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Study information

Producing Poverty: Peasants in a Global Perspective, 700-1300CE

Module titleProducing Poverty: Peasants in a Global Perspective, 700-1300CE
Module codeHIH1616
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Stuart Pracy (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

While the processes of poverty have often been treated as inevitable and the prevailing notion remains that those without wealth are without agency, in the last decade, historians and archaeologists have gone a long way to question this narrative of peasant passivity. No longer seen merely as recipients of ‘trickle down’ economic developments, historians read source materials from across the globe in new ways and reveal peasants to be innovators and drivers of change. Linked by the famous Silk Road, this course will examine ‘medieval’ sources from Europe, the Islamic World, and China to gain an understanding of how a vast portion of the world’s population lived. Students will consider how sources produced and dominated by elites may be read ‘from below’. Among several key topics to be addressed, students will consider: how did gendered experiences of being a peasant differ across these regions; how did ‘medieval’ states exert their control and seek to exploit labourers; and how did peasants offer resistance and organise outright rebellion? Prior knowledge of the subject matter is not required and, upon completion, students will find themselves equipped to engage with pre-modern sources and contemporary historiographical debates from across the globe.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to:

  • Prime you with a basic knowledge of everyday life in three regions in a global medieval perspective. 
  • Familiarise you with the types of evidence used by historians to study the peasantry and the challenges of interpreting these documents.
  • Introduce you to numerous significant genres of textual and material sources from the medieval period.
  • Enable you to unravel the ways in which medieval commentators understood and presented contemporary events.
  • Guide you through ongoing debates within the historical research community and allow them to engage with theoretical approaches to studying the peasantry.
  • Equip you with the necessary analytical skills and provide students with a firm foundation for future research in any aspect of history.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Understand and assess the composition and character of the peasantry in different geographical contexts.
  • 2. Critically evaluate a diverse range of written and visual sources relating to the peasantry.

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 source.
  • 4. Present historical arguments and answer questions orally

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. Write to a tight word-limit

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:

  • The social structures of global ‘medieval’ society.
  • Freedom and unfreedom.
  • Issues of terminology (e.g. who or what is a peasant?).
  • Gendered experiences of poverty.
  • Methods used to remove basic human rights.
  • Differences between urban and rural landscapes.
  • Legitimising exploitative relations.
  • Rebellion and resistance.
  • Migration and persecuted minorities
  • Transformation and change.
  • Social mobility.

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 teaching2Workshop
Scheduled learning and teaching18Seminars (9 x 2-hours)
Guided independent study128Reading and preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group Presentation5 minutes per individual student1-6Oral
Source commentary850 words1-7Oral

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, 5-7Written
Source Commentary 233850 words1-3, 5-7Written
Source Commentary 334850 words1-3, 5-7Written

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Source Commentary 1 (850 words)Source Commentary (850 words)1-3, 5-7Referral/Deferral period
Source Commentary 2 (850 words)Source Commentary (850 words)1-3, 5-7Referral/Deferral period
Source Commentary Three (850 words)Source Commentary (850 words)1-3, 5-7Referral/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

Indicative Reading

  • Barendse, R.J. ‘The Feudal Mutation: Military and Economic Transformations of the Ethnosphere in the Tenth to Thirteenth Centuries’, Journal of World History, 14 (2003), pp. 503-529.


  • Bouchard, Constance B., ‘Medieval French Peasants: The New Frontier?’, Haskins Society Journal, 30 (2018), pp. 213-230.
  • Castillo, Juan Antonio Quirós, ‘Equal and Unequal Societies in Early Medieval Europe. An Introduction’, in Social Inequality in Early Medieval Europe: Local Societies and Beyond, ed. by Juan Antonio Quirós Castillo (Turnhout: Brepols, 2020), pp. 11-32.
  • Costambeyes, Marios, Matthew Innes, and Simon MacLean, ‘Villages and Villagers, Land and Landowners’, in The Carolingian World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 223-270.
  • Gowers, Bernard, ‘996 and All That: The Norman Peasants' Revolt Reconsidered’, Early Medieval Europe, 21 (2013), pp. 71-98.
  • Rio, Alice, ‘'Half-free' Categories in the Early Middle Ages: Fine Status Distinctions Before Professional lawyers’, in Legalism: Rules and Categories, ed. by P. Dresch & J. Scheele (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 129-152.
  • Wickham, Wickham, ‘Gossip and Resistance Among the Medieval Peasantry’, Past & Present, 160 (1998), pp, 3-24.
  • Zeller, Bernhard, et. al, Neighbours and Strangers: Local Societies in Early Medieval Europe (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020).

Islamic World:

  • Brett, Michael ‘State Formation and Organisation’, in The New Cambridge History of Islam: Volume 2: The Western Islamic World, Eleventh to the Eighteenth Centuries, ed. by Maribel Fierro (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 547-585.
  • Mujani, Waln Kamal and Borsh, Stuart, ‘The Peasants During the Mamluk Period: How They Have Struggled’, Athens Journal of Mediterranean Studies, 1 (2015), pp. 261-272.
  • Pamuk, Ã?�evket, and Shatzmiller, Maya, ‘Plagues, Wages, and Economic Change in the Islamic Middle East, 700–1500’, The Journal of Economic History, 74 (2014), pp. 196-229.
  • Shahar, Ido, and Rapoport, Yossef, (ed. and trans.), The Villages of Fayyum: A Thirteenth-Century Register of Rural, Islamic Egypt (Turnhout: Brepols, 2017).
  • Rapoport, Yossef, Rural Economy and Tribal Society in Islamic Egypt: A Study of al-Nabulusi's Villages of the Fayyum (Turnhout: Brepols, 2018).
  • Rapoport, Yossef ‘Invisible Peasants, Marauding Nomads: Taxation, Tribalism, and Rebellion in Mamluk Egypt’, Mamluk Studies Review, 8 (2004), pp. 1-22.
  • Udovitch, A.L. ‘International Trade and the Medieval Egyptian Countryside’, Proceedings of the British Academy, 96 (1999), pp. 267-285.


  • Benn, Charles, China's Golden Age: Everyday Life in the Tang Dynasty (OUP, 2002).
  • Buckley Ebrey, Patricia, (ed.), Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook, 2nd ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1993), pp. 188-191.
  • Golas, Peter, ‘Rural China in the Song’, The Journal of Asian Studies, 39 (1980), pp. 291–325.
  • Hartwell, Robert, ‘Demographic, Political, and Social Transformations of China, 750-1550’, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 42 (1982), pp. 365–442.
  • Kurz, Johannes L., ‘The rebellion of Zhang Yuxian 張�賢 (942–943)’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 77 (2014), pp. 523-545.
  • Bender, Lucas Rambo, ‘Other Poetry on the An Lushan Rebellion: Notes on Time and Transcendence in Tang Verse’, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 79 (2019), pp. 1-48.
  • Tackett, Nicholas, ‘Huang Chao and the Destruction of the Medieval Aristocracy’, in The Destruction of the Medieval Chinese Aristocracy (Harvard: Harvard University Asia Center, 2014), pp. 187-234.

Key words search

Peasantry, Medieval, China, Europe, Islamic World, Revolt, History from Below, Rebellion, 

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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