World History to 1500 (Fall 2016)

Hist 101, sections 01 and 02
RH 405, MWF 10 and 12
Prof. Jonathan Dresner
Office: RH 406F
Phone: 235-4315
Office Hours: MWF 11-12, 1-2;
Other times by appointment

Course Description

Tool-making. Fire. 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 produced before 1500. 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 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. There will be primary source readings, the original documents used by historians. Historians’ perspectives will be examined in books and documentaries. Lectures and discussions will guide students through the readings and assignments, introduce multiple perspectives, and address the challenges and pleasures of Doing History.


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


In the event of a disparity between the original syllabus and online schedule, the online schedule will be correct. In the event of weather-related cancellations or other interruptions, you should continue to follow the syllabus schedule of readings and homework until and unless I notify you of changes. I reserve the right to change readings, test dates, due dates, grade weights and assignments as necessary throughout the semester.


The earliest motto of Pittsburg State University was “By Doing Learn.” The essence of education is active and constructive engagement: It is important to keep up with the readings, and come to class prepared to think and talk and question and listen. Questions, discussions, and arguments are what advance our understanding in any field; history is no exception. If you have questions about the textbook, about the history not represented in the textbook, about my presentations, about the primary sources and other homeworks, or about history being discussed outside of class, I will do my best to address those questions.

Required Textbooks

  •  Jerry Bentley and Herbert Ziegler and Heather Streets Salter, Traditions & Encounters, Volume 1 From the Beginning to 1500, 6th Edition,  McGraw-Hill Education; 2015. ISBN13: 9780077504908
    You may, of course, acquire this from any source, in any format you wish: new or used, print or electronic, purchased or rented. I will be assigning Volume 2 in the Spring: if you wish to continue that course with me, you may want to consider buying the Combined volume (ISBN 13: 9780073407029)
  • Rachel Laudan, Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History, University of California Press, 2015. Available as an e-book through Axe Summon, though you are welcome to purchase your own copy in whatever format works best for you; there’s a nice paperback.

Additional Web-based primary source readings, videos, etc.

Reading assignments should be done before class on the day indicated. Also pay attention to the terms listed in the Study Guide: those will be the terms from which tests are drawn. 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.

Reading The Textbooks: Research on student learning shows that handwritten notes greatly improve information retention, as does repeated study of material. I recommend skimming the textbook chapters, to identify the range of topics, which ones seem most important, and what questions are being addressed. Then look at the study guide terms for the chapter and re-read the chapter more slowly, paying particular attention to the discussions of the terms, their context and their significance, as well as any topics or questions which remain unclear, unanswered, or unconvincing. At this point you may want to start writing your own notes, either about the study terms or about the chapter as a whole. After lectures and discussions related to the chapter, during which you should raise any questions you have, reread the chapter to see how it fits together, expand on the significance of the terms. Obviously, you’ll want to review the chapter again, starting with your notes, before each test.

Reading Primary Sources: “Primary sources” is what historians call documents 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 several primary source reading homeworks. For each one, students will do a specific assignment which will be a starting place for our class discussions. These homeworks will be due in Canvas by midnight before the day that the source is to be discussed. See Canvas for details.

Videos: There will also be two (2) video response assignments (250+ words) in lieu of class days. These homeworks will be due at midnight after class on those days. See Canvas for details.

Office Visit: Students are also required to visit my office hours at least once during the semester, with a question about a reading, assignment, or historical issue. (Just checking on your grade doesn’t count.) If my listed office hours are not convenient, you will need to make an appointment. 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.

Miscellaneous: There will be assignments which do not fall into the above categories which will be considered part of the Homework grade. The first assignment is to find the student information form on the course website, complete it, and submit it by email before the second class meeting.

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. Homework sources may appear on tests.

Lectures and Discussions

The classroom and readings supplement each other; they are not duplicate material: you are responsible for learning from both. You certainly will be tested on both.

  • Lectures do not cover or repeat or summarize the textbook or other readings; I will assume you have done the readings in advance of the lectures.
  • Some lectures in this class will expand on the history presented in the textbook, adding detail and alternative understandings.
  • Some lectures will introduce and raise questions about historical sources or historians’ arguments.
  • Some lectures will be about historical practice and theory as it applies to specific topics.
  • Some lectures will cover people, places and situations which aren’t in the readings at all.
  • I will sometimes correct or disagree with the textbook or with other historians. Historians do that.
  • Many classes won’t be lectures: they will be discussions with the class, which is to say, with you.

Powerpoint slides and other resources will be made available through Canvas. Slides will be posted after I have used them in class; other resources may be available prior to class, as support for the readings. Powerpoint slides are mostly outlines and visual or textual sources intended to help me: they do not replace attendance, note taking, and paying attention.

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, grade-wise.


There will be three tests based on lists of terms — names, events, concepts, sources — which will be distributed as a study guide. Each test covers all material from that segment of the course: textbook, lectures, discussions, primary source homeworks, etc. 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, submitted through Canvas. There will be choices of topics, but it will be comprehensive. 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 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.

Professionalism: Attendance, Preparation, and Participation

Your professionalism grade will be based on attendance, on timely completion of homework assignments, on my evaluation of your preparation and participation in class, your ability to follow rules and instructions, and any other relevant factors.

This is not just a classroom and website: it is a work space, and you are adults. You are expected to be present and prepared for class 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.

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/Canvas mail is preferable, so I have a record) or after with documentation (such as a doctor’s note). Unexcused absences will hurt your grade. Failure to complete assignments, consistently sloppy or incorrect work, will also hurt your professionalism grade.

Tests may be made up, but the make-up test must take place at the soonest possible opportunity, preferably during scheduled office hours. For all other assignments, late penalties will be assessed unless absences are excused and unforeseen (i.e., if you have a school trip or event planned ahead of time, you don’t get to hand in assignments late); however, it is always worth more to do an assignment than to leave it undone. Final Exam Essays will be considered late and penalized if handed in after the submission deadline, and will not be accepted at all 24 hours after the submission deadline, except in extremely rare emergency circumstances.

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

Extra Credit

I will list on Canvas cultural and historical events for which extra credit may be earned, but it’s safe to assume that any musical, theatrical, cultural, or public academic event at PSU qualifies. Visits to museums, art galleries, historical sites and other cultural institutions 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 your Professionalism grade.

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. This should be emailed to me. In addition, extra credit may be earned by noting historical errors in my lectures, with proper documentation.

Grade Policies

  • I do post grades on Canvas, but the Canvas gradebook will not include all elements of the course grade, nor does the overall calculation accurately reflect my weighting of the grades. I will be happy to go over your grades and let you know how you are doing in the course at any time. Come to my office hours, or email me.
  • Grades are recorded on a standard percentage scale. (For some assignments, I use the 4-point scale to calculate the grade, but it will be recorded as a percentage grade.) This doesn’t mean that each assignment is worth 100 points: grades are weighted as indicated below for their effect on the final course grade.
  • I reserve the right to adjust grades upwards to reflect the performance of the class as a whole; I do not “curve” grades towards a target distribution, nor do I adjust grades 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.
  • For assignments submitted on Canvas, it is the student’s responsibility to confirm that all files are properly uploaded and complete. 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.

Late Work and Absence Policies

  • In the event of an excused absence on (or immediately before) a due date or test, the student is responsible for turning in the work or arranging a make-up test at the earliest opportunity, generally no later than the next class except by specific permission of the instructor.
  • Tests may be made up, but the make-up test must take place at the soonest possible opportunity, preferably during scheduled office hours.
  • Final Exam Essays will be considered late and penalized if handed in after the submission deadline, and will not be accepted at all 24 hours after the submission deadline, except in extremely rare emergency circumstances.
  • Unexcused late assignments, due to absence, technical problems, etc., will be penalized up to one grade level (B to C, etc.) per class period late.
  • Even very bad (or very late) work is still going to get an F, which is a lot better than a zero.
  • 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.

Final Course Grade Distribution

Roughly speaking, 1/3rd of your grade is showing up and doing homework, 1/3rd is tests, and 1/3rd is writing assignments. Specifically:

Course Grade Distribution

Professionalism 20%
Homeworks (10+) 25%
Tests (3) 30%
Final Essays (2) 25%

Schedule of Readings and Assignments

  • Instructional holidays and administrative deadlines are in italics.
  • Tests and Assignment Deadlines are in Bold
  • Links to document readings and assignment details are in Canvas.
  • I reserve the right to change readings, test dates, due dates, grade weights and assignments as necessary throughout the semester
  • Assignments are due by midnight before class, except for video homeworks which are due by midnight after class. Tests are taken in class.


Date Reading Primary Topic
M (8/22) First Day  
W (8/24) PP: Two Things About History/History Teaching  
F (8/26) Good History Writing and Reading  
M (8/29) Reading: Hammurabi’s Code Homework: 4 most interesting laws, and why.
Politics and social structure
Last day to enroll or add without instructor permission.
Last day for online enrollment.
Tuition and fees must be paid by 3:30pm.
Last day for full tuition refund
W (8/31) Economics  
F (9/2) Reading: Thucydides, The Funeral Oration of Pericles Homework: Summary
Politics and social structure
Last Day to drop without ‘W’
M (9/5) No Class. Labor Day holiday
W (9/7) Reading: Thucydides, The Melian Dialogue Religion and values  
F (9/9)   Homework: Were the Athenians offering mercy?
Politics and interpretation
M (9/12) Reading: Quran: Surahs 1 and 2 Homework: 4 most interesting verses, and why.
Meanings and Sources
W (9/14)   Religion and Values  
F (9/16) Chapter 1. Before History Agriculture  
M (9/19) Chapter 2. Early Societies in Southwest Asia and the Indo-European Migrations Writing  
W (9/21) Chapter 4. Early Societies in South Asia Caste  
F (9/23) No Class. Instructor Absent
M (9/26) Chapter 3. Early African Societies and the Bantu Migrations
Chapter 6. Early Societies in the Americas and Oceania
Last day for half tuition refund
W (9/28) Chapter 7. The Empires of Persia Empires  
F (9/30) Chapter 5. Early Society in Mainland East Asia
Chapter 8. The Unification of China
M (10/3) Online Documentary: From Jesus to Christ, part 1 (2 hours). Homework: summary and reaction Instructor Absent
W (10/5) Catch-up/Review  
F (10/7) Test 1  
M (10/10) Chapter 9. State, Society, and the Quest for Salvation in India Religions  
W (10/12) Chapter Online Documentary: From Jesus to Christ, part 2 (2 hours). Homework: summary and reaction Instructor Absent
F (10/14) No Class. Fall Break
M (10/17) Chapter 10. Mediterranean Society: the Greek Phase Cities Midsemester D/F Grades Due by Noon
W (10/19) Chapter 11. Mediterranean Society: the Roman Phase Politics  
F (10/21) Chapter 12. Cross-Cultural Exchanges on the Silk Roads: During the Late Classical Era Disease  
M (10/24) Chapter 13. The Resurgence of Empire in East Asia Literatures  
W (10/26) Chapter 14. The Expansive Realm of Islam Religion  
F (10/28) Catch-up/Review  
M (10/31) Test 2 Last day to apply for December graduation
W (11/2) Chapter 15. India and the Indian Ocean Basin Trade  
F (11/4) Chapter 16. The Two Worlds of Christendom Byzantium  
M (11/7) Chapter 17. Nomadic Empires and Eurasian Integration Mongols Last day to drop single course.
W (11/9) Chapter 18. States and Societies of Sub-Saharan Africa
Chapter 20. Worlds Apart: The Americas and Oceania
F (11/11) Chapter 19. The Increasing Influence of Europe “Medieval”  
M (11/14) Chapter 21. Expanding Horizons of Cross-Cultural Interaction “Exploration”  
W (11/16) Test 3  
F (11/18) Laudan, Introduction (1-8) and “Some Final Thoughts” (356-360) Food History  
M (11/21) Laudan, Chapter 1: Mastering Grain Cookery, 20,000-300 B.C.E. Homework: most interesting fact/quote  
W (11/23) No Class. Thanksgiving Holiday
F (11/25) No Class. Thanksgiving Holiday
M (11/28) Laudan, Chapter 2: The Barley-Wheat Sacrificial Cuisines of the Ancient Empires, 500 B.C.E.-400 C.E. Homework: most interesting fact/quote Last day to withdraw from entire term.
W (11/30) Laudan, Chapter 3: Buddhism Transforms the Cuisines of South and East Asia, 260 B.C.E.-800 C.E. Homework: most interesting fact/quote  
F (12/2) Laudan, Chapter 4: Islam Transforms the Cuisines of Central and West Asia, 800-1650 C.E. Homework: most interesting fact/quote  
M (12/5) Laudan, Chapter 5: Christianity Transforms the Cuisines of Europe and the Americas, 100-1650 C.E. Homework: most interesting fact/quote  
W (12/7) Catch-up/Review  
F (12/9) Catch-up/Review  
F (12/16) Final Exam Essays Due, noon  

Syllabus Supplement

For official PSU policies and information about campus resources, notifications, attendance, financial aid, expectations, grades, etc., see: (Fall 2016)

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 Accommodations (235-4309,

Students with undocumented disabilities, or personal situations that interfere with coursework, should contact the instructor as soon as possible to discuss options.

I need at least one volunteer who will be taking good notes on my lectures to share them with me for students who need note taking 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.


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 recommended.  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 disruptively will be asked to leave and will not get credit for attendance.

The use of recording equipment, audio, photographic or video, or speech-to-text transcription software is not permitted. Exceptions may be made by the instructor for disability accommodation and official note-takers. Students violating this restriction will be asked to leave and may face grade penalties and disciplinary action.

You should check your email and Canvas mail at least daily: if you don’t use a university email account regularly, set GUS to forward mail to your preferred address. I check email regularly: you should hear back from me within 24 hours.

I will be using Canvas for announcements and assignments, and anything assigned for class will be linked from Canvas (on the “World History Resources” page). While I do use the Gradebook in Canvas to help you keep track of assignments and communicate feedback, it is not used to calculate your course grade. If Canvas is temporarily unavailable, the backup for course materials will be, and feel free to browse it for other useful material. If Canvas becomes unavailable for an extended period of time, we’ll figure something out.


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.

Academic Integrity

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. 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 in your own words, you must admit it. There are three options: put it in quotation marks and note the source; paraphrase and note the source; 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.

I reserve the right to penalize any and all instances of academic misconduct, up to and including failure for the course and an XF notation on the transcript. For more detail, see the relevant sections of the University Catalog:

Course Application

Within the General Education requirements, this course counts towards the Human Heritage requirement. This course is required for the History/Government B.S.Ed., and also counts towards the History B.A. and the History Minor. Many other programs also recommend or require this course. Also, history is good for you.

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 further inquiry.

History 101 supports PSU’s 3-pronged general education goals in promoting effective communication, critical thinking, and responsible and thoughtful behavior. This course is specifically designed to meet the university’s “Human Heritage” objectives:

  1. Demonstrate an appreciation for the range and diversity of humankind’s wisdom, values, ideas, beliefs, and reasoning.
  2. Demonstrate an understanding of human behavior, the human condition, and human institutions in the context of historical, literary, or philosophical inquiry.

III. Demonstrate recognition of the inter-relatedness of the past, present, and future.

Students who successfully complete this general education History course will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an adequate ability to identify and characterize objective historical facts pertaining to the topic covered by this course; and
  2. Demonstrate an adequate ability to interpret the “why” and “so what” questions pertaining to the topic covered by this course.

Specific goals include:

  1. Demonstrate the ability to describe and analyze change over time and global interactions.
  2. Describe and analyze the significant political, social, economic, religious, and cultural developments of:
  3. Paleolithic and Neolithic societies
  4. the earliest major civilizations, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley, China, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Americas
  5. the ancient and classical worlds, including China, Greece, India, Persia, the Hellenistic World, Rome, the Americas, and Asia
  6. post-classical civilizations, including: the Roman and post-Roman societies; Byzantium and Christian Europe; Islam and its spread; Southeast Asian cultures; the Indian subcontinent; and the Eurasian trade networks
  7. nomadic societies
  8. Sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, and Oceana;
  9. Medieval civilizations;
  10. and global integrations, including that of: the Mongol Empire; Bantu migration; various trade networks; European voyages of exploration; European colonization; coercive labor systems, including serfdom and slavery; and the similarities between the Atlantic Basin and Indian Basin trade systems.
  11. Demonstrate comprehension of the key themes of this course in analytical exams.

“Dead Week”

I am aware of the University policy regarding the final week of classes before final exams. As per that policy, no additional work will be assigned during that period, though “Catch-up/Review” days may be used to discuss material or implement assignments delayed from earlier in the semester. Attendance during that week is required and absences will be penalized, as normal. Additionally, though I will probably distribute the final exam essay assignment earlier, it is possible that it may be presented to students in that last week of class, to be completed by the date scheduled for the final exam by the registrar. Students should plan accordingly.