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.

Response Page: At four points in the semester, students will submit a one-page Response to that day’s reading assignment, in which attention will especially focus on the selection’s thesis, evidence, and possible weaknesses. Further specifics and guidance on this part of the course will be available in Canvas. (20%)

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.(20%)

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
24 Aug Meet the professor, his policies, and pet peeves Familiarize yourself with the Syllabus and related policies
26 Aug Collegiate-Level History: What's going on here?
  • Perry: “Examsmanship and the Liberal Arts”: here, or originally
  • 28 Aug Discussion: “What is history?” & “What is the West?”
    Response Page (A & B)
    Wineburg: “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts
    31 Aug The Ancient Near East
  • Frankfort, “State Festivals in Egypt and Mesopotamia”
  • Porter, “Politics and Public Relations Campaigns in Ancient Assyria”
  • 2 Sept Myth & History...Is there a contest?
  • Eisman, “A Tale of Three Cities”
  • Finley, “Myth, Memory, and History ”
  • 4 Sept Israelite History Kalimi, “Placing the Chronicler in His Own Historical Context”
    9 Sept Archaic Greece
  • Isaac, pp. 56–72 (Canvas)
  • 11 Sept Paradigms: Athens and Sparta

    Herodotus, pp. 4-27
    14 Sept The Persian Impact
  • Herodotus, 119–151
  • 16 Sept The Golden Age
    Response Page (A)
    Plutarch: Pericles
    18 Sept Rivalries of the Greek World
    Response Page (B)

    Plutarch: Alcibiades

    21 Sept Rise of Rome
    Fantham, “Liberty and the People in Republican Rome
    23 Sept Roman Values
  • Konstan, “Patrons and Friends
  • 25 Sept Rome Ascendant Derow, “Polybius, Rome, and the East
    28 Sept Crisis of the Republic I
    First Exam Due
    Plutarch: Caesar
    30 Sept Crisis of the Republic II
  • Plutarch: Cicero
  • Hopkins, 1-6
  • 2 Oct Culture/Economy during the Pax Romana

    Hopkins, 7-45

    5 Oct Rome & Christianity I

    Hopkins, 76–109

    7 Oct Rome & Christianity II

    Hopkins, 109–176

    9 Oct The Roman Empire: Transformations / End ?

    Hopkins, 177–205

    14 Oct Byzantium in the East
    Hopkins, 285–332
    16 Oct Islam Hakim, “Muhammad's Authority and Leadership Reestablished
    19 Oct The Franks de Nie, “A broken lamp or the effluence of holy power?
    21 Oct Carolingians Bachrach, “Charlemagne and the Carolingian General Staff
    23 Oct Europe Besieged
    Frank, “Viking Atrocity and Skaldic Verse
    36 Oct La Convivencia? Menocal, 79-100
    28 Oct Development of Feudal Society “A Feudal Agreement”
    30 Oct Feudalism & the Church  
    2 Nov The Crusades Tyerman, “Were There any Crusades in the Twelfth Century?”
    4 Nov Plantagenets vs. Capetians I Pernoud, 5–29
    6 Nov Second Exam Due (by 5pm)
    (Haskins Society Conference)
    Hard Copy in Dept. Mailbox
    9 Nov Plantagenets vs. Capetians II Pernoud, 30–69
    11 Nov Innocent III Pernoud, 70–107
    13 Nov Women in the M/A Pernoud, 108–127
    16 Nov Mdv to Ren: Spiritual Pernoud, 128–164
    18 Nov Mdv to Ren: Political / 100 Yrs War Pernoud, 165–227
    20 Nov Renaissance as Medieval Harvest Pernoud, 228-254
    23 Nov Renaissance: Image as “Text”
    Ginzburg, 1–34
    30 Nov Reformations: Shaping Forces
    Ginzburg, 34–51
    2 Dec Reformations: Radical and Catholic
    Ginzburg, 51–98
    4 Dec Europe in an Age of Religious Wars 
    Ginzburg, 98–128
      Semester Project/Paper Due by 5:00pm
      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
  • Régine Pernoud, Joan of Arc by Herself and her Witnesses
  • 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 11:00–11:50; TR 5:00–6:00
    Feel free to drop in at anytime; if I can’t see you then, I will gladly set up an appointment at your convenience.