The Middle Ages: Introduction & Sampler



WHT 106

MWF 1:25-2:15 pm

This is the authoritative text of this prospectus, not the paper version. It is updated periodically.
Be sure to check all details (especially dates for assignments) here!

Office Hours

Prof. Hyams: MG 307 -- Tel. 257-3168; Net-ID: prh3@cornell.edu

Thursdays, 3-40 pm, Fridays 2:30-3:30 pm, and by appointment.



KOENIGSBERGER Medieval Europe, 400-1500
LOPEZ Commercial Revolution of the Middle Ages
HAMILTON Religion in the Medieval West
BOUCHARD Life & Society in the West
GIES Cathedral, Forge & Waterwheel
Either ROBB, A Gift of Sanctuary or BAER, Down the Common or FOLLETT, Pillars of the Earth


PETERS Europe and the Middle Ages
STOKSTAD Medieval Art

All of the above are on sale at The Cornell Store but may also be obtained elsewhere. Along with  other useful materials, these titles have been placed on Reserve in Uris Library.

This course is a single-semester alternative to HISTORY 263-4. It is targeted at the intelligent student seeking an accelerated entrance to the formative period of Western Civilization during the Middle Ages. It therefore aims to convey what was significant in that area of the "West" that was to become Europe, between the end of the Roman Empire in the West and the Renaissance, say from 395 to 1450 or so, and what remains of real interest today. Students may expect to gain from the course a basic knowledge of the events and institutions of Medieval Christendom.

The course's real goal is, however, much more ambitious: to introduce the modern observer to some of the choicer aspects of the medieval world, those judged most likely to intrigue, delight and satisfy. You may usefully think of it, if you like, as a Medieval Sampler. To put it more pretentiously, the course resembles a classic French Hors d'oeuvre, in that it presents for the discriminating palate a series of samples from some of the very best dishes known to the chef. Among these dishes figure Beliefs, Gender and Power Relations, Economics (Greed and Subsistence), Arts and Entertainments (Architecture, Food, Literature, Music, Painting), even some Deviance and Protest.

Assignments will be as interactive as possible, and will include Playreadings, videos, music, a cooking demonstration, a demonstration of medieval weaponry, and commentary on objects as well as texts from the period. The student will end the semester knowing how to advance his or her knowledge of the area both from Cornell campus resources (libraries etc.) and through the ever-increasing riches of the Internet. Both in the teaching and the grades, the emphasis will be as far as possible on students finding their own ways to win credit rather than being required merely to perform a series of uniform tasks set by the instructor. This has some consequences that go against the grain of most of my other courses.

Attendance at all classes is mandatory. In compensation, I shall rarely if ever attempt to check up whether every student has read every word of the assigned readings by setting surprise quizzes etc. (The first 4 weeks leading to the Prelim are a partial exception, as appears below, 1.) So you can backslide, if you like, without much risk of failing the course. But to gain a good grade, you will certainly need to take advantage of......

"Extra" Opportunities for Credit. I shall throw out my own suggestions (puzzles to solve, challenges of other kinds) in the classes, but you can bring to us your own ideas. We may use the first ten minutes of each Wednesday Class for this purpose.

FAQs. Our software set up will enable anyone in the class to contribute by posing class-related questions, suggesting answers, offering comments on both the issues raised and the efforts of others to advance our understanding. We shall certainly consider constructive contributions here as meriting credit towards that Final Grade.

Discussions. We shall spend most of the Friday classes after the first week or so on reading and discussion, including  Source Texts  in translation. (I shall probably announce an  alternative site for Friday discussions, when we split into groups.) Active participation in these discussions is one good way of gaining credit towards the final grade. But so will the raising of good issues in other classes, during lectures for example, so long as the interventions are courteous and timely. (A bonus  for questions which the Professor cannot answer!)

I have in the past enjoyed receiving  E-Mail messages on questions raised by the course readings etc. But much more constructive is online discussion Board in which all can share. (Details to follow.)

Use it to pose questions  to others in the class as well as yourself. Seek credit by researching answers and comments and posting them on the board. And do so at your own choice of time and place. This way the whole class gains, and we all work together. Which is the way it ought to be! Ada and I will hold a watching brief, and make our own contributions when we can. We can also make sure you get credit for what you do toward that final grade.

Research (which I should prefer to call "investigation" if not just "finding out").

Course Requirements:-

1. Prelim Exam in Week VI. This is designed to ensure that students read the Koenigsberger text carefully and thereby set themselves up for the rest of the course.
Exam questions will include:-
-- IDs from a list helpfully available here on the Web,
-- some geographical IDs on an Outline Map of Europe (Map Aids available here),
-- and comments on some of the source texts Koenigsberger quotes in the book.
This exam will count for approx. 30% of the Final Grade.

2. A Paper (8-12 pp.). This may be on any topic relating to the period, whether covered in class or not.

3. There will be no conventional Final Exam. Instead, we shall hold individual Oral Exams (5-10 mins.) in the final weeks of the semester. 4. Every student will be expected to visit the Class' very own Virtual Gallery (under fairly constant reconstruction) and view the objects displayed there. These will include some of the most beautiful and most interesting products of the Middle Ages. Select one, investigate it (including close examination both through the Web and by any other means you can discover), then write a brief account of its historical significance (2-3 pp.max.). This will count for approx. 5% of the Final Grade.

5.Gloss. Each student must select a brief text, either some medieval text that has caught the fancy during the semester, or a text from the Bible etc. which can be shown to have been (much) read during the medieval period.You should then gloss this, that is explain or explicate it in the margins or between the lines, to draw out the meanings and uses you think contemporaries will have found there. (I shall in due course explain what a "Gloss" was, something of how and why texts were "glossed" and what it might all mean.) We shall reward with bonuses any special initiatives that lead to the enhancement of your Gloss with imaginative layout, calligraphy or illumination. This exercise will count for approx 5% of the Final Grade.

6. History from Fiction. Each student should read one of the three fiction choices before Week XIII. (I have not ordered these. you should acquire them through a local bookshop, or through addall.com or a similar online discount bookshop.) You will then write a maximum of 5 pp. to explain what use a historian might make of the book. This short paper will count for approx. 10% of the Final GradeYou may use images like those of Medieval Grantchester to stimulate your imagination.

7. Credit Opportunities during the first 10 minutes of each Wednesday Class. Each student should bring into class at least one question on the week's readings for others in the class (!) to try and answer. This is also the prime moment to attempt any "Extra" Credit challenges.
Each student is expected to abide by the CU Code of Academic Integrity. Any work submitted by a student in this course for academic credit will be the student's own work.  The full text is found  at http://cuinfo.cornell.edu/Academic/AIC.html. If you have not read this, please do; and come to me with any questions.

E&OE prh/1-11

On to The Schedule of Weekly Readings and Assignments