Syllabus: Hist 101 (2011 Fall)

Hist 101: World History to 1500

Prof. Jonathan Dresner
Phone: 235-4315
Office: RH 406F
Hist 101, sections 02 and 03
Fall 2011
RH 301, MWF 12 and 2
Office Hours: MWF 11-12, 1-2; TuTh 9-11

“In history, as elsewhere, the causes cannot be assumed.
They are to be looked for. . .”
— Marc Bloch, The Historian’s Craft, p. 197.

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 class 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, focusing on multiple perspectives, and an introduction to the challenges and pleasures of Doing History.


History is about real peoples, diverse cultures, interesting theories, strongly held belief systems, complex situations and often-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 themes and models of human development. 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:

Bookmark it. Check it regularly. I will use it for announcements (assignments, special events, extra credit), to maintain the schedule (particularly if it changes), to post handouts (so if you lose or miss one, it’ll be there) and keep a small library of useful links. In the event of a disparity between the original syllabus and the website, the website will be correct: I reserve the right to change readings, test dates, due dates, grade weights and assignments as necessary throughout the semester. This website takes the place of ANGEL for this class, though I will use ANGEL for email, the syllabus and for certain material which shouldn’t be available publicly.


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, excessive volume, threatening gestures or words, and failure to give others a chance to speak and be heard are not acceptable.

Technology in the classroom

The use of laptop computers and other devices is permitted only if they are relevant to the material at hand: note-taking, fact-checking, assignment scheduling, etc. Web surfing, video, gaming, email and messaging are not appropriate classroom activities and can be distracting to the instructor and fellow students. You will be asked to leave. Moreover, 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.

The use of recording equipment, audio, photographic or video, or speech-to-text transcription software is not permitted. Alternative 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. For more detail, see the relevant sections of the University Catalog. None of this precludes group study and discussion: those are actually really good ideas.


Advising is a very important resource 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,


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


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.


The Test Review Assignment is due by email at midnight prior to the review day: write at least one multiple choice question for each study term and one for each document reading.

The tests will be multiple-choice tests based on lists of terms — names, events, concepts — which will be distributed as a study guide. I have scheduled a review day before each test, for discussion, practice or questions.

In addition to the multiple choice questions, there will be a short essay on each test, primarily focusing on the primary source readings. Questions will be distributed in advance.

Final Exam

The third test, covering the last portion of the course, will take place during the time set for the Final Exam. There will also be a take-home essay assignment due at the time of the final exam. The essay assignment will cover all readings, resources and lectures of the course. You will write two essays, one based primarily on the document assignments, and the other based primarily on the readings and lectures. Questions will be distributed well in advance of the due date.

Professionalism: Preparation, Attendance and Preparation

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-related problems, but only if I am informed in advance (email is fine) or you have documentation (such as a doctor’s note). Unexcused absences will affect your professionalism 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 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 email 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.

Grade Policies
  • All assignments are due in class at the beginning of class on the due date. Hard copy is required for all assignments, unless otherwise indicated by the instructor. 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.
  • In the event of an excused absence on an assignment due date or testing 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 or tests, due to absence, technical problems, etc., will be penalized one grade level (B to C, etc.) per class period late.
  • Even very, 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.
  • NOTE: I do not post grades on ANGEL. 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.

Grading Standards: Tests

The tests will focus on the study terms, a short list from each chapter of critical people, events and principles. My questions usually focus on the context and historical significance of the terms, as they’ve been explained in the textbook and lectures. The written portion of the test will be about the primary source readings and how to interpret them historically; the questions will be distributed in advance and you will be graded on clarity, use of evidence, thoughtfulness.

Grading Standards: Final Essay

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.

Grade Distribution:

Professionalism (Attendance, etc.) 15%
Test Review Assignments (3) 15%
Tests (3) 45%
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 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 (8/22) First day of class, introductions
W (8/24) Student Information Sheet Due by Email:
F (8/26) Stearns, et al., World Civilizations, v.1, chap. 1 The Neolithic Revolution and the Birth of Civilization
M (8/29) Last day to enroll or add without instructor permission.Last day for online enrollment.
W (8/31) Stearns, et al., World Civilizations, v.1, chap. 2 The Rise of Civilization in the Middle East and AfricaHammurabi’s Code
F (9/2) Instructions of Ptah-Hotep
M (9/5) Labor Day holiday
9/6 Last Day to drop without ‘W’
W (9/7) Stearns, et al., World Civilizations, v.1, chap. 3 Asia’s First Civilizations: India and China
F (9/9)
M (9/12) Stearns, et al., World Civilizations, v.1, chap. 4 Unification and the Consolidation of Civilization in ChinaThe Confucian Great Learning
W (9/14)
F (9/16) Instructor Absent
M (9/19) Stearns, et al., World Civilizations, v.1, chap. 5 Classical Civilizations in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle EastThucydides, The Funeral Oration of Pericles and The Melian Dialogue, 431 bce.
W (9/21)
F (9/23)
M (9/26) Last day for half tuition refundCatch-up/Review: Test #1 Review Assignment Due Sunday Midnight
W (9/28) Test #1 (Primary Source Question: Athens)
F (9/30) Stearns, et al., World Civilizations, v.1, chap. 6 Religious Rivalries and India’s Golden Age
M (10/3) Buddha’s First Sermon, Vow of the Bodhisattva
W (10/5) Stearns, et al., World Civilizations, v.1, chap. 7 Rome and Its Empire
F (10/7)
M (10/10) From Jesus to Christ, parts 1, 2 & 3 as homework.Columbus Day (not a holiday)
W (10/12) Stearns, et al., World Civilizations, v.1, chap. 9 The Spread of Civilizations and the Movement of Peoples
F (10/14) Stearns, et al., World Civilizations, v.1, chap. 10 The End of the Classical Era:World History in Transition, 200–700 C.E.
M (10/17) Midsemester D/F Grades Due by Noon 
W (10/19) Stearns, et al., World Civilizations, v.1, chap. 11 The First Global Civilization: The Rise and Spread of IslamQuran: Surahs 1 and 2
F (10/21) Fall Break
M (10/24) Omar Khayyam (d. 1123 CE): The Rubaiyat, c. 1120
W (10/26) Stearns, et al., World Civilizations, v.1, chap. 12 Abbasid Decline and the Spread of Islamic Civilization to South and Southeast Asia
F (10/28) Last day to apply for December graduation
M (10/31) Catch-up/Review: Test #2 Review Assignment Due Sunday Midnight
W (11/2) Test #2 (Primary Source Question: Comparison)
F (11/4) Stearns, et al., World Civilizations, v.1, chap. 13 African Civilizations and the Spread of Islam
M (11/7) Last day to drop single course.Early Enrollment for Spring beginsStearns, et al., World Civilizations, v.1, chap. 14 Civilization in Eastern Europe: Byzantium and Orthodox Europe

Corpus Iuris Civilis: The Digest and Codex on Marriage

W (11/9)
F (11/11) Stearns, et al., World Civilizations, v.1, chap. 15 A New Civilization Emerges in Western Europe
M (11/14)
W (11/16) Stearns, et al., World Civilizations, v.1, chap. 8 The Peoples and Civilizations of the Americas Stearns, et al., World Civilizations, v.1, chap. 16 The Americas on the Eve of Invasion
F (11/18) Stearns, et al., World Civilizations, v.1, chap. 17 Reunification and Renaissance in Chinese Civilization: The Era of the Tang and Song Dynasties
M (11/21)
W (11/23) Thanksgiving Holiday
F (11/25) Thanksgiving Holiday
M (11/28) Stearns, et al., World Civilizations, v.1, chap. 18 The Spread of Chinese Civilization: Japan, Korea, and VietnamPrince Shotoku’s 17-Article Constitution, 604
W (11/30) Stearns, et al., World Civilizations, v.1, chap. 19 The Last Great Nomadic Challenges: From Chinggis Khan to Timur
12/1 Last day to withdraw from entire term.
F (12/2) Instructor Absent
M (12/5) Stearns, et al., World Civilizations, v.1, chap. 20 The World in 1450: Changing Balance of World Power
W (12/7)
F (12/9) Last Day of instruction
Test #3 Review Assignment Due Thursday Midnight
Final Exams MWF 12 (RH 301) – 12/14, 12-1:50MWF 2 (RH301) – 12/12, 2-3:50Test #3 (Primary Source Question: Women’s History) and Final Essays Due

“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.” — G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908)

“The historian should, above all, be endlessly inquisitive and prying, constantly attempting to force the privacy of others, and to cross the frontiers of class, nationality, generation, period, and sex. His principal aim is to make the dead live.” — Richard Cobb, “Experiences of an Anglo-French Historian,” A Second Identity: Essays on France and French History (1969), cited in Tosh, ed. Historians on History, p. 44.

“The aim of history I believe, is to understand men both as individuals and in their social relationships in time. Social embraces all of man’s activities – economic, religious, political, artistic, legal, military, scientific – everything, indeed, that affects the life of mankind. And this, of course, is not a static study but a study of movement and change. It is not only necessary to discover, as accurately as the most sophisticated use of evidence will allow, things as they actually were, but also why they were so, and why they changed; for no human societies, not one, have ever stood still. Although we carry within ourselves and within our societies innumerable relics of the past, we have discarded, outgrown, neglected and lost far more.” — J.H. Plumb, The Death of the Past (1969), cited in Tosh, ed. Historians on History, p. 50.

“History is not inevitably useful. It can bind us or free us. It can destroy compassion by showing us the world through the eyes of the comfortable (‘the slaves are happy, just listen to them’ – leading to ‘the poor are content, just look at them’). It can oppress any resolve to act by mountains of trivia, by diverting us.into intellectual games, by pretentious ‘interpretations’ which spur contemplation rather than action, by limiting our vision to an endless story of disaster and thus promoting cynical withdrawal, by befogging us with the encyclopedic eclecticism of the standard textbook.” — Howard Zinn, The Politics of History (1970), cited in Tosh, ed. Historians on History, p. 193.