HSTAM 333 A: Late Middle Ages

Spring 2024
MW 1:30pm - 3:20pm / SMI 211
Section Type:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

3 living 3 dead.jpg

The Three Living and the Three Dead, De Lisle Psalter, England, c. 1308 – c. 1340

There are various versions of the story, but the basic plot is that three young noblemen are out hunting when they suddenly come across three animated corpses in varying states of decay.  The young men express shock and dismay at this encounter with the dead, while the three corpses warn them to consider the transience of life and improve their behavior before it is too late. Stories and illustrations dealing with the transience of life and unpredictability of death proliferated in the late Middle Ages as Europe suffered severe mortality from famine, plague, and war.



Course Description

The Later Middle Ages were a far more complex and dynamic period than the official description of this course would have you believe. It was a period beset by wars and epidemics, but one that also saw the flowering of intellectual, religious, and cultural movements. This course will explore the late medieval origins of the state, the impact of war and plague upon western Europe, changes in European social and religious life, and the vibrant culture of late medieval Europe, including the Italian Renaissance. 

This course carries a W credit. 


This will be a synchronous, in-person class. I will be recording the in-person lectures using Panopto in case you miss any lectures or need to review them, but my expectation is that we will all meet in class for lecture unless you are ill (then please stay home and let me know by email). Also, just be aware that there are sometimes glitches with Panopto recordings and that you can't really rely on them as a perfect substitute for coming to class. I'll do my best to ensure that all of the recordings have good audio and clear video, but I can't always control what happens.

I will also post my Powerpoints to the course website AFTER each lecture. You can find them under the Files tab in the Powerpoints folder.

If I need to cancel class due to illness, I'll notify you through a Canvas course announcement (please make sure you check your UW email on a regular basis, since all important class announcements will be sent to it). Otherwise, the expectation will be that we will all show up for class in person, unless you're ill (then please stay home and let me know by email).

Instructor Contact Info:

Professor Urbanski (urbanski@uw.edu)

Office: 316B Smith

Office Hours: Tuesdays 3-4 and Wednesdays 11-12, or by appointment


TA: Ragya Kaul

Office: 214 Smith

Office Hours: Wednesdays 12:15-1:15

General Rules for Contacting Instructors:

  • Please check the syllabus and/or assignment handout to see if they contain the information you need before emailing instructors with questions.
  • You can email us to make appointments or for quick questions, but you should come to see us during office hours or after lecture for anything that requires more than a one or two sentence response and for questions about grade.
  • Office hours are periods that we set aside specifically to meet with our students. You should come to office hours if you need help with an assignment, have questions that require a detailed response, or just want to chat about the course, medieval stuff, monsters, or cats. You can even come to office hours with a friend from class if you like.
  • We check our email regularly during normal business hours (M-F between 8 am and 5 pm).
  • We will reply to emails within a reasonable time-frame (within 24 hours during the week and by the afternoon of the next business day for emails received over the weekend or on holidays).

Required Books:  The following books are available at the University Book Store and on Amazon. We will be reading all of them.

            Textbook: Charles Briggs, The Body Broken (Routledge) 1st or 2nd ed. is fine

            Dante, Inferno, trans. Mark Musa, (Penguin)

            Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales (Penguin)

            Judith Bennett, A Medieval Life: Cecilia Penifader of Brigstock

            Macchiavelli, The Prince, trans. Bondanella and Musa (Oxford World’s Classics)


I strongly encourage you to use the editions of The Inferno, The Prince, and The Canterbury Tales that I assigned for this class. You can find other versions on the internet for free, but the translations are usually about 100 years old (that's why they're free) and the language is archaic and difficult to understand. The assigned versions are much newer and easier to understand, they have good prefaces and handy explanatory notes, and they are relatively inexpensive (about $10 each new, and you can get them even cheaper used). If you can't find them in the UW bookstore, they are always available on Amazon.

*All other readings are PDFs linked in the schedule of classes below


This course is reading and writing intensive. It requires attendance at lectures, 100-150 pages of reading per week, short written responses to our reading, and in-class discussion of the reading, as well as two papers, a midterm and a final exam. Since we do not have separate discussion sections for this course, we will be discussing our sources in class.

Reading:  Reading should be completed BEFORE the class for which it is assigned. 

Discussion and Short Writing Assignments:  Since there are no separate discussion sections for this course, five of our class meetings will be reserved for discussing the assigned reading. There are five discussion days this quarter (4/3, 4/10, 5/1, 5/15, and 5/22), and five short writing assignments (about 250 words each) related to the reading that are due BEFORE class on discussion days. On discussion days, you should to come to class having completed the reading, submitted the writing assignment, and prepared to participate in discussion. 

Exams: Our midterm and final exam will be available through Canvas and each will be open for two days (you can decide when to take the exam within the open period). Study guides will be provided one week before the exam.

Papers: There are two 1800-2100 word (6-7 page) papers focusing on our primary sources. You will have a choice of topics for each of them. Papers topics will be released at least two weeks in advance of the paper due dates.


20% - Midterm Exam - open Monday, 4/15, at 8 am to Tuesday, 4/16, at 11:59 pm 

20% - First paper (6-7 pages) due Monday 4/22 by 11:59 pm

25% - Second paper (6-7 pages) due Monday 5/20 by 11:59 pm 

20% - Final Exam - open Monday, 6/3, at 8 am to Tuesday, 6/4, at 11:59 pm 

15% - Five Short Writing Assignments (3% each) due 4/3, 4/10, 5/1, 5/15, and 5/22 by 1:30 pm

You must complete both papers and take both exams in order to pass this course.


Grading: The TA will be evaluating your work under my direct supervision. We will strive for fairness, consistency, and transparency in assigning grades. If you have questions about a grade you received, please speak to your TA first as they most likely graded your assignment.

Grade Appeals: If you feel you have been graded unfairly, you should speak to your TA in person. If you still feel that your grade is unfair after speaking with your TA, you can appeal to me. I will grade the assignment and whatever grade I assign it will stand, whether it is higher or lower than the original grade. This is not a risk free option, so you'll want to be sure that you have a strong case.

Grades will be assigned as percentages on individual assignments and exams and converted to the 4.0 scale for the final course grade.

4.0 95-100%

3.5 90%

2.5 80%

1.5 70%

0.7 62% (lowest passing grade)


All assignments are due by the stated date and time, unless you request an extension prior to the assignment deadline. I have a “no questions asked" policy for extensions. If you are asking for an extension, I will presume you have good reasons and will grant the extension as long as it is:  

  1. submitted to me by email (urbanski@uw.edu) before the due date/time, and
  2. you tell me in your email when you will turn in the work (it should be within two days at most unless there are extenuating circumstances)

If you submit frequent requests for extensions, I will reach out to see what is going on and reserve the right to grant them or not.  

Any assignments that are submitted late (i.e. after the original due date/time if you have not received an extension, or after your extension expires if you have received one) will be automatically docked 5% per day (including weekends and holidays).


Honesty, ethical conduct, and academic integrity are expected in this course. Academic integrity includes a commitment to not engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception. Acts of dishonesty include cheating or copying, plagiarizing, submitting another person's work as one’s own, submitting AI generated work as one's own, using Internet sources without citation, having another student take your exam or working together with other students on your exam, tampering with the work of another student, facilitating other students’ acts of academic dishonesty, etc.

Unless I specify otherwise, all assignments and exams are to be completed by the student alone, without inappropriate assistance of any kind (including the use of AI programs like ChatGPT).


Two of the main goals of this course are to hone your critical thinking skills and your argumentative writing skills. These skills are incredibly important for getting through life. In fact, they're far more important than your ability to recall things like what year the Norman Conquest happened. Relying on AI to produce assignments for you not only deprives you of valuable opportunities to practice these skills, the technology tends to turn out papers and writing assignments that are bland, forgettable, lacking in specific detail, and slightly off-topic. In other words, using AI deprives you of the chance to think for yourself, and it won't even get you a very good grade. It is also important to remember that text generators like ChatGPT are sometimes wrong, and that they are not familiar with our textbook or my lectures. If an AI tool gives you incorrect information and you use it on an assignment, you will be held accountable for it.

You should never use AI as a substitute for your own thought or your own writing, but there are two circumstances in which you are allowed to use AI in this class (your other professors will likely have very different policies, so do not assume that my policies will apply in your other classes).

The use of AI is allowed in this class under the following circumstances only (any other use is prohibited):

1. You may use AI to provide you with explanations of concepts or to organize your notes. I would much prefer that you ask me for clarification if you are having trouble with any of the material in this course, and I am happy to answer questions after class or during my office hours, but I recognize that some of you will want to use AI for this. However, if the AI gives you incorrect information and you use that information on an assignment or exam, you will be held accountable for it.

2. You are allowed to use tools like Grammarly or Quillbot to proofread or edit writing that you have produced yourself. Just be aware that using these tools to edit your work comes with the risk that it may change your original writing so much that it no longer reflects your original thought, so make sure you are using it for simple grammar and spelling checks, not to substantially rewrite your work.

The unauthorized use of artificial intelligence (AI) can be a form of academic misconduct at UW. Tools that use AI and large language models to generate text or images, such as ChatGPT, GPT4, Bing Chat, and "Write with AI" in Google Docs (the "help me write" feature now in beta testing in Workspace Labs), are usually prohibited by instructors in Department of History courses. Unless your instructor has expressly permitted the use of such tools, check with your instructor before using them. The unauthorized use of such tools may constitute academic misconduct and could result in serious disciplinary action.


I know that most of you are honest, hard-working, and would not dream of cheating. I see you and I appreciate you. You are the reason I love this job. However, there are always a couple of students who try to see what they can get away with. This policy is for them.

  • All assignments containing suspected plagiarism or AI use will receive a 0 and be sent to the Office of Community Standards and Student Conduct for investigation and the enforcement of appropriate sanctions.
  • Any student reported to the Office of Community Standards and Student Conduct after a second instance of suspected plagiarism or AI use will fail the course.


If you experience issues with Canvas, here is a basic troubleshooting guide. You can also contact help@uw.edu




History Department syllabus attachment


Week 1

3/25  Lecture:  1. The Later Middle Ages; Introduction to Dante

Reading:  Begin reading the Inferno, Cantos 1-12

Reading Guide for The Inferno:

      • Why is Virgil Dante’s guide through the Inferno?  What does Virgil represent? 
      • Why is Virgil in hell?  What does this tell us about Dante’s conception of Christianity?
      • Why are there so many clerics in hell?  What does this tell us about how Dante views the contemporary Church? 
      • Why are so many of Dante’s political enemies in the Inferno?  What role does politics play in the Inferno?
      • What can Dante’s urge to categorize sins and allegorize his spiritual journey  tell us about medieval mental habits?
      • Does anything surprise you about the way Dante characterizes the hierarchy of sin (the sins he considers most offensive to God and those he considers less offensive)?  What source(s) is Dante drawing upon to create this hierarchy of sin?
      • Why are there so many figures from antiquity in Dante’s Inferno?  What does this tell us about how Dante, a medieval Christian, views the classical, pagan world?


Just for fun, here's a summary of the Inferno https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gp8JGQk0CFQ&ab_channel=OverlySarcasticProductions 


3/27  Lecture:  2. Italy in the Later Middle Ages

Reading:  Briggs, Introduction, Ch. 2, and Ch. 5 (sections on Italian city-states and Relationships of Rule, pp. 128-133); Inferno, Cantos 13-22

Week 2

4/1   Lecture:  3. Empire and Papacy

Reading:  Briggs, Ch. 5 (section on Italy and the Empire, pp. 147-154); Inferno, Cantos 23-34


4/3  In class discussion:  Dante, Inferno 

Complete the reading and submit the writing assignment BEFORE class


Week 3

4/8   Lecture:  4. The Calamitous 14th Century / Peasant Life in the Later Middle Ages

Reading:  Briggs, Ch. 1 and 3; Judith Bennett, A Medieval Life: Cecilia Penifader

Reading Guide for A Medieval Life:

      • What are the village, manor, and parish, and how do they order peasant life?
      • How is the hierarchy of medieval society (the three orders) described? Where do the peasants fit into this hierarchy?
      • Do all peasants have the same legal status? How do they differ?
      • How do peasants make their livings? How does this differ based on gender?
      • How are families organized and how are children raised?
      • What opportunities are available to women? How does a woman's marital status (single, married, or widowed) affect her options, rights, and status in society?
      • How does religion structure daily life?
      • How are manors supervised?
      • How are communities organized and policed?
      • How does Cecilia differ from the "average" peasant? Is there an "average" peasant?


4/10  In class discussion:  Bennett, A Medieval Life:  Cecilia Penifader

Complete the reading and submit the writing assignment BEFORE class

Week 4 


4/15  Lecture:  5. The Triumph of the French Monarchy

Reading:  Briggs, Ch. 4


4/17  Lecture:  6. England, France, and the Origins of the Hundred Years War (1337-1360)

Reading:  Briggs, Ch. 5; Green, The Hundred Years War, pp. 1-42

Reading Guide for The Hundred Years War:

      • What is chivalry?
      • How did the war reshape the aristocracy?
      • How did military technology change?
      • How did the war affect peasants?
      • What roles did popes and the clergy play in opposing or promoting the war? How were they affected?
      • How important were individual kings in the events of the war?
      • How did the war contribute to the development of national identities?

Week 5


4/22  Lecture:  7. The Hundred Years War, from Charles V to the Treaty of Troyes (1369-1389)

Reading:  Briggs, Ch. 6; and Green, The Hundred Years War, pp. 43-84 


4/24 Lecture:  8. The End of the Hundred Years War (1429-1453) and the Wars of the Roses

Reading: Green, The Hundred Years War, pp. 105-124 and 230-255


Optional video: Lecture on Joan of Arc from the 2018 History Lecture Series https://youtu.be/KJBtcppNGr8

Week 6 

4/29  Lecture:  9. Political Rebellion in the Later Middle Ages

Reading:  Briggs, review Ch. 1 section on Popular Rebellion, pp. 30-36

In class video: Medieval Lives, The Peasant


5/1  In class discussion:  Green, The Hundred Years War

Complete the reading and submit the writing assignment BEFORE class

Week 7

5/6  Lecture:  10. Europe’s Inner Demons

Reading: The Canterbury Tales, skim the introduction, read pp. 3-26 (The General Prologue) and 86-119 (Prologues and Tales of the Miller and Reeve)

Reading Guide for The Canterbury Tales:

      • How is each of the pilgrims characterized? (How do they look, what is their occupation, how do they act?)
      • What is the relationship between a person’s physical appearance and his/her moral state?
      • How do the pilgrims interact with each other? Are they friendly or hostile? Why?
      • What can the interactions between the pilgrims tell us about social relations/tensions in late medieval England?
      • How are the clergy portrayed? How does this portrayal reflect late medieval crises in the church and the increase in anticlericalism?
      • Is there anyone Chaucer portrays in a positive manner? (Pay attention to the General Prologue)
      • What kind of story does each character tell, and what does this tell us about contemporary expectations based upon things like class/gender/educational level?


5/8  Lecture:  11. Crises in the Church

Reading:  Briggs, Ch. 7; The Canterbury Tales, pp. 169-176 and 241-258 (Prologues and Tales of the Prioress and Pardoner)

Week 8

5/13  Lecture:  12. Popular Piety

Reading:  Briggs, Ch. 8; The Canterbury Tales, pp. 259-320 (Prologues and Tales of the Wife of Bath, Friar, and Summoner)


5/15 In class discussion: The Canterbury Tales

Complete the reading and submit the writing assignment BEFORE class

Week 9


5/20  Lecture:  13. The Renaissance: Ideal and Reality / The Origins of Modern Politics

Reading:  Briggs, Ch. 4 and 9; read Machiavelli, The Prince

Reading Guide for The Prince:

      • Try to forget everything you’ve ever heard about The Prince (nowhere does Machiavelli say that “might makes right” or that “the ends justify the means”)
      • What is the historical context of the Prince (e.g. what is the political situation in Italy?  Why is Machiavelli writing?)
      • Machiavelli gives advice on how to create a state and hold it securely, but why establish a secure state in the first place?  What’s the greater point of establishing a secure state (esp. for the people)?
      • What type of principality is easiest to rule?
      • What type of troops should a prince have?
      • Is it better to acquire a state by virtue or Fortune? Why?
      • Does Machiavelli recommend acquiring a state through wicked means?
      • What kind of reputation should a prince cultivate, and how should he treat his nobles and his people?
      • How should a prince behave?


5/22  In class discussion:  Machiavelli, The Prince

Complete the reading and submit the writing assignment BEFORE class

Week 10



5/29  Lecture:  14. Martin Luther and the Reformation

Reading:  Briggs, Ch. 10 and conclusion 


Catalog Description:
Disintegration of the medieval order under the impact of the national state, the secularization of society, and the decline of the church. Movements of reform and revolution. The culture of late gothic Europe.
GE Requirements Met:
Social Sciences (SSc)
Writing (W)
Last updated:
May 15, 2024 - 12:25 pm