Fall 2023 - HUM 305 B100

Medieval Studies (4)

Class Number: 4598

Delivery Method: Blended


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 6 – Dec 5, 2023: Mon, 4:30–7:20 p.m.

    Oct 10, 2023: Tue, 4:30–7:20 p.m.

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Dec 8, 2023
    Fri, 7:00–10:00 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units.



A detailed interdisciplinary analysis of a selected topic, issue, or personality in the Middle Ages. Breadth-Humanities.


The Early and High Middle Ages are a time of profound demographic, cultural, social, and economic upheaval. It is also a time when new social standards are set and when some of the traits of modern culture are shaped. This course introduces students to the myths, heroic tales, and social realities of select regions from the Medieval world. We will work on vernacular literature rooted in orality that has given birth to world-famous stories, i.e., Old Norse mythology, heroic epics of Old French and Middle High German, traditional folk motifs from Celtic literature, romances about King Arthur and Emperor Charlemagne, but also love poems, historical documents about everyday life, and spiritual meditations. We will read these texts as symptomatic responses of individuals and social groups to the historical challenges of their time, raising questions about sovereign authority and the law, chiefdoms and commonwealth, honour and revenge, labour and wealth, trade and exploration, prayer and worship, monastic life and scholarly life, freedom and enslavement, and power dynamics between men and women (such as courtship, marriage, and sexuality). We will consider the relation of humans to their environment—the world of forests, waters, cities, land, and supernatural beings—but also the tension between rifts in the community and the need to articulate principles of solidarity, social responsibility, and individual transformation. Although the focus of the course will be on the Nordic and Western world of Europe from the 9th to the 15th century, encounters with Asian and North African realities will also be discussed in relation to travel, migrations, and individual emotions.  

Our discussions will also address the artistic reception of some of these works and the simultaneous ‘reconstruction’ of the Middle Ages in the last centuries—from Wagner’s Ring Cycle music drama or Tristan and Isolde’s opera to Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring and the TV series Game of Thrones. How and why have these modern narratives injected their own prejudices about race, gender, and economics onto the original tales (e.g., the mythologization of the hero Sigfried as the embodiment of whiteness through Nazi propaganda)? What are the implications of this ‘reinvention of culture’? 


At the end of the course, students will be able to demonstrate their proficiency in the following activities: 

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of the major historical events, social structures, and ideas of the medieval world, and ask questions about their influence upon the modern world. 
  2. Gain a sense of historical thinking through the close reading, analysis, and probing of different literary and non sources. 
  3. Gain an awareness of the value of reading and writing about different societies of the past in all their complexity.  
  4. Gain an understanding of the limited perspectives in the creation of knowledge about other people and other places: our knowledge is mediated by language, availability of sources, cultural values, and material reality. 
  5. Develop sustained, persuasive, logical and well-structured arguments in crafting an academic essay and Canvas posts.  
  6. Communicate information and ideas clearly and confidently in oral activities. 



  • Attendance (required) and in-class participation 10%
  • Document Analysis 5%
  • 3 Canvas Posts (3x5%) 15%
  • Final Research Paper 20%
  • Creative Project: Medieval Lore and Pop Culture 10%
  • Midterm 15%
  • Final Exam 25%


For students enrolled in a Global Humanities major or minor program, this course counts towards a concentration in:

This course counts towards a Global Humanities certificate in:




  1. Anon., The Nibelungenlied: The Lay of the Nibelungs. (Trans. C. Edwards). Oxford World's Classics, 2010. ISBN-10: 0199238545 
  2. Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances (we will read only “Yvain”). (Trans. Kibler and Carroll). Penguin, 1991. ISBN: 978-0140445213 
  3. Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan and Isolde: with Ulrich von Türheim’s Continuation. (Trans. William T. Whobrey). Hackett, 2020. ISBN: 978-1624669064 

Selected readings on Canvas: A selection from the Poetic Edda, Snurri’s Prose Edda, and Njáls Saga; a selection from Marco Polo’s Travels; the letters of Hildegard von Bingen, the interrogation of the Cathar Grazida Lizier, love poems by Arnaut Daniel, Dante, Guido Cavalcanti, as well as French, Provençal and Arab women; a selection from Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzifal and Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Students with a faith background who may need accommodations during the semester are encouraged to assess their needs as soon as possible and review the Multifaith religious accommodations website. The page outlines ways they begin working toward an accommodation and ensure solutions can be reached in a timely fashion.