MSt in Medieval Studies

This nine-month interdisciplinary programme is aimed at students who wish to follow courses in more than one discipline in medieval studies, and who are keen to extend their skills. The degree is supported by several Faculties within the Humanities Division, demonstrating the University’s tremendous wealth of scholarship in the period.

This degree equips students to draw on a variety of disciplinary approaches in their study of the Middle Ages. It places emphasis on language training as well as on the development of skills in palaeography and codicology. It also offers the opportunity to undertake the acquisition of a medieval language not previously studied.

Course Content

The programme comprises the following elements:

These are chosen from a variety of possibilities normally including:

  • (Medieval) Latin;
  • Old English;
  • Old Norse;
  • Old French;
  • Old Occitan;
  • Old High German;
  • Middle High German;
  • Old Irish;
  • Middle Welsh;
  • Greek;
  • Hebrew;
  • Arabic.

These are in the linguistic cultural contexts of the above languages.

Training in the use of original documents depends on students' familiarity with the languages in which the documents to be studied were written. The course concentrates on documents in Latin, the language of most widespread medieval use.

Reading Medieval Documents (12 classes) aims to introduce students to the study of original documents and of enrolled copies from the late eleventh century to the fifteenth century. Documents are studied in batches that illustrate a particular point about the making or use of records. Acquiring a facility in reading the documents, including the abbreviations and contractions in regular use, is the main aim of the course. The examples used, however, are selected to illustrate the principal forms of document, both official and private, in use in England during the period. This course is offered at the beginning of the Michaelmas term so that those who need to pursue their research in archives can make a start early in the year.

Overview of the history of writing 450-1500 (8 lectures). This course is an outline introduction to the potential of palaeography for dating and locating books and documents from their style of writing. It cannot cover the whole medieval period in sufficient detail to represent a training in palaeography, but it lays a foundation for students to acquire higher palaeographical skill in their particular areas of interest, and it enables them to understand palaeographical reasoning when they encounter it in secondary literature relating to manuscripts and texts.

Principles of Diplomatic (8 lectures). This course outlines the methods of diplomatic both in working out the implicit meaning of a class of documents and in testing the authenticity of individual documents. It considers how documents were produced and what influenced the forms in use. The historic unity of the European diplomatic tradition is illustrated, though the course is conducted at the general level rather than considering the special features of particular diplomatic forms. How to date undated documents and the range of chronological systems used in medieval Europe are also covered. The last lecture includes examples of the testing of documents to unmask forgery in the middle ages as well as the application of diplomatic criticism by modern scholars.

English Royal Diplomatic 990-1216 (8 two-hour lectures). A course in special diplomatic, focused on a period when the documents under review are particularly important as historical sources and when changing habits in documentary practice make the period an especially rich subject for diplomatic study. The course traces the last generations of the Anglo-Saxon royal diploma, the emergence of the Old English writ and its adoption in Latin by Anglo-Norman kings, the evolution from it of the writ-charter during the period 1070 to 1170, and its gradual eclipse by the charter generally addressed, which was the dominant form of royal grant from Henry II's time until the fourteenth century. The influence of Norman tradition in England and the extent of beneficiary diplomatic are dealt with. The course also covers the growth of central offices of government, the Exchequer and its records, in particular the twelfth-century pipe rolls, and the Chancery through the period when Chancery enrolments begin and diversify, until their temporary suspension on the death of King John. 

These are courses on short periods or specific themes (assessed by extended essay). Please note that not all options may be available in every year, and that they are subject to change. The courses are drawn from the Faculty of History, the Faculty of English Langage and Literature and from the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages.


Interdisciplinary seminar and research activities

Students will attend an interdisciplinary seminar in Trinity (Summer) Term, and will present work in progress on their dissertations.

In connection with the interdisciplinary seminar, a special week of additional research activities takes place each year. A particular expert in interdisciplinary medieval studies is invited to give a plenary lecture and seminar and to conduct a workshop for graduate students. This is an exciting opportunity for current students to discuss their work with a distinguished visiting scholar. Recent guest lecturers have included Caroline Walker-Bynum, Barbara Newman, Christopher Page, Jeffrey Hamburger, and William Miller.

Students will also attend a research methods workshop.

The core courses for this programme consist of a research methods workshop in Michaelmas and Hilary terms, that is, a series of classes designed to address issues encountered by researchers in medieval studies at master's level, but also intended to be responsive to and shaped by student concerns. This includes a compulsory Interdisciplinary seminar to be held in Hilary Term on a theme to be chosen by the convenor. This seminar will be scheduled as part of the long-established Medieval Church and Culture seminar series. The seminar will stress the different but complementary approaches to medieval sources offered by different disciplines.

Finally, all candidates participate in a day conference to be held in Trinity Term. Students will present work in progress on their dissertations to each other and to tutors.

Candidates are also expected to participate in compulsory language classes in each of the three terms, chosen from a variety of possibilities normally including (Medieval) Latin; Old English; Old Norse; Old French; Old Occitan; Old High German; Middle High German; Old Irish; Middle Welsh; Greek; Hebrew; Arabic. The language selected should normally be closely related to the student’s work.

Candidates are required to attend Paleography/Codicology classes in one of the participating Faculties [English, or History (Medieval Latin), or Medieval and Modern Languages, or Byzantine Greek]. Depending on the language chosen this subject will be studied either in Michaelmas or in Hilary terms, or in some cases over both terms, and the assessment method and submission deadlines will be those of the chosen course.

Find out more


MSt Admissions Pages


Course handbook:

Course Handbook 2023-24