Foundations of Western Civilization

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


Welcome to the Honors section of Foundations of Western Civilization. In less than four months, we will cover the development of Western Civilization from its origins in the Fertile Crescent, subsequent transformations in ancient Greece and Rome, 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. Speaking as one historian to another, we can admit this is an outrage. Much valuable material will receive only slight attention, and an even more atrocious amount of information will be ignored completely. (How can we live with the shame?)

We are going to compensate for this situation by wringing all we can out of basic secondary sources (the interweb-thingy, or your prof) for our basic narrative. Alongside that, we will be reading provocative essays that explore the grey areas in historical argument. The plan is that, while getting to know some of the key moments in the early history of Western Civilization, we shall focus no less on how it is that historians ply their craft. We are going to ask how the narrative(s) of the West came about, how set in stone it (they?) may be, and why we can prefer some interpretations over others. In other words, what's the argument underneath all the story? Thus, our class will operate more as a seminar, less as a lecture, which means we will all be presenting observations, questions, and conclusions. Obviously, then, your participation in class matters and will depend in no small way on preparing adequately for our conversations. While developing your understanding of the material, feel free—be eager even—to question/challenge/verify the interpretations presented by the instructor. (Hint: this last quality—when practiced well—is most highly prized by your professors.)

Along the way, we are going to produce something more than just hot air during classtime. As we explore the context behind our sources and deepen our understanding of the processes behind historical production, we will inevitably each be creating our own understanding of Western Civilization. We will have several projects underway throughout the semester to highlight our own assumptions and biases about history both past and present.

Course Goals

The goals (or should I say fruits?) of a history course are as numerous as the books which historians produce. 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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Grading & Assignments

Two things in particular will be assessed in this class: mastery of the objective material and skill in analyzing that same material.

Essay Exams: There will be three essay exams, whose form will be discussed in detail as they approach. The exams are weighted so as to give students the benefit of experience. Thus, the first is worth 11%, the next one 12%, and the final essay 13% of the course grade. For the technical side, think of these papers as research papers, with all the attendant need to cite, be precise, and present evidence. For the conceptual side, well ...think of them as, well ... concept pieces.

Outlines: While we are going to dive into the metaphorical deep end of things via the readings in primary sources and scholarly monographs, we also need to stay tuned into the overall sweep of the history surrounding our detailed readings. Thus, this assignment. For various class sessions/topics, each student will prepare an outline to be posted on Canvas® that will present a schematic overview of the topics/cultures foreseen for that day. That outline needs to be posted before the class meets, and then the student will make a presentation to the class, using the outline as their basis. Afterwards, we get to ask questions...LOTS of questions! (15%)

Quizzes: At five dates in the semester, there will be a small quiz (of the multiple choice and true/false variety) so as to ensure that everyone is staying on pace with the readings. (3% each)

Papers: This course has one primary written assignment (if one doesn't count the exams...). Students will conclude the course with a six-page paper on a topic of their choice after consulting with the professor. The topic must be one that will permit the use of primary sources (even if only in translation), and will permit an examination of the topic within the framework of the issues our course will be exploring about how history gets written.(25%)

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.

Participation: Dive in, read voraciously, be intensely curious, ask tough questions that tackle big issues, proofread your freakin' the professor that the grey stuff in your head isn't dead weight just keeping you anchored to terra firma.(9%)

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

Date  Lecture/Discussion Topic Readings
26 Aug Meet the professor, his policies, and pet peeves Familiarize yourself with the Syllabus and related policies
28 Aug Collegiate-Level History: What's going on here?
  • Perry: “Examsmanship and the Liberal Arts”: here, or originally
  • 2 Sept Discussion: “What is history?” & “What is the West?” Wineburg: “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts
    4 Sept The Ancient Near East
    Outline Topics (Egypt, Sumer, Phoenicia, Assyria)
  • Frankfort, “State Festivals in Egypt and Mesopotamia”
  • Porter, “Politics and Public Relations Campaigns in Ancient Assyria”
  • 9 Sept Myth & History...Is there a contest?
    Outline Topics A (Ancient Israel, Homer, Hesiod, Mycenaean Culture)
  • Eisman, “A Tale of Three Cities”
  • Finley, “Myth, Memory, and History ”
  • 11 Sept Paradigms: Athens and Sparta
    Outline Topics B (Athens & Sparta before the Persian Wars)
  • Isaac, pp. 56–72 (Canvas)
  • 16 Sept The Persian Angle
    Outline Topics C (Tragic Playwrights, Herodotus)
    Herodotus, On the Greek War for Freedom, pp. 4-27, 119-151
    18 Sept Rivalries of the Greek World
    Outline Topics D (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides)
  • Plutarch: Pericles
  • Plutarch: Alcibiades
  • 23 Sept Rise of Rome 
    Outline Topics E (Etruscans, End of Monarchy, Struggle of the Orders)
    25 Sept  Roman Values
    Outline Topics (Pater Familias, pietas, fetial priests)
    Mini-Workshop: Citations

    Konstan, “Patrons and Friends

    30 Sept Crisis of the Republic I  Plutarch: Caesar
    2 Oct
    First Exam Due
    7 Oct Crisis of the Republic II
    Outline Topics F (Gracchi Brothers, Sulla, Pompey)
  • Plutarch: Cicero
  • Hopkins, 1-6
  • 9 Oct Culture/Economy during the Pax Romana
    Outline Topics G (Principate, incl. a look at Virgil; the Jewish Revolt; the 5 Good Emperors)
    Hopkins, 7–45
    16 Oct  Rome & Christianity 
    Outline Topics H (Jesus of Nazareth, Paul, Great Persecutions, catechumenate) 

    Hopkins, 76–109

    21 Oct The Roman Empire: Transformations
    Outline Topics I (St Anthony,  Benedictine Monasticism, Arianism)

    Hopkins, 109–176

    23 Oct Byzantium in the East
    Outline Topics J (Justinian, Theodora, Hagia Sophia)

    Hopkins, 177–205

    28 Oct Islam
    Outline Topics K (Muhammad, Quran, Ali, hadith)

    Hopkins, 285–332

    30 Oct Europe Besieged
    Outline Topics L (Charlemagne, Vikings, Moors/Islamic Spain)
    Moore, 1-18
    4 Nov Development of Feudal Society Moore, 18-56
    “A Feudal Agreement”
    6 Nov (Haskins Society Conference) Moore, 62-93
    7 Nov Second Exam Due (by 5pm) Hard Copy in Dept. Mailbox
    11 Nov Feudalism & the Church
    Outline Topics M (Cluny and reform, The Investiture Conflict)
    Moore, 94-116
    13 Nov From Medieval to...
    Outline Topics (Thomas Aquinas, Avignon Papacy)

    Moore, 117-143
    18 Nov The Renaissance: Image as “text”
    Moore, 144-171
    20 Nov Renaissance Culture
    Outline Topics N (humanism {academic and civic}, virtú, and the Renaissance vision of history)
    Ginzburg, 1–34
    25 Nov Reformations: Shaping Forces
    Ginzburg, 34–51
    2 Dec Reformations: Radical and Catholic
    Outline Topics O (Calvin, Anabaptists, Council of Trent, Jesuits)
    Ginzburg, 51–98
    4 Dec Europe in an Age of Religious Wars 
    Outline Topics P (Thirty Years War, War of the Three Henrys)
    Ginzburg, 98–128
    9 Dec Semester Project/Paper Due by 5:00pm
    13 Dec Final Exam Due Due by 5:00pm

    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.

  • Herodotus, On the Greek War for Freedom
  • Plutarch. Greek and Roman Lives
  • Keith Hopkins. A World Full of Gods: the Strange Triumph of Christianity
  • R.I. Moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society
  • Ginzburg, Carlo. The Cheese and the Worms

    Web Resources

    No list of websites can ever be exhaustive, but here at least are some worth a visit:

  • The Longwood History Dept. Style Sheet answers tons of pesky questions.
  • And I just can't stop recommending Patrick Rael's website.

    Contacting Dr. Isaac

    Office: Ruffner 226A
    Telephone: 395-2225
    Office Hours:  MWF 10:00–11:00; TR 10:30–11:00
    Feel free to drop in at anytime; if I can’t see you then, I will gladly set up an appointment at your convenience.