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HSTAM 235 A: Myths And Mysteries Of The Middle Ages

Meeting Time: 
TTh 8:30am - 10:20am
SAV 260
Professor Robin Stacey
Robin Chapman Stacey

Syllabus Description:


Myths and Mysteries of the Middle Ages                                

HSTAM 235 (Autumn, 2017)

Robin Stacey

It may not be the case that everybody loves a mystery, but most of us do, and one of the goals of this class is to invite students to explore certain perennially “cool” subjects like druids, bog bodies, King Arthur, the Picts, the Templars, the Shroud of Turin, Robin Hood, and more.  We will read medieval ghost stories and talk about the origins of Halloween, consider the writings of long-vanished Christian communities, and contemplate the manner in which modern concerns about gender have reshaped our understanding of figures like Joan of Arc.  We will look as well at modern mythmakers like J.R.R. Tolkien, who used medieval tales and images as the basis for stories designed to speak directly to twentieth-century concerns.  And at the end of the class, we will apply the critical methodologies we have learned in the course to Dan Brown’s best-seller The Da Vinci Code and consider the nature of its appeal to contemporary audiences.  

There is another purpose to this class, and that is to learn to think critically about both the past itself and how it is that we come to know about it.  I have chosen to organize the class around a series of individuals, groups and events that pose problems for historians either because of the nature or scarcity of the evidence about them, or because the world view in which they are grounded is one that we no longer share.  This will allow us to tackle questions of direct interest to the current day.  How does one distinguish between a vision of the past that is persuasive and accords with the evidence and one that does not?  How do historians regard the notion of "truth," and how ought we as citizens to understand their role in constructing and assessing the "pasts" that are offered to us?  

The following books are required for this class.  There will be additional short readings to be done online in certain weeks, the URLs for which are provided in the syllabus.  All of the books below have been ordered through the University Bookstore; alternatively, students may procure them online.

 Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time (a murder mystery on the Princes in the Tower)

Karen King, The Gospel of Mary of Magdala

Andrew Joynes, Medieval Ghost Stories

James J. Wilhelm, The Romance of Arthur

Judith Bennett, Cecilia Penifader:  A Medieval Life

Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code (the assignment asks you to read a short passage

online, and then either to read the book or view the movie).



Read about student reaction to this course here:


Summary of Written Assignments:

1) Two 2-page micro-essays with mandatory rough drafts.   

2)  Midterm exam (50 minutes).  Information about the format of this exam will be circulated in advance.  This exam will cover material presented through the end of week six.  

3) Final exam (90 minutes)  Information about the format of this exam will be circulated in advance. This exam will cover material presented from the beginning of week six through the end of week ten.

4)  Four (non-graded) one-paragraph reflections on the reading.    These short reflections are intended to help you process the material you have read for that week’s discussion.  We will read a certain number of these per week just to get a sense of how students are reacting to the assignments, and TAs may decide to use them in class as a springboard for discussion.  However, not all reflections will be read every time, and individual reflections will be not be graded or commented upon. Rather, the grade for the whole will be determined by calculating the percentage of good-faith reflections completed during the term.  Students who are found not to have completed the assignment in a good faith manner will not receive credit for that week’s reflection.   

5) In-class (non-graded) lecture responses.  Periodically during lecture, students will be asked to write informal responses to questions posed in class.   As with the reader reflection paragraphs, the grade for the whole will be calculated according to the percentage of good-faith responses submitted over the course of the quarter.  

6) Peer review paper rubrics.  These will figure only in the participation grade for the class, but are a required aspect of your participation in the peer review workshop.   Rubric forms must be printed off by reviewers from the website in advance of each peer review workshop, filled out and attached to the drafts under review, and returned to the author with the rough draft at the close of the workshop.

Catalog Description: 
Introduces the basics of the historian's craft by focusing on some enduring mysteries of the European middle agers, including bog bodies, druids, King Arthur, Robin Hood, the Templars, the Holy Grail, the Shroud of Turin, and Joan of Arc.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:21pm