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COURSE NAME: "The Birth of Medieval Europe: from Constantine to the First Crusade "
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2018

INSTRUCTOR: Fabrizio Conti
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 4:30-5:45 PM
OFFICE HOURS: By appointment

This course explores the major events, intellectual developments, and artistic achievements that shaped the history and culture of Europe and Byzantium from the 4th to the 11th centuries. The course treats such issues as the migrations and political restructuring of Late Antiquity, the Christianization of Europe, the development of feudalism, the rise of the Dar al-Islam and its relations with Europe and the Byzantine world, heresy and orthodoxy, and religious reform movements.

Satisfies "Medieval History" core course requirement for History majors
This course focuses on the examination of societies, cultures and politics in medieval Europe between 300 and 1100.  We will consider comparatively the three main civilizations of the medieval world: Byzantium, the Islamic World and the Medieval West, although our main focus will be Western Europe. Some of the topics we will explore include: the development of the medieval Papacy, the First Crusade and its aftermath, medieval monasticism, the Celts and the Vikings, heresy and magic, the Lombards in Italy, military and religious architecture, Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance, the developments after the year 1000

The aim of this course is not only to guide students through the discovery of the main events and characters in Medieval Europe between the 4th and the 11th centuries, but also and especially to give them the opportunity to build their own ideas of the multifaceted ways in which cultures, societies and mentalities developed and interacted during the early Middle Ages. Outcomes: 1. students will acquire basic skills in methodologies involved in historical research, writing, and communication, also by working with primary sources in English; 2. students will acquire a progressively more deepened grasp of early medieval developments by advancing from identifying and recognizing historical issues to classifying, interpreting, analysing, comparing, and explaining them, to finally generating their own reflections
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Readings in Medieval History, Volume I: The Early Middle Ages, Fifth EditionPatrick J. GearyUniversity of Toronto Press, 20159781442634336  
The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000Chris WickhamPenguin Books, 2010978-0143117421  

PaperThis is an essay/analysis based on primary sources and/or scholarly articles. You will be given a list of topics, among which you will pick the one you prefer and develop it in about 2500 words. The relevant sources and the questions which serve as guidelines for the analysis will be posted on MyJCU. The written assignment should be submitted to me electronically by 3pm of the due date at the latest. No late papers will be accepted.20%
Project PresentationIt will be a 10-15 minutes presentation on a topic of your choice. A list of possible topics, with available primary sources and scholarly articles will be provided. The topic to be presented must be agreed upon with the professor during the 3rd week of the course.20%
Midterm ExamThis will be an in-class written exam composed of short answer and essay questions. Your grade on this exam will depend upon the analytical strength and persuasiveness of your arguments as well as the factual accuracy of your answers. More information about these exams will be provided as their dates near.25%
Final ExamThis will be an in-class written exam composed of short answer and essay questions. Your grade on this exam will depend upon the analytical strength and persuasiveness of your arguments as well as the factual accuracy of your answers. More information about these exams will be provided as their dates near.25%
Attendance and ParticipationIt is mandatory that: 1. you are in class, 2. have done the readings, 3. express your views and questions orally in class and are able to make connections with the topics that have been already covered. You will get points for participation for being active in class, rather than for being (always) right. Persistent absence or having failed to do the readings will affect your final grade.10%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.

You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. The final exam period runs until ____________
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


This course is part of an international project organized by the Global Liberal Arts Alliance - of which John Cabot University is a member - aiming at connecting courses offered on Alliance campuses worldwide. Our course "HS 235 - The Birth of Medieval Europe" will connect to "Soc 340 - European Integration" taught by Dr Matthew Schoene at Albion College, MI. We believe that the historical and contemporary understanding of western Europe can benefit from each other. 

Students will have the amazing opportunity to listen to, interact, and exchange ideas with their peers and the professor from Albion in smart classrooms at JCU (there will be two joint lectures: see syllabus below). S
tudents will also have the opportunity to collaborate with a partner in our counterpart class working on specular topics for their paper, thus benefitting from a unique possibility for interdisciplinary and international exchange.

Course Outline 

Week 1 - The Transition To the Early Medieval World

4 T From History to Medieval History: Course Introduction

-          March Bloch, The Historian's Craft, pp. 17-24 (on My JCU)

6 TH The Christian Roman Empire and Its Fall 

-          Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome, pp. 43 (from "The Roman World...") - 49; 76-89 (to "...Burgundian or Vandal")

-          Lactantius, On the Death of the Persecutors, ch. XLVIII only: 

-          Eusebius, Life of Constantine, Book I, Chpts. XXVIII, XXIX, XXX, XXXI only: 

-          Edward Gibbon, from The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/source/gibbon-fall.asp

Week 2 - The Age of Germanic Migrations

11 T Germanic Populations

-          Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome, pp. 111-129

-          Geary, Readings in Medieval History, pp. 58-59 (Tacitus, Germania, par. 1, 2, 4, 5), pp. 60-63 (par. 8, 9, 10, 11, 16, 18,
           19, 20, 23)

13 TH Cultural Identities and Ethnic Patterns (Joint lecture with Albion College in smart classroom)

-         Patrick Geary, “Europe of Nations or the Nations of Europe: Origin Myths Past and Present”, Lusophone Journal of Cultural Studies, 1-1
          (2013): pp. 36-49 (My JCU)

-         Geary, Readings in Medieval History, p. 69 (Jordanes, History of the Goths, par. IV), pp. 76-78 (par. XXI, XXIV, XXV, XXVI)

Week 3 - Between the East and the West

18 T Cultural and Religious Traditions from the East to the West

-       Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome, pp. 170-187

-       Geary, Readings in Medieval History, pp. 135 ff. (St. Benedict, Rules, Prologue, and Chpts. I, II, V, VI, VIII, XXII, XXXIX, XL, LIII,

20 TH The Byzantine Civilization

-         Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome, pp. 255-278; 298-317

21 F Eastern European Populations (Make.up day for Nov. 1)

-       The Other Europe in the Middle Ages: Avars, Bulgars, Khazars and Cumans, ed. by Florin Curta (2008), selections online (MY JCU)

Week 4 - Germanic Societies: History and Myths

25 T The Franks

-          Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome, pp. 130-140

-          Geary, Readings in Medieval History, pp. 105-108 (Salic Law, Titles I, II, XIII, XIX, XLI); p. 111 (Title LXII); pp. 112-113
           (Bishops Remigius of Reims and Avitus of Vienne, Letters to Clovis); p. 114 ff. (Gregory of Tours, Histories, par. 12, 27)

27 TH The Lombards

-          Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome, pp. 140-149

-          Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, Book 1, Chpts: VIII, IX; Book 2, Chpts: from VI to IX, and XII  (on MY JCU)


Week 5 - Charlemagne “Father of Europe”

2 T A Reunified Continent

 -         Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome, pp. 375-404

-          Geary, Readings in Medieval History, pp. 233 ff. (Einhard, The Life of Charlemagne, Chpts. 3, 6, 7, 8, 15, 17, 18, 19, 22, 24, 25, 28, 29)

4 TH The Carolingian Civilization

-          Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome, pp. 405-426

-          Geary, Readings in Medieval History, pp. 247 ff. (Selected Capitularies: Herstal, 779; Concerning the Saxons, 797; Charles the Great
           on the study of Literature; De villis)

Week 6 - The Transition to the Post-Carolingian World

9 T Cultural Transformations

 -         Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome, pp. 427-452

-          Geary, Readings in Medieval History, pp. 267 ff (Duoda, Handbook for her Son, Chpts. 1, 4, 5, 10, 11)

11 TH Feudalism

-          Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome, pp. 508-528

-          Adalbero of Laon, Poem for King Robert, selection online (MY JCU)

-         Texts related to Feudalism (MY JCU)


Week 7 - The Transition to the Post-Carolingian World Cont.

16 T Mid-Term Exam


18 TH Cluny: The Power and Secrets of A Medieval Abbey

-          Geary, Readings in Medieval History, pp. 286-292 (Cluniac Charters)


Week 8  - Violence and Peace

23 T Peace Movements Called the Peace and the Truce of God

-          Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome, pp. 529-551

-          Reading the Middle Ages, ed. by Barbara H. Rosenwein, document 4.5 ‘The Peace of God’, online (MY JCU)

25 TH  Supernatural Forms of Security: Humans, Nature, and Magic

-          Aron Gurevich, Medieval Popular Culture, selections online (MY JCU)

-          Burchard of Worms, Decree, ‘On superstitions’, online (MY JCU)

Week 9 - Violence and Peace Cont.

30 T  No class (make-up day is Dec. 7th)


1 TH Holiday (make-up day Friday, September 21)

Week 10 - Cultural Clashes, Race, and Identity 

6  T The First Crusade and Islamic Civilization

-          Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome, pp. 279-297; 318-347

-          Reading the Middle Ages, ed. by Rosenwein, texts 5.9 (Martyrs in the Rhineland); 5.10  (Stephen of Blois, Letter to His Wife); 5.11 (Ibn
           al-Athir, The First Crusade) (MY JCU)

8  TH   The Crusaders

-          ‘On the First Crusaders’, in The Middle Ages, ed. by Brian Tierney, I, pp. 159-167, selections online (MY JCU); Bernard of 
            Clairvaux, In Praise of the New Knighthood, selections online (MY JCU)

9 F  Race in the Middle Ages (Make-up for Thanksgiving Holiday)

-          Cord J. Whitaker, "Race-ing the Dragon: The Middle Ages, Race, and Trippin' into the Future", Postmedieval: A Journal of Medieval
           Cultural Studies
6 (2015): 3-11 (MY JCU)

-          Optional: Geraldine Heng, "A Global Race in the European Imaginary: Native Americans in the North Atlantic", in Heng, The Invention
           of Race in the European Middle Ages
, pp. 257-286 (MY JCU)

Week 11 - Renewal and Contradictions

13 T The "Rebirth" of the Year 1000

-          Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome, pp. 552-564

-          Ralph Glaber, On the First Millenium, selections online (MY JCU)


15 TH  Universal Powers and the Investiture Controversy

-         Gregory VII Dictatus Papae; Henry IV, Letter

 to Gregory VII;
          Gregory VII, Lay Investitures Forbidden (see links on MY JCU)

Week 12 

20 T  Mini-Conference at JCU

- Joint presentations of John Cabot University and Albion College students 

22 TH Thanksgiving Holiday (make-up day Friday, November 9)

Week 13 - Social and Territorial Dynamics

27T  Viking Raids and Their Impact

-          Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome, pp. 150-169

-          Geary, Readings in Medieval History, pp. 182-188 (Bede, History of the English Church and People, Book One, Chpts. XXIII, 
           XXV, XXX, XXXII)

-          Derek Gore, "Britons, Saxons, and Vikings in the South-West", in Scandinavia and Europe 800-1350, ed. by J. Adams and K. Holman 
           (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014), pp. 35-41 (MY JCU)


29 Paper Due

TH Medieval Rome: 
Urban and Social Structures 

-   Conti: Early-Medieval Rome


Week 14 - The Birth of Medieval Europe

4 T Long-Term Historical Patterns 

- Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome, pp. 552-565


6 T Final discussions: A 'Dark' and 'Middle' Ages?

-         Jacques Le Goff, Must We divide History Into Periods? Selections online (MY JCU)


Final Exam