The Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of History Department of History
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HIST2301 Ancient and Medieval Western History

Semester 1 (2020-2021)

Lecture TimeThursday 11:30am-1:15pm

VenueOnline via Zoom (details on Blackboard course


Lecturer James MORTON ((852) 3943 1531 /

Teaching Assistant CHEUNG Ka Lok, Alex (

Course Description


How did the modern Western world as we know it come into existence? Is it right to call it ‘Western’? Is it even a real thing? This course will help you answer these questions by providing you with a general overview of the major historical developments in the societies of ancient and medieval Europe (and neighbouring lands) from the classical civilisations of Greece and Rome to the end of the Middle Ages and the beginnings of modernity. We will look at the most important questions in the study of the pre-modern West and explore the ways in which historians have studied and debated them.

Each week, we will explore a particular period and theme through a lecture and class discussion. You will then have the chance to read academic literature by experts on each topic and explore related issues in conversation with other students in tutorial sessions. We will cover a wide range of themes from religion and culture to politics and economics. By the end of the course, you will have a firm understanding of how and why the civilisations of the ancient Greeks and Romans (and others!) developed into what we know as the modern ‘West’.

Learning Goals

This course has three main goals:

  1. To teach you with the fundamentals of ancient and medieval Western history: key events, places, states, beliefs, innovations, etc.
  2. To familiarise you with the most important debates and methodological approaches in pre-modern Western history.
  3. To help you develop the fundamental skillset and sensibility of a historian: how to understand primary sources, how to think critically about historical narratives, and how to effectively communicate your analysis to others.


Need Help?

It’s ok to ask for it! I understand that you may not have studied this subject before. If you have any difficulties with the readings, assignments, lectures, or any other aspects of the course, let me know and I will be happy to help you – that is what I am here for. You should feel free to email me and I will answer any questions that you have. Also, if you have a question during a lecture or tutorial section, go ahead and ask me there and then; other students in the class may have the same question and you might be helping them too!

Online Contingency Plans

As things stand at the beginning of semester, the university has decided that we should offer courses online rather than in person on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the time being, this means that all lectures and tutorials will be held via Zoom. I will provide log-in details on the Blackboard course website.

We hope it will be possible to return to in-person classes later in the semester, though we cannot make any guarantees. I will update you on the relevant details if and when this happens.


Course Schedule

10 Sep

1. Introduction: Classical Greece and the Origins of ‘Western’ History

Robin Osborne, ‘The Creation of Classical Greece,’ in Classical Greece: 500–323 BC (Oxford, 2000), 1–22.

17 Sep

2. Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic World

Kostas Vlassopoulos, Greeks and Barbarians (Cambridge, 2013), ch. 7: ‘The Hellenistic World.’

24 Sep

3. Rise of the Roman Empire

David J. Mattingly, Imperialism, Power, and Identity: Experiencing the Roman Empire (Princeton, NJ, 2011), ch. 1: ‘From Imperium to Imperialism: Writing the Roman Empire.’

1 Oct

Public Holiday – No Lecture or Tutorial!

8 Oct

4. From Paganism to Christianity

Mark Edwards, ‘The Beginnings of Christianization,’ in Noel Lenski (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine (Cambridge, 2006), 137–158.

Thomas Jürgasch, ‘Christians and the Invention of Paganism in the Late Roman Empire,’ in Michele R. Salzman et al. (edd.), Pagans and Christians in Late Antique Rome: Conflict, Competition, and Coexistence in the Fourth Century (Cambridge, 2016), 115–138.

Tutorial 1 (Weeks 1–3)

15 Oct

5. Romans and Barbarians

Averil Cameron, The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity, 395-700 AD (New York, 2001), ch. 2: ‘The Empire, the Barbarians, and the Late Roman Army.’

Ian Wood, The Transformation of the Roman West (Leeds, 2018), ch. 2: ‘Barbarism: The Invasion and Settlements of the Barbarians of Germany and Scythia.’

22 Oct

6. Byzantium and Islam

Peter Brown, ‘“Mohammed and Charlemagne” by Henri Pirenne,’ Daedalus 103.1 (1974): 25–33.

Helen C. Evans and Brandie Ratliff (edd.), Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition (7th–9th Century) (New Haven, 2012), 4–31, 244–277.

Tutorial 2 (Weeks 4–5, Primary Source Analysis)

29 Oct

7. The Carolingians and Their Successors

Herbert Schutz, The Carolingians in Central Europe: Their History, Arts, and Architecture (Leiden, 2004), 135–171.

Primary Source Analysis Due

5 Nov

8. Feudalism

Richard Abels, ‘The Historiography of a Construct: “Feudalism” and the Medieval Historian,’ History Compass 7.3 (2009): 1008–1031.

12 Nov

9. Church and State in the Investiture Contest

Frank Furedi, Authority: A Sociological History (Cambridge, 2013), ch. 5: ‘Medieval Authority and the Investiture Contest.’

Tutorial 3 (Weeks 6–8)

19 Nov

10. The Crusades

Jonathan Phillips, The Crusades, 1095–1204 (London, 2014), ‘Introduction.’

Andrew A. Latham, ‘Theorizing the Crusades: Identity, Institutions, and Religious War in Medieval Christendom,’ International Studies Quarterly 55.1 (2011): 223–243.

26 Nov

11. Medieval Education and Intellectual Life

Alan B. Cobban, ‘Medieval Student Power,’ Past & Present 53 (1971): 28–66.

3 Dec

12.  The Late Middle Ages

Donald Sullivan, ‘The End of the Middle Ages: Decline, Crisis, or Transformation?’ The History Teacher 14.4 (1981): 551–565.

Christopher Dyer, Making a Living in the Middle Ages: The People of Britain 850–1520 (New Haven, 2002), ch. 8: ‘The Black Death and its Aftermath, c.1348–c.1520.’

Tutorial 4 (Weeks 9–11, Final Essay)

21 Dec

Final Essay Due

Assessment & Assignments

Assessment Overview

Your performance in the course will be assessed on the cumulative basis of different types of assignment (described in more detail below) and your attendance. Note that there will not be an exam component. The weighting of the different factors is as follows:

Final Essay                                    30%
Primary Source Analysis            20%
Reading Summaries                   20%
Discussion Participation            20%
Attendance                                   10%

Your final letter grade will be determined by your overall course percentage. You will not be graded on a curve. Grades will be assigned according to the following set thresholds:

A         90%                 C+   65%
A-        85%                 C     60%
B+       80%                 C-    55%
B          75%                 D     50%
B-        70%                 F      >50%

Grade Descriptions

A                     Exceptional: Exceeds expectations. Demonstrates impressive knowledge, clarity, analytical ability, and a firm grasp of course material.

A-                    Strong: Has most of the qualities of A-grade work but has some minor areas for improvement.

B (+/-)             Good: Shows a solid understanding of course material. Has some flaws in writing or argumentation and may contain minor errors or misunderstandings.

C (+/-)             Satisfactory: Demonstrates an acceptable level of knowledge but suffers from lack of clarity, misunderstandings, historical errors, or weak argumentation.

D                     Unsatisfactory: Achieves the minimum passing grade but fails to meet most expectations of knowledge and argumentation.

F                      Failed: Does not meet basic expectations of knowledge, understanding, and/or timeliness in submission.

Course Readings

Each week you will be assigned approximately 30–40 pages of reading. This will consist of short pieces of academic literature – mainly journal articles and book chapters – that explore important aspects of the week’s theme. All required course readings will be posted on the Blackboard course website at the beginning of the semester. You will not need to purchase or acquire any course materials yourself.

For a general introduction to the subject, I can recommend the following (non-compulsory) books, all of which are available in the CUHK library system or online:

Crone, P. Pre-Industrial Societies: Anatomy of the Pre-Modern World. London, 2015.

Hornblower, S. The Greek World: 479–323 BC. New York, 2011.

Boatwright, M.T. The Romans: From Village to Empire. Oxford, 2012.

Wickham, C. The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000. London, 2010.

Herrin, J. Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire. Princeton, NJ, 2009.

Fried, J. The Middle Ages. Cambridge, MA, 2015.

Abulafia, D. et al., edd. The New Cambridge Medieval History, 8 vols. Cambridge, 1995–2005.

Madigan, K. Medieval Christianity: A New History. New Haven, 2015.

Reading Summaries

After each lecture, you will complete that week’s reading and then write a short summary (max. 400 words) describing the content of what you have read. This is a reading comprehension exercise that will help you develop your skills in analysing and explaining texts in a short space. You should describe both the content of the reading (what it is about) and the author’s central argument. Sample reading summaries will be available on the course Blackboard site to give you a clear idea of what to aim for.

You will only need to write reading summaries for ten out of the twelve lectures. This means that you get to skip two reading summaries; you can choose which ones. Until on-campus classes resume, you should email your reading summaries to me before the start of the next lecture.

Primary Source Analysis

In addition to the assigned weekly readings, we will also spend part of each lecture reading a short primary source text together and discussing it in class. Each of these primary source texts will be posted on the course Blackboard course site in advance. Your first major piece of written work in the course will be to choose one of the assigned primary sources from Blackboard and write a critical analysis of 500–1,000 words, due on 29th October.

Your primary source analysis will be a mini-essay that explains what the text is, who wrote it, when it was written and what the context was, and why you think it was produced. I would then like you to explain how you think it sheds light on relevant themes and topics covered in the course. You will have to do some research of your own to help you write the source analysis, though it does not have to be a fully-fledged research paper. You will be able to find everything you need to research the primary sources either online or in the CUHK library system.

Final Essay

I will ask you to write a final essay (2,000–2,500 words) at the end of the course, due on 21st December. I will provide you with a selection of five topics at the end of the lecture in week 10 (19th November). You will choose one of the five topics to write about. This essay will require you to reflect on the major themes of the course and to use historical examples to make an argument that relates to a significant topic within historical scholarship on ancient and/or medieval Western history.

The essay should be written to academic standards with a central thesis, reference to primary sources and secondary literature, and appropriate citations in footnotes. You are free to follow any accepted academic citation style such as Chicago, Harvard, or MLA. If you are not sure about how to write citations, I recommend looking at the Chicago Manual of Style quick citation guide:

If you have any questions about the final essay, let me know and I will be happy to answer.

Assignment Submission, Extensions, and Lateness Penalties

You will be expected to submit your primary source analysis and final essay by 11:59pm on the dates specified in the course schedule below by uploading them to the Blackboard course website along with a signed declaration of academic honesty from VeriGuide.

Scheduling conflicts and unforeseen circumstances can sometimes make it difficult to meet deadlines. If you are unable to submit your work on time, please contact me as soon as possible and I will be happy to grant you an extension if you have a legitimate reason to require one.

If you fail to submit work on time and I have not granted you an extension, you will incur a daily lateness penalty of 1 percentage point. For example, if you submit your primary source analysis (worth 20%) 3 days after the deadline, you will lose 3 of the 20% available; if you submit it 5 days late, you will lose 5 of the 20%, etc. I will not accept any further submissions after 7 days have passed unless I have granted special permission.


Tutorials and Participation

In addition to regular lectures, there will be a total of four tutorial sessions during the semester. These will serve as opportunities for open discussion of the assigned readings and how they relate to the major themes of the course. They will also be a chance to discuss course assignments (particularly the primary source analysis and the final essay) and for you to ask any questions that you might have. Remember that active participation in class discussions is expected and will be 20% of your overall course grade.

While tutorials make up the bulk of your participation grade, there will also be a discussion element in each week’s lecture. Your participation in lecture discussions will count towards your overall participation score – so don’t be shy!

Attendance and Absences

You are expected to attend all lectures and tutorials. This will comprise 10% of your overall course grade. If you have a valid reason for being absent from a lecture or tutorial (such as a doctor’s appointment, a family emergency, or similar), please contact me as soon as possible to ask for permission.


Plagiarism and Academic Ethics

Studying at the university level requires a high standard of professionalism and honesty in your academic work and personal conduct. This falls under the broad category of academic ethics, a matter that the History Department at CUHK takes very seriously. I expect you all to behave in an honest and respectful manner in class and in your assignments. Unethical behaviour, including plagiarism, will not be tolerated. You can find more information on university policy at

If you are unsure about the definition of plagiarism or academic ethics, feel free to ask me and I will be happy to discuss it with you in more detail.

Open-Door Hours

I normally open my office door every week from 2 to 5pm on Friday so that anyone can come in and speak to me about anything they want. This is obviously not possible while we are socially distanced because of the pandemic, so I will hold my open-door hours via Zoom instead. If you would like to chat with me about any aspect of the course, your university studies, career development, favourite historical books and movies, or anything else, feel free to drop in. I will provide the Zoom meeting details on the course Blackboard website.

If you would like to talk to me but can’t make it to my open-door hours, just send me an email and we can set up an appointment at a more convenient time.

Honesty in Academic Work

Attention is drawn to University policy and regulations on honesty in academic work, and to the disciplinary guidelines and procedures applicable to breaches of such policy and regulations. Details may be found at

With each assignment, students will be required to submit a signed declaration that they are aware of these policies, regulations, guidelines and procedures.

  • In the case of group projects, all members of the group should be asked to sign the declaration, each of whom is responsible and liable to disciplinary actions, irrespective of whether he/she has signed the declaration and whether he/she has contributed, directly or indirectly, to the problematic contents.
  • For assignments in the form of a computer-generated document that is principally text-based and submitted via VeriGuide, the statement, in the form of a receipt, will be issued by the system upon students’ uploading of the soft copy of the assignment.

Assignments without the properly signed declaration will not be graded by teachers.

Only the final version of the assignment should be submitted via VeriGuide.

The submission of a piece of work, or a part of a piece of work, for more than one purpose (e.g. to satisfy the requirements in two different courses) without declaration to this effect shall be regarded as having committed undeclared multiple submissions. It is common and acceptable to reuse a turn of phrase or a sentence or two from one’s own work; but wholesale reuse is problematic. In any case, agreement from the course teacher(s) concerned should be obtained prior to the submission of the piece of work.

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