10 Free Medieval Studies Online Courses you can take in 2016


Looking to learn about the Middle Ages? Here are ten free MOOCs (Massive open online courses) that you can enroll in during the first three months of 2016:

Discovering Ashkenaz: Jewish Life in Eastern Europe

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
Beginning January 11th
6 weeks

Join us on a 6-week adventure into the history and culture of the Jews of Poland, Russia, and Lithuania, from medieval times through the Communist era. We will explore Jewish relations with peasants and nobility, the rise of Hasidism and Haskalah, Yiddish and Hebrew modernism, revolution, spiritual resistance during the Holocaust, and postwar continuities with the past. This course is an intensive, college-level survey, equivalent to two 2-hour sessions per week over six weeks. Work at your own pace, following the course videos and interactive quizzes and activities, explore YIVO’s unique archive and library collections, and join our discussion forum to meet up with students and faculty. Those who complete the whole course will get a special YIVO certificate and gift!

The Mediterranean, a Space of Exchange (from the Renaissance to Enlightenment)

Beginning January 14th
9 weeks

The course The Mediterranean, a Space of Exchange (from Renaissance to Enlightenment) aims to explain the Mediterranean, using history and the analysis of the past, as a space generated by routes and circulation. We consider it crucial to disclose mobility as a historical factor: a mobility comprised of four major elements, namely people, objects, ideas and practices. In our analysis of Mediterranean reality between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, we will pay particular attention to its western shores, an area seething with transfers and exchanges, in the social and economic spheres as well as the political and cultural, with the Iberian Peninsula, the various islands and the Italian Peninsula, all spaces of great dynamism.

Deciphering Secrets: Unlocking the Manuscripts of Medieval Spain

Beginning January 21st
12 weeks

In this course students will explore the history of Jews, Christians, and Muslims in late medieval, fifteenth century Spain. Serving as citizen-scholars, students will learn about the positive and negative elements of inter-religious co-existence in Plasencia, Spain, and more importantly, contribute to an international scholarly effort by helping transcribe manuscripts.

Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds: Maritime Archaeology

Beginning February 1st
4 weeks

People have explored and depended on the oceans of our planet for millennia. During that time the geography of our world has changed radically as coastal regions have flooded and islands have risen up, or been lost beneath the waves. With 70% of the world’s surface covered by water, an unparalleled, yet largely untouched record of human life has been left beneath the sea for us to discover, from our earliest ancestors right through to present day. Over the length of this Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds course we will learn about maritime archaeology together – exploring underwater landscapes from the ancient Mediterranean to the prehistoric North Sea, and consider Shipwrecks from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific coast of the Americas.

Agincourt 1415: Myth and Reality

Beginning February 22nd
3 weeks

The Battle of Agincourt, in 1415, is one of the most famous battles in the history of warfare, and one of the most important and memorable English victories. It still captures the imagination today, but why are stories still told about Agincourt? And do these stories represent what really happened on the battlefield? This free online course will explore the myths and realities about the battle, which marked its 600th anniversary on 25 October 2015. The three weeks will be led by the foremost academic expert on the battle, Professor Anne Curry.

Microbes Rule the World: Effects of Disease on History

Canvas Network
Beginning March 7th
6 weeks

While biologists have long understood the power of disease to shape events in world history, the depth of that power has rarely emerged in history books. This course seeks to redress that imbalance through historical anecdote and scientific explanation as it investigates the ways in which diseases have affected dramatically the course of history across several topics, including religion, war, and migration. Participants will experience video lectures and vignettes with accompanying essays and learning exercises that will introduce them to the startling influence of microbes in the course of human events. Sharing good humor and a combined seven decades of teaching and friendship, the two professors from the fields of microbiology and history have designed tiered learning materials that allow students to venture as deeply as they desire into the links between disease and history. Participants may also choose which topics interest them the most and devote their energies accordingly.

England in the Time of King Richard III

Beginning March 7th
6 weeks

The discovery of the skeleton of Richard III in a Leicester car park – and the recent revelations of an infidelity within his family’s bloodline – have made headline news around the world. In this free online course, a team of scholars from the University of Leicester address a broad set of themes about the England Richard would have inhabited in the 15th century and look back at his rediscovery and reinterment.

Western Civilization: Ancient and Medieval Europe

Beginning March 14th
8 weeks

This course will provide a general outline of European history from Ancient times through 1500 AD, covering a variety of European historical periods and cultures, including Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Celtic, Frankish and others. This course satisfies the Social-Behavioral Sciences (SB) and Historical Awareness (H) general studies requirements at Arizona State University. This course may satisfy a general education requirement at other institutions; however, it is strongly encouraged that you consult with your institution of choice to determine how these credits will be applied to their degree requirements prior to transferring the credit.

The Book: Scrolls in the Age of the Book

6 weeks

This course is an introduction to the making and use of scrolls in the European Middle Ages. The codex, with its portability and instant access to any place in the text, became the dominant container for writing after the 4th century BCE, but scrolls continued to be made. Why and how did the scroll format remain popular and relevant in the age of the codex? This course proposes four main reasons, which account for essentially every kind of scroll that still exists today. We will see and examine in detail a number of beautiful objects, and come to understand the thinking of those who chose the scroll format for their texts.

The Book: Making and Meaning in the Medieval Manuscript

8 weeks

As books “go digital,” we can appreciate what is gained in terms of convenience, accessibility and interconnectedness. However, we should also consider what is lost as texts transition to a digital sphere. This module of The Book: Histories Across Time and Space seeks to re-introduce learners to the codex – a handwritten and hand-constructed book – as a three-dimensional object whose characteristics produce meaning in the experience of the reader.

This module is designed to walk you through the process of making a medieval manuscript. Using a wide variety of examples from the collections of Harvard’s Houghton Library, it will familiarize you with basic terms and concepts and give you a “feel” for the shapes, sizes, formats, materials and considerations of craft that went into the making of the book as we know it.

Throughout the Middle Ages there existed an intimate relationship between making and meaning. Codices were tactile as well as visual objects designed to engage multiple senses. In the illuminated manuscript, it is often impossible to distinguish neatly between text and image; rather, letters assume imagistic forms and images take the form of letters.

Bookmakers were sensitive to the interplay of materials, from the parchment of the pages to the wooden boards, designed to protect the contents. Each of these elements conditioned a reader’s interaction with the book. Bookmaking required a significant material investment. The production process was laborious and lengthy, involving many separate stages and craftsmen.

Two Online Courses that you can pay for:

Everyday Life of Medieval Folk

Medieval Courses
Cost $99

We always hear about medieval kings, queens and nobility, yet we rarely get to hear about the normal everyday people of the times. In this twenty-part course, historian Toni Mount outlines the daily routines and specialisms that various types of people had in the medieval era. Delving deep into her research on the subject and using primary sources, Toni has uncovered the names of specific, real people and uses records of their lives to give us an insight into what it was really like to live in the medieval world.

The Viking Age in England and Francia

University of Exeter
Starting February 8th
18 weeks
Cost £155

This online course investigates the impact of the Vikings’ arrival in 9th-century England and France. Though the Vikings lived in a period when warfare savagery was commonplace, many historical commentators have placed them in a special category of their own, sometimes portraying them as mindless thugs led by psychopaths.

This course will look beyond this view, originating in the writings of early Christians dismayed by the sudden immigration of ‘savage pagans’ into their area, to the archaeology of pre-Viking Denmark, in order to consider what caused the Danes to set sail for Europe.

Examination of archaeological finds such as stone sculptures, weapons, jewellery, coins, and pottery as well as urban and rural settlements and buildings will also help us to appreciate the changes that were stimulated by the arrival and settlement of the Vikings. By carefully examining the written and archaeological evidence, students will learn to interpret finds from the Viking Age dispassionately, in order to better understand the people and the period.


Finally, if you live in Ontario, Canada, you can enroll in The Middle Ages and the Modern World: Facts and Fiction

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

Sign up for our weekly email newsletter!