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HSTAM 112 A: The Medieval World

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm - 3:20pm
SMI 120
Professor Charity Urbanski
Charity Urbanski

Syllabus Description:

HSTAM 112: Medieval Europe

Professor Urbanski

TTh 1:30-3:20 in 120 Smith                           

Course Website: 


This course is an introductory survey of European history during the Middle Ages. It emphasizes three core themes:  (1) the gradual emergence of a distinction between religion and government; (2) the development of a concept of limited government; and (3) the organization of medieval society. We will also explore the medieval origins of the modern state and some of the more distinctive features of medieval society, including the expansion of Christianity and development of the papacy, the crusades, the growth of chivalry, the Gregorian Reforms, the formation of a persecuting society, the growth of towns and a middle class, and political rebellions.


The course is intended as an introduction to the history of the Middle Ages in Europe and to the study of history in general.  No previous knowledge of either is necessary.


Required Books:


The following books are required reading for this course, and are available in the University Bookstore.  You can also purchase them new or used on Amazon.  


Rosenwein, A Short History of the Middle Ages, 4th edition (Textbook – you may use the 3rd edition, but all page numbers given in the syllabus are for the 4th edition)

Tierney, The Crisis of Church and State, 1050-1300

The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, trans. B. Radice, revised by M. Clanchy

The Song of Roland, ed. Glynn Burgess

Joinville and Villehardouin, Chronicles of the Crusades, trans. M.R.B. Shaw

(You must use the editions of the primary sources specified above.)


Reserve copies: Copies of each required book will be available on reserve in Odegaard Undergraduate Library, but in a large class like this one it will be difficult for you to count on being able to do all your assigned reading from OUGL reserve copies.


*Our first three readings are PDFs stored on the course website under “Reading”.



Course Website:

To access the course website, you can also log in to MyUW and click on the link to the course website in the “My Class Resources” section under HIST 112. Instructions for the first paper will be posted there during the second week of class. As the quarter progresses, I will add lecture outlines, as well as study guides for the exams, and topics for the final paper. Any changes to the syllabus will also appear there in the announcements section.


Course Requirements:



You REALLY need to attend lecture if you want to do well in this course. Lectures will not just repeat material covered in the textbook, but will introduce new material that will appear on our exams. I will also be building upon information given in lecture, and you will have difficulty understanding later lectures if you miss too many of the earlier ones. My lectures will also assume that you have done your reading, so complete the reading assigned for each day before lecture.



Sections are an essential part of this course – they are not optional. Their purpose is not to summarize lectures for you, but to introduce new material. They are where you will discuss our primary sources, learn how to analyze those sources, and learn how to construct your own historical arguments. We will also focus on teaching you how to write a history paper in the first few weeks of section. You should come to section having done the reading for the week and prepared to contribute to discussion.


Your attendance and participation in section will comprise 50% of your section grade; weekly, short writing assignments will comprise the other 50% (details for these will be on your TA’s section syllabus). If you have an excused absence from section (i.e., you can present a doctor’s note or other evidence of an emergency), you will be allowed to make up the writing assignment for 50% credit. You cannot make up lost participation, even with evidence of an emergency, because the participation portion of your section grade is based upon your physical presence in section and your active participation in discussion.


Your performance in section counts for 20% of your final grade: on a 4.0 scale, that is .8. That is a lot. It means that if you earn a 4.0 on every paper and exam, but earn a 0.0 in section, your final grade in the class will only be a 3.2. 



Two papers (4-5 pages and 6-7 pages) analyzing primary sources, chosen from a list of assigned topics.

A midterm and a final exam based upon information from lecture and our textbook.

Attendance, participation, and weekly writing assignments in discussion sections.



15% - In-class mid-term (definitions, short questions, map quiz, source analysis)

on Thursday, January 21

20% - First paper (4-5 pages) due Tuesday, January 26, in lecture

*optional rewrite due Tuesday, February 9, in lecture

25% - Second paper (6-7 pages) due Tuesday, March 1, in lecture

20% - Final exam (primary source analysis in section on March 11; the remainder of the exam will be given as a take home exam)

20% - Work in discussion sections (50% attendance/participation; 50% writing assignments)


You must turn in both papers and take both exams in order to pass the course. 


Exams will focus on what you are being taught in this class, not what you may have learned in another class, or from Wikipedia or any other website, so plan to come to lecture and do the reading if you want to do well.


Make up exams will not be offered and late papers will not be accepted without evidence of an emergency (e.g. a doctor’s note, police report, etc.).  If you need to request an extension on a paper or an alternate exam date, you must email me and copy your TA at least 24 hours in advance of the paper due date or exam date.  Extensions and alternate exam dates will be granted on a case by case basis.


Learning Objectives:


In addition to acquiring an understanding of the historical development of western Europe during the middle ages, students will learn to:

  • Analyze primary sources for the historical evidence they can provide.
  • Construct arguments based upon historical evidence derived from both primary and secondary sources.
  • Evaluate competing historical arguments using primary source evidence.
  • Appreciate the distance between historical evidence and historians’ interpretations of that evidence.


Code of Courtesy for Lectures and Sections:


  • Arrive on time.
  • Turn off your cellphone and put it away.
  • If you are using a laptop for note-taking, sit in one of the back rows to avoid distracting others.
  • Bring the appropriate book with you to section each week.
  • Give the professor or TA your full attention.
  • Do not chat with your neighbors, text, or surf the internet during class.
  • Remain in the room until the break or until the lecture or section ends.
  • Conduct yourself in a manner that is respectful to everyone present.
  • Raise your hand if you have a question about the material or need clarification.

Instructor Availability:


My office is 316B Smith Hall. My office hours will be Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 11 to noon. If you cannot make it to my regular office hours, I will generally be available after lecture. I am also happy to make appointments as needed (please contact me by email if you need to request an appointment, but be aware that I may not be able to accommodate requests immediately due to my schedule).


My email is Email is the best way to contact me. I check my email regularly Monday through Friday between 8 am and 5 pm; however, I check it much less frequently in the evenings and on weekends.

  • Exercise good judgment and think before you email your instructors and TAs.
  • Do not expect an immediate reply to emails, especially those sent after 5 pm Monday through Friday or over the weekend. We will reply to emails within a reasonable timeframe (within 24 hours during the week and by the afternoon of the next business day for emails received over the weekend or on holidays).
  • Do not email instructors or TAs for help within 24 hours of the due date for an assignment, unless you only need a minor clarification. For help with assignments, you should visit your instructor or TA during office hours at least a few days in advance of any due date.
  • Do not email instructors or TAs with questions that are answered in the syllabus, study guides, or paper assignments; we will not respond. However, if something in the syllabus or an assignment is unclear, please let me know so I can fix it.


Teaching Assistants will announce their office hours and contact information in section.


*The syllabus is subject to change at the instructor’s discretion.



Schedule of Classes


Week 1

T                      Introduction: Late Antiquity  


Th                    Early Christianity

                                    Reading: Rosenwein, 1-21


F                      DISCUSSION: “How to Read a Primary Source”; Tacitus, Germania (PDFs on course website); Lex Salica

Questions: Tacitus had never been to Germany. How should this fact affect your use of his book as a source for “Germanic” life? How does Tacitus describe the Germans, and what are his possible motives for writing this ethnography? Can you confirm or rebut any of Tacitus’ claims about the Germans (e.g. feuds, inheritance, status of women/freemen/slaves, etc.) using the Lex Salica?


Week 2

T                      Augustine and the Fall of Rome

                                    Reading: Rosenwein, 21-24


Th                    The Germanic Kingdoms

                                    Reading: Rosenwein, 25-75


F                      DISCUSSION: “Thesis Guidelines”; “Tips for Writing a Good Essay”; Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, Book II (PDFs on course website)

Questions: How is Clovis converted to Christianity? How does Clovis expand his power? How are Arian Christians portrayed? What roles do you see women playing in Frankish society and politics (go beyond the obvious fact that they bear children)?


Week 3

T                      Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance

                                    Reading: Rosenwein, 79-112


Th                    Europe Falls Apart

                                    Reading: Rosenwein, 115-130


                                    Definitions, Short Questions, Map Quiz, Source Analysis


F                      DISCUSSION: “Sample Paragraphs”; Einhard, Life of Charlemagne; Royal Frankish Annals an. 775 (PDFs on course website)

Questions: How does Einhard explain Charlemagne’s extraordinary success as king of the Franks? What are Einhard’s criteria for a good king? Does Einhard reveal an obvious bias? How does this bias affect his portrayal of Charlemagne, and how does it affect Einhard’s credibility? How does the description of Charlemagne’s treatment of the Saxons in the Royal Frankish Annals compare with Einhard’s description?


Week 4


T                      The 11th c. Economic Revolution and the Invention of Feudalism

                                    Reading: Rosenwein, 131-149


Th                    Reform Movements and the Investiture Controversy

                                    Reading: Rosenwein, 155-170


F                      DISCUSSION:  Tierney, Crisis of Church and State, 7-95 (review 7-44; study 45-95)

Questions: Was Pope Gregory VII’s program of church reform revolutionary? What was at stake for both pope and emperor in the Investiture Controversy?


Week 5

T                      The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading

                                    Reading: Rosenwein, 170-178


Th                    The Chivalric Ethos

                                    Reading: Rosenwein, 214-218


F                      DISCUSSION: The Song of Roland, 29-156 (Skim the introduction)

Questions: What values does The Song of Roland celebrate (what do the knights most want to achieve and what do they want to avoid)? What can its representation of the past tell us about contemporary concerns? How are Muslims (Saracens) and Islam portrayed?


Week 6



T                      The New Spirituality and the Enemies Within

                                    Reading:  Rosenwein, 181-194 and 228-237


Th                    The Twelfth-Century Renaissance

                                    Reading: Rosenwein, 178-181


F                      DISCUSSION: The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, 3-89 (Skim the introduction, lviii-lxxxiv, and read 3-                           89)

Questions: What values does Abelard hold? How do his values compare to those of the knights we saw in the Song of Roland? What can Heloise’s experiences tell us about the lives of women in this society? How important are Christian theology and the Church in this society?


Week 7

T                      Meet in lecture to work on the Create your own “Horrible History” project


Th                    The Problems of State Building

                                    Reading: Rosenwein, 197-214 and 218-228



F                      DISCUSSION: Create your own “Horrible History” (instructions for this collaborative project will be                                    issued separately)


Week 8

T                      Innocent III and the Papal Monarchy

                                    Reading: Rosenwein, review 228-232


Th                    The Perfect King: Louis IX / The Popes Lose Their Touch

                                    Reading: Rosenwein, 241-258


F                      DISCUSSION: Jean de Joinville, Life of Saint Louis, in Chronicles of the Crusades, 141-144, 173-261,                           and 296-336

Questions: Why is Louis considered a saint (i.e. what saintly qualities does he possess)? How does Louis’ sanctity affect his relationship with his people and his manner of governing? How does it affect his relationship with the Church?


Week 9



T                      The Triumph of the French Monarchy

                                    Reading: Rosenwein, 258-296


Th                    Political Rebellion in the Later Middle Ages

                                    Reading: Rosenwein, 296-301


F                      DISCUSSION: The Battle between Philip the Fair and Pope Boniface VIII in Tierney, Crisis of Church                             and State, 159-210

Questions: What was the struggle between Philip the Fair and Boniface about? What was at stake for the king, and for the pope?  Who emerges as the victor in this battle? How is this dispute related to the Investiture Controversy?


Week 10

T                      The Church in Crisis

                                    Reading: Rosenwein, review 259-264 and read 301-304


Th                    Renaissance and Reformation

Reading: Rosenwein, 304-325


F                      IN CLASS PORTION OF FINAL EXAM (MARCH 11)

Catalog Description: 
Political, economic, social, and intellectual history of the Middle Ages. Cannot be taken for credit toward a history major if HSTAM 331 or 332 or 333 previously taken.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
February 11, 2018 - 9:22pm