Coming in February 2024!

This six-week course is an introduction to conceptions of gender and sexuality in the medieval period. Each week historian Eleanor Janega discusses the philosophical and societal underpinnings that shaped culture and relationships from the 5th to the 15th century.

Week 1

Classical Influences on the Medieval World

Week one looks at the way that medieval people saw themselves as the direct descendants of the classical world, and the ancient ideas which they used to form their own ideas about sexuality and gender. How did the ancients consider gender and sexuality? How was this absorbed into medieval culture. We’ll look at philosophers including Aristotle and Plato, as well as medical practitioners like the Hippocratic school to understand how a general cosmology is established and absorbed into the medieval world.

Week 2

Early Medieval: The Church Fathers and the Making of New Social Ideals

The second week will look at how the early medieval period took classical influences and adapted them for use within a Christian cosmology. How does medieval society uphold its links to a pagan culture while using a new religious system? How do theologians relate to their own gender and sexuality when forming doctrine? We will look at Augustine and Jerome, as well as leaders like Justinian and Theodora to see how personal histories can be disavowed or learned from in order to influence society.

Week 3

High Medieval: Scholasticism and Overthinking Sex

The third week will focus on the outpouring of texts considering gender and sex during the scholastic boom of the high medieval period. How were people teaching about gender and sex? How did these ideas leave the university and get to common people? We will consider the work of Avicenna, Hildegard of Bingen, and Aquinas, among others, to determine how a complex theoretical system was developed and taught. We will also look for when and how scholars differed in their outlooks, and how they thought about their own gender.

Week 4

Late Medieval: Gender and Sex in Times of Crisis

The fourth week considers gender and sexuality and how society relates to these conceptions under great stress. How did gender roles change and adapt during the calamity of the Black Death? When life expectancy plummets, how do people think about sex? Where do various groups lay the blame for what they see as the end of the world? This week will focus on sermons and popular literature, as well as chronicles.

Week 5

Sex, Gender, and the Medieval "Other"

After considering the construction of norms, the fifth week will turn to who these ideals leave out. It will consider the way that ‘others’ particularly what we would call LGBTQ people, sex workers, and people with leprosy were treated, and how their gender and sexuality was considered as a part of their ostracization. How does society react to the fact that its ideals can never match reality? Local laws, sermons, and church documentation will be consulted to flesh out societal attitudes towards the other.

Week 6

The Early Modern Shift

We will close by looking at how these medieval norms were ossified as they were moved into the early modern period. In particular, we will discuss reactions to sexuality during the process of confessionalisation, as well as how the groundwork was set for the modern witch panics. How do changes in religion influence ideas about gender and sexuality? How does time and perceptions of authority influence later thinking about these concepts. This class will look particularly at the Malleus Mallificarum, or Hamer of Witches.
  • Start Learning

    This course will be coming in February 2024

  • Access

    Course materials are available for three months from the first course session.

Meet your Instructor: Eleanor Janega

Eleanor Janega

Eleanor Janega is a medieval historian based in London, UK. Her areas of expertise are sexuality, apocalypticism, propaganda, and the urban experience in the Middle Ages generally, and in late medieval Bohemia more specifically. She has taught at the London School of Economics since 2015. Eleanor is passionate about public history and her work has appeared in the Washington Post, BBC History, and History Today, among other outlets. She also writes the popular blog Going Medieval. She is the host of the Going Medieval and Medieval Pleasures series on History Hit Television. Her next book The Once and Future Sex: Going Medieval on Women’s Roles in Society is out in January on W.W. Norton.

What Eleanor's students say

“Janega is honestly iconic for mixing a stereotypically droll topic like Medieval sexuality and mixing it with modern lingo and copious swears.”

“Eleanor’s class is so much fun that you don’t feel like you are learning, and then suddenly you realise you have a working knowledge of Thomas Aquinas’s ideas about sex.”