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Topics in History: Sex and Death in the Middle Ages (Bader College)

An image of a miniature from a medieval manuscript showing a man and a women laying in the hay together

Few would question that life’s greatest drives are to reproduce and to avoid death. Both Sigmund Freud and Michel Foucault have famously argued that the two are fused, that the death instinct pervades sexual activity. But how did this play out in the past? It is often said that the past is a foreign country where they do things differently, and perhaps no type of ‘doing’ is more fascinating than sexual desires and behaviours, particularly in an era we often associate with either swooning love-struck knights and ladies on the one hand, or base, violent ‘medieval’ deviance on the other.

While sex in the Middle Ages may (or may not) have been kept behind closed doors, death was at the very centre of medieval life. With high rates of infant mortality, disease, famine, the constant presence of war, and the inability of medicine to deal with common injuries, death was a brutal part of most people's everyday experience.

Weekly seminars will provide students with the opportunity to engage with primary source materials (in translation) and to hone their skills in primary research through the use of digital archives and databases. Our close proximity to London allows for easy access to museums, archives and galleries to engage with medieval documents and objects first-hand. Possible ELOs include visits to the Wellcome Library and the Vagina Museum.

Learn more details about HIST 402 directly from the course instructor, Dr. Claire Kennan, in this short video.

Please note this course is only available to students enrolled at the Bader College campus, East Sussex, UK. To sign up for History Summer Plus at Bader College, click here. 

Department of History, Queen's University

49 Bader Lane, Watson Hall 212
Kingston ON K7L 3N6




Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.