Rachel Fulton Brown

Department of History

The University of Chicago




Autumn 2017



It is true: most people in medieval Europe did not live in cities or towns. And yet, cities lay at the heart of the medieval world. Christians looked to become citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, emperors and kings modeled their courts on ancient Rome, scholars traveled to study in Paris, merchants and artisans set up shop in Venice and Bruges, Franciscans and Dominicans preached to the people in the market squares. This course explores the role of the city in medieval life as both idea and environment. Main themes include the planning and construction of cities and towns, their political, economic, legal, intellectual, and administrative importance, life in the city with special emphasis on its spatial and social hierarchies, the virtues, symbolism, and aesthetics of the city, and the change in the importance of cities and towns from the fall of Rome in the fifth century to the rise of the Hansa and the Italian city-states by the later fourteenth century.


Books available for purchase from the Seminary Co-op Bookstore


Maryanne Kowaleski, ed., Medieval Towns: A Reader, Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures XI (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008) [ISBN 978 1-44260-091-1] [HT115 .M43 2006]

Keith D. Lilley, City and Cosmos: The Medieval World in Urban Form (London: Reaktion Books, 2009) [ISBN 978 1-86189-441-0] [HT115 .L54 2009]

Keith D. Lilley, Urban Life in the Middle Ages, 1000-1450 (New York: Palgrave, 2002) [ISBN 978 0-333-71249-8] [HT115 .L55 2002]

Urban Tigner Holmes, Jr., Daily Living in the Twelfth Century: Based on the Observations of Alexander Neckam in London and Paris (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1952) [ISBN 978 0-29900-854-3][CB353.H75]


Course Requirements


1. Discussion: Each week, students will take turns presenting the main issues and sources addressed in the readings. All students will be expected to participate in these discussions (20%).


2. Assignments (due Thursdays): Your main assignment for the quarter will be to choose a particular town to research. Week by week you will build your knowledge about your town by gathering materials about its history, geography, inhabitants, architecture, and so forth. These assignments are meant to help guide you in formulating a question for your final paper (30%).


3. Final paper (12-15 pages, double-spaced, 11 or 12 point font): Tell us about your town! This essay may take the form of an academic essay or a descriptive narrative. It should be based on appropriate primary sources and scholarship and reflect the themes that we have discussed in class (50%).


Reading and Discussion Assignments


September 26 The Imagined City

Victor Hugo, Notre-Dame of Paris, Library of French Masterpieces, ed. Edmund Gosse, (London: William Heinemann, 1904), pp. 112-36 (book 3, chapter 2: “A Bird’s Eye View of Paris”) [HathiTrust]

Keith D. Lilley, “Modern Visions of the Medieval City: Competing Conceptions of Urbanism in European Civic Design,” Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 26 (1999): 427-46 [eJournal]

J.K. Hyde, “Medieval Descriptions of Cities,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 48 (1965-66): 308-40 [eReserve]

Lilley, City and Cosmos, pp. 15-40

Lilley, Urban Life, pp. xii-xvi, 1-41

Kowaleski, Medieval Towns, pp. 6-8 (no. 1), 14 (no. 5), 375-83 (nos. 151-53), 385-87 (maps)


Assignment: Choose a town that you are going to concentrate on. Write a paragraph about what attracts you to this town.


October 3 Planning a town

Bianca Kühnel, “Geography and Geometry of Jerusalem,” in City of the Great King: Jerusalem from David to the Present, ed. Nitza Rosovsky (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996), pp. 288-332 [DS109.9.C580 1996] [eReserve]

Keith D. Lilley, “Mapping the Medieval City: Plan Analysis and Urban History,” Urban History 27.1 (2000): 5-30 [eJournal]

Keith D. Lilley, “Taking Measures Across the Medieval Landscape: Aspects of Urban Design before the Renaissance,” Urban Morphology 2.2 (1998): 82-92 [eJournal]

Wim Boerefijn, “Designing the Medieval New Town,” Urban Morphology 4.2 (2000): 49-62 [eJournal]

Lon R. Shelby, “The Geometrical Knowledge of Medieval Master Masons,” Speculum 47.3 (July 1972): 395-421 [eJournal]

Lilley, City and Cosmos, pp. 41-128

Lilley, Urban Life, pp. 138-77


Assignment: Find maps of your town. Find as many different kinds of map as you can: medieval, modern, archeological, street level, geographical.


October 10 Founding a town

Henri Pirenne, Medieval Cities: Their Origins and the Revival of Trade (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1925, 2014), chapters 1-4, 8 [Z5941] [eBook]

Robert Bartlett, The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization, and Cultural Change, 950-1350 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), pp. 167-96 [D200.B270 1993] [eReserve]

David C. Mengel, “Emperor Charles IV, Jews, and Urban Space,” in Christianity and Culture in the Middle Ages: Essays to Honor John Van Engen, ed. David C. Mengel and Lisa Wolverton (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015), pp. 294-328 [BR115.C8C44434 2015] [eReserve]

Lilley, Urban Life, pp. 75-137

Kowaleski, Medieval Towns, pp. 15 (no. 6), 21-23 (nos. 9-11), 25-29 (nos. 13-14), 45-51 (nos. 20-22), 62-69 (nos. 26-29)


Assignment: Bibliography on the history of your town of at least 10 items. Include primary sources as well as scholarship (books and articles).


October 17 Town government

Mary Bateson, “The Laws of Breteuil,” The English Historical Review 15 (1900): 73-8, 302-18, 496-523, 754-7; 16 (1901): 92-110, 332-45 [eJournal]

Caroline M. Barron, “The Government of London: The Formative Phase, 1300-1500,” London Journal 26.1 (2001): 9-18 [eJournal]

Susan Reynolds, Kingdoms and Communities in Western Europe 900-1300, 2nd edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), pp. 155-218 [JS3000.2.A3 R490 1997] [eBook]

Lilley, City and Cosmos, pp. 131-57

Lilley, Urban Life, pp. 42-74

Kowaleski, Medieval Towns, pp. 37-44 (nos. 17-19), 52-61 (nos. 23-25), 100-102 (no. 43), 110-15 (nos. 48-49), 166-74 (nos. 68-69), 350-66 (nos. 137-46)


Assignment: Describe the government of your town (2-3 pages). How was your town founded? Did it have a charter? Who were its officials? What kinds of institutions did it have?


October 24 Daily life in towns

Holmes, Daily Living, pp. 16-158

Barbara Hanawalt, Growing Up in Medieval London: The Experience of Childhood in History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 23-40, 129-72 [HQ792.G7H270 1993] [eBook]

Christopher Dyer, Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages: Social Change in England c. 1200-1520, rev. ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 188-233 [HD7024.D940 1989] [eReserve]

Lilley, Urban Life, pp. 178-249

Kowaleski, Medieval Towns, pp. 104-6 (no. 45), 193-201 (nos. 78-80), 209-12 (no. 84), 219-22 (nos. 87-88), 229-33 (nos. 91-92), 275-89 (nos. 110-16), 367-74 (nos.147-50)


Assignment: Describe a day in the life of your town from the perspective of one of its inhabitants (2-3 pages).


October 31 Merchants and guilds

Sharon Farmer, “Medieval Paris and the Mediterranean,” French Historical Studies 37.3 (Summer 2014): 383-419 [eJournal]

Sharon Farmer, The Silk Industries of Medieval Paris: Artisanal Migration, Technological Innovation, and Gendered Experience (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), pp. 106-36 [HD9922.8.P37 F37 2017] [eReserve]

Janet Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 43-134 [HC41.A280 1989] [eReserve]

Michael Pye, The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe (New York: Pegasus Books, 2014), pp. 220-41 [D121.P94 2014] [eReserve]

Kowaleski, Medieval Towns, pp. 74-76 (nos. 32-33), 95-99 (nos. 40-41), 121-52 (nos. 51-63), 223-29 (nos. 89-90)


Assignment: Make a list of the primary guilds and crafts of your town.


November 7 Performing the town

Lucy Toulmin Smith, York Plays: The Plays Performed by the Crafts or Mysteries of York on the Day of Corpus Christi in the 14th, 15th, and 16th Centuries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1885) [HathiTrust]

Mervyn James, “Ritual, Drama and Social Body in the Late Medieval English Town,” Past and Present 98 (February 1983): 3-29 [eJournal]

Elizabeth A.R. Brown and Nancy Freeman Regalado, “La grant feste: Philip the Fair’s Celebration of the Knighting of His Sons in Paris at Pentecost of 1313,” in City and Spectacle in Medieval Europe, ed. Barbara Hanawalt and Kathryn Reyerson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994), pp. 56-86 [GT4842.C580 1993] [eReserve]

Lilley, City and Cosmos, pp. 158-84

Kowaleski, Medieval Towns, pp. 292-308 (nos. 117-122), 310-14 (nos.124-25)


Assignment: Describe a procession through the streets of your town (2-3 pages). You may use an actual procession if your town had one. If not, imagine what one might have been like for a particular feast day.


November 14 Virtues and vices

Lester Little, Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), pp. 171-217 [BV4647.P75L7] [eReserve]

Kimberly A. Rivers, Preaching the Memory of Virtue and Vice: Memory, Images, and Preaching in the Late Middle Ages (Turnhout: Brepols, 2010), pp. 140-46, 253-82 [BF385.R56 2010] [eReserve]

Dierdre McCloskey, The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006), pp. 55-87 [HB501.M5534 2006] [eBook]

Kowaleski, Medieval Towns, pp. 235-68 (nos. 93-107), 318-47 (nos. 127-36)


Assignment: Write a sermon that a preacher might give in your town (2-3 pages).


November 21 The city as symbol

Brigitte Bedos-Rezak, “Towns and Seals: Representations and Signification in Medieval France,” Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 72.3 (1990): 35-48 [Z792.J65] [eReserve]

Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies, trans. Earl Jeffrey Richards (New York: Persea Books, 1982), pp. v-xi, 3-20, 217-18 [PQ1575.L41R5] [eReserve]

Master Benedict, The Marvels of Rome: Mirabilia Urbis Romae, trans. Eileen Gardner (New York: Italica Press, 1986), pp. 1-46 [DG805.M570 1986] [eReserve]

Theoderich, Guide to the Holy Land, trans. Aubrey Stewart (New York: Italica Press, 1986), pp. xxxvii, 1-32 [DS105.T47130 1987] [eReserve]


Assignment: Write a description of your town as it might have been seen by a medieval traveler (2-3 pages).


November 28 Gazeteer


Assignment: Tell us about your town! Oral reports on your final projects.




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