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

Course for Research MA students (5 ECTS). Eight classes on Fridays, 11.15-14.00, in Utrecht and Groningen, in the period between 15 April and 24 June 2016.


Registration with the Onderzoekschool Mediëvistiek ( before 15 February 2016.



An advanced course, covering the current state of affairs in the field of medieval communication, literacy (including orality and ‘visuality’) and various forms and traditions of knowledge.

Human civilization and human social order presuppose collaboration, for which communication is crucial. Its role is to exchange and exploit information, in the form of statements (knowledge, ideas, beliefs) and instructions (purposes, values and norms). Communication also plays a role in the development and satisfaction of interpersonal needs: recognition, status, affection, building the image that an individual has of himself and of his (social and physical) environment.

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 the 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.

Coordination: Prof. dr. M. Mostert (