Medieval Mind History 309 Syllabus

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History 309 – Medieval Mind

Professor William A. Percy, III Spring 2010

Class Meeting Times: Monday, 7:00-9:45PM

Class Location: Wheatley, W01-0019

Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday, 2:20-3:50 PM, and by appointment

Office Location: McCormack, 4th Floor, Room 634

Office Phone: 617-287-6879

Home Phone: 617-262-2101 (7:00AM-3:00PM TuTh; emergency only)


Please call me rather than email.


Course Description

This course depicts the distortions, cruelties, and absurdities (some of which still exist today) that characterized intolerant Catholics during the Western Middle Ages. It begins with the fables of the Bible and goes on to the gloomy theologians, fathers, doctors and mystics, to the macho, boastful, blood-thirsty epics about noble heroes, and then to the credulous historians who asserted as gospel truth the most incredible miracles and spewed out hatred for others, i.e., those not part of their group: pagans, infidels, non-believers, Jews, sodomites, witches, blasphemers, lepers, lunatics, and often even women. Even the least obsessed and fanatic praised killing non-conformists and carrying on holy wars; the Crusades, which they depicted as reprisals for the Muslim Jihad. At the end of the period Machiavelli, an admirer of the ancient Romans, escaped from Christian manias to describe a modern world (like that of pagan Greece and Rome) of rationality, capitalism, and patriotism instead of illusions of damnation, sanctity, and chivalry.


We begin by choosing the appropriate articles from Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica, two versions of which are also online and by comparing them to discern compelling or egregious contradiction or lacuna. Each session a member of the class presents an oral report, having given it in outline to me during office hours (or by e-mail sent well in advance and preferably by phone) one or two weeks before. The other class members will challenge it verbally. Then I sum up with instructions to the presenter about how to expand or improve the report, before it is typed into about 17 typewritten pages (double-spaced complete with footnotes and bibliography, both in uniform and acceptable styles). In addition, I highly recommend that each student to post an addition or correction to an article on Wikipedia that relates to the student’s paper for extra credit.


The oral presentation will count for one-half of your grade, and the term paper will count for one-half. Extra points are possible for outstanding contributions in class and for Wiki posts. Students will find it advantageous to read Strunk and White’s Elements of Style (in 78 brief and witty pages). A version of the book can be found online at

About Me

I am a Southerner, an Episcopal atheist, a capitalist, a gay activist, a refugee from the Ku Klux Klan, from the Southern Baptists, and from other fundamentalists whether Protestant, Catholic, Jew or Muslim. Having a heart, I became a Socialist as an undergraduate. When I got my fulltime teaching job and a level head, I became a Democrat in 1960 and voted for John F. Kennedy. In 1967 I became a Republican because of the atrocities of the Vietnam War and its disastrous economic effects of L.B.J. I quit being one because of the 2nd Iraq War but gave up on Republicans because of Bush II’s insanity. Now I am an Independent. I am also the senior professor of the history at UMB and senior pre-law advisor. I attended nine intuitions of higher learning and have taught in nine. I have published 5 books, 10 articles, 100 notes (short articles), 100 book reviews. On my extensive website, ( I have parts of my memoirs, and 2 screen plays and other things by me and by other scholars that I admire, as well as text from some of my better students. From me you will gain a different perspective. On this politically-correct campus, I am diversity itself: a semi-expired white male of the old school.

Contact Policy

Although I have provided my e-mail address and home telephone number, please e-mail or call me only if you have an urgent matter to discuss with me (MWF 7AM-3PM). Understand that if you e-mail me, it may take me several days to see your e-mail as I am computer illiterate and must rely on others to access my e-mail. Therefore, call me in case of an emergency. There is, however, no need for you to e-mail or call me to let me know that you will miss or have missed a class. I fully understand that events out of your control will arise from time to time and may cause the occasional absence. So explanations are unnecessary. If you would like to find out what you missed in class while you were absent or what you will miss, ask a classmate.


Disseminating scholarship on the printed page in the twenty-first century in analogous to publishing it on manuscripts during the sixteenth century. The internet is now no longer like incunabula (books printed before 1500)-rare commodities even then. It is in fact now rapidly displacing print on paper. Look at what Wikipedia is doing to the Encyclopedia Britannica. Printed dictionaries and bibliographies likewise are becoming obsolete because their online counterparts are so easy to update. Expenses, delays, and storage problems are also forcing scholarly journals to go online. Why not monographs (which sell too few copies to be cost-effective), syntheses, and textbooks, as well? In light of the changing publishing landscape, the required texts can be found online or can also be purchased.

TITLES (any edition is acceptable)

The Bible.

  • Jewish Scriptures
  • Christian Scriptures

The Koran.

Confessions of St. Augustine.

Summa Theologica. By St. Thomas Aquinas. Imitation of Christ. By Thomas A Kempis.

Song of Roland.

Poem of the Cid.

The Inferno. By Dante Alighieri.

The Secret History. By Procopius.

The Life of Charlemagne. By Einhardt.

The Fourth Crusade. By Geoffrey of Villehardouin.

The Life of St. Louis. By John of Joinville.

The Prince. By Niccolò Machiavelli.

WEBSITES (Please put www in each website) for the next two selection- Choose Library, then old location and religious resources. The Harvard Classics. type in The Cid, search Poem of the Cid, then choose Lay of the Cid divine please Longfellow version (English)

Supplemental Texts All of the Cornell Series (CS) on Western Civilizations can be found on William A. Percy’s personal website Orlinsky, Harry. Ancient Israel: (Cornell Series, = (CS) For the Jewish Scriptures. Incidentally they are 3 times longer (what are know to Christians as the Old Testament), which itself are 3 times longer then the Koran. That is why I am assigning all of the Koran but only selections of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures.

  • Smith, Morton. The Ancient Greeks: (CS) For covering the reading of Christian Scriptures/New Testament.
  • Starr, Chester. The Emergence of Rome as Ruler of the Western World for Jewish and Christian scriptures.
  • Katz, Soloman. The Decline of Rome and the Rise of Mediaeval Europe (CS): St. Augustine and Procopius.
  • Lord Bryce, James. The Holy Roman Empire: Parts of it for readings in the Koran, Procopius, and The Life of Charlemagne.
  • Painter, Sidney. Mediaeval Society (CS): For Roland, The Cid, and The Life of Charlemagne.
  • Baldwin, Marshall. The Mediaeval Church (CS): For St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, The Imitation of Christ.
  • Lerner, Robert. Age of Adversity (CS): For Imitation of Christ
  • Johnson and Percy. The Age of Recovery (CS): For The Prince.

Useful Links on the Internet:

The Encyclopedia of World History by William L. Langer and a newer version by Pete N. Stearns.

The Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Ed.:

The next to Latest edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica is in the UMB library at Britannica online. To use at home; a barcode will be needed from the college library ahead of time.

Click here for a full syllabus, including weekly assignments and testing schedule

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