ENG4120 – English Medieval Manuscript Studies

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

This course looks at “The Canterbury Tales”, “Gawain and the Green Knight”, “Piers Plowman”, and other well-known medieval English literary works from the point of view of the manuscripts in which they survive. Rather than focusing on literary analysis, the course provides an introduction to descriptive bibliography, that is to say it studies the physical characteristics of manuscripts and how production methods and materials affect the text. The course also touches upon the paleography (handwriting) of the Middle English period and discusses the various steps in the process of editing a medieval text. The course includes an optional, subsidised 2-day visit to a Cambridge college library and the Cambridge University Library where local experts will give you the opportunity to work with actual medieval manuscripts in situ, including some of those discussed in the textbook.

Learning outcome

After completing this course, you will:

  • have in-depth knowledge of key manuscripts of the works of major medieval authors;
  • understand how manuscripts were produced in medieval England;
  • understand how texts were disseminated in medieval England;
  • be familiar with the tools and terminology of descriptive bibliography;
  • be proficient in the principles of textual editing;
  • be able to read medieval English handwriting and master the terminology for describing and classifying letter-shapes.


Recommended previous knowledge

The course assumes good proficiency in written and oral English.


Seminar, two hours per week for 10 weeks, 20 hours in total.

Obligatory activities:


The exam consists of a term paper on a topic decided by the course teacher. You are required to write 10 pages (4000 words). This does not include references and bibliography.

Assessment Guidelines

Submit assignments in Inspera

You submit your assignment in the digital examination system Inspera. Read about how to submit assignments in Inspera.

Use of sources and citation

You should familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to the use of sources and citations. If you violate the rules, you may be suspected of cheating/attempted cheating.

Language of examination

The examination text is given in English, and you submit your response in English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

Withdrawal from an examination

A term paper or equivalent that is passed may not be resubmitted in revised form.

If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline, this will be counted as an examination attempt.


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.

Facts about this course






Autumn 2019

Autumn 2018

Autumn 2017

After autumn 2019, this course will be offered irregularly.


Autumn 2019

Autumn 2018

Autumn 2017

Teaching language