Western Civilization I (Post-Irma Version)

HIS 131 ☙ University of Miami ☙ Fall 2017
Lectures on MW 9:05-9:55am in Memorial 211
Discussion Sections on F at 9:05-9:55am in Memorial 211 and 12:20-1:10pm in LC 194

Professor: Dr. Karl Gunther
Department of History, Ashe 611
Office Hours on Wednesdays, 10:15am-12:15pm

TA: Anna Bennett
Department of History, Ashe 627E
Office Hours: Mondays, 10:15a-12:15pm

TA: Ian Bussan
Department of History, Ashe 627D
Office Hours: Fridays, 10:15-12:15pm

Course Goals (a.k.a "Student Learning Outcomes")

This course will examine approximately 2,000 years of European history, beginning with Classical Greece and ending with the fragmentation of Christendom in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. At the conclusion of this course, you will be able to:

  • identify major themes and developments in this period of European history
  • discuss significant debates about key events in this period of European history
  • analyze primary and secondary sources
  • work as part of a group to solve intellectual problem
  • think critically and analytically and construct persuasive arguments, differentiating fact from conjecture


Please purchase Chris Wickham, Medieval Europe (Yale University Press, 2016). This is not a textbook, but rather a brilliant interpretation of European history from roughly 500-1500 by one of the pre-eminent historians of the period. In some weeks, the reading from Wickham will reinforce and expand upon themes discussed in the lectures; in other weeks, it will address things I do not have time to address in lectures. The book is available to purchase at the campus bookstore and from various online vendors. It is available in hardback, in a Kindle version, in audiobook format, and (after 29 August 2017) in paperback.

All other readings can be accessed online by clicking on the links provided in the course schedule, or by visiting the "Course uReserves" section on the course's Blackboard page. You must download and print these readings and bring them with you to discussion section each week.

In addition, to make up for some of the time lost to Hurricane Irma, I have added three assignments to the syllabus: an episode of the excellent BBC program "In Our Time" on Justinian's Code, a BBC documentary on Machiavelli, and an episode of the excellent NPR podcast "Backstory" on the history of Thanksgiving.


  • Discussion sections (33.3%). You are expected to attend all discussion section meetings, to read the assigned texts carefully, and to participate actively in each week's discussion. To help you prepare for each discussion, you will receive questions in advance that will guide your reading. If it becomes clear that students are not completing the assigned reading, unannounced quizzes may be given. While you will be assessed primarily on the quality of your contributions rather than their quantity, you will be expected to participate actively each week.
  • Exams (66.6%). You will take three essay exams in this course, each worth 22.2% of your grade. The exams will only test you on material covered since the previous exam. The questions may ask you to explain why a certain key development in European history occurred; or to analyze the significance and consequences of a key historical figure, event, or text; or to discuss competing interpretations of an event.

Course Policies

  • Attendance. Attendance will be taken by the TAs at every lecture and discussion section. You will be granted 1 unexcused absence from discussion section; further unexcused absences will lower your participation grade by one full letter grade per absence. More than 3 unexcused absences from discussion section will result in a failing grade for the course. Absence will only be pre-excused for documented illness, cases of extreme emergency, or observance of religious holy days (see below).

  • Communication. If you have any questions about the course or the assignments, please do not hestitate to meet with me or the TAs during our office hours, or contact us via email. I and the TAs will reply to email within 24 hours, but not on weekends. Due to FERPA regulations, neither I nor the TAs can discuss grades via email. If you are struggling in this course or feel like you are falling behind, please contact me or the TAs so that we can be of assistance.

  • Requirements & Grading. All requirements (exams and attendance at discussion section) must be satisfactorily completed for you to pass this course. For reasons of fairness, exams will be graded anonymously. To facilitate this, write your name only on the back of the blue book for each exam.

  • Honor Code. Your conduct in this course is governed by the University of Miami Honor Code. Any violations of this code will be reported to the Honor Council and may result in a failing grade for the course, in addition to other serious penalties imposed by the Honor Council. On the back of each exam, you will be asked to write and sign the following statement: "I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this exam."

  • Electronic devices. Laptops, tablets, and mobile phones may not be used during lecture or discussion sections. Why? There is a significant body of research that shows that students who multi-task on laptops, tablets, and phones during class not only earn lower grades, but also distract and lower the grades of their nearby classmates. Apparently even taking notes on a laptop, rather than by hand, can have a negative impact on your learning. See this essay by Clay Shirky, a professor at NYU who teaches social media, for a summary of this research and an explanation of why he has banned electronic devices entirely from his classroom. If you have questions about this policy, or have reason to request an exception to this policy, I am happy to discuss it with you.

  • Religious Holy Day Policy. Per University of Miami policy, you must inform me in writing no later than the end of the first week of classes if you will be absent from class this semester to observe a religious holy day.

  • Disabilities. If you wish to request a disability accommodation for this course, you must first register with the Office of Disability Services and then provide me with your accomodation letter during the first two weeks of class. All information regarding disabilities and accommodations will be kept strictly confidential.


Week 1
8/21. Introduction
8/23. Where and what is Europe?
8/25. Discussion: Europe, Asia, and the Greeks

Week 2
8/28. The Polis
8/30. Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece
9/1. Discussion: Homeric Ideals

  • Homer, The Iliad, Bk. 1: "The Rage of Achilles" (access via "Course uReserves" on Blackboard)

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6
9/25. Philosophy & the Greeks
9/27. Alexander the Great and Hellenism
9/29. Discussion: Socrates

Week 7
10/2. Rome
10/4. Christianity
10/6. Discussion: Christianity and the Romans

  • Wickham, Medieval Europe, ch. 2
  • The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)
  • Robert Louis Wilken, “The Piety of the Persecutors” from The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, pp. 48-67 (access via "Course uReserves" on Blackboard)

Week 8
10/9. The Fall of Rome
10/11. Exam #1
10/13. Discussion: Greece, Rome, and the Meaning of History

  • Watch this debate between Boris Johnson and Mary Beard on Greece vs. Rome.

Week 9
10/16. Byzantium
10/18. Islam
10/20. Discussion: Roman Law

Week 10
10/23. Barbarians & The Dark Ages?
10/25. Charlemagne & the Carolingians
10/27. Discussion: Beowulf and Barbarians

  • Wickham, Medieval Europe, chs. 4-6
  • Beowulf, lines 1-960

Week 11
10/30. The “Making of Europe”
11/1. The Crusades
11/3. Discussion: The First Crusade

Week 12
11/6. The Papacy
11/8. The Black Death
11/10. Discussion: The Black Death

  • Rosemary Horrox (ed.), “The Impact of the Plague,” in The Black Death pp. 248-255, 266-279, 285-291 (access via "Course uReserves" on Blackboard).

Week 13
11/13. Exam #2
11/15. Universities
11/17. Discussion: Wickham

  • Wickham, Medieval Europe, chs. 9-11

Week 14

Week 15
11/27. Cathedrals
11/29. The Renaissance
12/1. Discussion: Machiavelli and the Practice of Politics

Week 16
12/4. Print
12/6. The New World & The Columbian Exchange
12/8. Discussion: The New World and “Barbarians”

  • Las Casas, In Defense of the Indians, pp. 28-53 (access via "Course uReserves" on Blackboard)

Week 17
12/11. The Reformation
12/13. Death and Marriage in Post-Reformation Europe
12/15. Exam #3 (9:05-9:55 in Memorial 211)

Week 18
12/18. The Gregorian Calendar
12/20. Reforming the Calendar & the Puritan War on Christmas

Last updated: 26 September 2017