Instructor: Bruce L. Venarde, Assistant Professor of History
Meetings: Tuesdays, 2-4:30
Office: Forbes Quadrangle 3M26, 624-8437
Office hours:Th 1:30-3:30 and by appointment
   This colloquium examines the legacies of the distant Western past, from the first urban cultures in the Fertile Crescent in the fourth millennium B.C. to the European age of absolutism and the first global imperialism. It differs from the ordinary CAS History 0100 in two important ways:
   First, the reading includes not only a textbook but also, every week, primary document(s) from the era under consideration and, usually, scholarly studies reflecting current research on various topics. Hence it is our task to try to use the textbook account as a framework for a more nuanced and humane understanding of people who lived a long time ago.
   The second difference is inherent in the first: the meeting will be spent primarily in discussion. Attached you will find two guides to reading source materials. The first is fairly general, the second aimed more specifically at historical materials. Keep these at hand as you read. The instructor will entertain questions (and try to answer them!) but the success of the course rests on common willingness to discuss, ask questions, interact with one another -- all of which requires faithful attendance and careful preparation.
   A few words of warning/explanation....Our seminar will be less a strict "historical" enquiry (whatever that might be) than an examination of successive cultural phases in the distant Western past. Sources range from biography to drama to religious scripture. A recurring question will be the extent to which different kinds of documentary sources can be understood to reflect social realities. It is impossible to do more than scratch the surface in our rapid survey of thousands of years of human activity, so readings are designed to highlight in particular the theme of gender, a perennial object of interest and contest in Western societies.
* Active participation in discussions. Each week you will:

a) Prepare to explain IN VERY BRIEF TERMS what the textbook chapter covers, that is, what themes, trends, and changes it identifies.

b) Look carefully at one of the textbook images -- map or other illustration -- and be able to explain its significance.

c) Using the attached sheet and, in the early stages, weekly handouts as a guide, prepare for a thorough discussion of the primary source reading.

d) Be able to summarize the articles in the Golden reader and answer at least some of the questions posed at the beginning of each one.

* Two (2) "reaction papers," 1-2 pages each, on primary source readings, due before the weekly discussion, to be completed in September

* Two short papers of 3-4 pages each, due September 25th and October 30th. I will propose topics for the first paper. You will have the opportunity to revise one of these papers.

* Final paper of 8-10 pages (no more), due December 11th .
  There will be an extra credit assignment, an essay-review of a modern scholarly book on a relevant subject. I will provide a list of suitable books. The essay-review will be due before Thanksgiving.
  Further explanation of all written assignments is forthcoming.
Your final grade will depend on the quality of written work, progress across the course of the semester, and on participation in discussion. I am likely to weigh class participation heavily, making it count for about one-third of the final grade. A rough breakdown:
  • "Reaction papers" 10%
  • Short papers 15% each
  • Final paper 30%
  • Discussion participation 30%
(available at the Book Center and on reserve in Hillman Library)
  • Anthony Esler, The Western World: A Narrative History, vol. 1, 2nd edition
  • Richard M. Golden, ed., Social History of Western Civilization, vol 1., 3rd edition
  • William Strunk and E.B. White, Elements of Style, 3rd edition
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh
  • The New Jerusalem Bible
  • Sophocles,Antigone, Oedipus the King, Electra
  • Aristophanes,Lysistrata
  • Sallust, The Jugurthine War/The Conspiracy of Cataline
  • Einhard, The Life of Charlemagne
  • The Letters of Abelard and Heloise
  • The Death of King Arthur (ed. James Cable: make sure you get the right version!)
  • Alvar Nunez Cabeza da Vaca,The Account
  • Niccolo Machiavelli,The Prince
  • Niccolo Machiavelli,Mandragola
  • Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings
  • The Political Testament of Cardinal Richelieu
  • Voltaire, Candide, Zadig, and other stories
Our colloquium meets every Tuesday afternoon in the semester except October 13th and November 24th. I expect you present and prepared for at least 12 of these 13 meetings. Any other unexcused absences will lead me to believe you are not committed either to your own personal or our collective learning.
I. Societies and Identities in the Ancient World
September 1st
The Epic of Gilgamesh
Handout on primary sources
Esler, The Western World: A Narrative History (hereafter WW), pp. xiv-xvi, 1-26
Golden, Social History of Western Civilization (hereafter SHWC), pp. 1-24, 39-48

September 8th
Hebrew Bible: Genesis, chapters 1-25; 1 Samuel, chapters 16-31 and 2 Samuel; Judith; Esther
WW, pp. 27-30
SHWC, pp. 14-38

September 15th
Sophocles, Antigone
Aristophanes, Lysistrata
WW, chapter 2
SHWC, pp. 49-75

September 22nd
Sallust, The Jugurthine War
WW, chapters 3 and 4
SHWC, pp.75-93


II. God and Man (and Woman) in the First Europe
September 29th
New Testament: Matthew, Acts of the Apostles, 1 Corinthians
The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity (handout)
WW, chapter 5
SHWC, pp. 93-118

October 6th
WW, chapter 6
Venantius Fortunatus, The Life of the Holy Radegund (handout)
Einhard, The Life of Charlemagne

Well earned week off. Enjoy!

October 20th
Readings on early Islamic, Byzantine, and Russian history TBA (handouts)
WW, chapter 7

October 27th
The Death of King Arthur
WW, chapters 8 and 9
SHWC, pp, 128-156, 204-216


III. Visions of Perfection in the Post-Medieval World
November 3rd
WW, chapters 10
Machiavelli, The Prince and Mandragola
SHWC, pp. 170-192

November 10th
New Testament: Romans
Martin Luther: Selections from his Writings, pp. 13-34, 42-85, 489-500
WW, chapter 11
SHWC, pp. 229-264, 287-300

November 17th
The Political Testament of Cardinal Richelieu
WW, chapter 12
SHWC, pp. 264-287, 313-321

November 24th
The afternoon before Thanksgiving recess. I cannot fight public opinion any longer:no meeting. You WILL be extremely well prepared next week. Enjoy!

December 1st
Nunez Cabeza da Vaca, The Account
WW, chapter 14
SHWC, pp. 217-229

December 8th
Voltaire, Zadig
WW, chapter 13


CONSIDERING THE SOURCE: Questions about documents
The questions below are a guide to reading sources in the interests of better understanding the past. No two sources are exactly alike -- each has its own merits and limitations -- so you will need to decide which of these questions are the most appropriate to the material at hand. Although facts are important, be careful not to let attention to detail become so absorbing so that the larger meaning and implications of a document gets lost. In other words, it is important not just to read for content, but to analyze and evaluate.
Who is the author (or, occasionally, who are the authors)? What biases might s/he or they have?

What is the author's stated purpose? Is that purpose in fact subordinate to any other agenda?

What value does the source attach to itself or to the study of history?

What are the author's sources? How are they treated?

How would you characterize the genre and style of this source?

What are the source's methods of a) narration b) analysis c)generalization and d) explanation?

Does the author state beliefs?

Does the source provide a setting for the information it conveys, geographically, socially, sociologically, ideologically?

Does the author digress? If so, to what end?

Does the source provide information about women, children, foreigners? Or about class, race, or caste? How does the source categorize individuals and groups?

Does the source seem aware of change in its own time? The future? Does such an awareness influence the vision of the past or present?

Is the author traditional or innovative? Is that implicit or explicit?

What cannot be learned from this source? Are there other sources that might shed light on matters untreated in this one?

Reading historical documents is a more demanding and complex activity than reading the packaged information in a textbook. You need to put the selections in the context of what other things you know about the period of time in which they were produced. In order to relate each document to its particular historical context and to the general problems with which we deal in this course, you should read through the entire document and then attempt to answer the following questions where they are appropriate to the assignment.
  1. Author(s): Who were they? What was their authority? (Personal? institutional?) What was their specialized knowledge or experience? How would you describe the authors' tone of voice? (Formal, angry, respectful, other?)
  2. Audience(s): Who were the intended reader(s) or listener(s)? Were there other readers or listeners beyond those originally intended? Who? How did the audience affect the ways the author(s) presented ideas?
  3. Purpose(s): What was the explicit intent behind this document? (To do what? Or cause what to happen?) What was the relation between this intent and other policy or practice? Was there an implicit purpose, or hidden agenda, behind this document? Who benefitted, directly or indirectly, from the policy reflected in the document?
  4. Context: What were the date and place of the document? What was the interval between the initial problem or event and this document which responded to it? What medium or form was the document communicated through? (Newspaper, government record, letter, other?) Where was the document written and read? What were other events or conditions at the same time that could have affected the reading or writing of the document?
  5. Meanings: Is there any ambiguity in the literal meaning of the document? Which words? Are there striking omissions in the document? How does this affect its meaning? Does the organization of ideas or the repetition of themes in the document suggest those that the writer(s) believed most important? Are there any confusing terms in this document? Which words? Can you detect bias in the choice of any words or terms? Which? Can you detect any underlying assumptions (of values or attitudes) revealed in any loaded remarks or passing remarks? What? Can you sense any contradictory or conflicting attitudes or issues expressed in the document? What? How does the form or medium affect the meaning of this document?
  6. Corroboration: Do other sources support this document? How do other documents from this period illuminate or contradict this document?