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COURSE NAME: "Introduction to Western Civilization I"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2020

EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 3:05-4:25 PM
OFFICE HOURS: See the Course Moodle Page.

This survey course explores the foundations of Western societies and cultures and the transformations they underwent from prehistory through the Renaissance. Emphasis is placed on the ways in which diverse ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern peoples interacted to lay the groundwork for Western civilization, the ways in which political structures and cultures changed over the time period covered, and the development of Western religions and cultures. In addition, through the examination and discussion of a range of primary source materials, the course serves as an introduction to the practice of history, i.e., how historians examine the past and draw conclusions about it.
This course will be composed of a mixture of in-class discussion, on-line discussion (Moodle), and some lecture.  For an overview of topics to be discussed and readings, see the course schedule.  Please note that all up-dates to that course schedule will be made directly to the course Moodle page--you should access it on a regular basis.

A Note on How to Approach this Semester (and How I Am Doing So)

As we all know too well, the Fall 2020 semester will likely be anything but business as usual.  The ways in which we will be mixing in-person and on-line interactions as well as possible unanticipated rapid transitions between them may present challenges to us all. 

I am convinced that whatever may come we can and will have a meaningful semester in which we all learn a lot, but we will have to keep in mind doing so may require even greater flexibility, consideration for one another, and self-discipline on all of our parts than usual. We will all be facing learning curves as we go forward and in all likelihood we all will make judgments that afterwards we would not make again (I hesitate to call such judgments mistakes as that suggests that we know that in advance, as opposed to being things we try and then learn from).

For these reasons, please know that the ways in which I am proposing structuring classroom sessions and on-line discussion activities in this syllabus are admittedly experimental and may change.  Please share your thoughts on them and feel free to suggest approaches, ways of organizing discussions (in-person or on-line), or other activities that you believe may help you and your classmates to better engage with the course material.  I cannot neglect my responsibility to set the rules for the game that is our course in ways that I believe best assure both academic rigor and fairness across the class, but you can be assured that I will value and carefully consider any suggestions you may make. 

More generally, I am committed to the principle that my aims as an undergraduate history instructor should be to push (and to help) you to develop the skills, capacities, and modes of interpretation and understanding that will allow you to engage critically with the human past, the traces it has left, the ever-renewing knowledge we have of it, and its meanings for our present.  My role is that of a ‘coach,’ not a performer playing a show or a talking head telling you what’s what (although sometimes I will suggest my understandings of that too).  With this approach, you will without doubt learn more and develop abilities that are useful in other settings more fully than if I simply lectured and asked you to repeat that material on exams, and you will likely find what we do more interesting too. However, for this approach to work, you need to commit yourselves to the following:

1.  Do the course reading (and especially the discussion reading) on a timely basis.  You absolutely must complete it before the class in which we are discussing it and/or the deadline for making a related forum post (if you can finish it even earlier and thus have a bit more time to think about it, that’s even better).  Frequently this course will involve a significant amount of out-of-class reading.  I know that this may be a challenge for some of you, but we collectively need an ample amount of solid material to work with to make our discussions meaningful.  Also, do know that with practice you will develop your abilities to deal with larger amounts of reading in limited time frames.  We will talk more about how to do the reading and the kinds of things you should be looking for in doing it in class.

2.  Respect deadlines for discussion forum posts, and whenever possible post (and respond to classmates’ posts) sooner rather than later.  While these posts do count towards your participation grade, they are not ‘homework’ that you should do to show me that you are doing the work.  Rather, they are opportunities for you to develop, share, and debate your thoughts and questions about the reading and other course material with one another.  We have to meet deadlines to give that interaction space to happen.

3.  Maintain a respectful, professional tone in your posts and responses, but don’t be afraid to experiment with ideas and interpretations out of fear that they may be controversial (just work on clearly expressing your reasoning).  On this note, I think our discussions will function best if we all work on the assumption that each of us is openly and forthrightly attempting to grapple with the complexities and ambiguities of our shared human past and its relationship to our present (and that the things we say and write are never intended to harm or to insult).  Engaging with that past often forces us to look at the many horrid and ugly things that humans have done (and continue to do) to one another, which can be a difficult and painful experience.  Frank and open discussion is the best way both to seek to understand that past and to forge civil and tolerant ways of interacting and living with it and one another in the present.

4.  Give credit where credit is due, and be sure that all work you hand in is your own.  I do not believe that point needs extensive discussion.  Not only does plagiarism or any other form of cheating defeat the whole purpose of going to university to learn and to improve one’s abilities, it undermines the basic trust any community needs to learn and work together.

5.  Try not to be too nervous about grades.  We learn by practice, we all fall short of our aims sometimes, and we sometimes learn more from falling short than anything else.  I purposefully keep many assignments fairly open in terms of the types of topics and arguments you may develop to give you the freedom to present your ideas and sharpen your abilities, and such freedom always entails risks.  Know that I put mechanisms in place to weigh the improvement that you make over the course into the calculation of your final course grade.

6.  Keep lines of communication open—if you have questions or concerns, raise them.


In successfully completing this course, you should:

     Cultivate an understanding of the most important themes and developments of Western history from prehistory to the 16th century CE;
     Develop an awareness of some of the more important modes of analysis that historians use to reconstruct and interpret the past.

You should work on developing (and improving) the following skills:

     Critical analysis of primary sources;
     Critical analysis of scholarly arguments;
     Developing well-reasoned, well-supported arguments;
     Communicating your arguments effectively in writing and oral discussion.


Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberCommentsFormatLocal BookstoreOnline Purchase
Cengage Advantage Books: Western Civilization: Beyond Boundaries, Volume I, 7th EditionThomas F. X. Noble, et alWadsworth Cengage Learning978-1-133-61013-7 Available at the Almost Corner Bookstore   
The Hanged Man: A Story of Miracle, Memory, and Colonialism in the Middle AgesRobert BartlettPrinceton University Press9780691126043 Available at the Almost Corner Bookshop   

Take-Home Midterm ExaminationThe midterm exam will be composed of two essay questions I will give you the week before the exam is due. You will answer one of those questions in a take-home essay (4-6 double-spaced pages, c. 1000-1500 words). You are expected to cite any authors and works you use in developing your arguments. Your grade on the exam will depend upon the analytical strength and persuasiveness of your arguments, your capacity to discuss the material we cover in the course as a whole (including level of mastery of course readings), and the factual accuracy of your answers. Remember that what you are being tested on is your ability to develop and present a strong, well-supported argument building on the course materials, not simply provide a 'correct' answer to the question you choose. See the course schedule for the take-home essay's due date.25%
Short Paper (5-7 double-spaced pages, c. 1200-1800 words)In the short paper you will analyze Robert Bartlett's The Hanged Man, using it to make an argument about the historical developments discussed in it. Your grade will be determined by the strength of your analysis, the persuasiveness of your argument (including quality of writing), and the originality of your thought. I will provide you with further guidelines regarding this assignment later in the session. See the course schedule for the due date.25%
Participation (In-Class and On-Line)Your regular participation in our class discussions will be key to making this course work, and by actively participating not only will you learn more, you’ll develop useful communicative skills and likely find course material to be more interesting. Participation also counts for a significant portion of your final course grade, and it is the only component of that final course grade in which simple effort and regular activity translate directly into a high grade. What do you need to do for this? Simply do the discussion readings on time, be ready to talk about them, and engage regularly and actively in some combination of our in-class discussions and the Moodle discussion forums for the course. For further information on the nature of our Moodle discussion forums and 'minimum' expectations for on-line participation see the course schedule (and the forums themselves on Moodle).20%
Take-Home Final ExamThe final exam will be composed of two essay questions I will give you the week before the exam is due. You will answer one of those questions in a take-home essay (4-6 double-spaced pages, c. 1000-1500 words). You are expected to cite any authors and works you use in developing your arguments. Your grade on the exam will depend upon the analytical strength and persuasiveness of your arguments, your capacity to discuss the material we cover in the course as a whole (including level of mastery of course readings), and the factual accuracy of your answers. Remember that what you are being tested on is your ability to develop and present a strong, well-supported argument building on the course materials, not simply provide a 'correct' answer to the question you choose. It will be due on the last day of the final exam period.30%

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, thorough, and insightful engagement with the course reading and other materials.
BThis is a highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised. There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluate theory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture and reference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of significant engagement with the course reading and other materials.
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 performance 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.

See above on participation.  To participate regularly, you have to be present regularly.
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.


Course Readings

The textbook reading (Noble et al) complements our discussions and lectures by providing you with further contextual information and different interpretations of past events. You should try do the textbook reading for the day it is assigned, and this is especially important if you have not studied these topics previously. The books should be available at the Almost Corner Bookshop (Via del Moro, 45).

All other readings provide the basis for our classroom and on-line discussions. You must read and think about those assigned for a particular class period and/or the deadline for making a related forum post.  Otherwise, you will be unable to participate adequately and your participation grade will suffer. You should also bring this material to class on the days that we are discussing it.

Please note that in using on-line primary sources I am not necessarily endorsing the more general content and intent of the websites on which they are found.


Important Course Policies

All assignments should be handed in through the Moodle portal for the assignment.

All late work will be penalized by at least one letter grade. No late work will be accepted following the final examination.

Any documented case of academic dishonesty on any assignment will result in a failing grade for the assignment in question and may also result in a failing grade for the course as a whole, regardless of the assignment's weight in terms of the final course grade. Please remember that, as the University's policy states, "Plagiarism can be deliberate or negligent; students are responsible for ensuring that any work submitted with their name on it is properly referenced."  If you have questions about how to cite material properly, refer to the appropriate sections of the MLA Style Manual or Chicago Manual of Style--if you have questions as to whether particular pieces of material should be cited, ask me. Note that submitting work that you have previously submitted (or plan to submit) for credit in another course is also a form of academic dishonesty, unless you obtain explicit approval from both instructors to do so. For this course, no such double submission is allowed. Please note that your papers and take-home exams are to be submitted to turnitin.com to check their content for plagiarism. I am setting up the turintin submission options so that you can see the similarity reports the service generates and resubmit your papers up until the due date.


Office Hours, Scheduling Appointments, E-mail Guidance, etc.

My office hours are posted on the course Moodle page along with a link for attending them--following JCU suggestions, they will be carried out remotely using MS Teams this semester.  If you need to schedule an appointment to speak with me, simply send me an e-mail identifying times during the upcoming week when you are available.  Please know that I do not normally respond to e-mails during the weekend or after 6:30-7 p.m. (but do feel free to write me at those times--I'll answer at the beginning of the next week or the next day).  In the context of mixed on-line and in-class education, it is even more important for all of us to set aside time to work on other things, disconnect, recharge, and 'stay human.'  I encourage you to do the same in ways that work with your schedule, and am trying to do what I can to provide as much flexibility as possible for you in structuring on-line and other out-of-class activities.


Types and Formats of On-line Moodle Discussion Forums

“Questions for the Professor” Forum:  Use this forum to ask for clarifications regarding material that we discussed in class or if there is something in the readings that you feel remains unclear, confusing, etc..  Also try to read through this regularly to see if a classmate asked a question that you too have, but just hadn’t thought of yet.  When you do so, if you feel that you can answer a classmate’s query, please feel free to go ahead and do so.  I will review this forum the Mondays and Wednesdays before class meetings—depending on the nature of the question I’ll either respond directly in the forum or we’ll talk about it at the beginning of the next class session.  (This forum closes at noon on Monday of the following week—if you realize you have a question after it’s closed simply post your question on the next week’s “Questions for the Professor Forum under the “Questions about something from earlier in the semester” topic.”)

“Your Discussion Questions and Observations” Forum:  For at least one of our two weekly sessions, you should post a question or observation about the discussion readings (e.g., for the second class of the second week, the excerpts from Exodus and/or Jeremiah) that you believe would provide a good way of starting a discussion about them and the subject they treat.You should post your questions/observations by 9 a.m. on the day of the class in which we will be discussing the readings in question (e.g., if they are on Tuesday’s reading, make your post by 9:00 on Tuesday) so that I have time to read them, think about them, and try to work them into our classroom discussions.  Try to read through them before class yourselves too—in that way you can better prepare yourself for whatever we end up talking about.  Feel free to build on your classmate’s questions/observations, and if there’s a post you want to respond to that we don’t end up talking about in class, please feel free to continue the discussion here. There is no specific required length for your posts (if you likely need 2-3 sentences to situate and raise your question/make your prompt). This weekly forum closes at 12 p.m. on Monday of the following week, but if there’s a strand of discussion you think we should continue into the next week because it remains relevant to the next topics we are discussing feel free to start it anew in the next week’s forum. (Maximum expected time per week, not including the time needed to do the reading: 10-20 minutes)

“Reflecting on the Week, Continuing our Classroom Discussion” Forums: For this weekly forum, I will post a few discussion questions or prompts based on the week’s discussion readings and the material I anticipate us discussing in class.  On occasion, as the week goes on, I’ll also add a few of the questions/prompts that you put up on the “Your Discussion Questions and Observations” Forum.  You should post at least one response to at least one of these threads and at least one response to a classmate's post each week.  Of course, feel free to post as much as you like. There is no specific required length for your posts (if you likely need a few sentences to make your point effectively).  This weekly forum closes at 12 p.m. on Monday of the following week. (Maximum expected time per week, not including the time needed to do the reading: 15-30 minutes)


In-Class Organizational Matters Whenever Some Students Are Either Absent or Attending Remotely

In light of the very particular nature of this semester, should any member of the class not be physically present in the classroom, we will have to record the class session.  In addition, whenever any member of the class is following the day's session remotely, I will need to ask one or more of those of you who are present to monitor the MS Teams stream and inform me should a remote student raise the hand icon or intervene by means of the Teams chat.


Accessing the Course Remotely

If you are obliged to follow the course remotely, you can find a link for accessing the course stream at the top of the course Moodle page.  Clicking on the link there should then bring you to the MS Teams meeting where we will stream class sessions.


Course Schedule (Please note that the following is subject to change--any updates will be made directly to the course Moodle page.  All discussion readings (except Bartlett's The Hanged Man) are accessible on the course Moodle page.) 

9/22 Introductions--"Civilization?" and From Prehistory to History: Agriculture, Cities, Mesopotamia and Egypt Part I
Noble, Preface
 FOR DISCUSSION: "Definitions of 'Civilization'"
9/24 From Prehistory to History: Agriculture, Cities, Mesopotamia and Egypt Part II
Noble, Ch. 1
FOR DISCUSSION: “The Penitential Prayer to Every God,” “The Hymn to the Nile Flood,” and “The Negative Confession from The Book of Coming Forth By Day")

9/29 Mesopotamia and Egypt—Environment, Culture, and Politics
FOR DISCUSSION: “The Penitential Prayer to Every God;” “The Hymn to the Nile Flood;” and “The Negative Confession from The Book of Coming Forth By Day)

10/1 Monotheism’s Origins—Hebrews and other Near Eastern Peoples
Noble, Ch. 2
FOR DISCUSSION: Excerpts from Exodus, and Jeremiah, Books 7-8

10/6  The Ancient Greeks and their Neighbors
Noble, Ch. 3
FOR DISCUSSION: “Greeks and Non-Greeks in the Ancient Mediterranean”

10/8  The First World Conqueror’s World—Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic World
Noble, Ch. 4

10/9 OFFICIAL FRIDAY MAKE-UP:  Greeks and Non-Greeks in the Hellenistic World
FOR DISCUSSION: “The Hellenistic Encounter With The East”

10/10?  Possible Saturday On-Site Class at the Roman Forum:  Understanding Rome from City-State to World Empire (Based on the Remains at its Heart)—if we do this it will be a 2 ½ hour make-up for other class sessions to be announced.
Noble, Chs. 5-6
FOR DISCUSSION: Livy, “The Rape of the Sabine Women;” Livy, “The Rape of Lucretia;” “Primary Sources for Gladitorial Games”

10/13 Monotheism, Part 2—The Rise of Christianity in the Roman World
FOR DISCUSSION: “The Sermon on the Mount;” Galatians 3:15-19; “Documents on the Persecution of Christians”

10/15 Monotheism, Part 2 Continued—Christianity from Illegal to Imperial Religion
FOR DISCUSSION: “Documents on the Persecution of Christians;” Augustine, “Account of His Own Conversion;” Augustine, “Excerpts from The City of God;” Jerome, “Letter to a Soldier;” Tertullian, “On Pagan Learning”

10/16 OFFICIAL FRIDAY MAKE-UP:  Where does the “West” Begin?—The Black Athena Debate and Beyond
FOR DISCUSSION: Noble, “Preface;” Bernal, “Review: Not Out of Africa;” Lefkowitz, “Response to Bernal;” Lenz, “Review of Black Athena Vol. II;” Primary Sources for the Debate

10/20 Transitions—The Fall of Rome? Barbarians?
Noble, Ch. 7
FOR DISCUSSION: Tacitus, “Excerpts from Germania;” “Letters of Sidonius,” “Priscus at the Court of Attila”

10/22 Rome’s Heirs, Part I—Islamdom and the Byzantine Empire
Noble Ch. 8
FOR DISCUSSION: Excerpts from the Qu’ran; “The Pact of Umar;” “The Christianization of Russia;” TBA

10/27 Rome’s Heirs, Part II—Germanic Kingdoms, the Carolingians, and the Birth of Latin Christendom
FOR DISCUSSION: Einhard, “The Life of Charlemagne (Excerpts);” 
TAKE-HOME MIDTERM EXAM DUE (10/27, 11:59 p.m.)

10/29 More Invasions and the Development of Feudal Rule
Noble, Ch. 9
FOR DISCUSSION: “Annals of Xanten, 845-853;” Fulbert of Chartres, “On Feudal Obligations;” “Fief Ceremonies”
Start Reading Bartlett, The Hanged Man

11/3 The Sword and the Staff—Latin Christian Monarchies and the Church
FOR DISCUSSION: Henry IV, “Letter to Gregory VII;” Gregory VII, “Letter to Henry IV; ”Charter of Liberties of Henry I, 1100;” “Constitutions of Clarendon;” Roger of Hoveden, “The Order of Coronation of Richard I”
Continue Reading Bartlett, The Hanged Man

11/5 Latin Christendom on the March—The Crusades
FOR DISCUSSION: Urban II, “Speech at Clermont 1095;” Soloman bar Samson, “The Crusaders in Mainz;” Anna Comnena, “The Bad Manners of a Crusading Prince;” Fulcher of Chartres, “The Latins in the East;” Usmah Ibn Munqidh, “Autobiography, excerpts on the Franks”
Continue Reading Bartlett, The Hanged Man

11/10 Cathedrals and Universities—The “High Culture” of Latin Christendom
Noble, Ch. 10
FOR DISCUSSION: Robert de Courçon, “Statutes for the University of Paris;” Frederick II, “Lictere Generales;” “Courses in Theology and Medicine;” Peter Abelard, “From Sic et Non;” Jacques de Vitry, “Life of the Students at Paris;” “Medieval Students’ Songs”
Continue Reading Bartlett, The Hanged Man

11/12 Miracles and Memory—A Different Look at Latin Christian Culture
FOR DISCUSSION:  Robert Bartlett, The Hanged Man

11/13 OFFICIAL FRIDAY MAKE-UP:  Times of Trouble—The “Great” Schism, the Black Death, and the 100 Years’ War
Noble, Ch. 11
FOR DISCUSSION: Boccaccio, “The Decameron—Introduction;” “The Black Death and the Jews 1348-1349 CE”

11/17 Times of Transition—Renaissance Humanism and Changing Views of the Past
Noble, Ch. 12
FOR DISCUSSION: Petrarch, “Letters to Cicero;” Vergerius, “The New Education;” Machiavelli, “The Ancients and Liberty”

11/19 Latin Christendom on the March, Part II—Columbus, Vasco de Gama and the Quest for the “Indies”
Noble Ch. 13

11/24 Worlds Colliding—Latin Christendom and the New Worlds of the 16th Century
FOR DISCUSSION: Columbus, “Extracts from Journal;” Sepulveda, Democrates Secundus (Excerpts); Las Casas, In Defense of the Indians (Excerpts); Montaigne, “Of Cannibals (Excerpts)”

11/26 Latin Christendom Challenged—Religious Schism, Witch Scares, and the Ottoman Turks
Noble, Ch. 14
FOR DISCUSSION: “Challenges to Christendom in Reformation Europe”

12/1 TBA

12/3 TBA

12/10 TBA

12/14 (MONDAY) TAKE-HOME FINAL EXAM DUE (11: 59 p.m.)