This course, stretching the catalogue description somewhat from the medieval to include the early modern period, introduces you to the people of pre-modern European history. Political history, battles, kings, queens, parliaments, and so on are not the subject. The subject is “ordinary” – and extraordinary – people, understood as an aggregate structurally and quantitatively and, sometimes, when sources and a bit of informed imagination permit, as individuals.
The basis for the course is Eileen Power’s 1924 book, Mediaeval People, a path-breaking work by a pioneering female historian. This will be supplemented by Arthur Imhof’s Lost Worlds: How Our European Ancestors Coped with Everyday Life and Why Life Is So Hard Today. Chapters from Power will structure most weeks, exploding the presentist attitude of much historical scholarship (‘If it’s not recent, it’s useless…’). Each week will include additional primary sources (historical witnesses) and complementary secondary sources (scholarly articles or chapters). You are expected to read each, deepening your understanding of Power’s work and noting points of subsequent historical revision.
The course has four primary goals for you:
- To learn to think like a historian by properly framing a historical question, identifying and evaluating sources, and gaining necessary context.
- To approach those of the past with empathy and humility, seeking to understand their lives and their feelings in their words and with their concepts as much as in our words and with our concepts.
- To gain an acquaintance with the outlines and debates of the economic, social, cultural, and religious (religion more as shared practice than as doctrine) history of pre-modern Europe.
- To improve your ability to communicate what you have learned, in writing and in speech, and your capacity to respond positively to constructive criticism.
I expect engagement – with me, with assignments, and with your peers. Class sessions will be a nearly equal mixture of information delivery and discussion. Listen to the lectures, and take notes rather than verbatim transcriptions of lecture or discussion. Read with pen or stylus in hand – for marginal annotations or reading notes. I will try to hint at areas of focus for the next week’s readings. Learn your classmates’ names. Listen to your peers, be prepared to articulate your views and your potential differences or agreement with them on the basis of clear evidence in a civil, cogent manner. Assignments will focus on demonstrating attainment of course goals. Optional readings are provided, for those interested.
Because all instruction will be remote this semester, it is even more crucial that you treat this as a semi-“flipped” virtual classroom, being sure to read course materials actively, annotating them and noting questions and observations in preparation for each class meeting.
Please check Canvas daily, Monday through Friday, for course announcements. I will respond to email and check in on Canvas’ chat and discussion functions each workday.