World History to 1500 (2014 Fall)

Hist 101: World History to 1500 (Fall 2014)

Hist 101, sections 01 and 02
RH 405, MWF 11 and 1
Prof. Jonathan Dresner
Phone: 235-4315
Office: RH 406F
Office Hours: MWF 12-1, 2-3;
TuTh, by appointment

“The moving finger writes; and having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy piety and wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.”
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

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 additional readings of primary sources, the original documents used by historians. Lectures and discussions will guide 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.


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.

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. Other programs may also recommend or require this course.

Course Goals

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:

I. Demonstrate an appreciation for the range and diversity of humankind’s wisdom, values, ideas, beliefs, and reasoning.

II. 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:

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

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.

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 so that the words are your own 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.


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, phones 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. 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 and Canvas mail 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. Assignments will be submitted through Canvas unless otherwise noted. Materials shown in class, including web pages and power point slides, will be made available for review through Canvas, unless there are copyright or other restrictions that make it impossible.

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,

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 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.

Syllabus Supplement

For official PSU policies and information about campus resources, notifications, attendance, financial aid, expectations, grades, etc., see: (Fall 2014)


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


Textbook: Valerie Hansen and Kenneth E. Curtis, Voyages in World History: Volume 1, to 1600, 2nd edition, Wadsworth, 2014.  ISBN 9781133607823. 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 (ISNB 9781133607816)

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. Also pay attention to the terms listed in the Study Guide: those will be the terms from which tests and pop quizzes 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.

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 the lectures or 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.

Homework: Readings and Videos

“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 eight primary source reading homeworks, seven texts and one on artworks. For each one, students will do a short summary (200-500 words) and reaction (200+ words), 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.

There will also be two (2) video response assignments (200+ words) in lieu of class days. These homeworks will be due at midnight after class on those days. See Canvas for details.

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 through Canvas before the next class.

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. In addition, homework sources may appear on tests.

Lectures and Discussion

My lectures do not summarize or repeat or replace the textbook. The lectures and textbook supplement each other: 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 social theory as it applies to specific topics or assignments. 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 earliest motto of Pittsburg State University was “By Doing Learn.” The essence of scholarship is active and constructive engagement: It is very 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.

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.

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 loose outlines and visual sources intended to help me: they do not replace attendance, notetaking, or paying attention.

Tests and Pop Quizzes

There will be four 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. (one exception: the video homeworks begin before the first test, but will not be tested until both videos have been assigned.) I have scheduled a class day before each test for catching up, discussion, review, or questions. See the study guide for more detail.

On an irregular basis, there will be pop quizzes at the beginning of class. The quizzes will take the same form as the tests, on a smaller scale: I will choose ID terms from the study guide list for the reading for that day: pick one and write an explanation including historical context and significance. Since the quizzes come before any lecture or discussion, I will be more lenient on evaluating significance, but you are expected to have done the reading before class on a regular basis. See the Study Guide for more details.

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.

Professionalism: Preparation, Attendance and Participation

Your professionalism grade will be based on attendance, 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: 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.

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. 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.

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 affect your grade. Failure to complete assignments, or consistently sloppy or incorrect work, will also affect your professionalism grade.

Pop quizzes may not be made up, but for excused absences it will not count against your 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 unforseen (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 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.

“Dead Week”

I am aware of the University policy regarding the final week of classes before final exams. As per that policy, I have scheduled, as noted in this syllabus, a test in that week. 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.

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. 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. In addition, extra credit may be earned by noting historical errors in my lectures, with proper documentation. Extra Credits are added to the professionalism score at the end of the semester.

Grade Policies

  • Grades are generally calculated and recorded on a traditional 100-point scale. For tests and pop quizzes, I use a 4-point scale for tests, but it will be recorded as a 100-point scale value.
  • The Canvas gradebook is only being used to allow you to keep track of assignments completed and graded. Do not assume that your course grade as determined by Canvas actually represents your current grade in this class. Ask me if you have questions about your grade that aren’t covered in the syllabus, assignments, or feedback.
  • 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.
  • Most assignments will either be submitted through Canvas or written and turned in during class. 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. For assignments submitted in Canvas, you can see for yourself if it has been submitted, and if you have difficulties, contact the Gorilla Geeks for tech support.
  • 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. Tests must be made up at the earliest possible opportunity.
  • 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).
  • I reserve the right to adjust assignment grade scales upwards (to students’ advantage) 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.
  • 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.

Course Grade Distribution

Professionalism 15%
Homeworks (10) 20%
Pop Quizzes 10%
Tests (4) 35%
Final Essays (2) 20%

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
There may be a pop quiz on any day that has a chapter of Voyages as a reading assignment.
Assignments are due by midnight before class, except for video homeworks which are due by midnight after class.
Tests are taken in class.

Date Topics and Administrative Notes Readings and Homeworks
M (8/18) Introduction  
W (8/20) Nature of History: Empathy, Evidence, Skepticism, Pragmatism
F (8/22) Tools, Agriculture, social complexity Voyages, chap. 1, The Peopling of the World, to 4000 B.C.E.
M (8/25) Urbanization, Kingdoms And EmpiresLast 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

Voyages, chap. 2, The First Complex Societies in the Eastern Mediterranean, ca. 4000-550 B.C.E.
W (8/27) Literacy Reading Homework:  Hammurabi’s Code
F (8/29) Migration and OriginsLast Day to drop without ‘W’ Voyages, chap. 3, Ancient India and the Rise of Buddhism, 2600 B.C.E. – 100 C.E.
M (9/1) Labor Day holiday
W (9/3) Buddhism and other traditions Reading Homework:  Buddha’s First Sermon, Vow of the Bodhisattva
F (9/5) Politics, Culture and Economics Voyages, chap. 4, Blueprint For Empire: China, 1200 B.C.E. – 220 C.E.
M (9/8) Political Theory and Practice Reading Homework:  The Confucian Great Learning
W (9/10) Polynesian migrations
Sacrifices, Historiography and Archeology
The Hindsight Problem
Voyages, chap. 5, The Americas and the Islands of the Pacific, to 1200 C.E.
F (9/12) Roman Religions & Christianity, part 1 Instructor Absent: No Class Meeting Video Homework: From Jesus to Christ, part 1 (2 hours).
M (9/15) Catch-up/Review  
W (9/17) Test #1  
F (9/19) Persia Voyages, chap. 6. New Empires in Iran and Greece, 2000 B.C.E. – 651 C.E.
M (9/22) Greek Culture and Politics
Last day for half tuition refund
Reading Homework: The Funeral Oration of Pericles
W (9/24) Greek Empires Reading Homework: The Melian Dialogue
F (9/26) Greek Philosophy  
M (9/29) Kingdom, Republic, Empire Voyages, chap. 7. The Roman Empire and the Rise of Christianity, 509 B.C.E. – 476 C.E.
W (10/1) Roman Culture  
F (10/3) Roman Religions & Christianity, part 2 Instructor Absent: No Class Meeting Video Homework: From Jesus to Christ, part 2 (2 hours).
M (10/6) Fall (and persistence) of Empires
W (10/8) Catch-up/Review  
F (10/10) Test #2  
M (10/13) Class, Caste, Empire
Columbus Day (not a holiday)Midsemester D/F Grades Due by Noon
Voyages, chap. 8. Hindu and Buddhist States and Societies in Asia, 100-1000
W (10/15) Globalization: Silk Road and Religious Expansion
F (10/17) Fall Break
M (10/20) Islam: Faith Voyages, chap. 9, Islamic Empires of Western Asia and Africa, 600-1258
W (10/22) Islam: Cultures Reading Homework:  Quran, Surahs 1 and 2
F (10/24) Islam: Expansion and Empires
Last day to apply for December graduation
M (10/27) Religious and Political Empires Voyages, chap 10. The Multiple Centers of Europe, 500-1000.
W (10/29) “Africa” and Globalization Voyages, chap. 11. Expanding Trade Networks in Africa and India, 1000-1500
F (10/31) Catch-up/Review  
M (11/3) Test #3Last day to drop single course.
W (11/5) China’s Open Empire and Search for Stability Voyages, chap. 12. China’s Commercial Revolution, ca. 900-1276
F (11/7) Cultures: Footbinding and Poetry  
M (11/10) Culture and Choices: Korea v. JapanEarly Enrollment for Spring begins
W (11/12) Religious & Economic Growth Voyages, chap. 13. Europe’s Commercial Revolution, 1000-1400
F (11/14) “Post-Classical” v. “Middle Ages” Reading Homework: Magna Carta
M (11/17) Guzman’s Barbarian Thesis and Persistence of Empires Voyages, chap. 14. The Mongols and Their Successors, 1200-1500
W (11/19) Pre-contact Empires and Columbian Exchange Voyages, chap. 15. Maritime Expansion in the Atlantic World, 1400-1600
11/20 Last day to withdraw from entire term.
F (11/21) Renaissances
Writing History Essays
Homework: Renaissance Art
M (11/24) 1500
W (11/26) Thanksgiving Holiday
F (11/28) Thanksgiving Holiday
M (12/1) Catch-up/Review
W (12/3) Test #4
F (12/5) Last Day of Instruction
F (12/12) Final Exam Essays Due 3pm. 

“It is the preoccupation with possessions
more than anything else,
that prevents men from living freely and nobly.”
— Bertrand Russell

“God alone knows the future,
but only an historian can alter the past.”
— Ambrose Bierce

 © 2014 — Jonathan Dresner

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