaleski, ed (2008). Medieval Towns: a Reader. 

K.D. Lilley (2002). Urban Life in the Middle Ages 1000-1450. 

T. Dean (2000). The Towns of Italy in the Later Middle Ages. 

R. Holt and G. Rosser (1990). The English Medieval Town: a Reader in English Urban History 1200-1540. 

R. Hodges (1982). Dark Age Economics: Origins of Towns and Trade, AD 600-1000. 


Assessment Strategy

Assessments designed to provide informal feedback: • You will engage in small group exercises, focusing on specific formative tasks, which will be reviewed in class. • You will be encouraged to discuss preparation for your formal assessment with your tutor. • You will have the opportunity to seek individual advice on your work in progress from your tutor. • Guidance and advice in class on preparation, completion and presentation of assignments will be available to you. The formal assessments will promote skills of analysis and critical thinking. They will also reinforce organisational, planning and writing skills.


MethodPercentage contribution
Commentary exercise  (1000 words) 20%
Essay  (2000 words) 40%
Examination  (1 hours) 40%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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