Course description

Amid the growing importance of intellectual property, and calls to overthrow traditional educational and publication models, it is imperative to understand the development of these phenomena. These can fruitfully be traced to the Middle Ages, which saw the rise of the modern form of the book, the university, and scholastic culture. This course explores the history of this period, from the late Roman Empire to the fifteenth century, emphasizing developments in education and technology, and analysing their implications both in their own time and in the modern world. While the stereotype of this period is of a backward, unlearned society, surviving texts and other artefacts – such as manuscripts, art, music, buildings, inscriptions, and coinage – show us the roots of the systems that have both given a structure to our world which we cannot change without knowing their origins.

Learning goals

  • Interpret primary sources and artefacts critically and use them to understand the world view of their authors and users, while relating them to broader historical themes.
  • Gain a basic understanding of the events of medieval Europe, and an awareness of differing perceptions of this period.
  • Understand the relevance of developments in the Middle Ages to contemporary political, economic, cultural, and religious circumstances.
  • Hone criticism and communication skills, and effective use of modern technology.

How to succeed in this course

This course does not presume previous knowledge of medieval history, or of languages other than English. You are expected to do the following:

  • Examine the course readings before class and make brief notes in your own words to ensure that you understand the concepts they describe. This will help you to digest the information more thoroughly and save you hours when studying for the test and final exam.
  • Come to class, and take notes. Aim to write the material in your own words as much as possible rather than reproduce the lectures.
  • Participate in class discussions and ask questions. Chances are that someone else is wondering the same thing as you, regardless of how silly you might think it sounds. Come to office hours if you wish to deliberate about a point further or are having problems in the course.

Required readings

This course places an emphasis on reading and interpreting primary sources, with a series of lectures providing their historical context and an overarching narrative. Selections from copyrighted translations are available through the Learning Portal. You may find it useful to purchase an inexpensive modern translation of the work you study in your essay, and annotate it. If you wish further background material on the lectures, see the Resources page for recommendations.