HIST 101 – Western Civilization to 1500 (Fall 2024)

Martha Carlin
Distinguished Professor
Department of History
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Copyright 2024, all rights reserved

HIST 101

COVID-19 and other issues:

As a member of our campus community, you are expected to abide by UWMs COVID-Related Health & Safety Rules:

If you are ill or have COVID-19:

Do not come to campus or attend any in-person class if you have COVID-19, or if you are experiencing any other symptoms of illness.

Contact me immediately to discuss options for completing coursework while ill or in quarantine.

As your instructor, I will trust your word when you say you are ill, and in turn, I expect that you will report the reason for your absences truthfully.  

Class recording:

Our class sessions may be recorded for students who are unable to attend at the scheduled time. Students who attend class are agreeing to be recorded.

Potential for switch to online instruction:

If our class needs to move online (such as because of a weather emergency or COVID-19 outbreak), we will meet on our regular day(s) and at our regular time(s), and we will use Zoom as our online class platform. You will access the Zoom class(es) from the course Canvas page, and I will send you full instructions for using Zoom.

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Office: Holton 320
Messages: History Department, tel. 414-229-4361
Email: carlin@uwm.edu
Website:  https://sites.uwm.edu/carlin/
Office hours (virtual, if class moves online): Tuesdays 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM, and by appointment

Grader: Christian Bondazie
Office: Holton 388
Email: bondazie@uwm.edu
Office hours (virtual, if class moves online): Wednesdays 10 AM – 12 noon, and by appointment


Course description:  This course surveys the extraordinary arc of early Western civilization over 4,500 years, from about 3000 BCE to 1500 CE. We will trace such landmarks as the birth of governments, massive building projects, and writing in the ancient Near East and Egypt, the soaring intellectual and cultural achievements of the classical world, and the dramatic political, religious, technological, and artistic developments of the European Middle Ages and the early Renaissance. We will also look in depth at some individual careers and events that had long-term effects on Western history.  To do all this, we will read a textbook written by a modern scholar who has distilled generations of scholarly work in constructing an overview of the ancient, classical, and medieval past. We will also read a sourcebook containing a wide range of original texts written by people of those cultures who described their own world as they saw it. In addition, we will examine non-textual sources, including examples of the art, architecture, and material cultures of ancient, classical, and medieval Western civilization.

Course objectives:  This course should provide you with a good overview of Western Civilization between 3000 BCE and 1500 CE and enable you to understand the significance of broad and long-term historical patterns, and also of some outstanding individual careers and events.  It should also enable you to develop important skills in:

*     reading and evaluating sources carefully and critically

*     analyzing a wide variety of types of evidence

*     using such evidence to reconstruct and interpret the past

*     combining careful reading and analysis with thoughtful writing to produce clear, original, and persuasive arguments

Our course Grader is Christian Bondazie. Christian will be grading your written work and keeping the grade book and attendance records. His contact information and office hours are listed above.

There are two required textbooks. Printed editions of both textbooks are available through UWM’s Virtual Bookstore (https://uwm.ecampus.com/shop-by-course), and other booksellers; e-editions are available from Oxford University Press via RedShelf.com or VitalSource.com. To get the two books immediately, buy or rent the e-editions directly from OUP with a 10% discount, at: https://view-su3.highspot.com/viewer/65987f3a8199e34c08d924fd?source=email.untracked

Clifford A. Backman, Cultures of the West: A History, vol. 1: To 1750 (4th edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 2023)

Clifford A. Backman, editor, Sources for Cultures of the West, vol. 1: To 1750 (4th edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 2023)

Email and internet access: You will require an email account and access to the internet for this class. All UWM students receive a free UWM email account. If you routinely use some other email account (such as a Gmail account), please go immediately into your UWM email account and put a forwarding command on it, to forward all incoming email to the account that you routinely use. This is your responsibility; the History Department will use your assigned UWM e-address only. (To put a forwarding command on your UWM email account: enter your Office 365 account and click on the “gear” icon to enter “Settings.” Type “forwarding,” and follow the instructions to forward email to your desired account.)

Papers: There are six required mini-papers (described at the end of this syllabus), each worth 10% of your final grade. You are welcome to write more than six of these mini-papers, in which case your six best paper grades will be used for your final grade (10% each, for 60% of final grade).

Exams: There will be no midterm exam or final exam, but there will be daily in-class electronic quizzes, which will be taken in Canvas and will count towards the participation portion of your final grade. You will need a smartphone, tablet, or laptop computer to take the quizzes. For fast access to Canvas on your Android or iOS smartphone or tablet, go to:  https://community.canvaslms.com/t5/Canvas-Mobile-Users/gh-p/mobile

Attendance and participation: This class is designed to be taught face-to-face; if we need to move it online, it will be a synchronous (“live”) lecture class, taught at the scheduled times. Either in-person or online, your regular attendance and participation are essential. Registered students who fail to attend class during the first two class meetings, or to contact me, may be dropped administratively. The participation portion of your grade will be based on in-class work such as quizzes. Your attendance and participation are EACH worth 20% of your final grade.

Grading and deadlines: Your final grade will be based on your six (or six best) mini-papers (10% each, for 60% of final grade), and your attendance (20%) and participation in class (20%). The mini-papers are due on the dates specified at the end of the syllabus. Late work will not be accepted, except in cases of major illness or emergency (it is your responsibility to contact me immediately in such a case).

Electronic devices in class: You may use a laptop, tablet, or smartphone in class, but ONLY for work related to this class. This is a zero-tolerance policy: any off-task computer use will result in the immediate forfeiture of the privilege of using the device in class for the remainder of the semester. All electronic devices must be silenced during class.

Disabilities: If you have a disability, it is essential that you contact me ASAP to discuss any help or accommodation you may need.

Students in need: Any student who faces challenges securing food, housing, or technology, or is struggling with mental, physical, or emotional health, and believes this may affect their academic performance, is urged to contact the Dean of Students (dos@uwm.edu) for support.

Academic Advising in History: All L&S students have to declare and complete an academic major to graduate. If you have earned in excess of 45 credits and have not yet declared a major, you are encouraged to do so. If you are interested in declaring a major or minor in History, or require academic advising in History, please visit the Department of History’s undergraduate program web page, at: http://uwm.edu/history/undergraduate/.

Academic integrity at UWM: UWM and I expect each student to be honest in academic performance. Failure to do so may result in discipline under rules published by the Board of Regents (UWS 14). The penalties for academic misconduct such as cheating or plagiarism can include a grade of “F” for the course and expulsion from the University. For UWM’s policies on academic misconduct, see https://uwm.edu/deanofstudents/academic-misconduct-2/.

UWM policies on course-related matters: See the website of the Secretary of the University, at: https://uwm.edu/secu/wp-content/uploads/sites/122/2016/12/Syllabus-Links.pdf


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(Each day’s assigned readings are to be done before class. In-class quizzes will be based on both the lectures and the assigned readings.)

Week 1:          Introduction; Water and Soil, Stone and Metal: The First Civilizations (c. 10,000-3000 BCE)

3 Sept.             Introduction to course

5 Sept.             Cultures, pp. xxviii-xxxiv (Note on Dates; Prologue), pp. 3-19 (The First Civilizations)

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


Week 2:          Mesopotamia and Egypt (c. 3000-1200 BCE)

10 Sept.             Cultures, pp. 20-43 (Sumer to Old Babylon; Egypt)

12 Sept.              Cultures, pp. 44-54 (The Indo-European Irruption; The Age of Iron Begins)

Sources, pp. 4-26 (Tale of Sinuhe, Epic of Gilgamesh, Laws of Hammurabi, Loyalist teaching, Egyptian Book of the Dead, Great Hymn to the Aton)

Week 2 mini-paper due in Canvas by 8:59 PM


Week 3:          The Monotheists: Jews and Persians (1200-550 BCE)

17 Sept.              Cultures, pp. 55-77 (The Jews)

19 Sept.              Cultures, pp. 78-87 The Persians)

Sources, pp. 27-47 (Genesis 1-8; Exodus 7, 11-12, 14; Jeremiah, 7-8; I Kings 6-8; Jonah 1-4; Cyrus Cylinder)

Week 3 mini-paper due in Canvas by 8:59 PM


Week 4:          The Ancient Greeks: From Arrival to Glory (2000-479 BCE)

24 Sept.            Cultures, pp. 89-108 (The first Greeks; Archaic Greece; colonists, hoplites, and citizenship; masculinity; poetry; Sparta)

26 Sept.            Cultures, pp.109-119 (Miletus and the birth of philosophy; Athens and democracy; the Persian Wars)

                        Sources, pp. 48-64 (Hesiod, Works and Days; Homer, The Iliad; Herodotus, The Persian Wars and Histories; Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War)

Week 4 mini-paper due in Canvas by 8:59 PM


Week 5:          The Classical and Hellenistic Age (479-30 BCE)

1 Oct.            Cultures, pp. 121-149 (Athens; the polis; women, children, and slaves; drama; the Peloponnesian War; historical inquiry; medicine; philosophy)

3 Oct.            Cultures, pp. 149-166 (Alexander the Great’s conquests; the Hellenistic world; revolt and religion in Judaea)

                        Sources, pp. 65-82 (Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound; Plato, Symposium; Aristotle, “The Elements of Tragedy;” Diogenes Laërtius, Life of Zeno of Citium; Book of Ezra; Lysias, “Against Eratosthenes”)

Week 5 mini-paper due in Canvas by 8:59 PM


Week 6:          Romans and Republicans (753-27 BCE)

8 Oct.            Cultures, pp. 167-187 (Italy and the rise of Rome; from monarchy to republic; the republic of virtue; size matters)

10 Oct.            Cultures, pp. 188-197 (The Punic Wars; Can the republic be saved?)

                        Sources, pp. 83-100 (Livy, “The Battle of Cannae;” The land law of Tiberius Gracchus; Virgil, The Aeneid; “In praise of Turia”)

Week 6 mini-paper due in Canvas by 8:59 PM


Week 7:          Rome’s Empire (27 BCE – 305 CE)

15 Oct.           Cultures, pp. 199-215 (Rome’s golden age: the Augustan era; the sea; Roman lives and values)

17 Oct.           Cultures, pp. 215-229 (The height of the “Pax Romana”)

                        Sources, pp. 101-112 (Epictetus, Enchiridion; Tacitus, Histories; Suetonius, lives of Caligula and Claudius; Marcus Aurelius, Meditations; 3rd cent. imperial-succession crisis; Sulpicia Severa, Six Poems)

Week 7 mini-paper due in Canvas by 8:59 PM


Week 8:          The Rise of Christianity in a Roman World (40 BCE – 300 CE)

22 Oct.         Cultures, pp. 231-251 (The vitality of Roman religion; the Jesus mystery; a crisis in tradition; ministry and movement; what happened to his disciples?)

24 Oct.         Cultures, pp. 251-263 (Christianities everywhere; Romans in pursuit; philosophical foundations: Stoicism and Neoplatonism)

Sources, pp. 113-126 (Josephus, The Jewish War; Pliny the Younger, Letters; Celsus, “Against the Christians,” and Origen, “Against Celsus;” the Nicene Creed; Minucius Felix, refutations of charge that Christians are cannibals; the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas; St. Augustine of Hippo, on the Gospel of John)

Week 8 mini-paper due in Canvas by 8:59 PM


Week 9:          Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (300-750 CE)

29 Oct.         Cultures, pp. 265-288 (Imperial decline; a Christian emperor and a Christian church; the Byzantine Empire; barbarian kings and warlords; divided estates and kingdoms)

31 Oct.         Cultures, pp. 288-297 (Germanic law; Christian paganism; Christian monasticism)

                        Sources, pp.127-149 (Procopius, The Secret History; Gildas, On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain; Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks; Pope Gregory the Great, Life of St. Benedict; Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People; Dhuoda, Handbook for William; The Corpus of Roman Law)

Week 9 mini-paper due in Canvas by 8:59 PM


Week 10:        The Expansive Realm of Islam (to 900 CE)

5 Nov.             Cultures, pp. 299-319 (The Arabian background; the Qur’an and history; from preacher to conqueror; conversion or compulsion; the Islamic empire; Sunnis and Shi’a)

7 Nov.             Cultures, pp. 319-329 (Islam and the classical traditions; women and Islam)

                        Sources, pp. 150-175 (the Qur’an; Ibn Ishaq, Life of Muhammad; al-Ghazali, The Deliverer from Error; One Thousand and One Nights; Maimonides, Letter to Yemen; Usamah ibn Munqidh, Memoirs; Ibn Rushd, On the Harmony of Religious Law and Philosophy; Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed)

Week 10 mini-paper due in Canvas by 8:59 PM


Week 11:        Carolingian Europe; The Splintering of the Caliphate (750 – c. 1000 CE)

12 Nov.             Cultures, pp. 331-339 (Two palace coups: Abbasid and Carolingian; the Carolingian ascent; Charlemagne; imperial coronation)

14 Nov.           Cultures, pp. 340-344 (Carolingian collapse; the splintering of the Caliphate)

                        Sources, pp. 176-178 (Einhard, Life of Charlemagne)

Week 11 mini-paper due in Canvas by 8:59 PM


Week 12:        The Reinvention of Western Europe and the Islamic World (c. 1000-1258 CE)

19 Nove.           Cultures, pp. 344-361 (The reinvention of Western Europe and manorialism;  Mediterranean cities; the reinvention of the Church; the reinvention of the Islamic world; the call for Crusades; the Crusades; Turkish power and Byzantine decline)

21 Nov.           Cultures, pp. 361-369 (Judaism reformed, renewed, and reviled; the emergence of the Slavs)

                        Sources, pp. 179-203 (Pope Gregory VII, Letters; Guibert de Nogent, Gesta Dei (God’s Deeds: the 1st Crusade); Peter Abelard, Sic et Non (Yes and No); Otto of Freising, The Two Cities; the “Song of Roland;” Trotula of Salerno, Handbook on the Maladies of Women; Ibn Fadlan, Risala)

Week 12 mini-paper due in Canvas by 8:59 PM


Week 13:        Late Medieval European Culture (1258-1453 CE)

26 Nov.           Cultures, pp. 371-391 (Late medieval Europe; scholasticism; mysticism; the guild system; the mendicant orders; early representative government; the weakening of the papacy; noble privilege and popular rebellion; the Hundred Years’ War)

                        Sources, pp. 204-208 (Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy)


Week 13 mini-paper due in Canvas by 8:59 PM


Week 14:        Worlds Brought Down (1258-1453 CE)

3 Dec.            Cultures, pp. 391-402 (The plague; the Mongol takeover; in the wake of the Mongols)

5 Dec.             Cultures, pp. 402-413 (Persia under the Il-Khans; a new center for Islam; the Ottoman Turks)

                        Sources, pp. 209-217 (Boccaccio, “The Great Plague;” Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love; Froissart, “On Flagellants;” Jakob Twinger, Chronicle)

Week 14 mini-paper due in Canvas by 8:59 PM


Week 15:        Renaissances; Review

10 Dec.           Cultures, pp. 415-430 (Rebirth or culmination?; the political and economic matrix; the Renaissance achievement)

                        Sources, pp. 218-226 (Petrarca, “Letter to posterity;” Ariosto, “Orlando Furioso;” Machiavelli, “Discourses on Livy”)

12 Dec.              REVIEW

Week 15 mini-paper due in Canvas by 8:59 PM, as usual


Mini-Papers for History 101


Each paper must be 1-2 double-spaced pages long, in a 12-pt font. (The minimum length is one full page of text; the maximum length is two full pages of text.) It must be submitted as a Word document (.doc or .docx) via the course Canvas page.

Your paper must be based entirely on that week’s assigned readings and my online lectures and lecture outlines. No other sources are allowed, including Wikipedia.  The point of the papers is to challenge you to read the assigned readings carefully, and to attend and take part in the lectures thoughtfully, and to hone your analytical and writing skills.

Your papers must address the assigned topic, and be written to a college-level standard, with good grammar, spelling, punctuation, and phrasing.

Fill your papers with solid factual content, not “padding,” and avoid vague or unclear writing. Put everything in your own words; do not include any quotations at all.

Your papers must be entirely your own work. You may not use Artificial Intelligence (AI) in writing your papers; you may not copy or adapt your papers from someone else’s work; and you may not collaborate on them with anyone else.

You must use endnotes (NOT footnotes) to document your sources. Insert a new endnote each time you use a new source, which may be every few sentences. You must use at least one endnote per paragraph. Insert the superscript endnote number at the end of the sentence, after the period. If you use more than one source in a single sentence or cluster of sentences, then cite all of these sources in the endnote. Do not insert more than one endnote at the end of any sentence. (Examples of endnotes are given below.)

Number all endnotes sequentially. If you use a previously-cited source later in your text, cite it in a fresh endnote; do not re-use endnote numbers. Microsoft Word will automatically generate sequential endnote numbers, and will automatically re-number them as necessary as you compose and revise your text. In using Word, be sure to choose Arabic numerals, NOT Roman numerals, for your endnote numbers.

  • In citing the two textbooks, give the specific page numbers that you used in writing this part of your text. Do not simply list the full range of pages in the reading assignments – list only the page(s) from which you took ideas or information.
  • If you have used material from my lectures or lecture outlines, say so, and give the dates.
  • If your text fills two pages, your endnotes may go on p. 3.

Examples of how to cite single sources in endnotes:

  1Cultures, pp. 99-108, 110-16.

            2Sources, p. 62.

  3Carlin, Thursday lecture and lecture outline.

Example of how to cite more than one source in an endnote:

  4 Sources, p. 62; Carlin, Thursday lecture; Cultures, pp. 99, 110-12.

You must submit a minimum of six mini-papers. You are welcome to submit more than six; if you do, your six best paper grades will be used for your final grade. Your six (or six best) mini-papers are worth 60% of your final grade (10% each).

All papers are due in Canvas on THURSDAYS by 8:59 PM. Late papers (including paper topics from an earlier week) will not be accepted.

PAPER TOPICS (choose at least six):

WEEK 2:        Drawing on materials from this week’s lectures and assigned readings in both textbooks, identify three major ways in which the cultures of Mesopotamia and Egypt were similar, and three major ways in which they were different. Don’t forget to cite your sources in endnotes (see Paper Requirements, above).

WEEK 3:        In Chapter 1 of Cultures of the West, Clifford Backman says (pp. 8-9) that most early Western societies were led by kings, whose main function was to serve as military commanders, and priests, whose main function was to appease the gods and protect society from them; sometimes these two functions were merged in one ruler. Drawing on this week’s lectures and the assigned readings in BOTH books, discuss whether the societies of the Jews and the Persians followed this pattern, or whether they did not. Don’t forget to cite your sources in endnotes (see Paper Requirements, above).

WEEK 4:        Sparta and Athens were the dominant city-states of the Greek mainland. Imagine that you are a Spartan who has just returned home after visiting Athens for the first time. Describe your impressions of Athens and compare it with Sparta. Identify ways in which the two were similar, and also ways in which they were different. Consider not only the physical appearance of the two cities, but also their respective priorities, cultures, and systems of government. Fill your paper with concrete factual information drawn from this week’s lectures and assigned readings in BOTH books, not with vague generalizations.

WEEK 5:        Drawing from this week’s lectures and assigned readings in BOTH books, identify six things in the extract from Plato’s Symposium (in Sources) that typify Athenian culture during its golden age between the Persian Wars and the Peloponnesian War.

WEEK 6:        Under Roman law, free Roman women had the same legal status as children, and were entirely subject to their father or husband (or other senior male relative). Drawing on this week’s lectures and the readings in both books, give four reasons why these laws did not result in all free Roman women living their lives helpless and downtrodden.

WEEK 7:        The Roman empire had a strongly urban culture. Imagine that you are a young provincial from a country estate who has been taken by an aunt and uncle on a visit to Rome. Write a letter home to your family describing what you have seen and done there. Pack your letter full of concrete factual details from the lectures and readings in BOTH books, not vague generalizations.

WEEK 8:        In the three centuries following the crucifixion of Jesus, communities of Christians arose all around the Roman world despite periods of harsh persecution by the Roman authorities. Drawing from this week’s lectures and assigned readings, identify two major reasons why most Jews rejected Christianity, two major reasons why most Romans rejected Christianity, and three major reasons why Christianity nevertheless became widespread in this period.

WEEK 9:        After Theodosius I divided the Roman Empire between his two sons in 395, the Eastern and Western empires went their separate ways. The Eastern (Byzantine) empire survived for a thousand years. The Western empire, much weaker and poorer than the East, crumbled and soon collapsed. However, the following centuries saw the rise of a new, powerful, Western European culture, based on the fusion of Roman culture, Germanic culture, and Western (Latin) Christianity. From this week’s lectures and the readings in BOTH textbooks, identify two major elements each from Roman culture, Germanic culture, and Latin Christianity that shaped the culture of medieval Europe.

WEEK10:  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share some beliefs and scriptures. In the medieval period, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish scholars drew on the intellectual and scientific legacy of the Greeks and Romans. Using this week’s lectures and the assigned readings in BOTH textbooks, identify three religious beliefs or practices that are shared by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; three that are distinct to Islam and are not shared by Judaism and Christianity; and two elements of Aristotelian philosophy that were investigated by both the Muslim scholar ibn Rushd (known in the medieval West as Averroes) and by his Jewish contemporary Moses Maimonides.

WEEK 11:  The Abbasid and Carolingian empires both emerged in the 700s and soon fractured. Drawing on this week’s lectures and on the assigned readings in both textbooks, identify four major ways in which each empire, despite its political splintering, shaped its respective culture (European or Islamic) in the centuries that followed.

WEEK 12:  The Crusades are the most widely-known example of religious warfare in the Middle Ages, but there were many sharp religious conflicts, both violent and non-violent, in the medieval period. Drawing on this week’s lectures and on the assigned readings in both textbooks, identify four OTHER examples of major religious conflict between c.1000 and c.1250 CE, and the main cause(s) of each conflict. (The conflicts may be within a single faith, or between different faiths.)

WEEK 13:  European political developments in the period 1250-1450 included the emergence of nationalism, the use of law as a coercive tool by both secular rulers and the Church, the demand by working-class people for greater freedom and access to power, and a rise in the search for spiritual enlightenment individually (such as through mysticism or other personal religious practice), rather than only through the sacraments and instruction of priests. Drawing on this week’s lectures and on the assigned readings in both textbooks, identify one way in which each of these broad developments is reflected in the life and death of Joan of Arc.

WEEK 14:  Between 1347 and 1350, “the pestilence” (now identified as bubonic plague) killed between one-third and one-half of the population of Europe, and the population did not begin to rise again until after 1500. Drawing on this week’s lectures and on the assigned readings in both textbooks, identify two major ways in which late medieval Europe was shaped by the plague, and two major ways in which it was not shaped by the plague. Support your arguments with concrete information, not vague generalities.

Because the Week 14 readings and lectures concerning Europe build on material introduced in Week 13, you may include material from the Week 13 readings, lectures, and lecture outlines as well as (not instead of) from Week 14 in writing the Week 14 paper.

WEEK 15:  Did the Renaissance’s celebration of classicism and humanism and its development of modern statecraft really represent a sharp break from medieval culture, or did it instead represent a culmination of medieval culture? Choose ONE of these interpretations, and give FOUR major reasons that support it. Support your arguments with concrete information drawn from this week’s lecture and from the assigned readings in both textbooks. Avoid vague generalities.