The Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of History Department of History
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HIST2006 Introduction to World History: Middle Ages

Semester 2 (2022-2023)

Lecture TimeThursday, 10:30 - 12:15

VenueRoom 304, Lee Shau Kee Building (LSK 304)


Lecturer James MORTON (

Teaching Assistant ZOU Ningning (

Course Description


‘Medieval’. In English, this word often conjures up negative images: violence, disease, superstition, ignorance, the ‘Dark Ages’ of European history. Coming after the glories of the ancient Roman Empire but before the advances of the modern world, people often assume that the Middle Ages (c. 500–1500) were a period of decline and isolation. But is this really true? This course will provide a broad survey of medieval world history, with a focus on Europe and its connections to Africa and Asia. You will learn how medieval Europeans inherited and built on the achievements of the ancient Greeks and Romans, becoming part of a wide, cosmopolitan world that reached as far as India and China.

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 topics from religion and culture to politics and economics. By the end of the course, you will have a firm understanding of the basics of the Western Middle Ages and understand how it fits into the broader history of medieval Eurasia.

Learning Goals

This course has three main goals:

  1. To teach you with the fundamentals of medieval world history: key dates, events, places, states, beliefs, innovations, etc.
  2. To familiarise you with the most important debates and methodological approaches in the history of medieval Europe and its relationship with the rest of the world.

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.


Course Schedule


12 Jan

1. Introduction: The Middle Ages

K. Patrick Fazioli, The Mirror of the Medieval: An Anthropology of the Western Historical Imagination (New York, 2017), ch. 2: ‘Mirror of the Medieval’.

19 Jan

2. 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.’

26 Jan

Lunar New Year – No Lecture!

2 Feb

3. From Rome to Byzantium

Michael Maas, ‘Roman Questions, Byzantine Answers’, in The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian (Cambridge, 2005), 3–27.

James Crow, ‘Constantinople in the Long Sixth Century’, in Asia Minor in the Long Sixth Century: Current Research and Future Directions (Oxford, 2019), 167–180.

9 Feb

4. Muhammad and the Rise of Islam

Fred M. Donner, Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam (Cambridge, MA, 2010), ch. 5: ‘The Emergence of Islam’.

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

16 Feb

5. The Carolingian Renaissance

Johannes Fried, The Middle Ages (Cambridge, MA, 2015), ch. 3: ‘Charlemagne and the First Renewal of the Roman Empire’.

23 Feb

6. The Viking Age

Anders Winroth, The Conversion of Scandinavia: Vikings, Merchants, and Missionaries in the Remaking of Northern Europe (New Haven, 2012), chs. 2–4.




2 Mar



7. Feudalism and Chivalry

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

Peter Sposato and Samuel Claussen, ‘Chivalric Violence’, in A Companion to Chivalry (Woodbridge, 2019), 99–118.

9 Mar

Reading Week – No Lecture!

16 Mar

8. Church and State in the Investiture Contest

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

Primary Source Analysis Due

23 Mar

9. 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.

30 Mar

10. Trade and Exploration

Robert Sabatino Lopez, The Commercial Revolution of the Middle Ages, 950–1350 (Cambridge, 1976), ch. 4: ‘The Uneven Diffusion of Commercialization’.

6 Apr

11. Medieval Education and Intellectual Culture

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

13 Apr

12. The Fourteenth Century: Crisis and Transformation

Christopher Allmand, The Hundred Years War: England and France at War c.1300–c.1450, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 2001), ch. 6: ‘War, People, and Nation’.

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.’

20 Apr

13. Epilogue: From the Medieval to the Modern

No assigned readings.

5 May

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. There will not be an exam or quiz component. The weighting of the assignments is as follows:

Final Essay                          50%
Primary Source Analysis           20%
Reading Summaries (x6)           20%
Discussion Participation            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%

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 or online:

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

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

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

Wickham, Chris. Medieval Europe. New Haven, 2016.

Winks, Robin W. and Teofilo F. Ruiz. Medieval Europe and the World: From Late Antiquity to Modernity, 400–1500. Oxford, 2005.

Reading Summaries

After each lecture, you will complete the readings assigned for that week and then write a short summary (approx. 250–500 words) that you will submit in hard copy at the end of the next week’s lecture. This is a reading comprehension exercise that will help to develop your skills in analysing and explaining texts in a short space. It will also help you remember the readings during tutorial discussions.

You should describe both the content of the readings (what they are about) and the authors’ central arguments. You can find sample reading summaries and a short how-to guide on Blackboard to give you a better idea of how to write them. I will only ask you to write summaries for six out of the twelve weeks of readings. This means that you can skip six reading summaries of your choice.

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 is posted on the Blackboard course site under ‘Primary Source Texts’. 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 in Week 8 (16th March).

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 (1,500–2,000 words) at the end of the course, due on 5th May. I will provide you with a selection of five topics at the end of the lecture in Week 10 (30th March). 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 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:

New Approaches to World History Seminar

This term, the History department will be holding the third series of its ‘New Approaches to World History’ seminar. This will take place online on Zoom every Thursday from 8th September to 1st December for a lecture by a leading world historian. At the end of the lecture, members of the audience will have the chance to engage in a Q&A with the speaker. A complete schedule of events, with topics, dates, and times, will be released soon.

Since this seminar has a clear relevance to our course, I would like you to attend no fewer than three meetings of the New Approaches to World History Seminar. You should also ask at least one question during one of the Q&A sessions. Your attendance and participation in this seminar will form part of your overall participation grade for this course.

Attendance and Absences

You are expected to attend all lectures and tutorial sessions. For every class that you miss without my approval, 1% will be deducted from your final course grade. If you have a valid reason for being absent from a seminar or tutorial (such as a doctor’s appointment, a family emergency, or similar), please contact me as soon as possible to ask for permission.

Assignment Submission, Extensions, and Lateness Penalties

You will be expected to submit your primary source analysis and final essay by 11:59pm on the due dates by uploading them to the relevant section of the Blackboard course website along with a signed declaration of academic honesty from VeriGuide (which you can find at

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 final essay (worth 40%) 3 days after the deadline, you will lose 3 of the 40% available for that assignment; if you submit it 5 days late, you will lose 5 of the 40%, etc. I will not accept any further submissions after 7 days have passed unless I have granted special permission.


Active participation in class discussions is an important part of the course and your learning experience. Although the main opportunity for discussions will come during tutorial sessions, you will also have the chance to make comments and ask questions during lectures. Discussion participation in both tutorials and lectures will comprise 10% of your overall course grade.

To be clear, participating in discussions means that you will actually have to speak. Sitting in silence is not participation and will not count towards your participation score. But don’t worry! You don’t have to be an expert (or even knowledgeable) about a topic to join in the discussion. Any kind of contribution, even if it is just a simple comment or a question, will count as participation and will thus add to your course grade.


Open-Door Hours

I make myself available in my office (KHB 123) every week from 2 to 5pm on Friday so that anyone can speak to me about anything they want. 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 and I will be happy to see you. In the event that we are forced to move back to online teaching, I will hold my open-door hours on Zoom.

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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