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


Welcome to the Middle Ages, a period which will cover for our purposes some ten or more centuries in lands as far apart (and yet connected) as Baghdad and the British Isles, Spain and Scandinavia. Although it often appears quite alien to the twenty-first century, the medieval period was the incubator for much in our own contemporary society—not least of which is the very idea of getting a university education. Throughout this entire period, trial and error produced a cultural synthesis of three rather divergent streams: Roman, Christian, and Germanic. Nor were these elements mixing together in a vacuum; cultures distant in both time and geography influenced European affairs—at a minimum as some Other that Europe shied away from but more often as an intriguing option to explore or exploit as it suited Europeans. Thus Christendom, for better or worse, was forged. Although much of contemporary culture endeavors to distance itself from Christian antecedents, it was the cultivation and rejection of medieval forms and values that generated the succeeding cultures. We (and I emphasize your part here) are going to look at both of these, the survivors and the losers, in all arenas: cultural, political, artistic, theological, economic, military, and not least at all, the personal. This class is going to ask you to read some, write a bit, and think a great deal. As the breakdown further below indicates, you will have a variety of fora in which to showcase your understanding of the Middle Ages.

One basic goal of this course, an in-depth analysis of c.1000 years of history in fifteen weeks, is rather obviously an impossibility. Our solution to this problem will be, in the first portion of the course, to set up the foundational elements of the Middle Ages, to appreciate the structures and mentalities that informed a great many medieval persons and phenomena. In the latter part of the course, we will rely on this foundational material to then dive deeply into several different aspects of the High Middle Ages, especially what some have called “the Long Twelfth Century”. We will do this via several first-class monographs by leading scholars and via the very words of medieval folk themselves in some exemplary primary sources.

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: The exact format has yet to be determined, but you can be sure they’ll kick like a mule. The first will be worth 14% of the course grade; the second, 16%; and the final, 20%. (Sounds of cheering...)

Quizzes: There will be an indeterminate number of pop quizzes throughout the semester so as to confirm that students are staying on track with the reading assignments. You can expect an indeterminate number of five-minute quizzes, chock-full of multiple-choice / true-false / fill in the blank types of questions. (Overall: 10% of course grade)

Paper: Ten pages, double-spaced, in the Chicago/Turabian style of citation, based heavily on primary sources, and full of original analysis. The preliminary assignments (i.e., the proposal, the bibliography, etc.) are not optional, and they will be graded. See the "New Decalogue" in Canvas™ for further guidelines. (Piece of cake...and a mere 25% of the course grade!)

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. In short, stay well away from the Homonym Death List and the Pet Peeves.

Opportunity: Next semester (Spring 2016), Longwood will host its 11th Annual Undergraduate Medieval Research conference. Some of you may wish to participate. If so, you will be in competition with other students from Virginia, NC, the DC Metro area, and even further afield, so your commitment must be a worthwhile one. Although not all applicants may actually be presenters, anyone wishing to pursue this option will benefit from a “bump” to their paper grade. To qualify for this, you must declare your intention to write for the conference, as well as schedule a number of supplemental meetings with the professor to ensure your research is heading in the right direction and attaining the right plateaus of excellence.

Participation: Students must be ready to participate in classroom discussions, especially during the latter portions of each class period when we will be bringing our readings under close scrutiny. Students should assume, for purposes of assessment, that they start with nothing in this category and are working their way to some cumulative grade. In addition, the performance on quizzes will influence this grade as well, since they indicate your commitment to doing the necessary readings. (15%)

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

Reading assignments are to be done before you come to class. The plan is that each class will proceed in two discrete parts: roughly 2/3 as presentation of material by the professor, sometimes linked/sometimes not to the day's assigned readings. The remaining third will focus directly via discussion on the days's reading. Yes, there is a lot of reading to do. Welcome to History at Longwood. Give yourself plenty of time to do the reading, not just pass your eyes over the pages. Among your professor's many delusions is the unassailable expectation that you will consider and comprehend what you're reading. And when the latter doesn't arrive, that you'll try again.

If your professor comes to believe that the class is not taking this task seriously, pop quizzes will begin to rain down...

  • Date Topic Reading Assignment
    23 Aug
  • Introduction to course
  • Opening Discussion
  • Become familiar with this syllabus & the course’s general policies
  • Read Excerpt from Cantor
  • 25 Aug Late Antiquity / Forms of History
  • Brown: 6-20
  • Rosenthal excerpt, 1-8
  • 30 Aug Rise of Christianity Brown: 54-92
    1 Sept Political/Military/Spiritual Breakdowns
  • Brown: 93-122
  • Abels, “Armies, War, and Society in the West, c.300-600,” sections I-II.
  • 6 Sept
  • Heirs of Rome: Western Kingdoms
  • Paper Topic Proposal Due
  • Brown:123-165
    8 Sept Heirs of Rome: Byzantium Brown:166-185
    13 Sept Asceticism: Martyrs, Saints, & Monasticism Brown: 219-246
    15 Sept Heirs of Rome: Islam Brown: 285-309
    20 Sept Medieval Justice
  • Ho, “The Legitimacy of Medieval Proof
  • Brown, 255-265
  • 22 Sept The Carolingian Moment Brown: 383-395, 408-414, 428-446
    27 Sept First Exam  
    6 Oct Feudal Society

  • Feudal Agreement: at the Internet Medieval Sourcebook or alternately at Paul Hyam's pages at Cornell
  • Stephen Lane’s review of Fiefs and Vassals
  • Charter of Homage & Fealty
  • 11 Oct
  • Encastellation...
  • Paper Bibliography Due
    13 Oct Cluniac Monasticism
  • Excerpt : “The Age of Cluny
  • Foundation Charter of Cluny
  • 18 Oct Ottonian Recovery / Gregorian Reform
  • Timothy Reuter on the Reichskirchensystem
  • A biographical article on Gregory VII
  • 20 Oct Norman Expansionism Graham Loud on Norman Italy
    25 Oct The First Crusade
  • Accounts of the Fall of Jerusalem at Sourcebook: #s 3-6
  • Galbert: Introduction (xvii-xx, xxx-xlv)
  • 27 Oct Capetians & Anglo-Normans Galbert: 2-45
    1 Nov Second Exam  
    3 Nov Capetians & Plantagenets (I) Galbert: 45-93
    8 Nov Renaissance of the Twelfth Century Galbert: 93-158
    10 Nov Capetians & Plantagenets (II)
    Galbert: 158-190
    15 Nov Cistercian Ideals vs. Scholasticism’s Nouvelle Vague Abelard & Heloise: The Calamities, 1–46
    17 Nov Marriage and Chivalry: Politics as Usual? Abelard & Heloise: 49–85
    22 Nov Later Crusades
  • Saladin's Capture of Jerusalem
  • The Sack of Constantinople (I.M.S. sections IV and V)
  • 28 Nov Monday: Research Paper Due by 5pm  
    29 Nov Capetians & Plantagenets (I) Church: 149-184
    1 Dec The Papal Monarchy Church: 185-242
      Final Exam TBA
  • 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 six textbooks for this course. They are all required, and yes, I actually expect students to read them. And of course, there are all the online readings above...

    Web Resources

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

    Contacting Dr. Isaac

    Office:  Rufner 226A
    Telephone: 395-2225
    e-mail: isaacsw@longwood.edu
    Office Hours: MWF 1:00–1:50; TR 10:00–10:50
    Feel free to drop in at anytime; if I can’t see you during the usual office hours, I will gladly set up an appointment at your convenience.