MA Medieval and Early Modern Textual Cultures 1381 - 1688

"My year at UEA was one of the best of my life"

In their words

Ian McEwan, Creative Writing Graduate and Booker Prize winner


The British Archive for Contemporary Writing at UEA contains the extensive personal archive of the Nobel Laureate, Doris Lessing, and literary material from other prominent authors such as Naomi Alderman, Tash Aw, Malcolm Bradbury, Amit Chaudhuri, J.D. Salinger, Roger Deakin, Lorna Sage, WG Sebald and the playwright Snoo Wilson.

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In the most recent Research Excellence Framework (REF 2014), UEA was ranked joint tenth in the UK for the quality of its research in English Language and Literature (Times Higher REF 2014 Analysis) with 82 per cent of our research rated either 4* (world leading) or 3* (internationally excellent).

Immerse yourself in medieval and early-modern literature in its remarkable historical, intellectual, cultural, and material contexts.

Read a range of major British writers alongside the works of the important continental European authors who influenced them, including, Chaucer, Lydgate, Henryson, Douglas, Spenser, and Sidney together with Petrarch, Boccaccio, de Pizan, Poliziano, Erasmus, Rabelais, and Montaigne. 

Explore the rise of Renaissance humanism and its medieval antecedents and discover local archival materials, part of Norwich and East Anglia's rich literary heritage.


You will read widely across the boundary between medieval and Renaissance cultures. At the heart of the course is an emphasis on the varieties of medieval and early-modern humanism, the complex movement that enabled new understandings of the classical world, of our place within history, and of our relationship to language.

East Anglia was home to an extraordinarily rich literary culture in the medieval and early-modern periods and this has left behind fabulous materials to research. Thousands of early-modern printed books and a small number of important medieval manuscripts are preserved in the Norfolk Heritage Centre. The core of that collection is the Norwich City Library – founded in 1608, it’s one of England's most important and best-preserved regional libraries. The Norfolk Record Office holds extraordinary medieval and early-modern documents, which include records of East Anglia’s history, poetry miscellanies, letters, maps, and more. Together, these archives bear witness to Norwich's role as a vibrant, cosmopolitan, and religiously diverse, international centre of trade and culture. By the end of the year, you'll have learnt vital skills (including digital skills) that enable you to encounter such archival treasures and incorporate them into your research.

The MA has a strongly interdisciplinary character. You will explore the range of cutting-edge methods by which scholars are researching the cultures of these periods. You will move freely between texts, material artefacts, and visual art and consider how unpublished manuscript evidence can help us to understand the priorities of medieval and early-modern readers.

Course Structure

You will work through a tightly focused series of modules that will give you the understanding of literary culture, critical methods, and archival skills you will need to tackle your dissertation. In each semester, you’ll take a module that explores the development of medieval and early-modern humanism alongside one focusing on local and archival materials, including a wealth of digitised archives from the region and around the world.

In your autumn semester, Medieval and Renaissance Humanisms: from Chaucer to Surrey will introduce you to the rich complexity of medieval humanism and to the distinctive turns that mark the beginnings of a new Renaissance humanism. You will explore a range of important vernacular English and Scottish writers alongside the classical, French and Italian models to which they responded, and the different versions of history and literature embedded in them.

Also in this semester, The Transformation of the Book: 1500-1700 will introduce you to the ways in which material texts, in both manuscript and print, were transformed during the vital era from the emergence of print at the end of the middle ages to the close of the seventeenth century. You will consider the ways in which the publication, annotation, and collection of books changed. You will learn how to read the handwriting of sixteenth - and seventeenth-century documents and produce your own research project about them.

In your spring semester, The Northern Renaissance, 1500-1620 will see you explore why and how humanism gave birth to the astonishing outpouring of literature that was the Renaissance. You will ask how the rediscovery of classical texts generated new possibilities for literary writers, how humanists understood the nature of poetic creation, how their advocacy of rhetoric created new ways for writers to engage with public life, and how humanists turned philological methods upon the most sacred text of their culture: the bible.

In this semester’s second module, East Anglian Literature, you will read the literature of medieval and early-modern East Anglia in its material contexts. You will explore East Anglia's rich dramatic traditions, its devotional literature and practices, and how its literature participates in its broader social and cultural worlds.

At the end of the spring semester and over the summer, you will work full-time on your dissertation, with the guidance and support of one of our lecturers in this period. You'll have the chance to bring your skills and critical understanding to bear on a research project of your own choice.

Teaching and Learning

During the Autumn semester of 2020/21, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teaching for this MA will take place online, where you'll have live, in-depth, face-to-face discussions with tutors and your peers. This immersive online teaching will be complemented and enriched by in-person, small-group, tutor-led learning opportunities on campus. This will enable you to get just as much out of UEA's exceptional resources and expertise as ever in a way that's fulfilling, flexible, and safe, during the COVID-19 pandemic. We envisage a fuller return to in-person teaching in the Spring semester, with the precise balance between online and in-person learning being determined by the best public health advice, government guidelines, and university policy.

Our teaching is founded upon the close reading of primary texts. Large historical and intellectual issues are allowed to grow out of specific passages, without losing sight of the texts’ formal and aesthetic qualities.

You will be immersed in a field-leading medieval and early-modern research community, which will encourage you to develop your own innovative research questions, approaches and projects. Our areas of faculty research include the history of medieval and early-modern reading practices, the study and practice of literary imitation and translation, the history and development of historiography, early-modern drama and Shakespeare, literary and intellectual biography, the development of distinct East Anglian identities, conceptions of the landscape, and the cultural importance of medieval saints' lives. 

We hold research seminars throughout the term, which showcase the work of our own scholars and of visiting speakers. UEA is also at the forefront of adapting medieval and early-modern texts for the stage and the remarkable Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts will illuminate the visual art of the medieval and early-modern periods for you.

Independent study

Independent study will be a key part of this degree. You will read widely in medieval and early-modern literature and develop your own innovative critical thinking to help you explore the modern interdisciplinary study of these periods.

You’ll acquire a thorough understanding of the crucial cultural and literary phenomenon of 'humanism', including the classical sources that lie behind the literary texts.

With the vibrancy of Norwich's medieval and early-modern literary culture on your doorstep, you’ll develop skills in archival research, bibliography and palaeography to help you approach the rich array of material that survives from that period.


Your four core taught modules will each be assessed by a 5,000-word independent project.

Your dissertation will be a 15,000-word piece of original independent research – and you will have the opportunity to present your work to your peers as part of our Medieval and Early-Modern Mini-Conference.

After the course

You’ll graduate from this course equipped with both the skills you need to prepare you for doctoral research and with the transferable skills in research, project management, and critical thinking that you need for a career outside academia. 

Many students go on to undertake funded PhD projects, while others have gone on to positions in the heritage industry, teaching, and publishing.

Career destinations

  • Heritage industry
  • Publishing
  • Academia
  • Research
  • Teaching
  • Journalism

Course related costs

Please see Additional Course Fees for details of other course-related costs.

Course Modules 2020/1

Students must study the following modules for 180 credits:

Name Code Credits


Throughout the medieval and Early-Modern periods Norwich was one of England's most important cities - probably second only to London - and East Anglia one of the country's culturally liveliest and richest areas. In this module you will explore the literature of these periods in its material contexts (the region's prosperity and power may still be seen in its architecture and in the rich holdings of its libraries and museums) and ask whether there was a specifically East Anglian cultural tradition. You will explore East Anglia's rich dramatic traditions, its devotional literature and practices (in orthodox forms and in those that brush against the heterodox), and, insistently, the manner in which its literature participates in its broader social and cultural worlds. This module may particularly appeal to you if you have an interest in the cultural traditions of Norwich and East Anglia or, more generally, in the literature of place.







This module aims to introduce you to the rich and important complexity of medieval humanism and to the distinctive turns that mark the beginnings of a new Renaissance humanism. Such an aim, of course, at once implies a series of attendant questions: what is humanism (and what was medieval humanism)? In what ways was Renaissance humanism different from medieval humanism and what is the relationship between the continuities and the new departures? And why orient an approach to medieval and Renaissance culture about 'humanism' at all? These questions, then, also lie at the heart of the module. We start from the central proposition that new approaches to the 'studia humanitatis' (the study of the humanities - art, literature, history, philosophy) pioneered by the self-styled humanists ('umanisti') between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries constitute one of the most important achievements of the Renaissance. They defined the terms by which Renaissance humanists themselves most often distinguished their own work from the intellectual traditions of the medieval past and from the work of their (allegedly) more old-fashioned contemporaries. What, though, did medieval humanism really look like and what precisely did Renaissance humanism bring that was new? Our focus will be on five vernacular English and Scottish writers: Chaucer, Lydgate, Henryson, Douglas, and Bellenden (Surrey's translation of Books 2 and 4 of the 'Aeneid' offers a neat terminus and foil to Chaucer's earlier Virgilian versions, but we shall find that the translations of Douglas and Bellenden more richly reward our attention). From the freer reworkings of Chaucer and Henryson to the translations and scholarly excavations of Douglas and Bellenden, perhaps. Or from the classical past as an emblem of tragic self-destructiveness in Chaucer's Troy and Thebes to new and revitalising political possibilities found within Livy's Republican Rome by Bellenden? We focus on the period from the 1380s to the 1530s, but it will take us often to France and, more often still, to Italy. It will require us to open windows onto the medieval reception of the classical legacy from the 5th century to the 16th (as well as onto the classical works themselves), we bring together disparate materials, placing poems and plays alongside university syllabi and the book-lists of late-medieval libraries.




This module introduces you to some of the challenges, possibilities, and productive practices of independent graduate research in preparation for your work on the dissertation. It is tailored to the distinctive approaches and emphases of your particular MA programme.




This module sets out to understand why and how humanism -- the advocacy of the study of the humanities, the Greek and Roman classics -- gave birth to the astonishing outpouring of literature that we call the Renaissance. We will situate English Renaissance literature within the wider context of the humanist literature of France, the Netherlands, and Italy. Questions we consider include: how did the rediscovery of classical texts generate new possibilities for literary writers? How did humanists understand the nature of poetic creation? How did their advocacy of rhetoric create new ways for writers to engage with public life? And what happened when humanists turned philological methods upon the most sacred text of their culture: the bible? Our work will focus on the writings of Thomas More, Desiderius Erasmus, and Michel de Montaigne, but there will be opportunities to read far more widely in the Renaissance literature of the period. Foreign language texts are all read in translation. The might be of interest to anyone who wishes to gain an in-depth understanding of one of the most dazzling periods of European literary history.




This module introduces you to the ways in which material texts (both in manuscript and print) were transformed during the vital era from the emergence of print at the end of the middle ages to the close of the 17th century. How did the ways in which books were published change? How can we use the evidence of annotated books to reconstruct readers' habits and interests? How far did print transform the nature of the book? What happened to books as they started to become absorbed and classified within modern libraries? And how did manuscript documents -- especially letters -- enable the enormous boom in communication characteristic of the seventeenth century? How did the transformation of material texts create new possibilities for writing and thinking? The module equips you with the skills in early-modern archival studies that are necessary to tackle these questions. In particular, we spend a portion of each seminar learning how to read the handwriting of sixteenth and seventeenth century documents. The module culminates in visits to two archives in Norwich -- the Norfolk Record Office and the Norfolk Heritage Centre -- and your summative assessed work will take the form of a study of document(s) from these archives. The module will be of interest to anyone who wants to learn more about the most vitally important era of the transformation of the book.




Whilst the University will make every effort to offer the modules listed, changes may sometimes be made arising from the annual monitoring, review and update of modules and regular (five-yearly) review of course programmes. Where this activity leads to significant (but not minor) changes to programmes and their constituent modules, there will normally be prior consultation of students and others. It is also possible that the University may not be able to offer a module for reasons outside of its control, such as the illness of a member of staff or sabbatical leave. In some cases optional modules can have limited places available and so you may be asked to make additional module choices in the event you do not gain a place on your first choice. Where this is the case, the University will endeavour to inform students.

Further Reading

  • UEA Literary Festival

    The University of East Anglia's first literary festival took place in 1991 and over the last twenty five years we have welcomed a host of award-winning authors, journalists, illustrators, scientists, economists, broadcasters and more.

    Read it UEA Literary Festival
  • Home Truths

    The troubled little sister of crime fiction, domestic noir has seen an explosion in popularity in recent years.

    Read it Home Truths
  • Unlocking The Past

    How can the study of dusty manuscripts lead to the creation of interactive digital mapping tools? How does digitising globally significant medieval and early modern letters lead to donning walking gear and creating heritage trails across Norfolk?

    Read it Unlocking The Past

    Your University questions, answered

    Read it #ASKUEA

Entry Requirements

  • Degree Classification Bachelors (Hons) degree - 2.1 or equivalent
  • Special Entry Requirements Sample of work - see below

Students for whom English is a Foreign language

We welcome applications from students whose first language is not English. To ensure such students benefit from postgraduate study, we require evidence of proficiency in English. Our usual entry requirements are as follows:

  • IELTS: 7.0 (minimum 6.0 in each section and 7.0 in writing)
  • PTE (Pearson): 65 (minimum 50 in each section and 65 in writing)

Test dates should be within two years of the course start date.

Other tests, including Cambridge English exams and the Trinity Integrated Skills in English are also accepted by the university. The full list of accepted tests can be found here: Accepted English Language Tests

INTO UEA also run pre-sessional courses which can be taken prior to the start of your course. For further information and to see if you qualify please contact

Special Entry Requirements

A sample of your academic writing (for example an essay from your undergraduate degree) of up to 3000 words.


The School's annual intake is in September of each year.

Alternative Qualifications

If you have alternative qualifications that have not been mentioned above then please contact the Admissions Office directly for further information.

Fees and Funding

Tuition fees

Tuition fees for the academic year 2020/21 are:

  • UK/EU Students: £7,850
  • International Students: £16,400

If you choose to study part-time, the fee per annum will be half the annual fee for that year, or a pro-rata fee for the module credit you are taking (only available for UK/EU students).

Living Expenses

We estimate living expenses at £1,015 per month.

Scholarships and Awards:

There are a variety of scholarships and studentships available to postgraduate applicants in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. For further information relevant to the School of Literature and Creative Writing, please click here.

How to Apply

Applications for Postgraduate Taught programmes at the University of East Anglia should be made directly to the University.

To apply please use our online application form.

Further Information

If you would like to discuss your individual circumstances prior to applying please do contact us:

Postgraduate Admissions Office
Tel: +44 (0)1603 591515

International candidates are also encouraged to access the International Students section of our website.

    Next Steps

    We can’t wait to hear from you. Just pop any questions about this course into the form below and our enquiries team will answer as soon as they can.

    Admissions enquiries: or
    telephone +44 (0)1603 591515