Medieval History
cod. 1004081

Academic year 2020/21
1° year of course - First semester
Academic discipline
Storia medievale (M-STO/01)
Storia, filosofia, psicologia, pedagogia, antropologia e geografia
Type of training activity
60 hours
of face-to-face activities
12 credits
hub: PARMA
course unit

Learning objectives

Knowledge and understanding:
At the end of the course, the students will know the key facts and figures, as well as the most important political and ecclesiastical institutions, the most significant forms of social, economic and ecclesiastical organization of the medieval period, and to place each element in time and space (6/12 cfu).

Applying knowledge and understanding:
The students will develop the practice of considering the political, institutional, social and economic relations and the ideologies not as a natural given, but as the result of changes that have taken place in specific contexts (6/12 cfu), to apply the notion of context to the analysis of a text, and, more generally, to any social and political phenomenon and to any artistic and cultural form of expression; to identify and discuss different historiographic interpretations (12 cfu); to know the main kinds of written sources used by the historians of the Italian Middle Ages (12 cfu).

Making judgments:
The students will improve their ability to make autonomous judgments through the analysis of complex phenomena, which involve multiple sets of causes (6/12 cfu) and can be understood and explained by the historians through different and sometimes conflicting approaches and interpretations (12 cfu).

Communication skills:
The students will be able to report and discuss the notions learned during the classes and from the texts, with particular attention to the accurate use of language, concepts and categories, and will be able to make an appropriate use of the specific vocabulary of the historical disciplines, with particular reference to the terminology which defines the fundamental concepts of Medieval history (fief, vassal, territory, jurisdiction, heresy, knighthood, ecclesiastical benefice, etc). (6/12 cfu)

Learning skills:
The students will improve their autonomous learning ability getting used to place in a hierarchy the information gathered during the classes and studying the texts in the syllabus (6/12 cfu); developing a critical attitude towards the sources and learning to distinguish between scientific texts, popular historical literature and unverifiable information (12 cfu).


Basic notions of Medieval History and of Italian and European Geography learned at secondary school.

Course unit content

Module A (6 cfu)
An Introduction to Medieval History

The first module aims to provide the students with the information and the basic tools for a critical understanding of the economic, social, cultural and religious life between the third and fifteenth centuries. Particular attention will be paid to the political and institutional forms of organization of the human communities which, during the Middle Ages, shaped the specific characteristics of the European area.
The course is structured according to the thematic pattern well established in the discipline. The main topics examined will be: the barbarian migrations and kingdoms; the evolution of the Frankish kingdom and the relations based on vassalage and benefice; the Carolingian Empire and its crisis; the Byzantine and Islamic empires and the European peripheries; post-Carolingian age and the crisis of public powers; the “second invasions” and the rise of the local powers; the demographic growth and the development of the cities; the reform of the Church and the Papal monarchy; the new political structures of later medieval Europe; the decline of the “universal powers” and the rise of the national states in Europe.

Module B (6 cfu)

Society, religion, economics: a thematic introduction to Medieval Europe

The second module provides a thematic introduction to the Italian and European history, focusing in particular on topics such as social hierarchies, the spread of Christendom and the Church, religious orders and heresy, the rural economy during the high middle ages, trade and finance in the later middle ages.

Full programme


Module A (6 cfu)

Humanities, Artistic and performing art heritage, Philosophical studies:
- R. Bordone, G. Sergi, Dieci secoli di medioevo, Einaudi, Torino 2009

Modern Foreign Languages and Civilisations:
A. Zorzi, Manuale di Storia medievale, UTET, Torino 2016

Module B (6 cfu)

Humanities, Philosophical studies

The students will study one of the following monographs:

P. Brown, La formazione dell’Europa cristiana. Universalismo e diversità, Laterza, Roma-Bari 1995
P. Cammarosano, Nobili e re. L’Italia politica nell’alto medioevo, Laterza, Roma-Bari 1998
G. Chittolini, La formazione dello stato reginale e le istituzioni del contado. Secoli XIV-XV, Einaudi, Torino 1979 (ora Unicopli, Milano 2005)
G. Duby, Lo specchio del feudalesimo. Sacerdoti, guerrieri e lavoratori, Laterza, Roma-Bari 1978 e ss.
J-C. Maire Vigueur, Cavalieri e cittadini. Guerra, conflitti e società nell’Italia medievale, Il Mulino, Bologna 2004 e ss.
Ch. Wickham, Legge, pratiche e conflitti. Tribunali e risoluzione delle dispute nella Toscana del XII secolo, Viella, Roma 2000

Teaching methods

Lectures delivered in distance learning via Microsoft Teams online streaming. The lectures will be recorded and made available on the e-learning platform “Elly” for the Course in Humanities (1st year) to the students unable to attend the streaming classes. The recorded classes will be available on Elly for one week.
During the classes of the first module the teacher will introduce - roughly in chronological order - the main issues and themes of medieval history, focusing on the political forms of organization, using the reference bibliography and (if necessary) other texts for the study of specific aspects. Historical maps will also be shown and discussed, to help students to frame the events in space. The second module will be structured around the discussion of core issues concerning medieval ideologies, religion, social and economic structures.

Assessment methods and criteria

Oral examination in Italian.
The examination will start with a simple test to assess the student’s ability to put people and events in the correct space (also using blank maps) and chronological order. The examination aims to assess, in particular:
a) The student’s ability to place key events, characters and the social and cultural development in correct chronological order (6/12 cfu).
b) The lexical precision in describing specific phenomena of the Middle Ages and, more generally, the use of the specific language of the historical disciplines (6/12 cfu).
c) The adequate ability to study independently and critically revise the contents learned during the course and through the study of the texts, as well as the aptitude to link structures and dynamics, and to identify causal relationships (6/12 cfu).
d) The ability to establish connections between events and phenomena typical of the medieval period and the contemporary world (6/12 cfu).

In order to verify the learning level achieved by the students, the questions are designed to assess their ability to elaborate on the learned notions in original and independent ways, their lexical precision, and their ability to deal with complex issues by building complex arguments.

Failure is determined by the inability to understand the basic elements of the course, particularly with regard to the placement of events and characters in the correct temporal and spatial context; by the inability to express himself/herself in correct Italian; by the inability to explain specific concepts and phenomena related to the Middle Ages with adequate lexical precision; by the lack of preparation and knowledge of the texts in the syllabus.
Sufficient performance (18 to 23/30) is determined by the student’s ability to place events and characters in the correct spatial and temporal context; by the ability to explain the concepts and phenomena typical of the Middle Ages with adequate lexical precision; by the ability to reprocess the information by making independent judgments.
Medium marks (24 to 27/30) are given to the student who shows a level more than sufficient (24 to 25/30) or good (26 to 27/30) according to the indicators listed above.
Higher scores (28 to 30/30 or 30/30 cum laude) are awarded to students who demonstrate a very good or outstanding level according to the indicators listed above; as well as the ability to articulate complex discourses; the ability to formulate personal and original judgments; the ability to identify and explain cause-effect relationships; the ability to identify links between spatial and temporal contexts (and also political, social, economic and cultural phenomena) distant in time and space.

Other information

Please note that – as explicitly stated by its author in the introduction to the course – the blended e-learning course is meant as «an aid to learning, and does not replace the syllabus or the bibliography shown on the website» of the Course in Humanities «in part or in whole». The students interested in the e-learning course are strongly advised to contact the teacher to check the exam programme.