History 186

Medieval Women


Monday, 1:10-4:00 p.m.                                                                          Dr. Peter L. Larson

Ascension 114                                                               Office:               Seitz House, Room 11

Fall 2005                                                                       Office Phone:     x5322

                                                                                    Email:               larsonp@kenyon.edu

                                                                                    Office Hours:     TR 10-11:30 a.m., 1-2 p.m.

Webpage:                                                                                             & by appointment




Course Description and Objectives


            The study of history requires choices: who or what to include, and who or what to exclude; a historian cannot cover everyone and must decide what is most important.  In many textbooks and courses on medieval Europe, it is often women who are occluded from the narrative.  In basic surveys, this is an unfortunate necessity, as elite Christian males dominated what we consider to be the ‘basic’ elements in history (politics, war, religion, and culture).  The benefit of a seminar is that we can look at groups normally absent from the general narrative, in this case, women; but even so, there is so much material that we cannot cover it all.


            In this course, we will study a selection from the history of medieval women, focusing on certain well known women but also on some of the ‘hot’ topics and themes in current research.  This is not just a course about medieval women; it is also a course on the medieval concept of ‘women’, and as such we will explore the changing concepts of gender roles (appropriate and inappropriate), patriarchy and misogyny, and women in literature.  We will also consider the difficulties faced by modern historians in studying the lives of medieval women and the ways in which we portray ‘medieval’ women today, in history, art, and film.



Required Textbooks


The following books are available at the Kenyon College Bookstore:


  • Emilie Amt, Women’s Lives in Medieval Europe: A Sourcebook
  • The Selected Writings of Christine de Pizan
  • The Book of Margery Kempe
  • The Lais of Marie de France
  • Judith Bennett, A Medieval Life: Cecilia Penifader of Brigstock, c. 1297-1344
  • Judith Bennett, Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World
  • Lisa Bitel, Women in Early Medieval Europe, 400-1100  [optional]
  • Eileen Power, Medieval Women [optional]


The optional books will also be on reserve in Olin, along with two basic medieval textbooks (Roger Collins, Early Medieval Europe, 300-1000, and William Jordan, Europe in the High Middle Ages).  I have placed the textbooks on reserve in case you need additional information.


            I encourage you to purchase The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams.  You can find used copies online for less than $5.  I have placed copies on reserve, and there are copies available in CONSORT, but you may find it useful to have your own copy over the next few years.



Assignments and Grading


Weekly Reaction Papers and Discussion             25%

Short Paper 1                                                                25%

Short Paper 2                                                                25%

Portfolio Project                                                             25%



Reaction Papers and Discussion


            Thoughtful participation and interaction is required for a successful seminar course; the exchange of ideas and the formulation and reformulation of your own positions is one of the major goals of this class.  To facilitate this, every week you will hand in a short (min. 1 page, max. 2½ pages) reaction paper on the readings for that week.  These are not meant to be polished, scholarly essays advancing a position; rather, I want you to write about major themes in the readings, or a particularly interesting primary source, or an inherent link or contradiction in scholarly arguments.  History is subjective, and every historian has a different point of view; consider these essays a practicum in evaluating your source material, with a chance to look at bias, motivation, and the omission or manipulation of information.


            There will be 12 of these papers, due at the beginning of class; I will drop the lowest 2 scores when calculating your grade.  Some weeks, I will provide a topic, while in others I will let you choose.  These papers should be typed, double-spaced, using a size 10-12 font (similar to this).  Because these are short papers on the same readings, full formal citations are not necessary; instead, refer to the readings in parentheses, for example, (Ale, Beer, & Brewsters, pp. 100-104).


            I also require everyone to come to class with questions and talking points prepared.  These do not need to be formal, and I will not usually collect them.  Both the reaction papers and questions are part of the discussion, and thus this grade will reflect more than how well you deal with the weekly readings in writing.  There is no separate participation grade.  I expect professional academic conduct: attendance and regular participation with proper respect towards other people and different opinions.  I reserve the right to reward exceptionally good or bad conduct as part of the reaction paper grade.



Short Papers


            You will write two short (6-10 page) papers on assigned topics.  The first paper, due on October 24th, will cover women’s work in medieval Europe.  The second paper, due on December 20th, will be on the challenges of studying the history of medieval women.  Full details will be given out in class.


            The week before each paper is due, we will hold a peer review session.  Please bring 2 copies of a substantial rough draft (min. 4 pages) to class; you will trade papers with classmates and critique each other’s work.  These critiqued drafts should be submitted with the final draft of the paper.  In addition, part of each class will be devoted to strengthening research and writing skills.



Portfolio Project


           Each student will select one or two primary source documents not assigned for class (these may be from the Amt reader, the Online Medieval Sourcebook, or other approved primary source collections) and connect these to one of the themes raised in class.  Using the library’s resources, you will find at least three scholarly articles on that theme.  Using these articles, the chosen document(s), and readings from class, you will write a 5-7 page paper on the document and the related theme.  The entire ‘portfolio’ will be submitted on November 28th: an analysis of the document and a description of the theme, an annotated bibliography of all materials used (including how you found your articles), and the paper itself.

Other Course Policies


Office Hours


            You can always find me in my office during my stated office hours.  I frequently am in my office at other times during the week; if the door is open, feel free to drop by at this time to discuss anything related to class, England, medieval history, or history in general.  Each student should come and see me at least once during the semester, to discuss progress in the course and papers. 


            If you cannot make the normal office hours and I’m not in my office when you drop by, you can also set up an appointment to see me; I teach five days a week this semester and so can usually make time to see you.  The best way to get in touch with me, home or office, is by email, though it may take up to 2 days for me to get back to you.  If you call my office, and I don’t pick up, leave a voicemail with your name and number and I will get back to you, usually fairly quickly.  Please, do not call me at home.



Late Papers & Extensions


            Reaction papers handed in after the start of class will be marked down one full letter grade (e.g., B+ to C+); I will not accept reaction papers once the class has been dismissed.  For the short papers and the portfolio project, there is no penalty if the paper is turned in by 5pm of the day of class.  If the paper is turned in by 5pm the following Monday (i.e., one full week), it will be marked down one full letter grade.  After that, late papers will not be accepted.


            Extensions on deadlines are at my discretion; you are far more likely to get an extension if you contact me before the paper is due.



A Note on Plagiarism


            Plagiarism is the presentation (conscious or unconscious) of someone else’s words or ideas as your own.  Plagiarism is not limited to published works; it includes other students’ papers and web sites.  You are certainly allowed to quote works by others (though use of such quotations should be minimal) when proper reference is given, but under no circumstances should you incorporate someone else’s work into your own.  If you refer to someone else’s idea, or paraphrase them, even if there is not a direct quote, you must cite where you found that information; unreferenced paraphrasing is plagiarism.  Plagiarism is a serious offence; it is intellectual theft.  If I detect plagiarism, I will give the assignment a 0 (the same as if you had not turned it in at all) and refer the case to the Dean, possibly resulting in expulsion from this course, suspension, and/or expulsion.  More information on Academic Honesty and Plagiarism at Kenyon can be found at http://www.kenyon.edu/x11747.xml.



Disability Statement


            If you have specific physical, psychological, medical, or learning disabilities that require accommodation for you to carry out the assigned coursework, contact the Office of Disability Services (ext. 5145) and the Coordinator, Erin Salva (salvae@kenyon.edu), will review your concerns and help determine what accommodations are appropriate.  I am happy to provide whatever accommodation is necessary, but you must go through the Office.  Everything you tell them is confidential.



            Finally . . . this course is designed to be challenging; it is not supposed to grind you down or be a “weed-out” course.  If you are feeling overwhelmed or are having difficulty with the reading or work load, come see me!  We can discuss strategies for writing, researching, or reading, go over material discussed in class, and in general help find ways to get you back on track.



Note: Additional readings may be assigned as necessary.


* = on reserve in Olin      ** = on reserve in ERES and Seitz House                       

All other journal articles are available through JSTOR


29 August         Introduction


5 September      The History of Women and Women’s History

                                    Amt: Introduction.

                                    Power: Foreword.

                                    Beatrice Gottlieb, “The Problem of Feminism in the Fifteenth Century,” in The

                                                Selected Writings of Christine de Pizan, pp. 274-297.

                                    Judith M. Bennett, “Medievalism and Feminism,” Speculum 68 (1993): 309-331.

                                    *Barbara Hanawalt, “Golden Ages for the History of Medieval Women,” in Stuard,

                                                ed., Women in Medieval History and Historiography, pp. 1-24.

                                    **Joan Kelly-Gadol, “Did Women Have a Renaissance?” in Bridenthal and Koonz,

                                                eds., Becoming Visible: Women in European History (1977), 137-164.


12 Sept.            Myth & Misogyny: Women, Gender, and Sex

                                    Amt: 13-28, 98-112.

                                    Power: Chapter 1.

                                    Ruth Mazo Karras, “The Regulation of Brothels in Later Medieval England,”

                                                Signs 14 (1989): 399-433.

                                    Joan Scott, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” American

                                                Historical Review  91 (1986): 1053-1075.

                                    R. Howard Bloch, “Medieval Misogyny,” Representations 20 (1987): 1-24.

                                    Judith Bennett, “Writing Fornication: Medieval Leyrwite and Its Historians,” in

                                                Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 13 (2003): 131-162. 

                                                [Available through the OhioLink Electronic Journal Center, via LBIS]

                        Library session



I: Women & Work


19 Sept.            Wives and Mothers

                                    Amt: 53-67, 79-91.

                                    Bennett, Medieval Life: Chapters 1-4, 6 (skim chap. 1).

                                    Power: Chapter 3  [optional].

                                    *David Herlihy, Medieval Households: 73-130.


26 Sept.            Women’s Work I: In the Countryside

                                    Amt: 179-193.

                                    Bennett, Medieval Life: Chapters 7, 9-10.

                                    Sandy Bardsley, “Women’s work reconsidered: gender and wage differentiation

                                                in late medieval England,” Past and Present 165 (1999): 1-29.

                                    **John Hatcher & Sandy Bardsley, Debate, in Past and Present 173 (2001): 191-



3 October          Women’s Work II: In Villages and Towns

                                    Amt: 194-215.

                                    Bennett, Ale, Beer, and Brewsters (entire)

                                    *Barbara Hanawalt, “The Host, the Law, and the Ambiguous Space of Medieval

                                                London Taverns,” in idem, ed., Of Good and Ill Repute: Gender and

                                                Social Control in Medieval England, pp. 104-123.

10 Oct.             Reading Day – No Class  [Homework – peer review]



II: Women & Religion


17 Oct.             Saints, Nuns, and Abbesses

                                    Amt: 219-262.

                                    Power: Chapter 5  [optional].

                                    *Brenda Bolton, “Mulieres Sanctae,” in Stuard, ed., Women in Medieval Society,

                                                pp. 141-158.

                                    The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity



24 Oct.             Mystics & Heretics

                                    Amt: 263-278, 305-316.

                                    The Book of Margery Kempe: Introduction, pp. 1-106.

                                    Confessions by Cathar heretics to Inquisitor Jacques Fournier:

                                                Agnes Francou


                                                Beatrice de Planissoles


                                                Grazide Lizier


                        Short Paper #1 due



Unit III: Women and Literature


31 Oct.             Early Women Writers

                                    Hroswitha/Roswitha of Gandersheim, Dulcitus


                                    Anna Comnena, Alexiad



                                                Book I.X-XIV (skim until you get to the Normans)


                                                Book IV.VI



7 November       Women & Literacy; Women in Male Lit.

                                    Power: Chapter 4.

                                    *Pamela Sheingorn, “’The Wise Mother’: The Image of St. Anne Teaching the

                                                Virgin Mary,” in Erler & Kowaleski, eds., pp. 105-134.

                                    Chaucer, Prologue to the Wife of Bath’s Tale



14 Nov.             Marie de France

                                    Lais of Marie de France:


21 Nov.             *           *           *           Thanksgiving Break        *           *           *


28 Nov.             Christine de Pizan

                                    Selected Writings of Christine de Pizan: 5-44, 109-113, 116-173.

                        Portfolio Project Due; No Reaction Paper



Unit IV: Power and Violence


5 December       Crime & Women

                                    Amt: 45-49, 56-57, 60-63, 67-78.

                                    Socrates Scholasticus, “The Murder of Hypatia”


                                    *Barbara Hanawalt, “Whose Story was This? Rape Narratives in Medieval

                                                English Courts,” in idem, Of Good and Ill Repute, pp. 124-141.


12 Dec.             Medieval Queens & Female Kings

                                    Amt: 121-178.

                                    The Conversion of Clovis from Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks


                                    The Conversion of England, from Bede, Ecclesiastical History

                                                (read parts 1 (Kent) and 3 (Northumbria) only)


                                    Peter of Blois, Letter to Eleanor of Aquitaine





1 p.m., 20 December    Short Paper #2 Due