Skip to main content

Study information

Gender and Sexuality in the Middle Ages

Module titleGender and Sexuality in the Middle Ages
Module codeHIH1053
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Jennifer Farrell (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

The middle ages is often portrayed in the media as a period of rigid gender and sexual stereotypes, in which the heterosexual and patriarchal reigned supreme.  Yet the view of historians who specialise in this period is that the situation on the ground was much more complex. This module will introduce you to the myriad of ways in which medieval men and women conceived of gendered and sexual identities, from the dominant ideologies of heterosexual and patriarchal discourse to representations and discussions of the queer, the non-binary, and the trans, from same-sex relations to human-animal relations.  In doing so, it will provide you with an important understanding of the building blocks that shaped medieval attitudes towards politics, social orders, religion, and ethnicity more broadly defined. 

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aims of this module are:

  • to introduce you to the range of sources that can be used when studying medieval gender and sexuality
  • to introduce you to the variety and complexity of medieval attitudes towards gender and sexuality
  • to provide you with an alternative approach to studying the political, social, racial and religious institutions that dominated throughout the middle ages, by looking at the relationship between the dominant and transgressive subject in history.

Throughout the module, you will engage with several different source-types: histories, legal records, romance literatures and poetry, biographies and autobiographies, hagiographies, penitential literature, theological and philosophical writings, medical literature, art and architecture, learning how to assess their values and limitations as historical evidence.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Understand and assess the main developments in medieval ideas and experiences of gender and sexuality
  • 2. Work critically with a range of written and visual sources relating to the topic

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Identify the problems of using historical sources, e.g. utility, limitations, etc., and compare the validity of different types of sources
  • 4. Present work orally, respond to questions orally, and think quickly of questions to ask other students

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Conduct independent study and group work, including the presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning
  • 6. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment
  • 7. Work with others in a team and to interact effectively with the tutor and the wider group
  • 8. Write to a very tight word-length

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

Each week we will look at gender and sexuality within different thematic contexts. Seminar topics may vary but can include:

  • sex as religious experience
  • military masculinity
  • clerical masculinity
  • marriage and offspring
  • women’s medicine
  • hermaphrodites and the non-binary
  • sodomy and ideas about sexual sin
  • transsexual experiences
  • sexuality and ethnicity
  • ‘queering’
  • gender and magic
  • gender and heresy

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching22 hour lecture: Introduction to module
Scheduled Learning and Teaching2010 x 2 hour seminars. At a meeting of the whole class generally a different group of 3-4 students will give a presentation to the whole class, followed by class discussion and working through the sources for that week carefully. Additional sources may be issued in the class and the lecturer will also use the time to set up issues for the following week.
Guided Independent Study128Students prepare for the session through reading and research; writing five source commentaries and an essay and preparing one group presentation in the course of the term.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group presentation (3-4 students)10 minutes1-7Oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Source commentary 133850 words1-3, 5-6, 8Mark and written comments
Source commentary 233850 words1-3, 5-6, 8Mark and written comments
Source commentary 334850 words1-3, 5-6, 8Mark and written comments

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Source commentarySource commentary1-3, 5-6, 8Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Below is a list of readings that provide useful overviews or broad studies of gender and sexuality. More specific readings will be made available by the module convenor to help you throughout the course. All are available online via the university’s library unless otherwise stated.

  • Skinner, Patricia. Studying Gender in Medieval Europe. London: Palgrave, 2018.
  • Muravyeva, Marianna and Toivo, Raisa Maria (eds). Gender in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe. London: Routledge, 2015.
  • M. Sauer, Michelle. Gender in Medieval Culture. London: Bloomsbury, 2015.
  • Partner, Nancy F. Studying Medieval Women: sex, gender, feminism. Cambridge, Mass.: Medieval Academy of America, 1993.
  • Karras, Ruth Mazo. From Boys to Men: Formation of Masculinity in Late Medieval Europe. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003. [Available only in hard copy in the library]
  • Farmer, Sharon and Pasternack, Carol Braun (eds.). Gender and Difference in the Middle Ages. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
  • Burger, Glenn and Kruger, Steven F. (eds.). Queering the Middle Ages. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001.
  • Beattie, Cordelia and Fenton, Kristen A. (eds.). Intersections of Gender, Religion and Ethnicity in the Middle Ages. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources


Key words search

Gender, Sexuality, Middle Ages, Medieval, Queer, Masculinity, Femininity

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date