Syllabus: Hist 101: World History to 1500 (Fall 2012)

Prof. Jonathan Dresner
Phone: 235-4315
Office: RH 406F

Hist 101, sections 02 and 03 (Fall 2012)
RH 301, MWF 12 and 2
Office Hours: MWF 11-12, 1-2; Tu 9-11, 1-3

“The only frame suitable for introducing students to the world
in which they live is world history.” — William H. McNeill

 Course Description

Tool-making. Fire. Tribalism. The wheel. Agricultural cultivation. Priests and Kings. Trade, money. Writing! Copper, Bronze, Iron. Paper and parchment. Philosophy and religion. Trade routes and treaties. Families and languages. Conquest and assimilation. Disease, slavery, famine. Knights, warriors, barbarians. Empires, and lawyers. In other words, human civilization.

History is the study of humanity and change over time. In this class we’ll have lots of both: the whole world over about 4000 years (that’s about 2 years per minute of class time), from our pre-writing roots through some of the great civilizations the world has produced. Though this class ends five hundred years ago, many of the ideas will be familiar: Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism. Some will seem obscure — Zoroastrianism, Legalism, Jain, animism — but nonetheless their legacies endure.

This face-to-face class (with online supplements) will examine this history through many lenses: political, economic, social, cultural, personal. The textbook will provide the basic survey of the history as well as other sources that will give greater depth and texture to subjects we will be discussing. There will be additional readings of primary sources, the original documents used by historians. The lectures and discussions will guide the students through the readings and assignments, introduce multiple perspectives, and addresss the challenges and pleasures of Doing History.


History is about real people, diverse cultures, interesting theories, strongly held belief systems, complex situations and dramatic actions. This information may be disturbing. Such is the nature of historical study.

 Course Goals

This is a general education course, and no course which covers so much time and space could be anything but general. Nonetheless, students should master many specific historical, cultural and sociological facts related to world history to 1500, as well as aspects of historical and social theory. Reading and writing will be very important skills developed in this course, as is respect for the cultures of the world throughout time.

In addition to the historical and cultural content, students will demonstrate increasing mastery of critical reading of primary and secondary sources in writing and discussion. “Critical” does not mean “attacking” but “analytical”: putting material in historical and cultural context, drawing appropriate inferences and deductions from the evidence of the text, and raising relevant questions for futher inquiry.

Course Application

Within the General Education requirements, this course counts towards the Human Heritage requirement. This course is also an important part of the History majors.

Students who actively engage the course material and assignments will not only be gaining knowledge, but will also be developing important skills as articulated in the General Education goals, especially the “Human Heritage” skills:

  • Demonstrate an appreciation for the range and diversity of humankind’s wisdom, values, ideas, beliefs, and reasoning.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of human behavior, the human condition, and human institutions in the context of historical, literary, or philosophical inquiry.
  • Demonstrate recognition of the inter-relatedness of the past, present, and future

Course Website:

I will be using Canvas for announcements and some assignments, but many course resources will be available through the above site. Anything assigned for class will be linked from Canvas, but feel free to explore the other resources available.


In the event of a disparity between the original syllabus and online schedule, the online schedule will be correct: I reserve the right to change readings, test dates, due dates, grade weights and assignments as necessary throughout the semester.


Students are expected to behave respectfully towards their peers and instructor. Disruptive behavior, including failing to turn off cell phones during class, will result in penalties and possibly removal from the classroom. This does not mean that there can’t be lively discussions and disagreements, but personal attacks, interruptions, excessive volume, threatening gestures or words, and failure to give others a chance to speak and be heard are not acceptable. This applies online as well as in class.

 Technology in the classroom

The use of laptop computers, tablet computers, smartphones and other devices is not permitted.  While there are legitimate educational uses for these tools, most research on classroom use shows that they are more distracting than enabling, especially to fellow students. Students using computers or cell phones without permission will be asked to leave and will not get credit for attendance. Special exceptions may be made by the instructor only for disability accomodation and official note-takers.

The use of recording equipment, audio, photographic or video, or speech-to-text transcription software is not permitted. Arrangements may be made for students with documented disabilities. Students violating this restriction will be asked to leave and may face grade penalties and disciplinary action.

You should check your email at least daily: if you don’t use a university email account regularly, set it to forward mail to your preferred address. I check email regularly: you should hear back from me within 24 hours. If you send me an assignment, I will reply with an acknowledgement. If I don’t reply, I probably did not get the email: try again.

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism will not be tolerated in this course. Plagiarism is the use of the words or ideas of another person without proper acknowledgement. Plagiarism is intellectual theft; in an educational setting it is particularly repugnant. Plagiarism in my courses will be punished. It’s simple: Anytime you copy words into your own work, you must clearly mark them and acknowledge the source of those words. Anytime you use someone else’s ideas, you must admit it. There are three options: put it in quotation marks and footnote; paraphrase and footnote; or be original. If you have any questions or any concerns about citation format or necessity, ask someone who knows what they’re doing.

Other forms of academic misconduct will not be tolerated either, including the use of unauthorized aid on tests, failing to write one’s own papers, using papers for more than one course without permission. None of this precludes group study and discussion: those are actually really good ideas. Academic misconduct will result in zero credit for an assignment, and may result in failure of the course or other penalties.

For more detail, see the relevant sections of the University Catalog:


Advising is designed to help students complete the requirements of the University and their individual majors. Students should consult with their advisor at least once a semester to decide on courses, check progress towards graduation, and discuss career options and other educational opportunities. Advising is a shared responsibility, but students have final responsibility for meeting degree requirements.

 Student Accommodation

Any student with a documented disability who would like to request accommodations should contact the instructor as early in the semester as possible. For more information, contact the Center for Student Accomodations (235-4309,

 Syllabus supplement

For official PSU policies and information about campus resources, notifications, attendance, financial aid, expectations, grades, etc., see:


All schedules, assignments, and policies in the syllabus are subject to change. Check the website, which will have the most current, accurate information, as well as copies of course handouts.


Reading assignments should be done before class on the day indicated. I strongly recommend that you read and think about the study questions in the textbook as preparation for class. All other assigned readings, either books or web-based, also should be read in full (unless otherwise indicated in the syllabus) before class on the assigned date.

Textbook: Peter Stearns, Michael Adas, Stuart B. Schwartz, Marc Jason Gilbert, World Civilizations: The Global Experience, Volume 1 (6th Edition), 2010, Pearson/Longman, ISBN 978-0205659586

Homework: Primary Source Readings and Videos

Primary sources are what historians call documents that are original from the time period being studied; these are the raw materials that historians use to answer questions and build our understanding of the worlds of the past. There are ten (10) primary source readings in addition to the textbook. For each one, students will do a short document summary and analysis assignment, which will be a starting place for our class discussions. There will also be two (2) video summary/response assignments. Out of the twelve homework assignments, I will drop the lowest two grades from the final grade calculation.

Grading Standard: Grades for homework are based primarily on timely completion. A small portion of the grade will be based on the quality and depth of the answers, depending on the assignment.


My lectures do not “cover” the textbook. The lectures and textbook are intended to supplement each other, not duplicate material: you are responsible for learning from both. Some of my lectures will expand on the history presented in the textbook, adding detail and alternative understandings. Some of my lectures will be about historical practice and theory as it applies to specific topics. Some of my lectures will address people, places and situations which aren’t in the textbook at all. I will sometimes correct or disagree with the textbook or other historians. Historians do that.

I expect the lectures and classroom discussions to be reflected in your test and essay answers; if you’re not paying attention, participating and taking notes, you will almost certainly not do as well, gradewise. Research on student learning shows that handwritten notes greatly improve information retention.


There will be five short essay ID tests based on lists of terms — names, events, concepts, sources — which will be distributed as a study guide. I have scheduled a day before each test for catching up, discussion, practice or questions. I will drop the lowest of the five grades from your final grade calculation. See the study guide for more detail.

Grading Standard: Grades are based on the completeness and historical awareness of the answers. Since the study guide includes all the terms which may appear on the test, student will be expected to know not only the basic factual background, but to have given some thought to historical context and importance. For more detail, see the study guide.

Final Exam Essays

The final exam will cover all readings, resources and lectures of the course. It will be consist of two take-home essay assignments. Questions and detailed instructions will be distributed well before the final exam due date.

Grading Standard: The grade is based primarily on the strength of your argument as an answer to the question: thesis, evidence (completeness and handling), logic. Be careful to address all parts of the question: when asked to pick between two choices, for example, it’s not enough to say what the positive argument for your side is without discussing the possible arguments for the other side. Clarity is crucial; structure is essential to a clear and effective argument. I am expecting a real essay, with introductions, thesis, paragraphs, conclusions, etc. Don’t assume that “an answer” will be easily found in one section of one book. These questions require broad knowledge and analytical thinking. Among other things, this means that questions that look simple generally require a second look.

Professionalism: Preparation, Attendance and Participation

This is not just a classroom: it is a work space, and you are adults. You are expected to be present and prepared for class time not only physically but intellectually, and to carry out your assignments in a timely and careful fashion. You are responsible for keeping track of assignments, due dates, and announcements made through the course website.

The essence of scholarship is constructive engagement; the best learning comes from doing. It is very important that everyone keep up with the readings, and come to class prepared to think and talk and question and listen. Asking good questions is an important form of participation. Asking questions which can be easily answered by referencing the syllabus, course website or textbook is not.

Absences may be excused for unusual school-related events (not athletic practices), illness or family crises, but only if I am informed in advance (email is preferable, so I have a record) or you have documentation (such as a doctor’s note). Unexcused absences will affect your grade. Failure to complete assignments, or consistently sloppy or incorrect work, will also affect your professionalism grade.

There may be days on which there will be a video lecture or other assignments available online rather than an in-class lecture. Students are not required to come to class on those days. Recorded lectures may also be used to make up a day lost to weather or instructor absence; these are also required.

There will sometimes be homework assignments which do not fall into the above categories which will be considered part of the professionalism grade. The first assignment is to find the student information form on the course website, complete it, and submit it to the instructor before the next class.

Extra Credit

I will announce cultural and historical events for which extra credit may be earned. To get extra credit, attend or participate in the event listed, and write a short (under two pages, single-spaced) summary of the event and describe your reaction and what you learned from it. Check the website for current listings. Visits to museums, art galleries, historical sites and other cultural institutions may also qualify. If you know of an event or a cultural institution and would like to have it considered for extra credit, or announced to the class, let me know. Extra Credits are added to the professionalism score at the end of the semester.

I need at least one volunteer who will be taking good notes on my lectures to share them with me for students who need notetaking assistance. Preferably someone who types their notes and can provide the text quickly. Contact me after class or by email as soon as possible. This is not a paid position, but we do need someone responsible, reliable. And there is extra credit.

Grade Policies

  • Grades are generally recorded on a 100-point scale. For some assignments, I may use a 4-point scale to calculate the letter grade, but it will be recorded as a 100-point scale value. I reserve the right to adjust grade scales upwards to reflect the performance of the class as a whole; I do not “curve” grades towards a target distribution, nor do I adjust grade scales downwards.
  • Assignment format, requirements and due dates will be included in the assignment instructions: read them carefully, and ask questions well in advance of the due date if there is anything you do not understand.
  • If hard copy (printed) is required, email will only be accepted as proof of completion in emergencies: the student is still responsible to get a printed copy to the instructor as soon as possible. For assignments which are to be turned in by email, I will send a confirmation email; If you have not gotten one in a reasonable amount of time (a day or so), it is your responsibility to confirm that your assignment was received.
  • In the event of an excused absence on an assignment due date, the student is responsible for turning in the work no later than the next class, unless other arrangements have been made.
  • Unexcused late assignments, due to absence, technical problems, etc., will be penalized one-half grade level (5% on a 100-point scale) per class period late.
  • Even very, very bad (or very late) work will get partial credit, which is a lot better than a zero (especially on a 100-point scale).
  • Plagiarism or other violations of academic honesty will result in zero credit on that assignment and may result in an F or XF for the semester depending on circumstances.

Grade Distribution:

Professionalism (Attendance, etc.)


Homeworks (10)


Tests (4)


Final Essays (2)


 Schedule of Readings and Assignments

  • Instructional holidays and administrative deadlines are in italics.
  • Tests and Assignment Deadlines are in Bold
  • Links to document readings are available on the course website
  • A more detailed version will be on the course website, with all necessary updates and corrections.
  • I reserve the right to change readings, test dates, due dates, grade weights and assignments as necessary throughout the semester



M (8/20) Course Stuff
W (8/22) Nature of History
F (8/24) WC, chap. 1
M (8/27) WC, chap. 2; Reading: Hammurabi

Last day to enroll or add without instructor permission.
Last day for online enrollment.

W (8/29) Reading: Ptah-Hotep
F (8/31) WC, chap. 3

Last Day to drop without ‘W’

M (9/3) Labor Day holiday
W (9/5) WC, chap. 4 ; Reading: The Great Learning
F (9/7)
M (9/10) Catch-up/Review
W (9/12) Test #1
F (9/14) WC, chap. 5 ; Reading: The Funeral Oration of Pericles ; Reading: The Melian Dialogue
M (9/17) Online: From Jesus to Christ, part 1 (2 hours).

Instructor Absent: Rosh Hashanah

W (9/19)
F (9/21)
M (9/24) WC, chap. 6

Last day for half tuition refund

W (9/26) Online: From Jesus to Christ, part 2 (2 hours)

Instructor Absent: Yom Kippur

F (9/28) Reading: Buddha’s First Sermon, Vow of the Bodhisattva
M (10/1) WC, chap. 7
W (10/3) Columbus Day (not a holiday)
F (10/5) Catch-up/Review
M (10/8) Test #2
W (10/10) WC, chap. 9
F (10/12) WC, chap. 10
M (10/15) Midsemester D/F Grades Due by Noon
W (10/17) WC, chap. 11 ; Reading: Quran, Surahs 1 and 2
F (10/19)
M (10/22) Catch-up/Review
W (10/24) Test #3
F (10/26) Fall Break

Last day to apply for December graduation

M (10/29) WC, chap. 12
W (10/31) WC, chap. 13
F (11/2) WC, chap. 14 ; Reading: Corpus Iuris Civilis
M (11/5) WC, chap. 15 ; Reading: Magna Carta

Last day to drop single course.

Early Enrollment for Spring begins

W (11/7)
F (11/9) Catch-up/Review
M (11/12) Test #4
W (11/14) WC, chap. 8

WC, chap. 16

F (11/16) WC, chap. 17
M (11/19)
W (11/21) Thanksgiving Holiday
F (11/23) Thanksgiving Holiday
M (11/26) WC, chap. 18 ; Reading: Prince Shotoku’s Constitution
W (11/28) WC, chap. 19
11/29 Last day to withdraw from entire term.
F (11/30) WC, chap. 20
M (12/3)
W (12/5) Catch-up/Review
F (12/7) Test #5
Final Exams MWF 12 (RH 301) – W, 12/12, 12-1:50

MWF 2 (RH301) – M, 12/10, 2-3:50


“History” is a Greek word which means, literally, just “investigation.'”
— Arnold Toynbee

“Historical awareness is a kind of resurrection.”
— William Least Heat Moon

“History is a reconstruction of life in its wholeness, not of the superficial aspects,
but of the deeper, inner organic processes.” — Michelet

“People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them.”
— James Baldwin

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