What is a Medieval Studies Degree?

Medieval studies exposes students to the medieval civilizations of Europe and the Middle East. That simple definition, however, does not begin to articulate its breadth. Medieval studies is not a narrow field. To understand its diverse subject matter, students of the discipline draw on the multiple perspectives of history, religion and philosophy, language and literature, and fine arts. Because each of these perspectives plays a part in defining societies, cultures, nations, empires, evolutions, and revolutions.

To really get a sense of the many sides of a medieval studies degree program, consider the varied questions that the study of a Gothic cathedral involves. Which moments in history inspired the architectural style of the cathedral? Which religious figures are etched into its stained glass windows? Which philosophies did they embrace? In which language are the inscriptions on the cathedral walls written? What do those inscriptions say? Who created the pieces of religious art inside the cathedral? As this example shows, medieval studies is, above all, interdisciplinary.

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Medieval Studies – Four Year Duration
At the bachelor’s level, medieval studies students typically take courses in multiple areas of the field. Some schools offer study abroad opportunities in places such as Italy, France, England, Spain, and elsewhere.

Here are some sample classes from each area of study:

Medieval and Renaissance Cultures

  • Old World / New Histories
  • Silk Roads and China, Ancient and Medieval Transformations
  • Gothic Cathedrals
  • Medieval Communities
  • Dante’s Divine Comedy: Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise
  • Early Modern Europe
  • War and Society in the Middle Ages and Renaissance
  • Shakespeare on Nature
  • What Machiavelli Really Says

Fine Arts

  • Music History: Antiquity through Renaissance
  • The Body in Art in Early Modern Europe
  • Art in Renaissance Italy
  • Renaissance Architecture in Italy: Brunelleschi to Michelangelo
  • Renaissance and Baroque Art History
  • Drawing Foundations in Early Modern Europe
  • Art and Architecture in Early Modern France


  • Early Modern Europe
  • Women and Power in the Renaissance
  • The Expansion of Medieval Europe
  • The Caribbean, 1492-1700
  • Europe before the Crusades
  • Islamic Civilization
  • Rise of Modern Science: Early Science through Newton
  • The Viking Age
  • Cities and City Life in Italy

Language and Literature

  • Topics in Renaissance British Literature
  • Introduction to Italian Literature
  • Introduction to Spanish Literature
  • Chaucer
  • Shakespeare
  • Medieval Latin
  • Golden Age Literature: Cervantes

Philosophy and Religion

  • Religion, Reform, and Violence in Early Modern Europe
  • Magic, Religion, and Science since 1400
  • Medieval Christianity in Film and Fiction
  • Jews and Muslims, Judaism and Islam

Master’s Degree in Medieval Studies – One to Two Year Duration
Programs in medieval studies are most commonly offered at the master’s level. These programs normally start with a core module in methodologies and approaches of study and research. Beyond this module, students have considerable freedom in structuring their curriculum. However, most schools require a combination of areas of study courses and skills courses. A thesis is typically the culmination of a graduate program in medieval studies.

Here are examples of classes that may be available to master’s candidates:

Areas of Study Courses

  • The Global Middle Ages – an overview of the cultural exchanges across the global Middle Ages
  • Medieval Settlement and Communities – an examination of the inhabitation of medieval England, the relationships between people and their environment, the communities that resulted from different landscapes, the role of religion and belief
  • The Viking Age: People, Places, and Thing – an introduction to the archaeology of Viking-Age Europe, its material culture (objects and architecture)
  • England in Europe: From Beowulf to the Roman d’Eneas – examination of the literary culture of England from the reign of Alfred the Great to the Conquest, how politics from the 19th Century to the present day have shaped the study of Anglo-Saxon England
  • The Medieval Book – a look at the challenges of finding, editing, and interpreting Middle English writings from a pre-print culture; aspects of codicology (the study of books as physical objects, especially manuscripts written on parchment)
  • Medieval Craft – study of the role of craft and technology in the Middle Ages by asking questions like, ‘How did medieval people conceive of the aesthetic pleasure of the crafted object?’
  • Use of Writing in the Dark Ages – discussion of post Roman World history of education, communication, Latin literacy, book-making, and palaeography (the study of ancient writing systems and the deciphering and dating of historical manuscripts)
  • The Frontiers of Reason – a look at how rational intellect and human knowledge, instead of authority, formed the basis of academic research; discussion of the impact of this attitude
  • The Cult of Saints in the Medieval West, 1050-1350 – exploration of how saints’ cults were brought into being, case studies in the context of papal, political, and social reforms
  • Mapping the World – analysis of the way in which the medieval world is represented in visual form, how the known world was visualized in its geographical and historical dimensions

Skills Courses – required to read and interpret original documents from the medieval period

  • Old English – the learning objectives are command of Old English grammar, fluent reading skills in the language, translation skills, and familiarity with a variety of Old English texts
  • Old French – the learning objectives are ability to read medieval French texts in the original language, understanding of the medieval history of the French language, and ability to translate Old and Middle French texts
  • Old Norse – the learning objectives are understanding of the basics of Old Norse grammar, basic reading skills, and basic translation skills in the language
  • Latin – the learning objectives are sound grasp of Latin grammar, ability to read and translate Latin text, and ability to use Latin text for independent research
  • Palaeography – the learning objectives are ability to fully transcribe manuscripts and documents of a chosen period, understanding of how and why these manuscripts were produced, and ability to use these manuscripts for independent research

Degrees Similar to Medieval Studies

The focus of archaeology degree programs is the study of how people lived in the past. Students of this social science learn about the culture and evolution of extinct civilizations. They attend lectures and work in labs and on research projects. They get a sense of archaeology degree jobs by conducting excavations to recover artifacts like tools, clothing, decorations, and ancient ruins.

Art History
Students of art history study the history and development of drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, filmmaking, and architecture.

Comparative Literature
This field studies the literature and literary traditions of two or more different countries, cultures, or languages. Examples of courses in comparative literature are literature of the Americas, literature of China and Japan, romanticism, and tragedy.

In English degree programs, students read, study, and write about the literature and culture of the English-speaking world. Coursework also includes the history, linguistic structure, and use of the English language.

History is the study of change over time. Degree programs in the field examine political history, diplomatic/international relations history, cultural/ideological history, social/living standards history, economic history, intellectual/philosophical history, and military/armed conflict history.

Museum Studies
Students who complete a ‘museology’ or museum studies degree program acquire the skills needed to conserve, preserve, organize, and exhibit artwork, artifacts, and other objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest. They learn about the four basic types of museums – art, history, science, and nature – and how to manage their collections.

Music History, Literature, and Theory
Students of music history, literature, and theory study the evolution of music, musical instruments, musical performances, and music criticism throughout the ages. The curriculum spans subject areas like music composition, ear training, ethnomusicology, and the French and German languages.

Philosophy encourages the asking of big questions and the formulation of arguments to attempt to answer them. Who are we? Why are we here? What do we believe? Why do we believe it? What is right and wrong in life? What is true and false? What is real and unreal? Philosophy is concerned with the nature of existence and knowledge.

Religious Studies
The focus of religious studies degree programs is the nature and origin of religious belief and traditions. Coursework includes the study of specific religions such as Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Catholicism, as well as religious history, politics, and anthropology.

Skills You’ll Learn

Students of medieval studies develop broad skills that are common to many areas of humanistic study:

  • Adaptability / Ability to consider multiple viewpoints
  • Analysis and classification
  • Appreciation for lifelong learning
  • Broad historical and cultural knowledge
  • Capacity to build persuasive arguments, debate, and lead discussions
  • Capacity to summarize written material
  • Communication
  • Critical, out-of-the-box thinking
  • Curiosity
  • Empathy / understanding the needs and desires of others
  • Intensive research
  • Methodical approach to work
  • Presentation of evidence
  • Strong writing skills
  • Understanding of texts, concepts, and theories

What Can You Do with a Medieval Studies Degree?

Medieval studies spans art, history, archaeology, architecture, language and literature, and philosophy and religion. The field attracts people who are passionate, curious, innovative, and socially engaged. Medieval studies grads can apply these qualities to a variety of careers in many areas, from education and business to non-profits, the arts, and communications.

Some of the roles listed below may at first appear at odds with this degree. But it is important to realize that earning a medieval studies degree lays a strong academic foundation, one that can be a launching pad to diverse opportunities in the world of work – sometimes with, and sometimes without, additional education.


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