This course serves as a broad introduction to the pre-modern European world. There are three major goals of the course. First, students should become acquainted with the broad changes and narratives of medieval history as well as its significance to modern history. Secondly, as an introduction to the historical discipline, this course offers students the opportunity to learn the methods of historical research: how to use primary sources as well as historiography to formulate historical narratives and arguments. And finally, for students who have not yet passed the writing portfolio, this course serves as a designated writing course and should provide sufficient opportunity and feedback for students to improve their written work. The weekly readings for the course will be primary sources drawn from the diverse different forms of sources on which medieval history is based: letters, sermons, contracts, philosophical works, devotional texts and chronicles. The writing assignments of the course will involve the reading of both primary and secondary sources, allowing students to compare the primary sources of the weekly readings with modern scholarly and literary writing on the same topics and to assess how the documents have been interpreted, and to practice interpreting those documents themselves.
The course is divided into four units; in the first three units Political Power, The Medieval Church, and Economy and Daily Life, we will traverse the entire time span from the fall of Rome to the Reformation and the discovery of the New World. Each unit provides a different lens through which we will view the middle ages. Each section will structure the historical narrative around an explanatory framework, which will help give shape to the time period. The first unit looks at the multitude of competing authorities and the various means of holding power or maintaining community cohesion in a world often lacking centralized or powerful governments. We will ask: who held power and through what means? What mechanisms and ideologies served to perpetuate or undermine that control? In the second section, we will survey the history of the Catholic Church - also one of the major political powers throughout the period. We will look at heresies both early and late, papal power and popular Christianity, focusing on the questions: who defines Christianity and how do they define it? What role did the church play in aiding or undermining the power structures? How did Christianity shape the medieval European experience? The final unit explores the economic forces that helped shaped medieval Europe as well as the changing nature of exchange between individual, cities and states. What products did most people consume? Where were these products produced and how did people acquire them? How did people navigate their survival in the face of an unpredictable natural world?
In the final section of the course, Culture, Art, and Other Topics, rather than other broad driving forces of history, there will be a series of classes on specific topics that often cover the breadth of the time period - these classes will not be chronological. The majority of these class periods will be dedicated to topics that the class will vote on. They are completely open and students are also allowed to suggest areas that they wanted to hear more about in the first series of units but felt I did not sufficiently expand on. In the past students have chosen such topics as Food, Early Polyphony, Plainchant, the 12th Century Renaissance, Paleography, Myths and Legends, Dante, Medieval Military Practice, Gender Constructions, and others. At least one of these days will be what I call an "event lab" where I will give out only a single event and the class itself will generate material, readings, and questions to begin teaching ourselves.