Fall 2016 - Undergraduate Course Descriptions

Dennis, Patrick
Discipline and Number
HIST 4380 Section 501
TR Time 5:30 PM - 6:45 PM
Course Title
Topics in Intellectual History

Description of Course:

When historians cast their gaze on the past, it is common for them to approach an event, an individual, or an entire period of time selectively, highlighting some elements as more important or meaningful than others. While this stems partly from the tacit acknowledgement that one cannot feasibly write a “total” history of a period of time, often another result of this selectivity is an incomplete, or even skewed, estimation of the material in question. Perhaps more than any other period in the Western historical tradition, the Middle Ages has fallen prey to such treatment. Historians of science examine the medieval intellectual contribution, focusing on those elements that demonstrate the systematic continuity or discontinuity of scientific ideas; such efforts overlook the subtleties and shades that exist between the two extremes. One can make similar assessments of the historical treatments of other aspects of the medieval past. When confronted with these later efforts to arrive at conclusions regarding the connections between the Middle Ages and the modern and post-modern, historians often overlook one question: How did the medieval world perceive itself? Beginning with this question allows for a more revealing exploration of how, and to what extent, the medieval past has made its mark on the society of today?

For this course, we will confront these questions (and others) while endeavoring to offer an estimation of the medieval cultural past from within. We will examine works from the Middle Ages to understand the medieval world on its own terms. We will begin by examining the concept of the “medieval” and its periodization, as well as the medieval treatment of historical narrative as a reflection of a “worldview.” From there, we will address more specific topics. In particular, we will focus on the concept of “chivalry” and its place in medieval thought, while contrasting and attempting to reconcile it with the concept of “crusade.” We will also examine the relationship between humanity and the divine, assessing the role of the Church and the individual in the formation of a medieval worldview. From there, we will proceed to a discussion of medieval education as an extension and perpetuation of the medieval perspective. In addition, we will explore representative examples of modern interpretations of medieval culture, including films such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Kingdom Heaven, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, among others.

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