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The University of Southampton

HIST1175 Castles: Military technology and social change from the middle ages to the modern

Module Overview

The castle was one of the most characteristic creations and symbols of the middle ages. They were advanced military technology which supported a range of functions; they dominated populations and secured conquests; they were garrisons, centres of government and elite residences, among other functions. Within this module, you will examine how the castle developed in terms of functions and uses. Changing military technology formed perhaps the largest single influence on the development of the castle, and the module will include consideration of the development of siege technology, and especially of the evolution of artillery. Social change also influenced the development of the castle, for castles depended on the predominance of an aristocratic class itself subject to change. Finally, you will look at the end of the castle as a serious military asset, and how some of its functions and values survived even that.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • the changing nature of the castle in society, and the multiple roles (social, political, economic, military) it played
  • how sources from different disciplines can combine to allow greater understanding of castles
  • the ways in which castles functioned within different areas of the world (e.g. European, Crusader, Islamic, etc)
  • what meanings castles may have carried to the who lived in them, or next to them
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • gather and analysing information from diverse disciplines and sources
  • produce oral and written presentations
  • collaborate with others in group work
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • perform bibliographic searches
  • engage with a range of approaches drawn from different disciplines
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • analyse conflicting views
  • combine historical, archaeological and literary sources
  • determine the importance or otherwise of key developments in castle historiography


The following is an indicative list of the range of topics that will be covered. It may vary slightly year to year. The origin of the castle, or, why were there no castles in the early middle ages? Castles and feudal society: functions and form The spread of castles around Europe Castles, innovation and the Crusades Edward I of England and the castles of the conquest of Wales Castles and technology: the origins of artillery and changing castle design Castles and aristocratic culture in the later middle ages Henry VIII and the defence of the nation Elizabethan and Stuart castles: changing functions The end of the castle? Military obsolescence and changing social norms Castles and the Gothic imagination Revision and overview

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods: - Lectures and seminar discussion - oral presentations - small group work within the context of the seminar. Lectures will provide you with a general overview and understanding of chronology, sources and key concepts. This will be consolidated through readings and seminar discussions of primary and secondary source material. Presentations and subsequent group discussion in seminars will help you to develop your own ideas about topics, to analyse a range of source material and to articulate a critical argument. Learning activities include: - independent study of source material and secondary literature - preparation for seminars with guidance from the tutor - discussion of oral presentations. In this module, learning and teaching activities focus on helping you to explore and investigate the ideas and themes outlined above. Throughout the module you will also engage in directed and self-directed study, for example through pre-seminar reading and through library research. The presentations (by you and your fellow students) and your reading will provide you with a broad overview of the secondary literature, using the bibliography provided at the start of the module. The discussion generated by these presentations will provide you with the opportunity to explore the relevant major historical debates on a weekly basis. In addition, you will study in depth a range of primary written and visual sources, as well as surviving material culture. These sessions will allow you to prepare for the assessment exercises. Feedback on your progress and development will be given via seminars and group discussions. Responses from tutor and your fellow students to your presentation will also give you formative feedback.

Follow-up work45
Completion of assessment task16
Preparation for scheduled sessions45
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

E. Armitage (1912). The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles. 

A. Wheatley (2004). The Idea of the Castle in Medieval England. 

Resources. The module handbook, lecture slides, digitised sources, and full bibliography will be available on the module’s Blackboard site. The following is an indicative reading list.





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


MethodPercentage contribution
Assessment 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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