Sample Syllabi (2)

Conflict & Conversion in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

My prospective syllabus for an introductory survey course on the history of medieval and early modern Europe focusing on the themes of conversion and conflict in trade, religion, economics, and culture within Europe and between Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. 


Living and Dying in the Middle Ages 1000–1600: Religion, Ritual, and the Lifecycle in Late Medieval Europe

This prospective upper-division course in gender and social history examines the individual development of medieval rites of passage from the high Middle Ages to the Reformation in order to understand the everyday rituals and routines that governed the lives of the majority of women and men in the West.

Proposed Courses (5)

The Vikings: Raiders, Traders, and Slavers

They journeyed boldly / Went far for gold,
Fed the eagle / Out in the east,
And died in the south / In Saracenland
— Gripsholm Rune-stone (c. 1050)

The blood-thirsty, horn-helmeted Vikings are popular figures in the modern imagination handed down to us from the stories of those "civilized" societies that they raided and pillaged. This course will explore the fact and fiction of the Scandinavian men—and women—that went a-viking between c. 800 and c. 1100 through close reading of primary source texts alongside archaeological, linguistic, material, and placename evidence. From the first raids on the coast of England in 793, to the Great Heathen Army in Paris, from the settlement of North America, to mercenary service in the court of Constantinople, over these three hundred years the vikings fundamentally transformed the political, religious, economic, and military history of Europe. In this class we will examine the great voyages and ambitions of viking raiders and enslavers as well as Scandinavian traders and families through their sagas, feuds, jokes, runestones, beard combs, drinking horns, and seagoing vessels they left behind.

Students will investigate the medieval past through chronological and thematic units on the invasions of England, Ireland, and Carolingian Francia; premodern unfreedom and the institution of medieval slavery; the role of women in the viking household and longship; viking settlements in Native American lands in the west and Arab lands in the East; pagan gods and the Christianization of Scandinavia; and a close look at the cross-cultural viking urban centers such as Birka and trade goods such as Baltic amber and Islamic dirham coins. Assignments include a short essay evaluating how and why viking portrayals are used in modern popular media such as the TV show The Vikings, viking metal music, or the film The 13th Warrior, etc., as well as a final paper on viking material culture interrogating an object for what it can tell us about the history of Viking Age assimilation, gender, warfare, conversion, and/or trade. By learning to separate viking myth from reality, students will understand the diverse, global character of the early Middle Ages that lies behind our well-known stereotypes.

Main secondary texts: William F. Fitzhugh and Elizabeth Ward, Vikings - The North Atlantic Saga; Anders Winroth, The Conversion of Scandinavia; Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge, Alfred the Great: Asser's Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources; British Museum, Vikings: Life and Legend; Angus A. Somerville and R. Andrew McDonald, The Viking Age: A Reader.


Dark Age Objects 400-1100: Material and Visual Cultures of the Early Middle Ages

From Constantinople to Rome, Córdoba to Jerusalem, and Tunis to Aachen, the multicultural Mediterranean basin provides rich surviving material evidence for understanding how men and women in the medieval past used objects to define their social and cultural norms, ideas, and principles, and negotiate their gender, ethnic, political, and spiritual identities. This course will analyze material and visual culture as a method of studying the history of the Middle Ages through both modern theories of materiality from the disciplines of anthropology, archaeology, and art history, and the surviving medieval artifacts, images, and physical spaces, such as the post-Roman urban landscape, Carolingian spolia and sculpture, Germanic metalwork, and Islamic architectures between 400 and 1100 AD.

Major topics and themes of study in this course will include: ethnicity and race during the fall of Rome and the rise of Germanic kingdoms in the West; the fluctuating definitions of "civilization" and "barbarism" between early medieval polities and Christian, Jewish, pagan, and Islamic faiths; the strategic use of religious and political objects in the expanding Carolingian and Umayyad kingdoms north and south; the migration and assimilation of Germanic peoples across Europe seen in grave goods; the formation of the cult of saints and ways of seeing, displaying, and stealing bodily relics in Western and Byzantine Churches; the Norman empire in the Mediterranean; and ending with the material culture of the Crusades from the perspectives of both the "heathen" Franks and the "sophisticated" Arabs. By the end of the course, students will have engaged with a variety of material and digital contexts that inform the way in which historians of the so-called "Dark Ages" study objects, the humans who make them, and the historical environs that presuppose them. 

Main secondary texts: Karen Harvey, History and Material Culture: A Student's Guide to Approaching Alternative Sources; Daniel Miller, Stuff; Robin Fleming, Britain After Rome: The Fall and Rise, 400-1070; Adrian J. Boas, Crusader Archaeology: The Material Culture of the Latin East; Julia M. H. Smith, Europe After Rome: A New Cultural History, 500-1000.


Martyrs, Saints, and Pilgrims


How do people, places, and things become holy? This introductory course examines the critical role of the martyrs, saints, and their relics in defining the history of the Christian religion in late antiquity and the medieval period. Beginning with the earliest Christian martyrs of Sts. Felicity and Perpetua and continuing up until the proliferation of the trade in relics of the high and late Middle Ages, we examine the changing treatment of the body in Christian Europe and the relationship between the divine and the earthly material. We will learn how physical places of pilgrimage and one-on-one interaction with the saints were motivations for personal and corporate piety, such as the saintly architectures of shrines like the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and its many copies in the West. Particular emphasis will be placed on the cult centers of Rome and Jerusalem as well as the role of women in early Christian history and the gendered appreciation of saints and relics in society. In lieu of a paper assignment, students will complete digital humanities projects incorporating written & visual components such as social network analysis, 3D modeling, interactive websites, and GIS mapping techniques to learn how to examine and visualize material objects and their networks in early medieval Europe.

Secondary readings include Robert Barlett’s Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things?; Candida R. Moss, Ancient Christian Martyrdom; Peter Brown, The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity; John Crook, The Architectural Setting of the Cult of Saints in the Early Christian West; and selections from Jerusalem Pilgrims Before the Crusades, ed. John Wilkinson.


History and Archaeology of the Reformation 

Paris is well worth a Mass.
— King Henri IV of France (25 July 1593)

New definitions of community in early modern society were not confined to simple binaries of Protestant or Catholic. The large-scale reformations of religious beliefs and practices in Europe from 1500 to 1700 resulted in violent, mass population migrations from all faiths, including minority populations of Muslims and Jews. Within this period of conflict and warfare there were significant physical changes in social life and worship indicated in the primary texts of the reformers as well as the archaeological and art historical records. This course will chart the major intellectual, material, military, and political developments of later medieval and early modern religious reform across England, Germany, Italy, Spain, and France, alongside the impact of Reformation ideas in the European colonies abroad. Beginning with the Reconquista, we will study key individual figures and events of the sixteenth century such as Martin Luther, Jean Calvin, Henry VIII, the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, and the Council of Trent while maintaining focus on the course themes: the innovative violence of sixteenth-century religious war; the diversity of physical and intellectual responses to reforms; the roles of Jewish and Muslim voices in early modern Europe; and the new forms of politique and doctrinaire government that arose in the aftermath. Students will complete short daily written reflections on that week's assigned reading and visual materials, and a final project that will focus on an individual early modern town, city, or village in Europe or the Americas to examine the local impact of the Reformation.

Main secondary readings: selections from David Gaimster and Roberta Gilchrist, The Archaeology of Reformation 1480-1580; Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580; Ethan Shagan, Popular Politics and the English Reformation;  Barbara Diefendorf, The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre: A Brief History with Documents; Nicholas Terpstra, Religious Refugees in the Early Modern World: An Alternative History of the Reformation; Denis Janz, A Reformation Reader: Primary Texts with Introductions; Jerry Brotton, The Sultan & the Queen: The Untold Story of Elizabeth and Islam.


1066 and the Norman Conquest

Duke William's famous crossing of the Channel to defeat King Harold's fyrd assembled at Hastings is one of the most famous moments in European history. 950 years later, this course uses the chronological events of the battle as entry points into the broader political and cultural histories of late Anglo-Saxon and Norman England, an approach which challenges the traditional scholarly use of 1066 as a static end or start point in history. The course will involve close investigation of tenth- through twelfth-century written sources like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, William of Malmesbury, Old English war poetry, the Encomium Emmae Reginae, alongside physical medieval things like saints’ relics, Norman stirrups, the Domesday Book, and the Bayeux Tapestry to trace the development, impact, and aftermath of the Conquest. We will use these primary texts and material objects of 1066 to unpack both the immediate and long-term changes and continuities of the Conquest, including how modern memories of the Conquest and the recent anniversary continue to affect today's political dialogue.

Following the events of William and Harold's conflict we will draw out key historical questions from the early Middle Ages such as the nature of kingship and authority; the role of queens and women's power; the interrelated roles of Church and State; the social repercussions for warfare for non-elites; and the comparative Scandinavian conquest of England and the Norman conquest of Sicily. Specific emphasis in this class will be placed also on developing broad historiographical skills, such as the use of primary and secondary texts and objects, and challenging major debates in the discipline, such the traditional role 1066 has played in defining medieval chronology and the origins of feudalism. Substantial, original research papers will require students to focus on an element of English society and argue its change or continuity across the events of the Norman Conquest.

Main secondary texts: Pauline Stafford, Queen Emma and Queen Edith: Queenship and Women's Power in Eleventh-Century England; Stephen Morillo, The Battle of Hastings: Sources and Interpretations; Frank Barlow, The Godwins: The Rise and Fall of a Noble Dynasty; David Bates, William the Conqueror; Elizabeth Carson Pastan and Stephen D. White, The Bayeux Tapestry and its Contexts: A Reassessment; and selections from Marjorie Chibnall, The Debate on the Norman Conquest.