HIST 101 Lecture Outline (Spring 2023 – Week 1)

HIST 101
Lecture outlines

Week 1: Tuesday


Michael Wood: “Legacy: The Origins of Civilization,” episode 1, “Iraq: The Cradle of Civilization” (51:48 min.; start at 7:03):

Michael Wood: “Legacy: Egypt – The Habit of Civilization” (51:20 min.):


Introduction to course:

Discussion of syllabus, required textbooks, quizzes and mini-papers, grading and deadlines, expectations.

IMPORTANT: We need to be able to contact you via your UWM e-mail address.  If you use another Internet Service Provider instead (e.g., Yahoo! or Hotmail), you must put a Forward command on your UWM e-mail address immediately, so that your UWM e-mail will be forwarded to the e-mail address that you actually use.  To do this, go to to  http://outlook.office365.com and follow the directions there for forwarding mail.


c. or ca. (“circa”) = “around” (example: “Chaucer was born c. 1340.”)

i.e. (“id est“) = “that is” (example: “In the thirteenth century, i.e., in the 1200s . . .”)

e.g. (“exempli gratia“) = “for example” (example: “Primary sources can include physical objects, e.g., buildings, skeletons, and pottery.”)

What is a primary source?
Primary sources are essential to the study of history; they are the raw data from which historians work.
Primary sources = firsthand or eyewitness sources, contemporary with the period under study .
(For example, primary sources for medieval Europe include both texts and also physical objects, such as buildingsskeletons, and pottery, that date from the Middle Ages.)

What is a secondary source?
Secondary sources = secondhand or later sources, not contemporary with the events studied.
(For  example, secondary sources for medieval Europe include modern reference works and scholarly studies, assemblages of statistical data, and reconstructions of medieval buildingsweapons, and clothing.)

Why do historians need to consult both?




Michael Wood: “Legacy: The Origins of Civilization,” episode 1, “Iraq: The Cradle of Civilization” (51:48 min.; start at 7:03):


Cultures, pp. xxviii-xxxiv (Note on Dates; Prologue), 3-20 (The First Civilizations)

Sources, pp. xiii-xiv (How to Read a Primary Source), 1-4 (Shamash Hymn, Poem of the Righteous Sufferer)


Note on dates: Our textbooks, in keeping with modern historical practice, use BCE (not BC) and CE (not AD).

BCE (“Before the Common Era”) = BC (“before Christ”) (example: “Augustus seized control of Rome in 31 BCE”)

CE (“Common Era”) = AD (“anno domini” or “in the year of the Lord”)  (example: “Augustus died in 14 CE”)


Prologue: Before History

Map showing Britain to Mesopotamia (during Roman empire)

The Greek word “historia” means “inquiry”

Palaeolithic (“Old Stone Age”), 200,000 BCE (first modern humans) – 10,000 BCE (end of last Ice Age):
First modern humans spread worldwide; beginnings of agriculture and art

Neolithic (“New Stone Age”), 10,000 – 4,000 BCE:
Spread of agriculture; domestication of animals; rise of villages and towns

Bronze Age, 4,000-c. 1200 BCE:
Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin; it was used for weapons, tools, cookware, etc. Long-distance trade networks supplied copper and tin; writing facilitated trade

Chapter 1, The First Civilizations:

The Fertile Crescent, an arc of fertile farmland from Syria to Mesopotamia to Egypt, was the cradle of Western civilization, beginning  c. 4000 BCE in Sumer (S. Mesopotamia, in modern Iraq), followed quickly by Egypt.

Sumer’s great resource was its two great rivers , the Tigris and Euphrates, which provided not only fresh water for crops (especially grains such as barley, used for both food and beer), farm animals, and humans, but also rich silt (deposited during the annual spring floods), which the Sumerians diverted to their fields by building great networks of canals and reservoirs. Cities appeared by 5500 BCE, and writing (in cuneiform, on clay tablets) c. 3500 BCE. Twin powers: kings (lugals, such as Gilgamesh of Uruk), who ruled the city-states and controlled their armies, and priests, who protected the people from the gods, and thereby gained great lands and wealth (to organize which they invented writing).

2350 – 2100 BCE:
The Akkadians (from Akkad or Agade on the N. Tigris) conquered Sumeria and ruled Mesopotamia and the NE coast of the Mediterranean. They respected Sumerian culture, language, and religion, but King Sargon used cruelty and threats as a policy to crush and rule the conquered peoples, enabling him to establish the first Western empire.

2100-2000 BCE:
Third Dynasty of Ur: Sumeria’s last, brief flourish as an independent power

2000-1600 BCE:
Amorites: new capital, Babylon

1600-1400 BCE:
Hittites (from central Anatolia)

1500-600 BCE:
Assyrians (from NE Mesopotamia): chief cities at Nineveh (modern Mosul) and Ashur


Daily life:

Lacking metals, timber, and building stone, the Mesopotamians built large, walled cities, temples (atop vast, pyramidal mounds called ziggurats), palaces, and ordinary houses out of mud-brick.

On clay tablets, in cuneiform, they wrote texts on subjects ranging from law, trade, religion,  and medicine, to poetry, stories of the deeds of kings and heroes, astronomy, and mathematics. They enjoyed music, and used a solar calendar with lunar months, and they divided hours into 60 minutes, and minutes into 60 seconds.

Two divine forces – Abzu (male) and Tiamat (female) – created the world, which created the gods. Enlil (god of the air) and Enki (god of the waters) then killed their parents Abzu and Tiamat to prevent the creation of additional gods. Enki also created people to serve the gods.

The dead spent eternity in the underworld (“Land of No Return”), wandering naked in hot, dusty darkness.

Early Sumerian mythology did not have a strong moral component, but beginning c. 2000 BCE myths reflected a sense of justice and rational moral order, in which some gods and goddesses are seen as protectors and comforters of the weak, and punishers of those who oppress them. Other deities, however, continued to be depicted as capricious and dangerous, leading the Mesopotamians to ponder what was the meaning of life?


How to Read a Primary Source: always bear in mind

  • authorship (who created this source? why? is that person trustworthy?)
    genre (what kind of source is it?)
  • intended audience (for whom was this source created?)
  • historical context (how might this have affected the author’s assumptions, priorities, ideas or attitudes?)
  • bias and framing (did the creator of the source have an agenda?)
  • stylistic elements (what insights to they provide into the creator’s perspective?)


Shamash Hymn (c. 2000-1600 BCE):
Shamash was the Babylonian sun god of justice.

What does Shamash do to help people?
What does he do that makes people fear him?
What does this poem tell us about Babylonia?
The poem refers several times to “corn” and “corn fields” – what is this?

Poem of the Righteous Sufferer (c. 2000-1600 BCE):

What does this poem lament?
What does it tell us about Babylonian religious practices?
What does it tell us about the relationship between people and gods?