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COURSE NAME: "Europe Before Nations: From the First Crusade to 1453 "
SEMESTER & YEAR: Spring 2021

INSTRUCTOR: Fabrizio Conti
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 4:30 PM 5:45 PM
PREREQUISITES: Recommended: HS 235
OFFICE HOURS: By appointment

This course explores the major political events, changes, and cultural achievements of the High Middle Ages from the era of the Crusades through the mid-fifteenth century. Topics covered may include the effects of the arrival of the Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor, the Crusades (including their impact in Europe and the wider Mediterranean), the Spanish reconquista, the rise and culture of the Italian city states, the development of Slavic states in the Balkans, the arrival and impact of the Mongols, the “Black Death,” and the end of the Byzantine Empire.

Satisfies "Medieval History" core course requirement for History majors

This course focuses on the examination of societies, cultures and politics in medieval Europe between 1000 and 1500.  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 on Western Europe. Some of the topics we will explore include: the development of the high and the late medieval Papacy, the Crusades, the European appeal of St. Francis of Assisi, the monastic and religious reforms, kingship in Europe, the creation of a ‘persecuting society’ (Jews, lepers, witches and other minorities),  the ‘Black Death’ in the 14th century, the Italian city states and Humanism, the rise of the Ottoman Empire


The aim of this course is not only to guide students through the discovery of the main events and persons in Medieval Europe from the 10th century to the 15th century. This course will also and especially give students a firm idea of the multifaceted ways in which cultures, societies and mentalities developed through the medieval era. Moreover, students will acquire basic skills in methodologies involved in historical research, writing, and communication, particularly when working with primary sources.

Course Procedure: Students are given reading assignments prior to the lectures on a given topic. This should enable them to participate actively in discussions during and after lectures. They are expected to keep up with the assigned readings.


Students must provide appropriate footnotes and a bibliography of ALL sources (both primary and secondary) used in their written term paper in order to avoid plagiarism. Students may consult the internet (e.g. Wikipedia et al.) only for their own information. General information found on the internet is not acceptable as a source for academic papers. However, students are encouraged to research academic databases, such as J-Store or Academic Search Premium, or medieval primary sources published on the internet. Students should feel free to discuss the acceptability of specific internet resources with me should they have any questions on the matter. Cases of intentional or unintentional plagiarism will be dealt with in accordance with the university policy. Students may fail the paper or the entire course depending on the gravity of the situation.

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 (or make an appointment to speak with me). There are copies of both in the reference section of the library downstairs.

Please note that your papers may be submitted to turnitin.com to check their content for plagiarism

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Reading the Middle Ages, Volume II: Sources from Europe, Byzantium and the Islamic World, c. 900 to c. 1500 Barbara Rosenwein (Ed.) University of Toronto Press 9781442606081  E-Book version available via the Frohring Library catalogue
The Formation of a Persecuting Society R.I. Moore Blackwell Publishing 9781405129640  E-Book version available via the Frohring Library Catalogue

Attendance and Participation This means that you: a) are in class; b) have done the readings and thought about them; c) express your views and questions orally in class and are able to make connections with the topics that have been already covered. 10%
Mid-Term ExamThe exams will be in-class written exams composed of short answers and essay questions. Your grade on these exams 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.30%
Final ExamThe exams will be in-class written exams composed of short answers and essay questions. Your grade on these exams 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.30%
Paper You will be given a list of topics, among which you will pick the one you prefer and develop it in about 2000 words. You can also propose a different topic of your choice worthy of investigation. The relevant sources and the questions which serve as guidelines for the analysis will be posted to Moodle. The written assignment should be submitted to me electronically by 4pm of the due date.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 amount of reading beyond that required for the
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.


Course Schedule (NB: Changes may occur. Any updates will be made to the on-line syllabus)

  • All readings are available either on Moodle or as e-books via the Online Catalogue of the Frohring Library


Week 1

18 M  Course Intro: History and the Medieval Perceptions of Time

-         Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Book XI, Chapters 10 to 13


20 W  The Arabs, the Byzantines, and the Franks: The Medieval World From East to West (c. 900-c. 1050)

-          Reading the Middle Ages, ed. by Rosenwein, doc. 4.5 (‘The Peace of God’); 4.7 (Military Life: Constantine VII); 4.9 (Education: Al-Qabisi)


Week 2

25 M  Scandinavian, Russian, and Central-European Kingdoms 

-          Reading the Middle Ages, ed. by Rosenwein, documents: 4.12 (Hungary: King Stephen, Laws); 
           4.15 (The Russian Chronicle); 4.19 (The Jelling Monument)


27 W  The World of the Vikings: History, Archaeology, and the Sagas      

-          Kim Hjardar and Vegard Vike, Vikings at War (Havertown, PA: Casemate Publishers, 2016), selected pp.

-          Rosalind Kerven, Viking Myths and Sagas: Retold from Ancient Norse Texts (Morphet: Talking Stone, 2015), selected pp.



Week 3

1 M     European Regions and Medieval Universal Powers

-          Reading the Middle Ages, ed. by Rosenwein, documents: 5.4 (Henry IV, Letter to Gregory VII); 5.5 (Gregory VII, Letter to Hermann of Metz)

-          Jenö Szücs, "Three Historical Regions of Europe: The Birth of European Regions", in Civil Society and The State, ed. by John Keane, pp. 291-308


3 W   The First Crusade and the Crusading Movement

-          Reading the Middle Ages, ed. by Rosenwein, documents 5.9 (Martyrs in the Rhineland); 5.10    

           (Stephen of Blois, Letter to His Wife); 5.11 (Ibn al-Athir, The First Crusade); 5.15 (The Bayeaux Tapestry)


Week 4  

8 M   The Fourth Crusade and The Byzantine Empire

-          Reading the Middle Ages, ed. by Rosenwein, docs.: 6.2 (The Fourth Crusade); 6.7 (Doing
           business: A Genoese Societas)


10 W   Crusaders and Crusader States in the Holy Land

-          Digital Tools for studying the Crusades and the Crusader States:

           (The Independent Crusaders Project: https://fordham.carto.com/u/fordhammedievals/builder/d119626b-f7a5-4c4a-a351-1184a86c6806/embed)

-          TV Documentary Screening and Debate: "The Crusades"


 12 F   Love and Sex in Medieval Poetry and Philosophy (Make-Up Day for Monday, April 5)

-          Reading the Middle Ages, ed. by Rosenwein, doc. 6.18 (A Troubadour Love Song: Bernart de Ventadorn, When I see the Larck)

-          Marriage and procreation according to Peter Lombard


 Week 5

15 M   Medieval Storytellers and Oral Literature

-          A Medieval Storybook, ed. by Morris Bishop and Alison Mason Kingsbury (Cornell University Press, 2013), selected parts


17 W   Dissent and Orthodoxy in the Arts: Giotto and Francis of Assisi

-          Giotto’s frescoes in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi: screening of images and discussion

-          Reading the Middle Ages, ed. by Rosenwein, documents 6.24 (Peter Waldo); 6.26 (Francis of Assisi, The Canticle to Brother Sun)


Week 6

22 M   Medieval Religious Patterns

-          Film screening and discussion

-          Statutes of the Carthusian Order (Book 1: chs. 2, 4, 5; Book 4: ch. 34) 


24 W   Political Relations Between East and West 

-          Reading the Middle Ages, ed. by Rosenwein, documents 7.2 (A Mongol Reply to the Pope); 7.10 (The Hanseatic League: Decrees);

           7.17 (The commons participate: Summons to Parliament)



Week 7

1 M     The Heretic, the Leper, and the Inquisitor

-          Reading the Middle Ages, ed. by Rosenwein, docs: 7.13 (Inquisition: Jacques Fournier, Episcopal Register); 

           7.14 (Procedures for Isolating Lepers: the Sarum Manual); 7.19 (Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctam)


3 W Mid-Term Exam


8-12 March: Spring Break 


Week 8

15 M  The Black Death Pandemic  

-          Reading the Middle Ages, ed. by Rosenwein, docs. 8.1 (A Medical View: Nicephorus Gregoras);

           8.3 (Prayers at York: Archbishop William); 8.4 (Blaming the Jews: Heinrich von Diessenhoven)


17 W   The Black Death In Literature: Boccaccio and the Decameron

-           Tim Smith-Laing, "Boccaccio and the Black Death Have Been Doing the Rounds", Apollo (2020) 

-           Boccaccio, Decameron, Introduction: https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/source/boccacio2.asp


 Week 9

22 M   Byzantium vs the Ottomans: Towards the Fall of Constantinople

-         Reading the Middle Ages, ed. by Rosenwein, docs.: 8.6 (A Turkish Hero); 8.7 (Diplomacy: Peace Agreement);

          8.8 (Before the Fall: Patriarch Anthony); 8.9 (The Fall Bewailed)


24 W  Joan of Arc, Wars, Social Unrest, and Reforms in Medieval Europe 

-          Reading the Middle Ages, ed. by Rosenwein, docs. 8.12 (Jeanne d’Arc, Letter to the English); 8.15 (The Conciliarist Movement: Jean
           Gerson); 8.17 (The Hussite Program)


Week 10

29 M  New Cultural Sensibilities and Women as Intellectuals

-        Reading the Middle Ages, ed. by Rosenwein, doc. 8.18 (Re-evaluating antiquity: Cincius 
           Romanus); doc. 8.20 (Defending Women: Christine de Pizan)

31 W  Civic Life and Rituals 

-         Gabor Klaniczay, “The ‘Bonfires of the Vanities’ and the Mendicants”, pp. 31-59



Week 11

5 M Holiday (make-up day Friday, February 12)


7 W    Medieval Society as a “Persecuting Society”?

-          R.I. Moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society, Ch. 1


Week 12

12 M   Victims and Persecutors

-         R.I. Moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society, Ch. 1 cont.


14 W   Paper Due

           Social Targets

-           R.I. Moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society, Ch. 2


Week 13

19 M   Purity and Danger

-          R.I. Moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society, Ch. 3


21 W  Power and Reason

-          R.I. Moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society, Ch. 4


Week 14

26 M  Discussing Persecuting Societies

-         R.I. Moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society, Ch. 5


 28 W Course Review and Final Exam Preparation


Final Exam