Medieval People: Gotta Study ’em All!

In teaching the Middle Ages to middle and high school students, I often try to incorporate some ideas from popular culture which engage the students. One such popular culture device which has allowed me to introduce students to a plethora of medieval historical characters is a project that I call “Medieval People: Gotta Study’em All!” This title of course was derived from the extremely popular “Pokemon” and “Yughio” trading cards which have proliferated in homes throughout the world over the past decade or more. Even middle schoolers immediately know the source of my takeoff in the project title. I usually get a remark such as: “Hey, what’s Pokemon got to do with the Middle Ages?” Of course, I explain that Pokemon has nothing to do with the Middle Ages but that the idea of creating trading cards was intriguing to me. And, so it was for my students.

I have used this project successfully with students in both middle and high school. I usually assign it as a term project (for me, that’s a nine-week period), and most of the work is done as homework. The project sheet that I disseminate is as follows.

Directions: Students should use internet sites and print media to conduct research on a number of ancient and medieval personalities. The results of your research should be medieval “trading cards” (modeled after the popular Yughio and Pokemon trading cards) which include brief biographical sketches of the person and an illustration of the person. Students can choose their own grades by completing the following “trading cards”:

A 40 cards
B 30 cards
C 20 cards
D. 10 cards
F Fewer than 10 cards

**Extra Credit: Teachers may wish to award extra credit to work that demonstrates either/or considerable depth of knowledge or advanced aesthetic qualities:

  • 10 points (on a hundred-point scale) for demonstration of considerable depth of knowledge.
  • 10 points (on a hundred-point scale) for expression of advanced aesthetic qualities.

In addition to the instructions listed above, students must also include the following on their medieval people trading cards: a) the person’s birth and death dates; b) a very brief biographical sketch which should include the person’s contribution(s) to medieval civilization; c) at least one direct quote from a primary source contemporary with the person highlighted on the card.

The directions sheet also includes the grading scheme for the project:

Students have the choice of attaining an A, B,C,D, or F. To attain an A, a student must create 40 trading cards; B, 30 cards; C, 20 cards; D, 10 cards; F, fewer than 10 cards. Most students find the activity interesting enough to go for the 40 cards and an A.

My assessment of the projects will focus primarily on the student’s completion of the assignment and the number of cards submitted. However, the aesthetic qualities of the project and the degree of content development are areas where students might receive extra credit:

  • High degree of content development (10 extra points on a hundred-point scale).
  • Outstanding Aesthetic Qualities (10 extra points on a hundred-point scale.)

At the time that I disseminate the directions sheet, I also give each student a list of the names of some medieval people and suggest that the students use the list to get started. If, during their research, students discover medieval people who are not on my list, they must alert me to the name of the medieval person they have discovered. My list might include:

  • St. Augustine of Hippo
  • St. Augustine of Canterbury
  • Boethius
  • Cassiodorus
  • St. Benedict of Nursia
  • Justinian
  • Theodora
  • Attila the Hun
  • Eusebius of Caesarea
  • Procopius of Caesarea
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine
  • Henry II of England
  • Richard the Lionhearted
  • Genghis Khan
  • Kubla Khan
  • Marco Polo
  • Pope Gregory I
  • Pope Gregory VII
  • Emperor Henry IV
    Emperor Frederick Barbarossa
  • Emperor Otto I
  • Emperor Frederick II
  • Hildegard of Bingen
  • Margery Kemp
  • Muhammad
  • Philip II of France
  • Louis IX of France
  • William the Conqueror
  • Harald Hardrada
  • Christine de Pizan
  • Tamerlane
  • Avicenna
  • Averroes
  • Maimonides
  • King John of England
  • St. Thomas Aquinas
  • St. Vital of Mortain
  • St. Francis of Assisi
  • Alfred the Great
  • Charlemagne
  • Theodoric the Ostrogoth
  • St. Isidore of Seville
  • Sidonius Apollinaris
  • King Edward the Confessor
  • King Edward I
  • King Edward III
  • Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Francois Villon
  • Chretien de Troyes
  • Gottfried von Strasbourg
  • Hroswitha of Gandersheim
  • Christopher Columbus
  • Saladin
  • Gregory of Tours

I suggest the following websites to the students for their research:

1)Title: Medieval Timeline Reference


Annotation: A useful, thorough timeline with information about the leading lights of the Middle Ages.

2) Title: The Middle Ages


Annotation: Links to people, events, and social institutions of the Middle Ages.

3) Title: De Re Militari


Annotation: This site is loaded with the latest scholarly work on medieval warfare and all those who were affected by it: Kings, Queens, nobles, ecclesiastics, and the lower orders of society. This site also includes many useful links to general medieval sites.

4) Title: Medieval World Encyclopedia


Annotation: It’s encyclopedic!

Of course, I do not push the internet at the expense of traditional research in libraries. So, in addition to scheduling at least four class periods in the computer lab, I also schedule at least four class periods in the school library. In addition, I encourage students to go and conduct research in local public libraries and in local colleges and universities. Even with a minimum of four class periods in both the computer lab and the school library, I emphasize the necessity of spending considerable homework time on the project.

Once the project is over, I extend it by having the student narrow his/her focus. Whereas the “Medieval People: Gotta Study’em All!” project uses a scatter-gun approach to introducing modern students to many medieval people, with the learner expected to learn a little bit of information about many famous historical characters, the extension assigns the task of choosing one figure from medieval history and writing an in-depth research paper about that one individual.

John Marshall Carter
Clayton County Schools, GA

Original Citation: Scientia Scholae, Volume II, Issue 2, February 2004

NOTE: Links have been corrected and/or deleted.  The original “look and feel”  of the journal has been preserved as much as possible, but the original logos have also been removed.  No editing to the actual texts has been done since their original publication.

TEAMS: Teaching Association for Medieval Studies