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Books and Readers in Medieval England


Admission requirements



This course is devoted to books made in England prior to the introduction of the printing press. It provides an overview of the different kind of manuscripts available in medieval England (both in Latin and the vernacular), with an emphasis on the period 1100-1500. What do the objects look like and how may we explain their material features? Who produced them and for whom were they made? Is there a relationship between form and function, or between form and intended user? The course expressly emphasizes how information about the material book may be incorporated in studies that are primarily aimed at texts. Each weekly seminar will put centre stage one particular canonical manuscript (e.g. the Beowulf manuscript, the Vernon manuscript) as well as one particular aspect of book culture (e.g. scribes, compilation techniques, commercial production of books).

Course objectives

  • To introduce students to the culture of the handwritten book in medieval England.

  • To demonstrate the broad range of books in which literature circulated in medieval England.

  • To develop a critical understanding of how knowledge of medieval books may be employed in other disciplines, especially the study of literature.


The timetable is available on the Literary Studies website.

Mode of instruction

Weekly seminars.

Course Load

Total course load: 280 hours.
Attending seminars: 28 hours.
Studying compulsory readings: 100 hours.
Class presentation: 10 hours.
Preparing weekly discussion questions: 22 hours.
Essay/outline writing: 120

Assessment method

Essay: 50%.
Essay outline: 15%
Presentation: 15%
Class participation: 20%


Blackboard will be used (general information, supplying additional readings)

Reading list

Morgan, N.J. and Thomson, R.M. (2014), The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain: Volume 2, 1100-1400 (Cambridge University Press). Paperback. Also available online via UB Leiden OPC.

Gillespie, A. and Wakelin, D. (2014), The Production of Books in England 1350-1500 (Cambridge University Press). Paperback.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

When registering students of the MA Literary studies take priority. The deadline for registration is August 15. All other students should contact the coordinator of studies: Jurjen Donkers.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs



For questions concerning the course content or blackboard module contact the instructor of the course: Prof. dr. F. (Erik) Kwakkel.

Literary Studies departmental office

Coordinator of studies: Mr. J. Donkers, MA