Course Description

Professor Adam Franklin-Lyons adamfl@marlboro.edu
Monday and Thursday 1:30-2:50 4 Credits
Office Hours: By appointment or either day after class.

Description:
This course serves as a broad introduction to the pre-modern European world. There are two 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. 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 secondary sources, allowing students to compare the primary sources of the weekly readings with modern scholarly literature on the same topics and to assess how the documents have been interpreted.

The course is divided into three units; in the first two units Kings, Popes and Politics, and The Material World, 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. The first two sections 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? We will also survey the history of the Catholic Church – 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? The second 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, Individuals and Culture, rather than other broad driving forces of history, there will be a series of classes on the character of everyday life in the middle ages and on the various medieval arts. In the first section, each class will be dedicated to a single person and their life. We will look at what it was like to be a monk, a king, a peasant a merchant and more. Each person will help us to better understand the richness of the medieval experience. Understanding each individual will be easier in the light of the broad history of the medieval timeframe, which we will build in the first half of the class. In the final section, we will also attempt to dedicate time to culture and the arts. We will look at the practices, tools and contributions from the work of art history, musicology and literature. While this will serve as only a cursory introduction in so few weeks, it should help to point students in some of the many directions the study of the medieval world can take. By the end of the course, I hope that each of these four lenses will both explore the nature of historical frameworks and arguments as well as paint a portrait of the sometimes familiar, sometimes foreign world of Medieval Europe.
Last modified: Monday, December 19, 2011, 9:18 AM