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GE9: German Literature, Thought and History in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods

This paper is available for the academic year 2023-24.


This paper offers an in-depth exploration the literature, ideas, and historical events that shaped the German-speaking lands in the medieval and early modern periods. The texts and sources for study range from courtly literature of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (romance, minnesang, heroic epic) through late medieval drama to the religious ferment of the Reformation and the tragedies, comedies, and novels of the seventeenth-century Baroque. Each of the six topics aims to introduce you to important texts and writers, and also to encourage an understanding of them through a variety of interpretative approaches, including postcolonialism, theories of ritual and performance, history of media, gender, “race,” and power.


The topics for 2023-24 are as follows:

  1. Antiquity, Arthur, and the Holy Grail: the courtly romance in Germany
  2. Eros and performance: the medieval love-lyric
  3. Orientalism, postcolonialism and the Middle High German epic: Rolandslied and Wolfram's Willehalm
  4. Ritual, representation, community: drama in the later Middle Ages
  5. The German Reformation: the power of the Word
  6. Power, “race,” and gender in early modern literary texts

Preparatory reading: 

A complete reading list, tips on how to prepare in advance of the course, and past exam papers are available on the GE9 Moodle site (; you are welcome to enrol yourself to find out more.

Teaching and learning: 

Not every topic has lectures in every year. In 2023–24,  topics 4 and 3 will be covered by lectures in the Michaelmas Term, and topics 1 and 6 in the Lent Term. If you are interested in topics 2 or 5, it may be possible to cover them through college supervisions; ask the course contacts so that they can put you in touch with a supervisor.

If you are new to the subject area, there is also an introductory course of language classes in the first half of the Michaelmas Term where you can develop and practice your skills in reading medieval German.

For the Ge9 Moodle site, please see here.


Assessment is by a combination of coursework essay and end-of-year examination. Further details are on the Moodle pages for the course.

Course Contacts: 
Dr Doriane Zerka