Deciphering Secrets: Unlocking the Manuscripts of Medieval Burgos (Spain)

Training overview
Professional Course
Virtual Classroom
7 weeks
From 50 USD

Start dates
50 USD
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Course description

Deciphering Secrets: Unlocking the Manuscripts of Medieval Burgos (Spain)

This history course delves into the medieval history of the city of Burgos, from its inception in 884 c.e. as the homeland of the Spanish Kingdom of Castile and Leon, until the completion of the Spanish Reconquista in 1492. We will study complicated legendary heroes like Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, “The Cid”, both a champion of the Christian Reconquista and a friend of Islamic rulers, who lays buried in the Cathedral of Burgos. Like the Cid, medieval Burgos presented two competing views for Spain’s future – one centered on overt Castilian supremacy and another more nuanced one that incorporated religious minorities, especially Jews and Jewish converts to Christianity (conversos), into every element of political, economic, and even religious life.

This course will investigate the disastrous impact of the Plague and how it led to the death of King Alfonso XI and the ruinous civil war between the half-brothers, Pedro “The Cruel” and Enrique II of Trastamára. We will also appraise the collapse of the kingdom’s “Old Christian” nobility and the generation of new elite clans, some of whom hailed from Jewish ancestries. It was also the era of anti-Jewish pogroms, Christian fixations on “blood purity” and unsuccessful pleas for Christian harmony, and the last gasps of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim coexistence.

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Who should attend?


  • Knowledge of the Spanish language is not necessary
  • None

Training content

Week 1: Why “Deciphering Secrets”? An Abbreviated History of Castile

Learn about how you will contribute to the discovery of new historical details from medieval manuscripts. Dive into the history of the royal city of Burgos and the cultural relations of the kingdom’s Jewish, Christian, and Muslim subjects.

Week 2: Tragedy and Opportunity in the 14th Century

The plague, a civil-war, anti-Jewish pogroms, and a new nobility composed of Jewish converts to Christianity.

Week 3: Complicated Lives: Jews, Old Christians, and Conversos

How “Catholic Spain” was created from the mixing of Jewish and Christian families. The intolerant backlash of “blood purity” laws and the expulsion of the Jews.

Week 4: Repositories of Fates and Futures and Introductory Paleography

An on-site exploration of the archives and medieval manuscripts of the Cathedral of Burgos and the City of Burgos. Begin to learn how to read old handwriting (paleography).

Week 5: Intermediate Paleography

Learn the invaluable craft and methods used by scholars to read medieval handwriting (letters, numbers, and abbreviations). No knowledge of Spanish is needed.

Week 6: Global Citizen Scholars at Work

Transcribe a small selection from a medieval manuscript. In many cases, you will be the first person to be deciphering its secrets! Collaborate with other students and review the transcriptions of others.

Week 7: Global Citizen Scholars Finish This Effort and Embark on a Future Journeys

Finish transcribing new manuscripts, learn about our initial research findings, and join our team of Global Citizen Scholars in future MOOCs.

Course delivery details

This course is offered through Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, a partner institute of EdX.

2-3 hours per week


  • Verified Track -$50
  • Audit Track - Free

Certification / Credits

What you'll learn

  • Garner knowledge and assess the history of medieval Spanish intercultural coexistence in the city of Burgos and the Kingdom of Castile and Leon
  • Explore the world of medieval manuscripts and texts held in the archives of the Cathedral of Burgos and the city of Burgos
  • Learn the craft of medieval paleography, or reading authentic handwritten manuscripts
  • Transcribe medieval manuscripts and contribute to new scholar knowledge

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141 Portland Street
02139 Cambridge Massachusetts

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