HIS 1510 – Fall 2014

Introduction to Western Civilisation (Part I)

Please note: this syllabus is subject to regular modification.

Be sure to check online routinely for changes and updates.

[This is the definitive version of this syllabus, subject to updates; it supersedes previous print versions]

Go to a printer-friendly version of the syllabus (last updated 25 August 2014)


Instructor: Oren Falk


rosette window at Chartres cathedral

Lecture room: 142 Goldwin Smith Hall

Office: 340 McGraw, 255-3311


Lecture times: Tuesdays & Thursdays 10:10-11:25

e-mail: of24@cornell.edu


Office hours: Wdn 14:00-16:00 or by appointment



Section rooms : Section times:
365 McGraw Hall
Thu. 13:25-14:15
365 McGraw Hall
Thu. 14:30-15:20
365 McGraw Hall
Thu. 15:35-16:25

Can't remember which section you're in? Check the section assignment list (password protected).

Can't find the classroom? Consult a searchable campus map.

Course objectives:

This course surveys European history from remote Antiquity to the sixteenth century. We will consider developments in technology, economy, politics, religious institutions and faith, cultural media and social ideals; together, these themes add up to civilisation in the West. At the same time that we acquaint ourselves with these dimensions of the past, we will seek to acquire the basic skills professional historians use to learn about this past.


Week       Schedule of Classes schedule of classes
26 &
28 Introductory: a civilisation in the West?
2 &
4 Beginnings of civilisation
9 &
11 Ancient Greece
16 &
18 Mediterranean empires
23 &
25 Early Christianity
30 &
2 Neighbours of the West
7 &
9 The early medieval West 1st essay due
... Fall Break ...
16 On the margins
21 &
23 Reform of the Church
28 &
30 Beyond Latindom midterm exam
4 &
6 The High Middle Ages
11 &
13 The late Middle Ages and Renaissance
18 &
20 New worlds
  Early modern Europe 2nd essay due
... Thanksgiving Break ...
2 &
4 The end of Christendom
... Winter break!!!
  final exam


Texts for this class are available through a local, independent, not-for-profit bookseller: Buffalo Street Books (607 273-8246, in the Dewitt Mall at 215 N Cayuga Street ). They are not available at the Cornell Store. Books bought through Buffalo Street Books are tax-free and, if ordered in advance, will be delivered free to class on 28 August 2014. This set-up helps support the only independent bookstore in the greater Ithaca area (a good thing for a community of readers and thinkers and for small presses and local authors), combats the homogenising effect of corporate big box stores, and channels a significant portion of the money you spend on books into the local economy.

Regardless of how you choose to acquire the books, please ensure you have access to the readings by the dates required; many are also available online, e.g. via AbeBooks or alibris).

Assigned texts (you will need to buy these; all are available at Buffalo Street Books):

Michael Burger, The Shaping of Western Civilization: From Antiquity to the Enlightenment, 2nd edn (2014)

Aristophanes, Lysistrata, tr. Douglas Parker, Afterword by Judith Fletcher (2009)

Michael Sells, Approaching the Qur’án, 2nd edn (2007)

Leonard Doyle (ed.), St Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries (1948), also available online at no cost to you (except for printing)

R.M. Liuzza (tr.), Beowulf, 2nd edn (2013)

William Shakespeare, The Tempest, ed. Robert Langbaum & Sylvan Barnet (1998)


Recommended texts (tried & tested additional resources you may wish to own; these, too, may be ordered, tax free, via Buffalo Street Books, or consulted in the library, at Uris reserve; a couple are available online):

Peter Jones, An Intelligent Person's Guide to Classics (1999)

Barbara H. Rosenwein, A Short History of the Middle Ages, 3rd edn (2009)

E.F. Rice & Anthony Grafton, The Foundations of Early Modern Europe, 1460-1559 , 2nd edn (1994)


William Strunk & E.B. White, Jr., The Elements of Style, 4th edn (1999)

Gordon Harvey, Writing with Sources: A Guide for Students, 2nd edn (2008)

Diana Hacker, A Pocket Style Manual, 6th edn (2011)

Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 7th edn (2012)

Joseph M. Williams & J. Byzup, Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, 11th edn (2013)

reading is good for you


Evaluation (following these general grading principles):

Attendance & participation (15%)

Movie response assignment (5%)

Two essays (25% each = 50%)

Midterm exam (10%)

Final exam (20%)

(A passing grade in each component is needed for getting a passing grade in the course.)


grading principles


About the Internet (some of which is really quite good):

The Internet is a delightful, democratic, wide-open space; it’s also a dangerous place, especially for students: there’s no easy way to sift the gold from the garbage. The Internet is, therefore, often not a reliable tool for academic research – and is never, on its own, a sufficient one. There's a world of difference between, say, a Wikipedia entry and an article on JSTOR, although both can be legitimate and (if used correctly) powerful tools of academic study. Do you know how to tell the difference? Are you able to apply the same sorting criteria to new websites you may never have heard of before?

Use care and commonsense when surfing. Learn to look for signs of trust-worthiness (such as citations of verifiable, accredited sources). Always check information you learn online against reliable sources elsewhere. One of the healthiest approaches to using the Web prudently is to get into the habit of cross-referencing anything you discover online; in fact, if you get used to doing this, you will have mastered an important technique historians use all the time, in reading sources both on- and offline. If you're not sure what to make of an online resource, ask your instructor or a Reference Librarian for help.

internet tips


Academic integrity (this is important!):

A university is a community of learning. The glue that holds this community together and enables all of us to do our work teaching, learning, research is the academic integrity of all members of this community. If we can’t assume that we all respect each other’s intellectual property, communications shut down and the generation of knowledge dies.

Each student in this course is expected to abide by the Cornell University Code of Academic Integrity. It is your responsibility to know what the Code requires.

Students agree that by taking this course all required papers may be subject to submission for
textual similarity review to Turnitin.com for the detection of plagiarism. All submitted papers will be
included as source documents in the Turnitin.com reference database solely for the purpose of
detecting plagiarism of such papers. Use of Turnitin.com service is subject to the Usage Policy
posted on the Turnitin.com site.

All work submitted for academic credit will be your own.

I have zero tolerance for violations of academic integrity.

plagiarism sucks


Course policies:

You are expected to attend all classes, both lectures & sections. Three absences (or more) will affect your final mark. If you cannot attend a class, it is your responsibility to find out the substance of what you’ve missed. It’s crucial that you prepare for classes & participate in them. This means allowing yourself sufficient time to read through the assigned materials, to think about them and to research any questions you may have. Please bear in mind that active participation involves asking good questions, as well as proposing some good answers, and is not limited to section discussions.

You should always have with you in class a copy of the text(s) assigned for any given week. You're welcome to bring your laptop, iPad, or other computer-like device to class in order to access your texts. I strongly recommend you don't take typed notes in class, as comprehension & retention have been shown to be much better when students take (selective) hand-written notes; still, how you wish to process what you learn is ultimately up to your discretion. If, however, you use electronic devices for facebooking, emailing, Angry Birding, or just hiding behind your screen, you will be required to leave them at home and rely solely on hardcopies of texts & handwritten note-taking. Also, please make sure to turn off your cellphone ringer in class and refrain from texting.

You’re encouraged to come to my office hours anytime, to consult about your work or just to chat about course materials. It's a good idea to schedule meetings in advance so I know to expect you. If you’re not completely comfortable speaking in public, office hours offer a reasonable alternative for exploring your ideas, questions and concerns with your instructor. You are expected to come to office hours at least twice during the term for consultation on the essay assignments, well in advance of due dates. Your first appointment should be no later than Week V, the second no later than Week XII.

You will write two essays during the term, each about 1000-1500 words long (ca. 4-6 pages, 12-pt font, double-spaced). The first essay is due on 9 October, the second essay is due on 25 November; both are to be submitted electronically using the Turnitin option on the HIS 1510 BlackBoard companion site. These essays will focus on analysis of some of the primary sources assigned in this course; you will be asked to offer close readings of the selected sources, but you should also draw on the themes covered in lecture, section discussions and textbook readings. We will discuss the essays further in class.

Over the course of the term, we will be watching several movies on historical themes related to our topic. These movies will be available on the companion BlackBoard site for individual viewing; you will be responsible for watching them on your own. You will be asked to complete a movie response assignment; submission will be done electronically using the Turnitin option on the HIS 1510 BlackBoard companion site.

A 2½ hour midterm exam will take place on Tuesday, 28 October 2014, at 19:30-22:00; the exam will be held in McGraw Hall 165. The main purpose of this exam is to encourage you to read the textbook (Burger, The Shaping of Western Civilization) carefully and critically. The lectures will not cover all of the issues addressed in the textbook, nor will my takes on the major issues in the development of the West always coincide with those taken by the textbook authors. You therefore need to study the book with care ahead of each week’s classes, and to construct from it the connecting threads you will need to make your own sense of a long and diverse historical narrative.

A final, 2½ hour exam will be held on Tuesday, 16 December 2014, at 14:00-16:30; the exam will be held in White Hall 110. The exam will call on your knowledge of materials discussed in class as well as in the assigned readings. Occasional in-class quizzes may be given, counting towards your participation mark.

Always keep a paper trail of your thinking and writing process; you may be asked to submit research notes and drafts. When handing in your work, please submit both a paper printout and an electronic copy, which I will keep on file. A late-penalty policy (2 points deducted per day overdue) will be strictly enforced.

You can expect me to be available for consultation on course-related matters during office hours or via e-mail anytime. If you cannot come to regular office hours, please contact me to arrange another time to meet with you. I will do our best to respond to all e-mail queries within 24 hours. You will be expected to have an active e-mail account and check it regularly.

Course outline:

Be sure to check online routinely for modifications and updates to this outline.


please read

Jorge Luis Borges, “The Story of the Warrior and the Captive,” tr. Irving Feldman, in A Personal Anthology, ed. Anthony Kerrigan (1967: 170-74)
you can also read this story in the original Spanish: “Historia del guerrero y de la cautiva” (1949)

please read

Charles Q. Choi, "Humans Did Not Wipe Out Neanderthals, New Research Suggests," on livescience blog



no section this week; in lieu of section, please familiarise yourself with the principal textbook for this course:

Michael Burger, The Shaping of Western Civilization: From Antiquity to the Enlightenment, pp. xiii-xvi

A list of useful key words

you can learn more about this week's topics


WEEK II (begin reading Aristophanes’ Lysistrata)

please read

Burger, Shaping, §§ 1.1-1.4 ( pp. 1-31)


please read

Peter A. Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs (1994: 6-13), "God-Kings of the Nile"

Fekri Hassan, “The Gift of the Nile,” in Ancient Egypt, ed. David P. Silverman (1997: 10-19)

Plutarch, Moralia , capp. 12-15, 18-20 [§§351B-359B], “Isis and Osiris” (excerpted from the LacusCurtius website)


for section (September 4), please prepare:

Plutarch, “Isis and Osiris” (as above)

The Cyrus Cylinder, a 6thC BC inscription in Akkadian, commemorating the Persian king Cyrus's conquest of Babylon (539 BC)
(for background on this artefact, see the brief comments on the British Museum website, as well as a lengthy Wikipedia article)

A list of useful key words

you can learn more about this week's topics


WEEK III (finish reading Aristophanes’ Lysistrata)

please read

Burger, Shaping, §§ 1.5-2.2 (pp. 32-47)

Aristotle, Poetics, §§1447a-54a, 1459a-60b, 1461b-62b

[= Aristotle, Poetics, §§1-7, 10, 12-13; you may find it interesting to consult this version in order to see differences between the translations; I can't recommend it, however, as the English is often garbled]

please read

Burger, Shaping, §§ 2.3-2.8 (pp. 47-74)

Aristotle, Politics, Bk 1 (§§1252a-54b), Bk 3 (§§1274b-75a [1st ¶], 1277b [last ¶] -1282b [1st ¶]), Bk 4 (§§1289a [last ¶] -1297a [1st ¶])

[= Aristotle, Politics, Bk 1 (§§1-3), Bk 3 (§1 [1st ¶], §§5-11), Bk 4 (§§2-12); same caveats as above]


for section (September 11), please prepare:

Aristophanes, Lysistrata

Thucydides, “Funeral Oration of Pericles” (end of 5thC BC)

review Aristotle, Poetics & Politics (as above)

A list of useful key words

Professor Jeffrey Rusten (Classics) has prepared a useful periodisation chart for ancient history.

you can learn more about this week's topics



reminder: the 1st movie response assignment is due on 21 September 2014

please read

Burger, Shaping, §§ 2.9-3.2 (pp. 74-100)


please read

Burger, Shaping, §§ 3.3-3.7 (pp. 101-29)


for section (September 18), please prepare:

Polybius (200-118 BC), Histories: Selected Excerpts , Bk 6 (§§1-18)

Res gestae Divi Augustus (Accomplishments of the Divine Augustus)
(you may skip the Introduction and Bibliography; skimming through the webmaster's introductory notes may be helpful)

Suetonius (ca. 70-135 AD), Life of Augustus (§§27-49), from his Lives of the Caesars, tr. J.C. Rolfe (1913-14)
(you may wish to consult this background on Suetonius and his works)

A list of useful key words

you can learn more about this week's topics



WEEK V (begin reading Michael Sells, Approaching the Qur’án; be sure to listen to the enclosed CD, as well)

reminder: the 2nd movie response assignment is due on 28 September 2014

please read

Burger, Shaping, §§ 4.1-4.3 (pp. 130-54)


please read

Linda Woodhead, Christianity: A Very Short Introduction (2004), cap.1 (pp. 6-23)

Bible (Douai-Rheims; also available here):


for section (September 25), please prepare:

Passion of SS Perpetua and Felicitas (early 3rdC?)

The Nicene Creed (325 AD)

Dispute between Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, and Symmachus, Prefect of Rome (384 AD)


LIBRARY TOUR: Thursday, 25 September 2014, at 14:30

meet Reference Librarian Virginia Cole in 106 Olin Library classroom

write an extra-credit assignment

Cornell Library (as if)

A list of useful key words

you can learn more about this week's topics


WEEK VI (finish reading Michael Sells, Approaching the Qur’án; be sure to listen to the enclosed CD, as well)

please read

Barbara Rosenwein, A Short History of the Middle Ages, 3rd edn (2009), pp. 61-70


please read

Burger, Shaping, § 4.6 (pp. 161-65)

Michael Sells, Approaching the Qur’án

you can also sample some Surahs in rhyming prose translation by Cornell's own Professor Shawkat Toorawa (Near Eastern Studies)


for section (October 2), please prepare:

Theophanes Confessor (d. ca. 818), Chronographia, tr. Cyril Mango & Roger Scott (1997: 559-61)
(have a look at the editors' section on the Conventions Adopted in this translation in order to figure out the notations)

Qur’án , Surah 9: Repentence

Sells, Approaching the Qur’án, pp. 42-141, 154-57

A list of useful key words

you can learn more about this week's topics



WEEK VII (begin reading Beowulf; read at least up to line 1816)

please read

Burger, Shaping, §§ 4.4-4.5 (pp. 154-61)

please read

Burger, Shaping, § 4.7 (pp. 165-72)


for section (October 9), please prepare:

Selections from the Lex Salica (Salic Law), tr. A.C. Murray, in From Roman to Merovingian Gaul (2000: 533-44, 549-54)

Pope Gregory I ( “the Great,” r. 590-604), Epistle LXXVI (to Mellitus) and extracts from the Book of Pastoral Rule

Excerpts from the Life of Saint Balthild (ca. 680), tr. A.C. Murray, in From Roman to Merovingian Gaul (2000: 500-504)

Charlemagne's General Capitulary of the Missi (802)

A list of useful key words

you can learn more about this week's topics



WEEK VIII (finish reading Beowulf)

please read

Burger, Shaping, §§ 4.8-4.9 (pp. 173-78)

Lisa M. Bitel, Women in Early Medieval Europe, 400-1100 (2002), pp. 95-135

Lynette Olson, The Early Middle Ages: The Birth of Europe (2007), pp. 110-24

P.D. Sutherland, “The Norse and Native North Americans,” in Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga, ed. W. Fitzhugh & E. Ward (2000): 238-47


for section (October 16), please prepare:


A list of useful key words

you can learn more about this week's topics



WEEK IX (read through all of St. Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries)

reminder: the 3rd movie response assignment is due on 26 October 2014

please read

Burger, Shaping, §§ 5.0-5.1 (pp. 180-86)


please read

Burger, Shaping, § 5.2 (pp. 186-95)

Rosenwein, Short History (2009: 205-16, 244-52)


for section (October 23), please prepare:

St. Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries [read all; prepare to discuss especially the Prologue and capp. 1-3, 5-7, 16, 19-41, 44-48, 68-73]

Pope Gregory VII's decree following the synod of Rome, 1076 (Correspondence of Pope Gregory VII, tr. E. Emerton, 1990: 90-91), and Emperor Henry IV's letter to Gregory, in the same year (Imperial Lives and Letters, tr. T.E. Mommsen & K.F. Morrison, 1962: 150-51)

Dictatus Papae (ca. 1075)

A list of useful key words

you can learn more about this week's topics


WEEK X (midterm exam: 28 October, 19:30-22:00, 165 McGraw Hall)

please read

Rosenwein, Short History (2009: 193-99, 255-59)


please read

Amira K Bennison, The Great Caliphs: The Golden Age of the 'Abbasid Empire (2009), Introduction & cap. 1: "A Stormy Sea: The Politics of the 'Abbasid Caliphate" (pp. 1-53)
OPTIONAL further reading: cap. 2: "From Baghdad to Cordoba: The Cities of Classical Islam" (pp. 54-93)

Olivia R. Constable, Trade and Traders in Muslim Spain (1994), pp. 1-15


for section (October 30), please prepare:

Excerpts from Fulcher of Chartres, History of the Expedition to Jerusalem (participant account, early 12thC)

Excerpt from Ahmad al-Ya'qûbî’s Kitâb al-buldân (Book of Countries, 9thC), in Bernard Lewis, Islam from the Prophet ... (1987: 2.69-73)

Excerpt from Digenis Akritas, a 10-11thC Byzantine epic poem (in K.J. Lualdi, Sources of The Making of the West, 2005: 159-61)

Usamah ibn Munqidh, excerpts from his Autobiography.

A list of useful key words

you can learn more about this week's topics




reminder: the 4th movie response assignment is due on 9 November 2014

please read

Burger, Shaping, §§ 5.3-5.5 (pp. 195-211)


please read

Burger, Shaping, § 5.6 (pp. 211-20)


for section (November 6), please prepare:

Heloise’s first letter to Abelard (early 12thC)
(for background, see the Encyclopedia Britannica's rather old-fashioned entry)

On employing a maid (12thC)

Town ordinances, from the customs of Lorris en Gatinais (1155)

Thomas of Monmouth, The Life and Miracles of St William of Norwich (1173)

Magna carta (The Great Charter, 1215)

The Rule of St Francis (3rd redaction, 1223)

The Virgin bares her breast,” a popular miracle of the Blessed Virgin Mary

A list of useful key words

you can learn more about this week's topics



WEEK XII (begin reading William Shakespeare’s The Tempest; read at least up to Act 3)

please read

Burger, Shaping, §§ 5.7-5.8 (pp. 220-33)


please read

Rosenwein, Short History (2009: 309-21, 327-31, 334-41)


for section (November 13), please prepare:

The Black Death (1348-49ff): Bocaccio’s haunting description, and the fate of some Jews

Thomas Walsingham (d. 1422), Historia Anglicana (in The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, R.B. Dobson, 1970: 168-81)

Leonardo Bruni’s Funeral Oration for Nanni Strozzi (1428)

Giovanni Rucellai, “A Merchant's Praise of Florence” (1457), in Images of Quattrocento Florence, ed. S.U. Baldassarri & A. Saiber (2000: 72-75)

Pico della Mirandola, Oration on the Dignity of Man §§ 1-7 (1496), tr. Richard Hooker (1994)

A list of useful key words

you can learn more about this week's topics



WEEK XIII (finish reading Shakespeare’s Tempest)

reminder: the final movie response assignment is due on 23 November 2014

please read

John P McKay (et al.), A History of Western Society, 10th edn (2011), pp. 444-72

Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, excerpts from his Turkish Letters

please read

Burger, Shaping, §§ 7.0-7.2, 7.5-7.6 (pp. 270-84, 307-17)


for section (November 20), please prepare:

Gomes Eanes de Zurara, Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea (ca. 1453), capp. LX, LXXVI (tr. C.R. Beazley & E. Prestage, 1899: 2.176-83, 229-32)

Leo Africanus, description of Timbuktu (1529)

Olaudah Equiano (alias Gustavus Vassa), Interesting Narrative of his Life (1789), cap. 2

William Shakespeare, The Tempest

A list of useful key words

you can learn more about this week's topics




please read

Burger, Shaping, §§ 7.3-7.4 (pp. 284-307)


no section this week

A list of useful key words

you can learn more about this week's topics




please read

Burger, Shaping, §§ 6.0-6.6 (234-61)

Martin Luther, letter to several nuns (1524), tr. E.B. Flores

Argula von Grumbach, “A Hundred Women would Emerge to Write” (1530s?)

King Henry IV of France, Edict of Nantes (1598)

Galileo Galilei, letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany (1615)


please read

Burger, Shaping, §§ 6.7, 8.0 & Epilogue (261-69, 325-30)


for section (December 4), please prepare:

Review questions for the final exam. (Please let me know ahead of time whether you have any questions; section will only meet if there is need for it.)

A list of useful key words

you can learn more about this week's topics



Ambroggio Lorenzetti’s Buon Governo, Sala della Pace in the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena (ca. 1338): the effects of good government

Oren Falk, Associate Professor

Department of History, Cornell University


Page last updated on: 10 December, 2014