The Middle Ages:
The Making of Europe



History 274

Block 3, 2014-15
Carol Neel


But move backwards into the Middle Ages and you are in a world almost equally foreign.  A windowless hut, a wood fire which smokes in your face because there is no chimney, mouldy bread, "Poor John," lice, scurvy, a yearly child-birth and a yearly child-death, and the priest terrifying you with tales of hell.--George Orwell, North and South (1937)

We seem to be embarked upon a journey into darkness.  Part of the final examination for this course will be to comment on Orwell's remarks as a modern's vision of the European Middle Ages.



"The Middle Ages: The Making of Europe" will consider European society, politics, and culture from their foundations in late antiquity to their reshaping in the fourteenth century.  This course will depend heavily upon contemporary literary and historical documents as source materials, supporting these primary texts, and encouraging students in their independent work to engage with recent historical criticism.  Discussion sessions will assume some rudimentary understanding of the shape of the western past and of Christian thought.  Students unfamiliar with the Christian tradition are advised to find copies of the New Testament and to read at least the gospel of Matthew before they undertake the assignments described below.

This year’s version of HY 274 will center on the boundaries of medieval life--how Europeans came to define themselves in this period as Latin Christendom, and where they understood their community's internal and external frontiers to lie.  Common readings and discussions will emphasize the ways in which documentary, literary, and material relics exhibit a European self-understanding, placing special emphasis on the ways in which medieval people invested their lives with meaning and beauty.  We will ask what medievals loved, what they admired, and what they feared. 

Most of the medieval works we will consider together were, for all their difference from ourselves and contemporaries, part of the mainstream of medieval culture.  In order to explore the Middle Ages' fuller range of identities, students will therefore be encouraged to focus their research interests on Europe's internal margins--among people such as Vikings, Saracens, Jews, heretics, and critics of the established order.



The following works or collections, required for the entire class, are available in the College Bookstore.  Several of these texts are in print in variety of translations.  Students are nonetheless urged to use those selected for class, so that discussion may easily refer to selected passages. 

Barbara Rosenwein, A Short History of the Middle Ages, 3rd ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009).  ISBN-10: 1442601043

Beowulf, trans. Seamus Heaney (New York: Norton, 2001).  ISBN-10: 0393320979

Benedict of Nursia, RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, trans. Timothy Fry (Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN, 1982).

Einhard and Notker, Two Lives of Charlemagne, trans. David Ganz (New york: Penguin, 2008).  Iong of Roland,

Maureen Miller (ed. and trans.), Power and the Holy in the Age of the Investiture Conflict: A Brief History with Documents (Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005).  ISBN-10: 0312404689

Abelard and Heloise, The Letters and Other Writings, trans William Levitan (Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett, 2007).  ISBN-10: 0872208753

Marie de France, Lais of Marie de France, trans. Glyn Burgess and Keith Busby (New York: Penguin, 1999).  ISBN-10: 0140447598

Daniel Hobbins (ed. and trans.), The Trial of Joan of Arc (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2005).   ISBN-10: 0674024052


The following further readings are available on this course's CANVAS site through the CC webpage: 

Passion of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, trans. H. R. Musurillo, in Elizabeth Alvilda Petroff, Medieval Women's Visionary Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 70-77.

Readings on saints, relics, and pilgrimage in John Shinners (ed.), Medieval Popular Religion 1000-15000: A Reader, 2nd ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), 157-228.

Readings on the First Crusade in S.J. Allen and Emilie Amt (eds.), The Crusades: A Reader (Toronto; University of Toronto Press, 2010), 37-80.

Readings on the Third Crusade in Allen and Amt, 219-262.

The following films will  be subjects of critical discussion:

Peter Glenville (dir.), Becket (1964)

Clive Donner (dir.), Stealing Heaven (1988)

Ridley Scott (dir.), Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

Liliana Cavani (dir.), Francesco (1989)




Vigorous and well-prepared discussion contribution is fundamental to students' successful performance in this course.  Students will be responsible for careful reading and thoughtful consideration of all assigned texts.  In addition, each will be required to submit


One third of the final grade will depend on class participation, one third on the research essay, and a final third on the short paper and and exam considered together.  All students will be expected to finish assigned readings before class meetings on the day for which they are listed.  Readings for which no page numbers are listed are to be read in their entirety.  No written assignments will be accepted late without prior excuse.  Papers will observe Chicago Manual of Style reference form.  All written work will acknowledge the Colorado College Honor Code.



Discussion titles are indicated below in bold face, written assignments and special scheduling or locations in upper case.  The class will meet in Palmer 233 at 9:30 am, unless otherwise noted, except for the first day of the block, when class will meet at 9 am for an introduction to the material and discussion of the syllabus, then again at 1 pm for discussion of a first short reading. 

Mon.            "Middle" Ages, Middle "Ages"?

                     INTRODUCTION 9 am

                     SECOND CLASS MEETING 1 PM: Passion of Perpetua and Felicity (entire text)

Tues.            Heroes, Monsters, and Barbarians

                      Beowulf (entire text); Rosenwein 21-56

Weds.           The Monastic Ideal


             Benedict (entire text); Rosenwein 61-100




                Rosenwein 118-135

Fri.                Before France and Germany

                      Einhard (entire text); Rosenwein 152-172


Mon.            The Kingdoms and the Church

               Miller 1-27, documents 3, 10, 15, 19, 20, 21, 39

               FILM 1 pm: Becket

Tues.            Authority and Sanctity

               Miller documents 31, 32, 35; Rosenwein 182-201, 231-237

Weds.          The Love of Learning

                Abelard 1-46; Rosenwein 201-216

Thurs.          Women, Men, and God


    Abelard 49-104, 265-275

    FILM 1 pm: Stealing Heaven


Fri.               Europeans and Outsiders


               Readings on the First Crusade (entire packet); Rosenwein 252-279, 297-301



Mon.            The Love of Love

               Marie (entire text)

               FILM 1 pm: Francesco

Tues.            RESEARCH DAY


Weds.           Ordinary Europeans

               Readings on saints, relics, and pilgrimage (entire packet)

Thurs.          The Limits of Expansion

                     Readings on the Third Crusade (entire packet)

                     FILM 1pm: Kingdom of Heaven


Fri.               ESSAY EXAM DUE NOON


Mon.           The Fourteenth Century

                    Group assignments on the trial of Joan of Arc in Hobbins: Group I 33-117, Group II 118-195, all 196-216;

                    Rosenwein 305-327


Weds.          10-PAGE PAPER DUE NOON (History Office) 


Click here for the ORB, and internet sourcebook on medieval civilization, and here another well-selected online source, the Fordham Medieval Sourcebook.