Introduction in the Study of Communication, Literacy and Knowledge and their Exploitation in the Middle Ages

Course unit for Research Master Students, March-June 2018 (Credits: 5 ECTS)


The development of expertise and the exchange of information enabled medieval people to pass on their experience and influence each other’s hearts and minds. A complex social order is virtually unimaginable without the communication-linked phenomenon of ‘literacies’: the abilities to use and understand the various forms of non-verbal, oral and written communication available in a society. New literacies and numeracy were invented, developed and spread during the Middle Ages, and this fundamentally altered the ways in which knowledge was acquired and distributed. The modern information age, based on the omnipresence of written texts, was prefigured in the medieval period. It saw the development of the book as we still know it and the introduction of paper, which enabled the development of the printing press. New generations of literate and educated persons contributed to the production of knowledge and the development of technologies, which went into the making of modern civilisation. The control of the literacy of the written word, as well as that of other, non-verbal literacies which remained equally important, shaped the ways in which social groups were included or excluded in a culture. For these reasons literacies often functioned as the leverage of social, political and cultural change.


This course focuses on some of the main problems currently challenging scholars working on these topics, and on the various solutions they have found. It is meant as a critical introduction to these multiple approaches, methods and topics.


There will be eight classes, always from 11.00-14.00 h.: on 23 March (Utrecht), 6 April (Groningen), 4 May (Utrecht), 18 May (Groningen), 25 May (Utrecht), 8 June (Groningen) and 15 June (Groningen). The final class, on 22 June, will be held in Deventer at the Athenaeumbibliotheek.



prof. Sabrina Corbellini,

dr. Suzan Folkerts,

dr. Babette Hellemans,

dr. Margriet Hoogvliet,

prof. Marco Mostert,

prof. Catrien Santing,



Class I Introduction, Friday 23 March, Mostert (Utrecht)
Class II Literacy and Communities of Reading, Friday 6 April, Hoogvliet (Groningen)
Class III What Is It To Write and Read, and How Is This to Be Investigated?, Friday 4 May, Mostert (Utrecht)
Class IV Fields of Learning: Play and Knowledge Exchange in Twelfth-Century Monastic Communities,                        Friday 18 May, Hellemans (Groningen)
Class V Communication: Definition, Forms and Genres, Friday 25 May, Mostert (Utrecht)
Class VI Communities of Interpretation and Cultural Appropriation, Friday 8 June, Corbellini (Groningen)
Class VII Power and Diversity (Definitions and Forms), Friday 15 June, Santing (Groningen)
Class VIII Concluding meeting Friday 22 June, Mostert and Folkerts (Deventer)


Participants will be graded on six writing assignments, discussions during classes, and a short paper of approx. 2000 words.


For questions about the content of the course, please contact Marco Mostert (


Please register by sending an email to the secretariat of the Netherlands Research School for Medieval Studies: before 16 March 2018.