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Course Goals  Grading &Assignments  Lecture &Reading Schedule  Academic Honesty  Required Textbooks  Web Resources  Contacting Dr. Isaac


Sections 4 & 5 (Spring 2015)

Welcome to a survey of Western Civilization to 1650. In the course of the next fifteen weeks, we will be covering the development of Western Civilization from its origins in the Fertile Crescent, subsequent transformations as that culture passed westward through ancient Greece and Rome, the changes wrought during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and finally, the collapse of Christendom following the Reformation. In essence, we are going to dash across five or six millennia in the comparative blink of an eye. Naturally, this means that much material will receive only slight attention, and an even more atrocious amount of information will be ignored completely. With that minimal apology out of the way, I hope for the rest that you will find the class challenging, informative, even occasionally entertaining.

Although you may indeed be at the mercy of this professor's editorial whim, this does not mean students are sponges who should do no more than simply soak up lectures and then have that same information wrung out of them during exams. Even with a narrative as seemingly set as that of ancient and medieval cultures, there is still much room for differing interpretations, and this course will strive to give students the opportunity (if not the obligation) to choose (or manufacture) the one that strikes them as best. Obviously, then, this class will ask you to think critically, weigh information for its worth and relevancy, and build cogent, defensible opinions. The exams will be looking for both your command of the historical record itself and evidence of deeper analysis of the issues involved. While developing your understanding of the material, feel free—be eager even—to question/challenge/verify the interpretations presented by the instructor.

Let me re-emphasize the last sentence above: you will have to grapple with the information presented in this class, not simply memorize it. I will be asking you many questions throughout the semester; be ready to answer them. And don’t be afraid. Oftentimes, there is not a decisively correct answer, and I will simply be seeking to learn which conclusions you have reached. Obviously, then, your participation in class matters and will depend in no small way on preparing for our lectures/conversations.

Course Goals

The goals (or should I say fruits?) of a history course are as numerous as the books which historians produce. Some have already been hinted at above. At the broadest level, though, historical study encourages and hones critical analysis of the questions which most concern us. And these issues are themselves countless, but in the most generic terms, they mostly center on the relations of people with one another, with themselves, and possibly with the supernatural. We will be asking “why?” rather a lot: Why did they think that? Why did they assume such a thing? Why does the past appear simultaneously alien and similar? Even as we ask these questions, others lie implicitly underneath: why do I think what I think? What are my prejudices and assumptions? How does my heritage sway my conclusions?

We will be asking the above questions all under the aegis of the course goals outlined by Longwood University's catalog:

Upon completion of the course, students will have gained an appropriate increase in:
1. An understanding and appreciation of history and historical inquiry through the use of research, critical thinking, and problem solving.
2. A sense of how historical knowledge has been affected by new findings and approaches.
3. An appreciation for how history poses ethical dilemmas and challenges, both for men and women who lived in the past, and for those pondering its significance now.
4. An appreciation for how knowledge of history helps clarify the consequences of collective action, both in the past and in the present.
5. A sense of history as combining a variety of disciplines, approaches, and perspectives.
6. An awareness of the diverse modes of gathering, analyzing and interpreting information.
7. An ability to express oneself clearly and concisely on paper, by means of a substantive written assignment or series of written assignments.
8. An understanding of how history relates to other disciplines and modes of inquiry.
9. An awareness of how historical inquiry can contribute to understanding the issues and dilemmas that face the contemporary citizen.
10. An understanding of the historical development of Western civilization in its formative stages.
11. A sense of how to relate the development of Western civilization to other regions of the world.
12. An understanding of how historical cultural developments influence the present day.

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Note the importance of Goal 7: the writing component. History is a discipline of writing as much as reading. The papers and exam essays will be your opportunity to demonstrate your ability to express your conclusions about historical events and historical scholarship. Don’t blow this off and do slipshod work.

Grading & Assignments

Exams: There will be three exams, whose form will be discussed in detail as they approach. Students can rest assured, however, that the essay component will comprise half the grade. The exams are weighted so as to give students the benefit of experience. Thus, the first is worth 15%, the next one 20%, and the final exam 25% of the course grade. While no test is cumulative, each is built on the assumption that you actually remember material from previous exams. Failure to take the final will result in failing the course.

Quizzes: At three fixed dates—and four surprise ones—in the semester, I will give a small quiz (of the multiple choice and true/false variety) designed to make certain that you have not become a zombie—in other words, to ensure that you're doing the assigned readings. The lowest of those seven grades will be jettisoned in the final computation of grades so that the remaining six will be worth 15% of the final grade.

Papers: There will be one book review, no longer than three pages in length. It will be worth 20% of the course grade. For full details on the nature of this assignment, and the canon of available choices, see the on-line guidelines here.  If your interests lie more in the earlier or later parts of the course's subject matter, look to either the  1st half list or the 2nd half list for books approved for review.

Note: There will be a low threshold of tolerance for grammatical errors and all other transgressions which a simple proofreading should catch. Remove these yourself so I won’t have to remove hard-earned points. Remember, the spell-checker is not your friend! For further guidance, consult the menu options under Leges Stephani and the writing guides. Also, beware the Homonym Death List. These are multiple, automatic grade deductions, and they can add up viciously. Students who demonstrate a clear disregard for good advice and the basic requirements of the assignment will have their work returned to be redone, minus a letter-grade. And of course, plagiarism (as I apparently cannot emphasize enough) is an automatic failure for the entire course.

In-Class Work:  I have a number of activities and assignments scattered throughout the course (in no small part so you don’t have to listen to me drone on forever).  They will account for 5% of the course grade, so don’t treat them lightly.  In a sense, this works partially as a participation grade.

And the Rest...Be certain to read my “General Policies” page as well for further information on how your performance in the course will be assessed.

Lecture & Reading Schedule

The sources which you will read for this class each correspond to one of the sections below, and to that section’s concluding exam. I urge you to read them at the times indicated below for the maximum benefit of explanatory material. In addition, the reading assignments from the Noble textbook are to be done before you come to class. The information provided by that text will do much to color in the background of the points I will be stressing in lecture.

Date Topic Reading Assignment
14 Jan Introduction: Go over course syllabus  Study the professor's policies.
16 Jan Ancient Near East I: Sumer and Egypt Kidner: 423; Extracts from the Code of Hammurabi (Appendix A, Part 2)
21 Jan Ancient Near East II: Israel and Persia Kidner: 3657
23 Jan Minoan/Mycenaean Culture Kidner: 2329 ; begin Homer, Iliad (chap. 3)
26 Jan Homer: Myth & History Kidner: 6473 ; Homer, Iliad (chap. 3)
28 Jan Classical Greece: Paradigms; Quiz Kidner: 7180
30 Jan Persian Wars & Herodotus Kidner: 8082; Herodotus, Excerpt
2 Feb Aspects of Classical Greek Culture Kidner: 82–87;
4 Feb Rivalries of the Greek World Kidner: review 85–87; and Arisophanes, Lysistrata
6 Feb Greek Philosophy Kidner: 8889, 96–101; and Aristophanes, The Clouds
9 Feb Rise of Rome; development in Italy Kidner: 123–130
11 Feb Roman Values Kidner: 130–137
13 Feb The Punic Wars; Discussion and Review Kidner: 137–138
16 Feb First Exam  
18 Feb Crisis of the Republic Kidner: 138–144
20 Feb From Republic to Empire Kidner: 144–147
23 Feb Culture & Political Economy of the Pax Romana Kidner: 154–167
25 Feb Rome & Christianity Kidner: 167–173
27 Feb Old & New Rome Kidner: 173–179; 186–197
9 Mar Invasions: End of the Empire? Kidner: 202–209
11 Mar Byzantium & the Rise of Islam Kidner: 209211; 216–232
13 Mar The Carolingian Achievement Kidner:  246–262
16 Mar Europe Besieged Kidner: 262–268
18 Mar Feudal Society and its Values;
Kidner: review 263–264; Feudal Agreement: at the Internet Medieval Sourcebook or alternately at Paul Hyam's pages at Cornell.
20 Mar Feudalism and the Church Kidner: 276–279
23 Mar Expansion of Latin Christendom Kidner: 282–287
25 Mar Capetians and Plantagenets Kidner: 287–290
30 Mar Feudal Families Begin Arthurian Romances: “Lancelot”
1 Apr The Lion in Winter Continue Arthurian Romances: “Eric and Enide
3 Apr Culture, Society, and Chivalry Kidner: 292–296
6 Apr Second Exam Finish assigned Romances before coming to take the exam!
8 Apr Reform & Dissidence Kidner: 279–282; 296–300
10 Apr Crises: From Medieval to Renaissance Kidner: 308–324
13 Apr Renaissance: Humanism and Politics
Kidner: 355–359; 370–374
15 Apr Renaissance: Art and Culture Kidner: 340–353; 391–394
17 Apr Reformation: Magisterial Kidner: 375–378; 402–410; 413–416 (England)
20 Apr Reformation: Radical
Book Review Due!!
Kidner: 410–413; Start reading The Return of Martin Guerre
22 Apr Reformation: Pushback, Wars, and Legacies
Kidner: 416–426; 436–441; continue reading The Return of Martin Guerre
24 Apr Martin Guerre: Discussion Kidner: 438–441; 446–453
Come with 5 typed questions concerning Martin Guerre, be ready to ask them, and turn them in at the end of class.
  Final Exam See LU Exam Schedule for time / date

Academic Honesty

It is unfortunate, but every year some students attempt to submit work which is not their own. This act is, of course, the crime of plagiarism. Do not test your luck in this arena. The eventual odds are against you, and the penalties are unpleasant. Any student who submits plagiarized work will automatically fail the entire course. Previous students have found that I do not negotiate this point. If you're not sure what constitutes academic dishonesty, consult the student handbook, ask your instructors, or see my links to the problem.

Required Textbooks

We have five textbooks for this course. They are all required, and yes, I actually expect students to read them.

Web Resources

Still looking for something reputable out there. Wikipedia was never considered for even a mention...

Contacting Dr. Isaac

  • Office: Ruffner 226A
  • Telephone: 395-2225
  • e-mail: isaacsw@longwood.edu
  • Office Hours:  10:00–10:50 each day
  • Feel free to drop in at anytime; if I can’t see you during the set office hours, I will gladly set up an appointment at your convenience. I am available most afternoons as well if you just want to come by.