History Through Film (HIST 3900 Fall 2012)
Revenge & Revelation in The Middle Ages

Prof. Kevin Uhalde

uhalde@ohio.edu / 593-0220
423 Bentley Annex

call # 4056

lecture: B227 3:05-5:00 MW

office appointments MW 2:00-2:50
    & via Tungle: https://tungle.me/uhalde


In this course we’ll investigate major themes in medieval history through lectures, reading, and films.  No background in medieval history or film studies is necessary to do well in this course, only diligence.  To make sense of the films and to perform satisfactorily in this class requires that you have a firm grasp of the reading and lecture material. With guidance from the questions I provide, you will argue ways in which the films successfully portray important themes and problems of medieval history. It is your responsibility to demonstrate your preparation and comprehension in discussions, announced and unannounced quizzes, and exams. Most quizzes will take the form of Blackboard assignments. Exams are closed-book and may consist of identifications, short answers, and short essays. The final exam will include simple questions on reading and films and one essay written in advance and submitted at the beginning of the exam period. The group project includes a document and presentation, due in the final class meeting. In all assignments, I evaluate your answers for clarity and argument as well as for content, so make your best possible effort. All cheating or plagiarism acts generate a failing grade for the course and referral to the judiciaries: no exceptions. Students who attend class, take notes, and think will have no difficulty earning a satisfactory grade. Never hesitate to contact me about the course in my office or over email.


Outcome Goals

1. Students demonstrate a grasp of major developments in the social, religious, and political history of medieval Europe.

2. Preparedness is evident from clear, coherent, and substantive contributions to class discussion and written assignments.

3. Students can distinguish between interpretation and distortion, perspective and bias in their own analyses of films.

4. The ability to analyze medieval literary sources and modern films within a historical framework.


Grade distribution

20% preparation & participation (including Blackboard assignments)

25% first exam

25% final essay

30% final exam


Required reading

I indicate new list-prices. But discount and used copies of most these books are widely available, including at Little Professor Book Center (65 S. Court St.).


1.     Gerald of Wales, History & Topography of Ireland (Penguin, 1983). $14 (amz, abe)

2.     Beowulf, tr. Heaney (Norton, 2001). $13.95 (amz, abe)

3.     The Poem of the Cid, tr. Raffel (Penguin, 2009). $15 (amz, abe)

4.     Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances, tr. Kibler (Penguin, 1991). $16 (amz, abe)

5.     Short Reader of Medieval Saints, ed. Stouck (Toronto, 2008). $26.95 (amz, abe)

6.     Little Flowers of Saint Francis, tr. Okey (Dover, 2003). $3 (amz, abe)


Readings marked (pdf) are available online by following the link. You will be prompted to provide your Ohio ID and password. Print and bring these readings to class.


Schedule of Classes


Week 1 (August 27-29)

(M) Introduction

(W) Frame & Narrative cinematography | again | more | medievalism


Read overview; Corrigan, Writing about Film, chs. 1-2 now, chs. 3 & 5 at your leisure (pdf)


Watch trailers and clips from The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), Robin Hood (2010); with Laurence Olivier as Henry V (1944) St. Crispin’s Day speech & Battle of Agincourt, Kenneth Branagh as Henry V (1989) speech & battle’s start & more battle


More…Robin Hood (1981), Robin Hood (1973), and even more


Week 2 (September 5, no class September 3)

(M) no class, holiday

(W) Medieval Identity


Read Gerald of Wales, History and Topography of Ireland, pp. 31-125


Watch clips from Army of Darkness (1992) primitive screwheads, lots more; 13th Warrior (dir. John McTiernan, 1999) language; Die Nibelungen, parts 1 and 2 (dir. Fritz Lang, 1924) <alice> ; Valhalla Rising (dir. Nicholas Winding Refn, 2009)


More…The Barbarians <youtube>


Week 3 (September 10-12)

(M) Monsters & Motives


Read all of Beowulf; Nokes’ review of Beowulf & Grendel


Watch 13th Warrior (dir. John McTiernan, 1999) full; clips from Benjamin Bagby’s Beowulf (2007, 99 mins.) <alice>; Beowulf & Grendel (dir. Sturla Gunnarsson, 2005, 102 mins.) <alice>; Beowulf (dir. Robert Zemeckis, 2007) <alice>; Beowulf (dir. Graham Baker, 1999); Beowulf: Prince of Geats (2008) with review and controversy


More...re-enactors judge this and other viking movies; Medieval Wild West: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (dir. John Ford, 1962, 123 mins.) & The Searchers (1956, 119 mins.) <alice>



Week 4 (September 17-19)


Read sources on Henry II (EHD2 1042-1189, pp. 406-420) <pdf>; historian on Eleanor, pp. 1-29 <pdf>


Watch The Lion in Winter (dir. Anthony Harvey, 1968, 134 mins.) <alice>


More…Charlemagne, le prince ą cheval (1993) – French t.v. series, for some reason compared by some viewers with Lion in Winter


Weeks 5 (September 24-26) & 6 (October 1-3)

(M) History, Chivalry, and Romance


Read Arthurian Romances, only “Erec and Enide” (pp. 37-122), “Knight of the Cart (Lancelot)” (pp. 207-294), and “Story of the Grail (Perceval)” with continuations (pp. 381-499)


Watch clips from King Arthur (2004) <alice> trailer; The Last Legion (2007) trailerMerlin (1998) beginning; Tristan & Isolde (2006, 125 mins.) <alice>; Perceval le Gallois (dir. Eric Rohmer, 1979) <alice>Lancelot du Lac (dir. Robert Bresson, 1974) excerpt


More…Ivanhoe (dir. Richard Thorpe, 1952, 106 mins.); Saladin (dir. Youssef Chahine, 1963, 145 mins.) <utub>; Kingdom of Heaven (dir. Ridley Scott, 2005, 144 mins.) <alice> ; The Crusades (dir. DeMille, 1935, 126 mins.) <alice>


Extra credit response (details on Blackboard) Read Song of the Cid & Watch El Cid (dir. Anthony Mann, 1961, 182 mins.) <alice>


Week 7 (October 8-10) Exam on Monday

(W) Ascetic Heroes


Read Medieval Saints, pp. 9-39 on Perpetua & Antony


Watch La tentation de Saint Antoine (dir. Georges MéliŹs, 1898, 1 min.) <utub>; Simon of the Desert (dir. Luis BuĖuel, 1965, 45 mins.) <alice>


More…Le diable au convent (dir. MéliŹs, 1899—also his Trip to the Moon (1902))


Weeks 8 (October 15-17) & 9 (October 22-24)

(W) Divine Justice

(M) Demons


Read (Week 8) Christine de Pizan, “Tale of the Shepherdess” (pdf); Medieval Saints, pp. 86-119 on relics & pilgrimage; (Week 9) Freedman, “Peasant Bodies” (pdf); Souyri, World Turned Upside Down, pp. 1-6 (goog-bk)


Watch (Week 8) The Virgin Spring (dir. Ingmar Bergman, 1960, 89 mins.) <alice>; (Week 9) Onibaba (dir. Kaneto Shindo, 1964, 103 mins.) <alice>


More…Andrei Rublev (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966, 205 mins) <alice> especially the chapters entitled “The Feast” and “The Raid,” as well as the finale (“The Bell”); read about Rublev


Weeks 10 (October 29-31) & 11 (November 5-7)

(M) By the Rule

(M) Heresy & Schism


Read Medieval Saints 40-85 on Benedict & Radegund; Rule of Saint Benedict


Watch (Week 10) extensive clips from Into Great Silence (dir. Philip Gröning, 2005) <alice>; compare Terry JonesCrusades (1995) <yt>; (Week 11) The Island (dir. Pavel Lungin, 2006, 112 mins.) <alice>


More... Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (dir. Kim Ki-duk, 2003, 103 mins.) <alice>


Weeks 12 (November 14, no class Monday) & 13 (November 19, no class Wednesday)


Read Medieval Saints 120-41, 156-87 on Francis & Catherine; Little Flowers of St. Francis


Watch (Week 12) Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen (2009, 110 mins.) <alice>; (Week 13) clips from Brother Sun, Sister Moon (dir. Franco Zeffirelli, 1972) <alice>; Francesco (dir. Liliana Cavani, 1989) <alice>; Francesco, giullare di Dio / The Flowers of St. Francis (dir. Roberto Rossellini, 1950, 87 mins.) <alice>


Brother Sun, Sister Moon clips: coming outchurchClairepope


More…Anchoress (dir. Chris Newby, 1993, 108 mins.) <alice>; The Sorceress (1987, 97 mins.) <alice>; The Pillars of the Earth (2010)


Weeks 14 (November 26-28) & 15 (December 3-5)


Read links to this unit’s lecture notes, while you also review notes and readings from the semester to provide evidence for your final essay!


Watch The Passion of Joan of Arc (dir. Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928, 82 mins.) <alice>; Seventh Seal (dir. Ingmar Bergman, 1957, 96 mins.); clips from The Mill and the Cross (dir. Lech Majewski, 2011, 96 mins.)


More…The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999, 158 mins.); Day of Wrath (1943, 97 mins.) <alice>; Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (dir. F. W. Murnau, 1922) <alice>; Black Death (2010, 102 mins.); Häxan (dir. Benjamin Christensen, 1922, 104 mins.; 1968, 76 mins.) <vid>


For the final exam (details on Blackboard) Watch Nosferatu the Vampyre (dir. Werner Herzog, 1979, 107 mins.) <alice> notice there’s an English and a German subtitled version, watch whichever you prefer!


Final Essay is due on Blackboard no later than Tues. December 11 at 11:59PM.


The University Registrar has schedule the Final Exam for Wed. December 12 at 12:20PM.



Final essay

Option #1 Does film offer a viable means of interpreting and representing significant aspects of medieval history? Choose a topic (violence, justice, gender, religion, social class) and write an essay that answers the question with specific reference to your chosen topic. Your essay must accomplish two things. First, it must explain the importance of your topic for understanding medieval society. This will probably determine your thesis. Second, it must look critically at the ways contemporary sources and modern film manage to convey the aspects of your topic that you have explained to be important. Your focus can be as specific as you like. Just be certain that your analysis is grounded in texts and films and doesn’t stray into vague generalizations.

Option #2 Pitch an idea for a film on any significant subject of medieval history, preferably thematic (e.g. justice, violence, gender, religion, technology, etc.) although persons or events are permissable. I have provided a detailed outline for how you might structure your proposal and the information it should contain.


1. Film title



2. Synopsis

Let readers know what the film is about: its theme, plot, importance, and what makes it innovative.

3. Historical background

Historical summary of what is known about the topic and the historical issues at stake: What sources are available? What challenges do the sources present? What problems do historians grapple with in order to understand the subject and put it into context? Use citations for information or quotes from sources; the bibliography may be included as an appendix (see Section 6).

4. Framework & Outline

Here you describe the story this film will present.  Explain its chronological framework – why it begins and ends where it does – and the sequence of scenes – why you include what you include.  You must decide how much detail you will go into but remember that space is limited.  Moreover, you must balance description with explanation.  This is not a script but would provide a scriptwriter with direction for writing a script. Again, use references and citations wherever possible to justify and explain your choices.

5. Cinematography

Here you provide a general sense of what the film should look and sound like, and why.  Refer to other films we have seen in class or that are relevant to your topic, citing them as you would readings and including them in a list of films with the bibliography in Section 6.  You may comment on the use of color or other filming techniques, the use of sound including musical soundtrack or other elements, special effects, scenery or on-location filming, and so on.  As with Section 4, however, be sure to balance description with explanation: you must persuade readers that your choices are grounded in a historical sensibility.

6. Appendices


These should include bibliography (both works cited and anything else your group consulted) and film list, as well as anything else you wish to provide (e.g. cast of characters, sample dialogue or screenplay, poster, etc.). This does not count toward the 5-page length.


Requirements for both options The essay must be 5 typed pages (roughly 1500 words) and include either parenthetical citations or footnotes for all references to class readings. Bibliography or other appendices do not count toward 5 pages. No outside research is expected but you must cite everything (books, articles, websites) from which you quote, paraphrase, or heavily borrow information and ideas (please review the policy on plagiarism in the syllabus).

Submit your essay as an attachment via Blackboard anytime before Tuesday, December 11, 11:59PM.

Remember, regardless of which option you choose, your essay should accurately reflect what you have learned and the effort you have put into this class over the entire semester. In other words, it should be apparent that you could not have written this essay with the same insight and detail three months ago. Each essay will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

THESIS – It is in fact a thesis; it is stated clearly in the introductory paragraph; it is relevant to course material.

below satisfactory


above satisfactory

ARGUMENT – The essay is structured around an argument; each paragraph presents an aspect of the argument; the argument supports the thesis.

below satisfactory


above satisfactory

EVIDENCE – Readings and films supply the evidence for the argument; evidence is analyzed, not merely summarized; there is enough evidence from a range of course material.

below satisfactory


above satisfactory

CLARITY – Writing is clear and even elegant; prose is grammatically correct; punctuation is correct and typos are few; all evidence is properly cited.

below satisfactory


above satisfactory


Essays that score ‘above satisfactory’ in all or most categories may receive an A.  Those that score mostly ‘satisfactory’ with nothing below satisfactory may receive a B.  Those with a mix of scores may receive a C.  Essays that are mostly ‘unsatisfactory’ will receive a D or lower.

Not sure what a thesis is or how it is different from a topic?  A thesis is an assertion which you will defend in the body of the paper.  It is not a hunch, feeling, or opinion. It is a potentially falsifiable claim that you make and defend on the strength of the evidence as you understand it.  For example:

 “Revelation was important in the Middle Ages” is not a thesis because no reasonable and informed person would object. 

“Medieval people were more superstitious than religious” or “Medieval justice was cruel and heartless” are rotten theses. Both rely more on skepticism or personal judgment than they do on trying to understand the evidence on its own terms.

“Visions in the Middle Ages were not only supernatural experiences, but also provided a means of coping with tensions in ordinary society” is a promising thesis. Much will depend on the evidence that is chosen and how the argument is made. That’s what the rest of the introduction will explain and the essay will demonstrate.

Do not stuff your essay with long quotations or summaries.  Your analysis is what matters. Treat lecture material as common knowledge: no citation necessary. Again, make this essay represent, as fully and accurately as possible, the amount of attention and work you have given to this course throughout the term.


Further Reading

Kevin J. Harty, The Reel Middle Ages: American, Western and East European, Middle Eastern, and Asian Films about Medieval Europe (McFarland, 1999).

Bert Olton, Arthurian Legends on Film and Television (McFarland, 2000).

Robin Blaetz, Visions of the Maid: Joan of Arc in American Film and Culture (University of Virginia, 2001). <alice>

Kevin J. Harty (ed.), Cinema Arthuriana: Twenty Essays (McFarland. 2002) <g-bk>

John Aberth, A Knight at the Movies: Medieval History on Film (Routledge, 2003).

Tom Shippey with Martin Arnold (eds.), Film and Fiction: Reviewing the Middle Ages (Brewer, 2003).

Amy de la BretŹque, L’imaginaire médiéval dans le cinéma occidental (Champion, 2004).

Martha W. Driver and Sid Ray (eds.), The Medieval Hero on Screen: Representations from Beowulf to Buffy (McFarland, 2004).

Christian Kiening and Heinrich Adolf (eds.), Mittelalter im Film (De Gruyter, 2006). [essays on many of our class films, all in German]

Susan Lynn Aronstein, Hollywood Knights: Arthurian Cinema and the Politics of Nostalgia (Palgrave, 2005).

Robert Rosenstone, History on Film/Film on History, (Longman / Pearson, 2006).

Richard Francaviglia and Jerry Rodnitzky (eds.), Lights, Camera, History: Portraying the Past in Film (Texas A&M University, 2007).

Richard Burt, Medieval and Early Modern Film and Media (Palgrave, 2008). [includes an essay on El Cid] <g-bk>

Nickolas Haydock, Movie Medievalism: The Imaginary Middle Ages (McFarland. 2008).

Anke Bernau and Bettina Bildhauer (eds.), Medieval Film. (Manchester University, 2009).

Nickolas Haydock and E. L. Risden, Hollywood in the Holy Land: Essays on Film Depictions of the Crusades and Christian-Muslim Clashes (McFarland, 2009). [includes two essays on El Cid]

Laurie A. Finke and Martin B. Schichtman, Cinematic Illuminations: The Middle Ages on Film (Johns Hopkins, 2009).

Kathleen Coyne Kelly and Tison Pugh, Queer Movie Medievalisms (Ashgate, 2009).

Andrew B. R. Elliott, Remaking the Middle Ages: The Methods of Cinema and History in Portraying the Medieval World (McFarland, 2011).

Bettina Bildhauer, Filming the Middle Ages (Reaktion Books, 2011).

Andrew B. R. Elliot, Remaking the Middle Ages: The Methods of Cinema and History in Portraying the Medieval World (McFarland, 2011). <g-bk>


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