Week 21

Week 21: Monday, April 1, 2024
Marco Polo

WEEK 21

Marco Polo (1254-1324), is probably the most famous Western traveler on the Silk Road. He excelled all the other travelers in his determination, his writing, and his influence. His journey through Asia lasted 24 years. He reached further than any of his predecessors, beyond Mongolia to China. He became a confidant of Kublai Khan (1214-1294). He traveled the whole of China and returned to tell the tale, which became the greatest travelogue. In 1260 two Venetian merchants arrived at Sudak, the Crimean port. The brothers Maffeo and Niccilo Polo and the young Marco went on to Surai, on the Volga river, where they traded for a year. Shortly after a civil war broke out between Barka and his cousin Hulagu, which made it impossible for the Polos to return with the same route as they came. They therefore decided to make a wide detour to the east to avoid the war and found themselves stranded for 3 years at Bukhara. The marooned Polo brothers were abruptly rescued in Bukhara by the arrival of a VIP emissary from Hulagu Khan in the West. The Mongol ambassador persuaded the brothers that Great Khan would be delighted to meet them for he had never seen any Latin and very much wanted to meet one. So they journeyed eastward. They left Bukhara, Samarkand, Kashgar, then came the murderous obstacle of the Gobi desert. Through the northern route they reached Turfan and Hami, then headed south-east to Dunhuang. Along the Hexi Corridor, they finally reached the new capital of the Great Khan, Bejing in 1266. The Great Khan, Mangu's brother, Kublai, was indeed hospitable. He had set up his court at Beijing, which was not a Mongol encampment but an impressive city built by Kublai as his new capital after the Mongols took over China in 1264 and established Yuan dynasty (1264-1368). Kublai asked them all about their part of the world, the Pope and the Roman church. Niccolo and Matteo, who spoke Turkic dialects perfectly, answered truthfully and clearly. The Polo brothers were well received in the Great Khan's capital. One year later, the Great Khan sent them on their way with a letter in Turkic addressed to Pope Clement IV asking the Pope to send him 100 learned men to teach his people about Christianity and Western science. He also asked Pope to procure oil from the lamp at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. To make sure the brothers would be given every assistance on their travels, Kublai Khan presented them with a golden tablet (or paiza in Chinese, gerege in Mongolian) a foot long and three inches wide and inscribed with the words: "By the strength of the eternal Heaven, holy be the Khan's name. Let him that pays him not reverence be killed." The golden tablet was the special VIP passport, authorizing the travelers to receive throughout the Great Khan's dominions such horses, lodging, food and guides as they required. It took the Polos three full years to return home, in April 1269. Marco Polo was only 6 years old when his father and uncle set out eastward on their first trip to Cathay (China). He was by then 15 years old when his father and his uncle returned to Venice and his mother had already passed away. He remained in Venice with his father and uncle for two more years and then three of them embarked the journey to Cathay the second time.

REQUIRED READING FOR THE WHOLE ACADEMIC YEAR

Dan Jones,

Powers and Thrones,

Viking,

ISBN 978-1984880871

This new history of the Middles Ages has just appeared from the best-selling author Dan Jones. It is perfect for us. The organization and the coverage is excellent. It reads well and is a pleasure. The cost of it is about 20$ from Amazon, either hardcover or paperback. If you prefer the lighter paperback then choose it, but the hardcore will endure better. Please use our link on this page to buy from Amazon because we get credit($) for each purchase.

Here are just a few of the reviews.

"Not only an engrossing read about the distant past, both informative and entertaining, but also a profoundly thought-provoking view of our not-really-so-‘new’ present . . . All medieval history is here, beautifully narrated . . . The vision takes in whole imperial landscapes but also makes room for intimate portraits of key individuals, and even some poems."—Wall Street Journal

"A lively history . . . [Jones] has managed to touch every major topic. As each piece of the puzzle is placed into position, the modern world gradually comes into view . . . Powers and Thrones provides the reader with a framework for understanding a complicated subject, and it tells the story of an essential era of world history with skill and style."—The New York Times

The New York Times bestselling author returns with an epic history of the medieval world—a rich and complicated reappraisal of an era whose legacy and lessons we are still living with today.

22

Week 22: Monday, April 8, 2024
The Silk Road

WEEK 22

The Silk Road was a network of Eurasian trade routes active from the second century BCE until the mid-15th century. Spanning over 6,400 kilometers (4,000 miles), it played a central role in facilitating economic, cultural, political, and religious interactions between the East and West. The name "Silk Road," first coined in the late 19th century, has fallen into disuse among some modern historians in favor of Silk Routes, on the grounds that it more accurately describes the intricate web of land and sea routes connecting Central, East, South, Southeast, and West Asia as well as East Africa and Southern Europe. The Silk Road derives its name from the highly lucrative trade of silk textiles that were produced almost exclusively in China. The network began with the Han dynasty's expansion into Central Asia around 114 BCE through the missions and explorations of the Chinese imperial envoy Zhang Qian, which brought the region under unified control. The Parthian Empire provided a bridge to East Africa and the Mediterranean. By the early first century CE, Chinese silk was widely sought-after in Rome, Egypt, and Greece. Other lucrative commodities from the East included tea, dyes, perfumes, and porcelain; among Western exports were horses, camels, honey, wine, and gold. Aside from generating substantial wealth for emerging mercantile classes, the proliferation of goods such as paper and gunpowder greatly altered the trajectory of various realms, if not world history. During its roughly 1,500 years of existence, the Silk Road endured the rise and fall of numerous empires and major events such as the Black Death and the Mongol conquests. As a highly decentralized network, security was sparse. Travelers faced constant threats of banditry and nomadic raiders, and long expanses of inhospitable terrain. Few individuals crossed the entirety of the Silk Road, instead relying on a succession of middlemen based at various stopping points along the way. In addition to goods, the network facilitated an unprecedented exchange of ideas, religions (especially Buddhism), philosophies, and scientific discoveries, many of which were syncretised or reshaped by the societies that encountered them. Likewise, a wide variety of people used the routes. Diseases such as plague also spread along the Silk Road, possibly contributing to the Black Death. Despite repeatedly surviving many geopolitical changes and disruptions, the Silk Road abruptly lost its importance with the rise of the Ottoman Empire in 1453, which almost immediately severed trade between East and West. This prompted European efforts to seek alternative routes to Eastern riches, thereby ushering the Age of Discovery, European colonialism, and a more intensified process of globalization, which had arguably begun with the Silk Road. (Wikipedia)

 

REQUIRED READING

Dan Jones,

Powers and Thrones,

Viking,

ISBN 978-1984880871

23

Week 23: Monday, April 15, 2024
The Crisis of the Medieval Church

WEEK 23

From 1300 to 1415 the international Roman Catholic Church went through a series of crises that brought in true heresy and important national strains to the church and its future. First came the French-led Avignon Papacy followed by true church schism, and then finally a resolution of the various strains at the Council of Constance in 1415.
Avignon Papacy (1309–1377)
During this period, seven popes, all French, resided in Avignon starting in 1309: Pope Clement V (1305–14), Pope John XXII (1316–34), Pope Benedict XII (1334–42), Pope Clement VI (1342–52), Pope Innocent VI (1352–62), Pope Urban V (1362–70), Pope Gregory XI (1370–78). The papacy was controlled by the French King in this time. In 1378, Gregory XI moved the papal residence back to Rome and died there.
Western Schism (1378–1417)
The French cardinals withdrew to a conclave of their own, where they elected one of their number, Robert of Geneva. He took the name Clement VII. This was the beginning of the period of difficulty from 1378 to 1417 which Catholic scholars refer to as the "Western Schism" or, "the great controversy of the antipopes" (also called "the second great schism" by some secular and Protestant historians), when parties within the Catholic Church were divided in their allegiances among the various claimants to the office of pope.
The Council of Constance, in 1417,
An international church council was convened in 1414 at Constance. In March 1415, the Pisan antipope, John XXIII, fled from Constance in disguise; he was brought back a prisoner and deposed in May. The Roman pope, Gregory XII, resigned voluntarily in July. The council in Constance, having finally cleared the field of popes and antipopes, elected Pope Martin V as pope in November. From the election of Pope Martin V at the Council of Constance in 1417 to the Reformation, Western Christianity was largely free from schism as well as significant disputed papal claimants. Martin V returned the papacy to Rome in 1420 and began to rebuild the international church in its traditional capital.

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Week 24: Monday, April 22, 2024
1348

WEEK 24

Messina, October 1347
In early October 1347, twelve Genoese galleys put in at the port of Messina in Sicily. The town was one of the principal stopping-off points on the lucrative trade route from the East that brought silks and spices along the Old Silk Road, through the Crimea, across the Black Sea and into Europe. On this occasion, however, no silks nor spices were to be unloaded from the vessels, which had probably come from the trading stations Genoa maintained at Tana and Kaffa on the north coast of the Black Sea. The port authorities found, to their horror, that scarcely anyone onboard the twelve galleys was left alive, and those who were exhibited a pronounced lethargy and a strange sickness 'that seemed to cling to their very bones'. They suffered from black boils and everything that came out of their bodies – breath, blood, pus – smelled awful. The presence of the galleys was deemed a public health emergency of the first order and, within a day or so, the galleys were driven from the port, so afraid were the Messinese of what they found on board the Genoese vessels

450 million – approximate world population prior to the Black Death.
350– million – the estimated global population after the pandemic.
100-200 million – the number of people across Europe and Asia believed to have perished in the pandemic.
4 years – the length of time the Black Death peaked in Europe.
40-50% – the estimated death toll in Europe.
70-80% – the estimated death toll in southern Europe
(Spain, France and Italy), where plague lasted four years
20% – the estimated death toll in England & Scandinavia.

THE CAUSE:
Yersinia pestis (formerly Pasteurella pestis)
Gram-negative, rod-shaped coccobacillus, a bacterium that can infect humans and animals. It causes the deadly disease named plague. Human Y. pestis infection takes three main forms: pneumonic, septicemic, and bubonic plagues. All three forms were responsible for a number of high-mortality epidemics throughout human history, including: the sixth century's Plague of Justinian; the Black Death, which accounted for the death of at least one-third of the European population between 1347 and 1353; and the 19th century's Third Pandemic.These plagues probably originated in rodent populations in China.Y. pestis was discovered in 1894 byAlexandre Yersin, a Swiss/French physician and bacteriologist from the Pasteur Institute, during an epidemic of plague in Hong Kong. Yersin was a member of the Pasteur school of thought. Yersin actually linked plague with Y. pestis. Originally named Pasteurella pestis, the organism was renamed in 1967.

Every year, thousands of cases of plague are still reported to the World Health Organization

25

Week 25: Monday, April 29, 2024
Francesco Petrarca

WEEK 25

Petrarch (1304-1374) by William H. Fredlund
The great Italian poet and classical scholar Francesco Petrarca was born in Arezzo, a central Italian city south of Florence, in 1304. "I was born to this world in the Via dell' Orto of the city of Arezzo, just at dawn on Monday, July 20, in the thirteen hundred and fourth year of this latest age which takes its name from Jesus Christ, fountain and author of all my hope." (See Photos for a picture of the family house on Via dell' Orto). The family was temporarily living in Arezzo while Petrarch's father suffered the same exile from Florence that had forced Dante into exile. Soon after his birth Petrarch's family was on the move again. From the beginning to the end, Petrarch lived his life in a curious tandem with the life of his famous predecessor, Dante Alighieri. By the time Petrarch achieved real literary fame he began to dream of being the most famous and admired Italian writer – ever! And shadowing his every move and every publication was the reputation of Dante. Always Dante! Petrarch and Boccaccio spent many hours discussing their famous predecessor and although Boccaccio never seemed to resent the unassailable fame of Dante, Petrarch was annoyed by the idea that the greatest Italian poet was named Dante and not Petrarch. The two lives were inextricably bound together as both were from exiled Florentine families whose fortunes might be improved by the arrival of Emperor Henry VII in Italy in 1311. Thus both the Alighieri family in the person of Dante, and the Petrarca family led by Francesco's father were present in Pisa for the visit of the Emperor. If the two famous Italian writers ever met each other it had to be in Pisa in 1311, when Petrarch's father took the family to Pisa to meet the imperial hope of his political party. We know Dante was there too. How interesting it would be to know what Dante Alighieri said to the seven-year old Francesco Petrarca: "Study your books well young man, and you too can grow up to be a great poet!" In 1312, Petrarch's father took the family to France to live in the city of Avignon where the Papal court was located temporarily (temporarily for about sixty years!) while French popes dallied in the Provence sun and delayed their return to Rome. This move of the Tuscan family of Petrarch into the heart of southern French culture was one of the most important experiences of Petrarch's life. It gave him a whole new culture, a new language, to add to his native Tuscan roots and this cultural melting pot produced a complex and tension-filled set of loyalties that ultimately provided him with insights that were at the heart of his totally unique cultural vision that he formed in his writings. This tension between his Tuscan Italian self and the new French Petrarch of these youthful days was also one of the most important reasons that Petrarch later made such extraordinary intellectual leaps. And it was this unique personal story of Francesco Petrarch that lead directly to the Renaissance itself. Petrarchs' youth was lived in France and in French. He went to school in Avignon and to the University at Montpellier. And as a proud Tuscan growing up in a family full of memories of a noble family lineage in Tuscany, he resented the French and their ubiquitous cultural pride that made fun of his accented French (how things change!) and chaffed under the brunt of French cultural superiority. This experience led directly to Petrarch's later expression of Italian national pride both political and linguistic (see his "Italia Mia"). And this Italian pride was one of the most important factors in the origins of the Italian Renaissance itself. Much of the Italian Renaissance involved Italian pride annoyed by French assumptions of cultural superiority. We must remember that when Dante began writing in the late thirteenth century, any intellectual presuming to international fame and success would choose to write in French. "Italian" didn't even exist. The Italian language was nothing more than a gathering of noisy dialects. It is the work of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio who together establish the Tuscan dialect as "Italian" and do so with great pride and the conviction that this language is as good if not better than French. In 1320, Petrarch came "home." He came to the University of Bologna, one of the oldest and greatest of all the European universities. Petrarch came to Bologna to study law. And he hated it. When his father died in 1326, he and his brother Gherardo returned to southern France to attend to the estate and for the next twenty five years, Petrarch lived the life of the Italian exile enjoying the rich life of Avignon overrun with money and papal politics. In 1327, in the church of Santa Clara in Avignon Petrarch saw and fell in love with Laura. This encounter inspired him to write a series of small poems to her and about her and about love. These poems became part of Petrarch's most influential work, that which came to be called Il Canzoniere, the collection of hundreds of sonnets about love. In Italian, Il Canzoniere is also called Le Rime Sparse or The Dispersed Rhymes and then later all collected together into Il Canzoniere (The Songbook). Petrarch never realized that Il Canzoniere would be his most influential work. He was devoted to his Classical studies, to stories and histories of Rome and therefore always assumed that his great work was his imitation of Virgil in his Latin poem called Africa about the struggle for power between Rome and Carthage. Africa is almost never read now except by experts studying Petrarch whereas the poems collected together in Il Canzoniere may be the most influential collection of poetry written by any European after the fall of Rome. The influence of Il Canzoniere derives from its power with the form of the sonnet. Petrarch "invented" the sonnet for modern Europe. The origins of the sonnet can be found in the twelfth century in the world of Courtly Love and in the vast production of hundreds of Courtly Love poets. But it is the work of Petrarch and the sheer power and influence of his hundreds of sonnets collected in Il Canzoniere that established the form of the sonnet which is then discovered and imitated by poets who visited Italy and studied both the language and the sonnet form and carried this form back to their own country. This process is especially important for England. Sir Thomas Wyatt came to Italy in 1527 and studied Petrarch, translated him into English and carried the sonnet back to England. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, did the same thing and advanced the sonnet and revised it into the English form which later became the model for Shakespeare's own sonnets. The sonnet is a poem of fourteen lines. It is short and therefore seizes on one mood or one thought or one person to talk softly and gently of love and loving, love lost, love future, love past, love, love, love. Sonnets usually are written about love. The sonnet consists of fourteen lines that follow two rhyme patterns: a b b a a b b a called the Petrarchian pattern, or a b a b c d c d e f e f g g called the Elizabethan (Shakespeare). The sonnet usually has 10, 11, or 12 syllables per line. The sonnet is so familiar to us that it hardly seems conceivable that there could have been a time when it was not such a common poetic mode of expression. But this is the case and the creation of the sonnet as the most popular poetic form in the 15th and 16th and 17th centuries is due primarily to the work of Petrarch. And therefore it is extremely interesting to speculate about the unique quality of the sonnet that appeals to the age of the Renaissance whereas the vast encyclopedic work like the Divine Comedy falls out of fashion in this period. The appeal of the sonnet may have to do with the growing power of individualism in the Renaissance. In an age when individual character, individual even eccentric thoughts, individual uniqueness and personal interior feelings and thoughts, are of great interest to writers, the sonnet allows the writer to concentrate on himself, his thoughts, his feelings, to the exclusion of all else. It is a highly personal literary form. In the twenty five years between Petrarch's return to France and his final move back to Italy, he traveled incessantly. He visited popes, emperors, and kings. He went to Rome for the first time in 1337 and was powerfully impressed with the meaning and majesty of Rome. He bought a charming, small house in the Provence countryside in Vauclause near Avignon and wrote beautiful sonnets filled with the sounds and aromas of the country: of water and fountains and grasses and flowers. He extolled the life of the country far from the noise and the filth of the city and then he rushed back to the excitement of the city. It sounds all very modern doesn't it? In 1353, Petrarch returned to Italy and for the last quarter of his life he lived in Milan, Padua, Venice and other Italian cities, and he became the most famous writer alive. His poetry, his scholarly writings, his letters which were published, all established him as an international celebrity. And when in 1361 he went to Paris to receive the accolades of the King of France it is the mark of literary supremacy that suddenly an Italian is being lauded in Paris as the greatest of living literary figures. Petrarch observed in his own life a complete reversal of international linguistic fashion. When he was born, French was the premiere literary language. When he died in 1374, Italian was now the equal if not the superior of French. This reversal is due to the work of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. Petrarch's last years were happy and contented. He built a charming house in the hills south of Padua and his children joined him there (children all born out of wedlock, but all acknowledged and supported by Petrarch). His daughter Francesca joined him there with her own family and his last years were filled with the happy noise of grandchildren running around the garden and the laughter of friends who had dropped in for yet another wonderful dinner. The dinners would last into the late hours of the night with much wine and hilarious stories about Cicero and Julius Caesar. Above all Petarch was a writer. And here is Petrarch the writer recounting to us a wonderful moment at his desk: "I had got this far, and was thinking of what to say next, and as my habit is, I was pricking the paper idly with my pen. And I thought how, between one dip of the pen and the next, time goes on, and I hurry, drive myself, and speed toward death. We are always dying. I while I write, you while you read, and others while they listen or stop their ears, they are all dying." On a bright summer morning in 1374, on the nineteenth of July, Francesca went into her father's study and found him at his desk slumped over dead with pen just dropped out of his hand as he wrote his Life of Julius Caesar.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Petrarch,

Selections from the Canzoniere,

translated by Mark Musa,

Oxford World's Classics,

ISBN 0199540691

RECOMMENDED READING

Barbara Tuchman,

A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century,

Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reissue edition (July 12, 1987),

ISBN 0345349571

This is the best book in English on the 14th Century and I can't imagine anyone will ever write a better one. Barbara Tuchman was a miracle in the history world. She had no special training; she was just a Manhattan housewife who loved history. One day she walked down Fifth Avenue to the New York Public Library. She began to read and soon began to write and was soon into a spectacular career as an international best-selling author. She wrote five of the best books ever written in the field. Her masterpiece is A Distant Mirror on the 14th Century. She takes one character, Enguerand de Coucy, a French noble whose life touched almost everyone important in the century, and then she takes us all through the stories of the incredible century. History has never been better. It is like a novel; only better. You can read it on paper, in Kindle, or on audible.

Amazon Comment:
In this sweeping historical narrative, Barbara Tuchman writes of the cataclysmic 14th century, when the energies of medieval Europe were devoted to fighting internecine wars and warding off the plague. Some medieval thinkers viewed these disasters as divine punishment for mortal wrongs; others, more practically, viewed them as opportunities to accumulate wealth and power. One of the latter, whose life informs much of Tuchman's book, was the French nobleman Enguerrand de Coucy, who enjoyed the opulence and elegance of the courtly tradition while ruthlessly exploiting the peasants under his thrall. Tuchman looks into such events as the Hundred Years War, the collapse of the medieval church, and the rise of various heresies, pogroms, and other events that caused medieval Europeans to wonder what they had done to deserve such horrors.

Reviews:
“Beautifully written, careful and thorough in its scholarship . . . What Ms. Tuchman does superbly is to tell how it was. . . . No one has ever done this better.”—The New York Review of Books

“A beautiful, extraordinary book . . . Tuchman at the top of her powers . . . She has done nothing finer.”—The Wall Street Journal

“Wise, witty, and wonderful . . . a great book, in a great historical tradition.”—Commentary

From the Publisher
Anyone who has read THE GUNS OF AUGUST or STILWELL AND THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE IN CHINA, knows that Barbara Tuchman was one of the most gifted American writers of this century. Her subject was history, but her profiles of great men and great events are drawn with such power that reading Tuchman becomes a riveting experience. In A DISTANT MIRROR, Barbara Tuchman illuminates the Dark Ages. Her description of medieval daily life, the role of the church, the influence of the Great Plagues, and the social and political conventions that make this period of history so engrossing, are carefully woven into an integrated narrative that sweeps the reader along. I am a particular devotee of medieval and pre Renaissance music, so Barbara Tuchman's brilliant analysis of this period has special meaning for me - and I hope for many others. George Davidson, Director of Production, The Ballantine Publishing Group

About the Author
Barbara W. Tuchman (1912–1989) achieved prominence as a historian with The Zimmermann Telegram and international fame with The Guns of August—a huge bestseller and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Her other works include Bible and Sword, The Proud Tower, Stilwell and the American Experience in China (for which Tuchman was awarded a second Pulitzer Prize), Notes from China, A Distant Mirror, Practicing History, The March of Folly, and The First Salute.

26

Week 26: Monday, May 6, 2024
Fourteenth Century Florence

WEEK 26

Palazzovecchio

On and around the year 1000 AD, the cities of Europe, and especially of Italy, turned a corner. After centuries of war and invasion, almost suddenly, there was peace. Travel on land and sea became safer. Products moved around more easily. People moved around more easily. And thus during the Eleventh Century, there was a general resurgence of the European economy and especially that of the cities. The cities grew fast. They expanded fast. They built bigger walls. They built huge new cathedrals and huge new city halls like the building on the right, the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. In order to understand this phenomenon we will take one Italian city, Florence, and tell its story from the end of the Roman Empire in the sixth century to the great expansion of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Of all the possible choices for our study, Florence has a major advantage for our study: it was a Roman founded city, it declined as Rome declined, it surged back as all of Europe and Italy rebounded in the eleventh century. Its trajectory reveals exactly the Italian story of so many other cities.

RECOMMENDED READING

This two-volume history of Florence is the best detailed study of Florence ever written. Schevill wrote a masterpiece of well researched narrative history for Florence in 1936 and then it was republished in a Harper Torchbook paperback in 1961. The Harper Torchbook is still out there in used book stores so we have purchased five for our library. But there are still copies left if you want to own one. It is two volumes with the first volume devoted to our period of Medieval History and the second volume on Renaissance Florence.  For the Lombards see Medieval Florence (Volume 1) Chapter Three, "Darkness Over Florence."

Ferdinand Schevill,

Medieval and Renaissance Florence,

Harper Torchbook paperback, 1963, 2 volumes,

ISBN B000PX4SUU

27

Week 27: Monday, May 13, 2024
Medieval Science

WEEK 27

Our interests in this class are the Medieval philosophers such as Roger Bacon who understood empirical science. In the early 1400's, a scientific center at the Florentine Cathedral experimented and achieved some sophisticated research under the leadership of many Florentine philosophers, as well as Brunelleschi and other artists.

Lacking in all of these earlier phases of science were three essential aspects of modern science: 1) devices such as the microscope, developed specifically to be used in discovery and experimentation; 2) A publicly chartered institution, with its own building, established for and dedicated to science; and 3) a scientific publication. These three new features of modern science appeared in England in the 1660s, during the monarchy of Charles II.

RECOMMENDED READING

This book based on lectures delivered earlier, was first published in 1957.  There have been many other books since then on this subject, but Butterfield is still the right place to begin.  A great book and still in print.

Herbert Butterfield,

The Origins of Modern Science,

Free Press; Revised edition (April 1, 1997),

ISBN 0684836378

Review:

Superb Book September 29, 2003 By Benjamin B. Eshbach Format:Paperback

Professor Butterfield's history is easy to read and refreshing. Especially interesting are his chapters on pre-Newtonian mechanics and the transfer from Ptolemaic to Copernican models of the universe.

Butterfield gives you a nice introduction to the evolution of science.

28

Week 28: Monday, May 20, 2024
England in the Fourteenth Century

WEEK 28

The 14th century in England saw the Great Famine and the Black Death, catastrophic events that killed around half of England's population, throwing the economy into chaos, and undermining the old political order. Social unrest followed, resulting in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, while the changes in the economy resulted in the emergence of a new class of gentry, and the nobility began to exercise power through a system termed bastard feudalism. Nearly 1,500 villages were deserted by their inhabitants and many men and women sought new opportunities in the towns and cities. New technologies were introduced, and England produced some of the great medieval philosophers and natural scientists. English kings in the 14th and 15th centuries laid claim to the French throne, resulting in the Hundred Years' War. At times England enjoyed huge military success, with the economy buoyed by profits from the international wool and cloth trade, but by 1450 the country was in crisis, facing military failure in France and an ongoing recession. More social unrest broke out, followed by the Wars of the Roses, fought between rival factions of the English nobility. Henry VII's victory in 1485 conventionally marks the end of the Middle Ages in England and the start of the Early Modern period.(Wikipedia)

29

Week 29: Monday, May 27, 2024
Geoffrey Chaucer

WEEK 29

Geoffrey Chaucer 1340–1400) was an English poet, author, and civil servant best known for The Canterbury Tales. He has been called the "father of English literature", or, alternatively, the "father of English poetry". He was the first writer to be buried in what has since come to be called Poets' Corner, in Westminster Abbey. Chaucer also gained fame as a philosopher and astronomer, composing the scientific A Treatise on the Astrolabe for his 10-year-old son Lewis. He maintained a career in the civil service as a bureaucrat, courtier, diplomat, and member of parliament. Among Chaucer's many other works are The Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame, The Legend of Good Women, and Troilus and Criseyde. He is seen as crucial in legitimising the literary use of Middle English when the dominant literary languages in England were still Anglo-Norman French and Latin. Chaucer's contemporary Thomas Hoccleve hailed him as "the firste fyndere of our fair langage" (i.e., the first one capable of finding poetic matter in English). Almost two thousand English words are first attested to in Chaucerian manuscripts. As scholar Bruce Holsinger has argued, charting Chaucer's life and work comes with many challenges related to the "difficult disjunction between the written record of his public and private life and the literary corpus he left behind". His recorded works and his life show many personas that are "ironic, mysterious, elusive [or] cagey" in nature, ever-changing with new discoveries.

(Wikipedia)

 

REQUIRED READING

Geoffrey Chaucer,

The Canterbury Tales: A Selection (Penguin Classics),

Colin Wilcockson,

Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (July 28, 2009),

ISBN 978-0140424454

30

Week 30: Monday, June 3, 2024
Canterbury Tales

WEEK 30

The Canterbury Tales is a collection of twenty-four stories that runs to over 17,000 lines written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer between 1387 and 1400. The tales (mostly written in verse, although some are in prose) are presented as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together from London to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. The prize for this contest is a free meal at the Tabard Inn at Southwark on their return. It has been suggested that the greatest contribution of The Canterbury Tales to English literature was the popularization of the English vernacular in mainstream literature, as opposed to French, Italian or Latin. English had, however, been used as a literary language centuries before Chaucer's time, and several of Chaucer's contemporaries—John Gower, William Langland, and Julian of Norwich also wrote major literary works in English. (Wikipedia)

REQUIRED READING

Geoffrey Chaucer,

The Canterbury Tales: A Selection (Penguin Classics),

Colin Wilcockson,

Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (July 28, 2009),

ISBN 978-0140424454

All

Week 21: Mon., Apr. 1, 2024
Marco Polo

WEEK 21

Marco Polo (1254-1324), is probably the most famous Western traveler on the Silk Road. He excelled all the other travelers in his determination, his writing, and his influence. His journey through Asia lasted 24 years. He reached further than any of his predecessors, beyond Mongolia to China. He became a confidant of Kublai Khan (1214-1294). He traveled the whole of China and returned to tell the tale, which became the greatest travelogue. In 1260 two Venetian merchants arrived at Sudak, the Crimean port. The brothers Maffeo and Niccilo Polo and the young Marco went on to Surai, on the Volga river, where they traded for a year. Shortly after a civil war broke out between Barka and his cousin Hulagu, which made it impossible for the Polos to return with the same route as they came. They therefore decided to make a wide detour to the east to avoid the war and found themselves stranded for 3 years at Bukhara. The marooned Polo brothers were abruptly rescued in Bukhara by the arrival of a VIP emissary from Hulagu Khan in the West. The Mongol ambassador persuaded the brothers that Great Khan would be delighted to meet them for he had never seen any Latin and very much wanted to meet one. So they journeyed eastward. They left Bukhara, Samarkand, Kashgar, then came the murderous obstacle of the Gobi desert. Through the northern route they reached Turfan and Hami, then headed south-east to Dunhuang. Along the Hexi Corridor, they finally reached the new capital of the Great Khan, Bejing in 1266. The Great Khan, Mangu's brother, Kublai, was indeed hospitable. He had set up his court at Beijing, which was not a Mongol encampment but an impressive city built by Kublai as his new capital after the Mongols took over China in 1264 and established Yuan dynasty (1264-1368). Kublai asked them all about their part of the world, the Pope and the Roman church. Niccolo and Matteo, who spoke Turkic dialects perfectly, answered truthfully and clearly. The Polo brothers were well received in the Great Khan's capital. One year later, the Great Khan sent them on their way with a letter in Turkic addressed to Pope Clement IV asking the Pope to send him 100 learned men to teach his people about Christianity and Western science. He also asked Pope to procure oil from the lamp at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. To make sure the brothers would be given every assistance on their travels, Kublai Khan presented them with a golden tablet (or paiza in Chinese, gerege in Mongolian) a foot long and three inches wide and inscribed with the words: "By the strength of the eternal Heaven, holy be the Khan's name. Let him that pays him not reverence be killed." The golden tablet was the special VIP passport, authorizing the travelers to receive throughout the Great Khan's dominions such horses, lodging, food and guides as they required. It took the Polos three full years to return home, in April 1269. Marco Polo was only 6 years old when his father and uncle set out eastward on their first trip to Cathay (China). He was by then 15 years old when his father and his uncle returned to Venice and his mother had already passed away. He remained in Venice with his father and uncle for two more years and then three of them embarked the journey to Cathay the second time.

REQUIRED READING FOR THE WHOLE ACADEMIC YEAR

Dan Jones,

Powers and Thrones,

Viking,

ISBN 978-1984880871

This new history of the Middles Ages has just appeared from the best-selling author Dan Jones. It is perfect for us. The organization and the coverage is excellent. It reads well and is a pleasure. The cost of it is about 20$ from Amazon, either hardcover or paperback. If you prefer the lighter paperback then choose it, but the hardcore will endure better. Please use our link on this page to buy from Amazon because we get credit($) for each purchase.

Here are just a few of the reviews.

"Not only an engrossing read about the distant past, both informative and entertaining, but also a profoundly thought-provoking view of our not-really-so-‘new’ present . . . All medieval history is here, beautifully narrated . . . The vision takes in whole imperial landscapes but also makes room for intimate portraits of key individuals, and even some poems."—Wall Street Journal

"A lively history . . . [Jones] has managed to touch every major topic. As each piece of the puzzle is placed into position, the modern world gradually comes into view . . . Powers and Thrones provides the reader with a framework for understanding a complicated subject, and it tells the story of an essential era of world history with skill and style."—The New York Times

The New York Times bestselling author returns with an epic history of the medieval world—a rich and complicated reappraisal of an era whose legacy and lessons we are still living with today.

Week 22: Mon., Apr. 8, 2024
The Silk Road

WEEK 22

The Silk Road was a network of Eurasian trade routes active from the second century BCE until the mid-15th century. Spanning over 6,400 kilometers (4,000 miles), it played a central role in facilitating economic, cultural, political, and religious interactions between the East and West. The name "Silk Road," first coined in the late 19th century, has fallen into disuse among some modern historians in favor of Silk Routes, on the grounds that it more accurately describes the intricate web of land and sea routes connecting Central, East, South, Southeast, and West Asia as well as East Africa and Southern Europe. The Silk Road derives its name from the highly lucrative trade of silk textiles that were produced almost exclusively in China. The network began with the Han dynasty's expansion into Central Asia around 114 BCE through the missions and explorations of the Chinese imperial envoy Zhang Qian, which brought the region under unified control. The Parthian Empire provided a bridge to East Africa and the Mediterranean. By the early first century CE, Chinese silk was widely sought-after in Rome, Egypt, and Greece. Other lucrative commodities from the East included tea, dyes, perfumes, and porcelain; among Western exports were horses, camels, honey, wine, and gold. Aside from generating substantial wealth for emerging mercantile classes, the proliferation of goods such as paper and gunpowder greatly altered the trajectory of various realms, if not world history. During its roughly 1,500 years of existence, the Silk Road endured the rise and fall of numerous empires and major events such as the Black Death and the Mongol conquests. As a highly decentralized network, security was sparse. Travelers faced constant threats of banditry and nomadic raiders, and long expanses of inhospitable terrain. Few individuals crossed the entirety of the Silk Road, instead relying on a succession of middlemen based at various stopping points along the way. In addition to goods, the network facilitated an unprecedented exchange of ideas, religions (especially Buddhism), philosophies, and scientific discoveries, many of which were syncretised or reshaped by the societies that encountered them. Likewise, a wide variety of people used the routes. Diseases such as plague also spread along the Silk Road, possibly contributing to the Black Death. Despite repeatedly surviving many geopolitical changes and disruptions, the Silk Road abruptly lost its importance with the rise of the Ottoman Empire in 1453, which almost immediately severed trade between East and West. This prompted European efforts to seek alternative routes to Eastern riches, thereby ushering the Age of Discovery, European colonialism, and a more intensified process of globalization, which had arguably begun with the Silk Road. (Wikipedia)

 

REQUIRED READING

Dan Jones,

Powers and Thrones,

Viking,

ISBN 978-1984880871

Week 23: Mon., Apr. 15, 2024
The Crisis of the Medieval Church

WEEK 23

From 1300 to 1415 the international Roman Catholic Church went through a series of crises that brought in true heresy and important national strains to the church and its future. First came the French-led Avignon Papacy followed by true church schism, and then finally a resolution of the various strains at the Council of Constance in 1415.
Avignon Papacy (1309–1377)
During this period, seven popes, all French, resided in Avignon starting in 1309: Pope Clement V (1305–14), Pope John XXII (1316–34), Pope Benedict XII (1334–42), Pope Clement VI (1342–52), Pope Innocent VI (1352–62), Pope Urban V (1362–70), Pope Gregory XI (1370–78). The papacy was controlled by the French King in this time. In 1378, Gregory XI moved the papal residence back to Rome and died there.
Western Schism (1378–1417)
The French cardinals withdrew to a conclave of their own, where they elected one of their number, Robert of Geneva. He took the name Clement VII. This was the beginning of the period of difficulty from 1378 to 1417 which Catholic scholars refer to as the "Western Schism" or, "the great controversy of the antipopes" (also called "the second great schism" by some secular and Protestant historians), when parties within the Catholic Church were divided in their allegiances among the various claimants to the office of pope.
The Council of Constance, in 1417,
An international church council was convened in 1414 at Constance. In March 1415, the Pisan antipope, John XXIII, fled from Constance in disguise; he was brought back a prisoner and deposed in May. The Roman pope, Gregory XII, resigned voluntarily in July. The council in Constance, having finally cleared the field of popes and antipopes, elected Pope Martin V as pope in November. From the election of Pope Martin V at the Council of Constance in 1417 to the Reformation, Western Christianity was largely free from schism as well as significant disputed papal claimants. Martin V returned the papacy to Rome in 1420 and began to rebuild the international church in its traditional capital.

Week 24: Mon., Apr. 22, 2024
1348

WEEK 24

Messina, October 1347
In early October 1347, twelve Genoese galleys put in at the port of Messina in Sicily. The town was one of the principal stopping-off points on the lucrative trade route from the East that brought silks and spices along the Old Silk Road, through the Crimea, across the Black Sea and into Europe. On this occasion, however, no silks nor spices were to be unloaded from the vessels, which had probably come from the trading stations Genoa maintained at Tana and Kaffa on the north coast of the Black Sea. The port authorities found, to their horror, that scarcely anyone onboard the twelve galleys was left alive, and those who were exhibited a pronounced lethargy and a strange sickness 'that seemed to cling to their very bones'. They suffered from black boils and everything that came out of their bodies – breath, blood, pus – smelled awful. The presence of the galleys was deemed a public health emergency of the first order and, within a day or so, the galleys were driven from the port, so afraid were the Messinese of what they found on board the Genoese vessels

450 million – approximate world population prior to the Black Death.
350– million – the estimated global population after the pandemic.
100-200 million – the number of people across Europe and Asia believed to have perished in the pandemic.
4 years – the length of time the Black Death peaked in Europe.
40-50% – the estimated death toll in Europe.
70-80% – the estimated death toll in southern Europe
(Spain, France and Italy), where plague lasted four years
20% – the estimated death toll in England & Scandinavia.

THE CAUSE:
Yersinia pestis (formerly Pasteurella pestis)
Gram-negative, rod-shaped coccobacillus, a bacterium that can infect humans and animals. It causes the deadly disease named plague. Human Y. pestis infection takes three main forms: pneumonic, septicemic, and bubonic plagues. All three forms were responsible for a number of high-mortality epidemics throughout human history, including: the sixth century's Plague of Justinian; the Black Death, which accounted for the death of at least one-third of the European population between 1347 and 1353; and the 19th century's Third Pandemic.These plagues probably originated in rodent populations in China.Y. pestis was discovered in 1894 byAlexandre Yersin, a Swiss/French physician and bacteriologist from the Pasteur Institute, during an epidemic of plague in Hong Kong. Yersin was a member of the Pasteur school of thought. Yersin actually linked plague with Y. pestis. Originally named Pasteurella pestis, the organism was renamed in 1967.

Every year, thousands of cases of plague are still reported to the World Health Organization

Week 25: Mon., Apr. 29, 2024
Francesco Petrarca

WEEK 25

Petrarch (1304-1374) by William H. Fredlund
The great Italian poet and classical scholar Francesco Petrarca was born in Arezzo, a central Italian city south of Florence, in 1304. "I was born to this world in the Via dell' Orto of the city of Arezzo, just at dawn on Monday, July 20, in the thirteen hundred and fourth year of this latest age which takes its name from Jesus Christ, fountain and author of all my hope." (See Photos for a picture of the family house on Via dell' Orto). The family was temporarily living in Arezzo while Petrarch's father suffered the same exile from Florence that had forced Dante into exile. Soon after his birth Petrarch's family was on the move again. From the beginning to the end, Petrarch lived his life in a curious tandem with the life of his famous predecessor, Dante Alighieri. By the time Petrarch achieved real literary fame he began to dream of being the most famous and admired Italian writer – ever! And shadowing his every move and every publication was the reputation of Dante. Always Dante! Petrarch and Boccaccio spent many hours discussing their famous predecessor and although Boccaccio never seemed to resent the unassailable fame of Dante, Petrarch was annoyed by the idea that the greatest Italian poet was named Dante and not Petrarch. The two lives were inextricably bound together as both were from exiled Florentine families whose fortunes might be improved by the arrival of Emperor Henry VII in Italy in 1311. Thus both the Alighieri family in the person of Dante, and the Petrarca family led by Francesco's father were present in Pisa for the visit of the Emperor. If the two famous Italian writers ever met each other it had to be in Pisa in 1311, when Petrarch's father took the family to Pisa to meet the imperial hope of his political party. We know Dante was there too. How interesting it would be to know what Dante Alighieri said to the seven-year old Francesco Petrarca: "Study your books well young man, and you too can grow up to be a great poet!" In 1312, Petrarch's father took the family to France to live in the city of Avignon where the Papal court was located temporarily (temporarily for about sixty years!) while French popes dallied in the Provence sun and delayed their return to Rome. This move of the Tuscan family of Petrarch into the heart of southern French culture was one of the most important experiences of Petrarch's life. It gave him a whole new culture, a new language, to add to his native Tuscan roots and this cultural melting pot produced a complex and tension-filled set of loyalties that ultimately provided him with insights that were at the heart of his totally unique cultural vision that he formed in his writings. This tension between his Tuscan Italian self and the new French Petrarch of these youthful days was also one of the most important reasons that Petrarch later made such extraordinary intellectual leaps. And it was this unique personal story of Francesco Petrarch that lead directly to the Renaissance itself. Petrarchs' youth was lived in France and in French. He went to school in Avignon and to the University at Montpellier. And as a proud Tuscan growing up in a family full of memories of a noble family lineage in Tuscany, he resented the French and their ubiquitous cultural pride that made fun of his accented French (how things change!) and chaffed under the brunt of French cultural superiority. This experience led directly to Petrarch's later expression of Italian national pride both political and linguistic (see his "Italia Mia"). And this Italian pride was one of the most important factors in the origins of the Italian Renaissance itself. Much of the Italian Renaissance involved Italian pride annoyed by French assumptions of cultural superiority. We must remember that when Dante began writing in the late thirteenth century, any intellectual presuming to international fame and success would choose to write in French. "Italian" didn't even exist. The Italian language was nothing more than a gathering of noisy dialects. It is the work of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio who together establish the Tuscan dialect as "Italian" and do so with great pride and the conviction that this language is as good if not better than French. In 1320, Petrarch came "home." He came to the University of Bologna, one of the oldest and greatest of all the European universities. Petrarch came to Bologna to study law. And he hated it. When his father died in 1326, he and his brother Gherardo returned to southern France to attend to the estate and for the next twenty five years, Petrarch lived the life of the Italian exile enjoying the rich life of Avignon overrun with money and papal politics. In 1327, in the church of Santa Clara in Avignon Petrarch saw and fell in love with Laura. This encounter inspired him to write a series of small poems to her and about her and about love. These poems became part of Petrarch's most influential work, that which came to be called Il Canzoniere, the collection of hundreds of sonnets about love. In Italian, Il Canzoniere is also called Le Rime Sparse or The Dispersed Rhymes and then later all collected together into Il Canzoniere (The Songbook). Petrarch never realized that Il Canzoniere would be his most influential work. He was devoted to his Classical studies, to stories and histories of Rome and therefore always assumed that his great work was his imitation of Virgil in his Latin poem called Africa about the struggle for power between Rome and Carthage. Africa is almost never read now except by experts studying Petrarch whereas the poems collected together in Il Canzoniere may be the most influential collection of poetry written by any European after the fall of Rome. The influence of Il Canzoniere derives from its power with the form of the sonnet. Petrarch "invented" the sonnet for modern Europe. The origins of the sonnet can be found in the twelfth century in the world of Courtly Love and in the vast production of hundreds of Courtly Love poets. But it is the work of Petrarch and the sheer power and influence of his hundreds of sonnets collected in Il Canzoniere that established the form of the sonnet which is then discovered and imitated by poets who visited Italy and studied both the language and the sonnet form and carried this form back to their own country. This process is especially important for England. Sir Thomas Wyatt came to Italy in 1527 and studied Petrarch, translated him into English and carried the sonnet back to England. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, did the same thing and advanced the sonnet and revised it into the English form which later became the model for Shakespeare's own sonnets. The sonnet is a poem of fourteen lines. It is short and therefore seizes on one mood or one thought or one person to talk softly and gently of love and loving, love lost, love future, love past, love, love, love. Sonnets usually are written about love. The sonnet consists of fourteen lines that follow two rhyme patterns: a b b a a b b a called the Petrarchian pattern, or a b a b c d c d e f e f g g called the Elizabethan (Shakespeare). The sonnet usually has 10, 11, or 12 syllables per line. The sonnet is so familiar to us that it hardly seems conceivable that there could have been a time when it was not such a common poetic mode of expression. But this is the case and the creation of the sonnet as the most popular poetic form in the 15th and 16th and 17th centuries is due primarily to the work of Petrarch. And therefore it is extremely interesting to speculate about the unique quality of the sonnet that appeals to the age of the Renaissance whereas the vast encyclopedic work like the Divine Comedy falls out of fashion in this period. The appeal of the sonnet may have to do with the growing power of individualism in the Renaissance. In an age when individual character, individual even eccentric thoughts, individual uniqueness and personal interior feelings and thoughts, are of great interest to writers, the sonnet allows the writer to concentrate on himself, his thoughts, his feelings, to the exclusion of all else. It is a highly personal literary form. In the twenty five years between Petrarch's return to France and his final move back to Italy, he traveled incessantly. He visited popes, emperors, and kings. He went to Rome for the first time in 1337 and was powerfully impressed with the meaning and majesty of Rome. He bought a charming, small house in the Provence countryside in Vauclause near Avignon and wrote beautiful sonnets filled with the sounds and aromas of the country: of water and fountains and grasses and flowers. He extolled the life of the country far from the noise and the filth of the city and then he rushed back to the excitement of the city. It sounds all very modern doesn't it? In 1353, Petrarch returned to Italy and for the last quarter of his life he lived in Milan, Padua, Venice and other Italian cities, and he became the most famous writer alive. His poetry, his scholarly writings, his letters which were published, all established him as an international celebrity. And when in 1361 he went to Paris to receive the accolades of the King of France it is the mark of literary supremacy that suddenly an Italian is being lauded in Paris as the greatest of living literary figures. Petrarch observed in his own life a complete reversal of international linguistic fashion. When he was born, French was the premiere literary language. When he died in 1374, Italian was now the equal if not the superior of French. This reversal is due to the work of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. Petrarch's last years were happy and contented. He built a charming house in the hills south of Padua and his children joined him there (children all born out of wedlock, but all acknowledged and supported by Petrarch). His daughter Francesca joined him there with her own family and his last years were filled with the happy noise of grandchildren running around the garden and the laughter of friends who had dropped in for yet another wonderful dinner. The dinners would last into the late hours of the night with much wine and hilarious stories about Cicero and Julius Caesar. Above all Petarch was a writer. And here is Petrarch the writer recounting to us a wonderful moment at his desk: "I had got this far, and was thinking of what to say next, and as my habit is, I was pricking the paper idly with my pen. And I thought how, between one dip of the pen and the next, time goes on, and I hurry, drive myself, and speed toward death. We are always dying. I while I write, you while you read, and others while they listen or stop their ears, they are all dying." On a bright summer morning in 1374, on the nineteenth of July, Francesca went into her father's study and found him at his desk slumped over dead with pen just dropped out of his hand as he wrote his Life of Julius Caesar.

RECOMMENDED READING:

Petrarch,

Selections from the Canzoniere,

translated by Mark Musa,

Oxford World's Classics,

ISBN 0199540691

RECOMMENDED READING

Barbara Tuchman,

A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century,

Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reissue edition (July 12, 1987),

ISBN 0345349571

This is the best book in English on the 14th Century and I can't imagine anyone will ever write a better one. Barbara Tuchman was a miracle in the history world. She had no special training; she was just a Manhattan housewife who loved history. One day she walked down Fifth Avenue to the New York Public Library. She began to read and soon began to write and was soon into a spectacular career as an international best-selling author. She wrote five of the best books ever written in the field. Her masterpiece is A Distant Mirror on the 14th Century. She takes one character, Enguerand de Coucy, a French noble whose life touched almost everyone important in the century, and then she takes us all through the stories of the incredible century. History has never been better. It is like a novel; only better. You can read it on paper, in Kindle, or on audible.

Amazon Comment:
In this sweeping historical narrative, Barbara Tuchman writes of the cataclysmic 14th century, when the energies of medieval Europe were devoted to fighting internecine wars and warding off the plague. Some medieval thinkers viewed these disasters as divine punishment for mortal wrongs; others, more practically, viewed them as opportunities to accumulate wealth and power. One of the latter, whose life informs much of Tuchman's book, was the French nobleman Enguerrand de Coucy, who enjoyed the opulence and elegance of the courtly tradition while ruthlessly exploiting the peasants under his thrall. Tuchman looks into such events as the Hundred Years War, the collapse of the medieval church, and the rise of various heresies, pogroms, and other events that caused medieval Europeans to wonder what they had done to deserve such horrors.

Reviews:
“Beautifully written, careful and thorough in its scholarship . . . What Ms. Tuchman does superbly is to tell how it was. . . . No one has ever done this better.”—The New York Review of Books

“A beautiful, extraordinary book . . . Tuchman at the top of her powers . . . She has done nothing finer.”—The Wall Street Journal

“Wise, witty, and wonderful . . . a great book, in a great historical tradition.”—Commentary

From the Publisher
Anyone who has read THE GUNS OF AUGUST or STILWELL AND THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE IN CHINA, knows that Barbara Tuchman was one of the most gifted American writers of this century. Her subject was history, but her profiles of great men and great events are drawn with such power that reading Tuchman becomes a riveting experience. In A DISTANT MIRROR, Barbara Tuchman illuminates the Dark Ages. Her description of medieval daily life, the role of the church, the influence of the Great Plagues, and the social and political conventions that make this period of history so engrossing, are carefully woven into an integrated narrative that sweeps the reader along. I am a particular devotee of medieval and pre Renaissance music, so Barbara Tuchman's brilliant analysis of this period has special meaning for me - and I hope for many others. George Davidson, Director of Production, The Ballantine Publishing Group

About the Author
Barbara W. Tuchman (1912–1989) achieved prominence as a historian with The Zimmermann Telegram and international fame with The Guns of August—a huge bestseller and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Her other works include Bible and Sword, The Proud Tower, Stilwell and the American Experience in China (for which Tuchman was awarded a second Pulitzer Prize), Notes from China, A Distant Mirror, Practicing History, The March of Folly, and The First Salute.

Week 26: Mon., May. 6, 2024
Fourteenth Century Florence

WEEK 26

Palazzovecchio

On and around the year 1000 AD, the cities of Europe, and especially of Italy, turned a corner. After centuries of war and invasion, almost suddenly, there was peace. Travel on land and sea became safer. Products moved around more easily. People moved around more easily. And thus during the Eleventh Century, there was a general resurgence of the European economy and especially that of the cities. The cities grew fast. They expanded fast. They built bigger walls. They built huge new cathedrals and huge new city halls like the building on the right, the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. In order to understand this phenomenon we will take one Italian city, Florence, and tell its story from the end of the Roman Empire in the sixth century to the great expansion of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Of all the possible choices for our study, Florence has a major advantage for our study: it was a Roman founded city, it declined as Rome declined, it surged back as all of Europe and Italy rebounded in the eleventh century. Its trajectory reveals exactly the Italian story of so many other cities.

RECOMMENDED READING

This two-volume history of Florence is the best detailed study of Florence ever written. Schevill wrote a masterpiece of well researched narrative history for Florence in 1936 and then it was republished in a Harper Torchbook paperback in 1961. The Harper Torchbook is still out there in used book stores so we have purchased five for our library. But there are still copies left if you want to own one. It is two volumes with the first volume devoted to our period of Medieval History and the second volume on Renaissance Florence.  For the Lombards see Medieval Florence (Volume 1) Chapter Three, "Darkness Over Florence."

Ferdinand Schevill,

Medieval and Renaissance Florence,

Harper Torchbook paperback, 1963, 2 volumes,

ISBN B000PX4SUU

Week 27: Mon., May. 13, 2024
Medieval Science

WEEK 27

Our interests in this class are the Medieval philosophers such as Roger Bacon who understood empirical science. In the early 1400's, a scientific center at the Florentine Cathedral experimented and achieved some sophisticated research under the leadership of many Florentine philosophers, as well as Brunelleschi and other artists.

Lacking in all of these earlier phases of science were three essential aspects of modern science: 1) devices such as the microscope, developed specifically to be used in discovery and experimentation; 2) A publicly chartered institution, with its own building, established for and dedicated to science; and 3) a scientific publication. These three new features of modern science appeared in England in the 1660s, during the monarchy of Charles II.

RECOMMENDED READING

This book based on lectures delivered earlier, was first published in 1957.  There have been many other books since then on this subject, but Butterfield is still the right place to begin.  A great book and still in print.

Herbert Butterfield,

The Origins of Modern Science,

Free Press; Revised edition (April 1, 1997),

ISBN 0684836378

Review:

Superb Book September 29, 2003 By Benjamin B. Eshbach Format:Paperback

Professor Butterfield's history is easy to read and refreshing. Especially interesting are his chapters on pre-Newtonian mechanics and the transfer from Ptolemaic to Copernican models of the universe.

Butterfield gives you a nice introduction to the evolution of science.

Week 28: Mon., May. 20, 2024
England in the Fourteenth Century

WEEK 28

The 14th century in England saw the Great Famine and the Black Death, catastrophic events that killed around half of England's population, throwing the economy into chaos, and undermining the old political order. Social unrest followed, resulting in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, while the changes in the economy resulted in the emergence of a new class of gentry, and the nobility began to exercise power through a system termed bastard feudalism. Nearly 1,500 villages were deserted by their inhabitants and many men and women sought new opportunities in the towns and cities. New technologies were introduced, and England produced some of the great medieval philosophers and natural scientists. English kings in the 14th and 15th centuries laid claim to the French throne, resulting in the Hundred Years' War. At times England enjoyed huge military success, with the economy buoyed by profits from the international wool and cloth trade, but by 1450 the country was in crisis, facing military failure in France and an ongoing recession. More social unrest broke out, followed by the Wars of the Roses, fought between rival factions of the English nobility. Henry VII's victory in 1485 conventionally marks the end of the Middle Ages in England and the start of the Early Modern period.(Wikipedia)

Week 29: Mon., May. 27, 2024
Geoffrey Chaucer

WEEK 29

Geoffrey Chaucer 1340–1400) was an English poet, author, and civil servant best known for The Canterbury Tales. He has been called the "father of English literature", or, alternatively, the "father of English poetry". He was the first writer to be buried in what has since come to be called Poets' Corner, in Westminster Abbey. Chaucer also gained fame as a philosopher and astronomer, composing the scientific A Treatise on the Astrolabe for his 10-year-old son Lewis. He maintained a career in the civil service as a bureaucrat, courtier, diplomat, and member of parliament. Among Chaucer's many other works are The Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame, The Legend of Good Women, and Troilus and Criseyde. He is seen as crucial in legitimising the literary use of Middle English when the dominant literary languages in England were still Anglo-Norman French and Latin. Chaucer's contemporary Thomas Hoccleve hailed him as "the firste fyndere of our fair langage" (i.e., the first one capable of finding poetic matter in English). Almost two thousand English words are first attested to in Chaucerian manuscripts. As scholar Bruce Holsinger has argued, charting Chaucer's life and work comes with many challenges related to the "difficult disjunction between the written record of his public and private life and the literary corpus he left behind". His recorded works and his life show many personas that are "ironic, mysterious, elusive [or] cagey" in nature, ever-changing with new discoveries.

(Wikipedia)

 

REQUIRED READING

Geoffrey Chaucer,

The Canterbury Tales: A Selection (Penguin Classics),

Colin Wilcockson,

Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (July 28, 2009),

ISBN 978-0140424454

Week 30: Mon., Jun. 3, 2024
Canterbury Tales

WEEK 30

The Canterbury Tales is a collection of twenty-four stories that runs to over 17,000 lines written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer between 1387 and 1400. The tales (mostly written in verse, although some are in prose) are presented as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together from London to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. The prize for this contest is a free meal at the Tabard Inn at Southwark on their return. It has been suggested that the greatest contribution of The Canterbury Tales to English literature was the popularization of the English vernacular in mainstream literature, as opposed to French, Italian or Latin. English had, however, been used as a literary language centuries before Chaucer's time, and several of Chaucer's contemporaries—John Gower, William Langland, and Julian of Norwich also wrote major literary works in English. (Wikipedia)

REQUIRED READING

Geoffrey Chaucer,

The Canterbury Tales: A Selection (Penguin Classics),

Colin Wilcockson,

Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (July 28, 2009),

ISBN 978-0140424454