The 12th-Century Renaissance in Oxford


The 12th century was a time of significant change and development in Western Europe. Relative political stability, religious reform, the development of court culture, and crusades in the Middle East and the Iberian Peninsula all contributed to the phenomenon known as the 12th century renaissance.

At this time there were developments in virtually all aspects of medieval life. Education, architecture, philosophy, religion, science and technology, and literature and the arts all underwent substantial advancements with far-reaching consequences. The introduction, or re-introduction, of many Greek and Arabic works into the Latin West via wide-scale translation activity led to the cultural and intellectual landscape of Western Europe changing dramatically.

This course will explore how the phenomenon of the 12th century renaissance impacted the society of Medieval Oxford specifically, and how this related to the experience of Europe more widely. We will look at the emergence of the University of Oxford and the influence this had on the scholastic culture of both England and wider Europe. Beyond this, we will consider the changes in various academic disciplines such as medicine, philosophy, and theology, as well as less legitimate pursuits such as learned magic. We will explore the development of literature, particularly in vernacular languages such as Middle English. We will also consider the developments in the legal and political structures of Europe, and England specifically.

Programme details

Courses starts: 16 Apr 2024

Week 0: Course Orientation

Week 1: The background to the 12th century renaissance

  • The situation in Europe
  • Political and religious developments
  • An influx of new learning

Week 2: The Development of the University of Oxford

  • The formalisation of education
  • The Universities of Paris and Bologna
  • The incorporation of the University at Oxford

Week 3: Philosophy and Theology

  • The reintroduction of Greek philosophy
  • The Sentences of Peter Lombard
  • English theologians

Week 4: Medicine

  • Pre-12th century medicine
  • Hippocrates and Galen
  • Medicine across the social spectrum

Week 5: Magic

  • Natural philosophy
  • Astrology and alchemy
  • Necromancy and astral magic

Week 6: Science & Technology

  • Astronomy
  • Mathematics
  • Automatons and machines

Week 7: Politics & The Law

  • Development of court culture
  • The impact on the wider population
  • English legal codes

Week 8: Religion

  • Religious reform
  • English monasticism
  • Accessibility of religion

Week 9: Art & Literature

  • Vernacular literature and Middle English
  • Architectural advancements
  • Art and illumination

Week 10: The ongoing legacy

  • A paradigm shift?
  • Its impact on English society
  • Comparison with the later Renaissance

Digital Certification

To complete the course and receive a certificate, you will be required to attend and participate in at least 80% of the live sessions on the course and pass your final assignment. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so.


Description Costs
Course Fee £257.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit, you are a full-time student in the UK or a student on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees. Please see the below link for full details:

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Vikki Burns-Price

Victoria Burns-Price has a PhD from the University of Reading in Medieval History. Her research interests lie in medieval magic, its practitioners, and the influence of formal theology on societal attitudes toward it.

Course aims

To introduce students to the concept of the 12th century renaissance and its far reaching influence. The course intends to demonstrate that this was a significant period of change across Europe generally, and England specifically, which helped to shape the latter half of the medieval period.

Course objectives:

  • Understand the factors which led to the changes in society at this time.
  • Understand the impact that this phenomena had at all levels of society.
  • Develop skills by utilising and analysing historical sources and records.
  • Explore the approach of modern scholars to this period in history.

Teaching methods

  • Guided reading of documents and texts.
  • Examination of historical objects.
  • Discussion sessions.
  • Set questions.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to understand:

  • the range of circumstances which led to the societal changes and developments of the 12th century renaissance;
  • the ways in which the academic, religious, political, and scientific spheres were influenced by these developments;
  • if and how these changes impacted different levels of society;
  • how the 12th century renaissance was manifested in England, and Oxford, specifically.

Students will have:

  • an ability to find, understand, and analyse historical source material;
  • knowledge of the historiography of the topic and current scholarly approaches;
  • confidence in developing opinions on topics of discussion and contributing to seminars;
  • an ability to formulate and write balanced arguments drawing from evidence and example.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course.

The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


We will close for enrolments 7 days prior to the start date to allow us to complete the course set up. We will email you at that time (7 days before the course begins) with further information and joining instructions. As always, students will want to check spam and junk folders during this period to ensure that these emails are received.

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an enrolment form (Word) or enrolment form (Pdf).

Level and demands

Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)