syllabi.gif (8558 bytes)

HIS 101: Western Civilization I

A History of the Western Intellectual Tradition:
From the Ancient Near East to the Scientific Revolution

Professor Steven Kreis
Department of History and Politics
Meredith College
Spring 1999

COURSE OUTLINE: This course is designed to give the undergraduate student a general understanding of those intellectual trends which have flourished in the West from the Ancient Near East (4000 B.C.) through the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century. Our focus is primarily European although peripheral issues which take us outside the Continent will be considered as well. The general theme which holds the course together is what I call the "world view," that is, the collection of mental constructs which gives the world meaning to each and every one of us. Our task is to uncover and investigate world views as they appear throughout this 6000 year block of time. In the end, you will have an excellent grasp of what is meant by the expression, the "Western intellectual tradition," and this is important because that tradition is also your tradition.

COURSE REQUIREMENTS: Attendance and informed participation at all class meetings is not just strongly recommended, but required. This means that you (1) show up to class on a regular basis and (2) complete your written and reading assignments on time. The entire success of the course, both from my standpoint and yours, is that you get involved, get interested and get motivated to the history of a world which in many ways produced our own. Remember, education is nothing more than dialogue, and according to the master of dialogue, Socrates, good dialogue ought to improve both the instructor and the student. Above all, you will be challenged to think and discuss freely and openly.


Marvin Perry, Western Civilization: A Brief History, volume I: To 1789, 3rd edition
Marvin Perry et al, Sources of the Western Tradition, volume I: From Ancient Times to the Enlightenment, 3rd edition

READING ASSIGNMENTS – The reading for this course is somewhat light in comparison to what you may have encountered in other history courses. Your textbook is an excellent one – I have used it many times in the past. Weighing in at slightly more than 300 pages, you all should have absolutely no problem completing your reading assignments on time. I have also assigned an anthology of primary source readings for this course. Selections from this anthology will be read in conjunction with your text and will often form the context of our in-class discussions.

You must make the effort to keep up with the assigned readings. If you have not done the reading for a specific assignment, you should still come to class. Of course, if you have done the reading, and are prepared to discuss what you have read with others, then your experience in this class will be a fruitful one.

THE INTERNET – I have maintained my own website, The History Guide, since August 1996. This site, which can be found at, contains a wealth of information which you will find useful so I expect you to consult it as often as you like. You will be happy to learn that the majority of lectures I deliver in class are online. I will discuss this more in detail during the first few weeks of the semester. I encourage all of you to send me email as often as the need arises. If there is sufficient interest, I will set up a mailing list for the class so that we can open up a dialogue outside of the classroom.

Lastly, I have also written a lengthy Student’s Guide to the Study of History, which can be accessed at If you do not have Internet access I can supply you with a hard copy of the Guide. If you have any questions about the Internet or about our use of it in this class, please do not hesitate to let me know about it.

GRADING – Your final grade will be determined by the following schedule:

Exam 1                20%
Exam 2                20%
Exam 3                20%
Exam 4                20%
Required Essay       10%
Class Participation   10%

The Required Essay is a five page essay based on your interpretation of an assigned reading or group of readings. I will provide more details later in the semester.

THE CLASS – My conduct in the class, as you will soon see, is based on a genuine respect for the intellect of the student. My approach is informal and at times, irreverent. Just the same, I take my work very seriously and I expect you to do so as well. If you show up late for a class I expect you to enter the room as discreetly as possible. If you miss any class it is your responsibility to make sure that you make up for lost ground. I have found that a format of lecture AND discussion works to the advantage of everyone involved, including myself. If you are not prepared to at least think about our subject, then I suggest you will have a tough time overall. In other words, come to class prepared to learn, have fun, and above all, THINK!


January 7 Course Introduction – What is History?
January 12 (1) What is Civilization?
(2) The Ancient Near East – Mesopotamia
READING: Text: pp. 4-13 -- Sources: pp. 4-13
January 14 (1) Egyptian Civilization – The Mythopoeic World View
(2) The Hebrews – God and Human History
READING: Text: pp. 13-25, 27-38 -- Sources: pp. 20-24, 26-35
January 19 (1) Homer and the Greek Renaissance, 900-600 B.C.
(2) Athens and Sparta
(3) The Origins of the Greek Polis
READING: Text: pp. 40-49 -- Sources: pp.42-50
January 21 (1) Classical Greece, 500-323 B.C.
(2) The Sophists
(3) Socrates
(4) Plato and Aristotle
Discussion: Plato’s Allegory of the Cave
READING: Text: pp. 49-71 -- Sources: pp.50-52, 53-58
January 26 (1) From Polis to Cosmopolis – The Hellenistic World, 350-31 B.C.
(2) Alexander the Great
READING: Text: pp. 71-83 -- Sources: pp. 93-101
January 28 First Examination (20%)
February 2 (1) Early Roman Civilization, 753-509 B.C.
(2) The Roman Republic, 509-31 B.C.
READING: Text: pp. 84-92 -- Sources: pp. 103-107, 117-121
February 4 (1) Roman Imperialism
(2) The Roman Revolution, 133-27 B.C.
READING: Text: pp. 93-99 -- Sources: pp. 121-126
February 9 Augustus Caesar and the Pax Romana
READING: Text: pp. 99-110 -- Sources: pp. 133-140, 154-157
February 11 Discussion: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
READING: Text: pp.110-120 -- Sources: pp. 163-167
February 16 (1) The Roman World View
(2) Christianity as a Cultural Revolution
READING: Text: pp.121-129 -- Sources: pp.169-175, 180-181
February 18 (1) The Early Church and the Legacy of Classical Culture
(2) Monasticism and the "ascetic ideal"
(3) St. Jerome and St. Augustine
READING: Text: pp.129-139 -- Sources: pp. 181-183, 187-196
February 23 Second Examination (20%)
February 25 (1) The Medieval East: Byzantium
(2) The Medieval East: Islam
(3) European Monasticism
READING: Text: pp. 142-151
March 2 (1) The Kingdom of the Franks
(2) Charlemagne
(3) The Carolingian Renaissance
READING: Text: pp. 151-155 -- Sources: pp. 198-208
March 4 (1) Agrarian Society: Manorialism
(2) Warrior Society: Feudalism
(3) Those Who Pray, Those Who Fight, Those Who Work
READING: Text: pp.155-171 -- Sources: pp.209-216
March 16 (1) The Twelfth Century Renaissance
(2) Aquinas and Dante
(3) The Medieval World View
READING: Text: pp. 180-195 -- Sources: pp.239-250
March 18 Heretics, Heresies and the Church
READING: Text: pp. 174-178 -- Sources: pp. 235-239
March 23 Satan Triumphant: The Black Death
READING: Sources: pp. 271-274
March 25 (1) In the Wake of the Black Death
(2) The 100 Years’ War
READING: Text: pp. 195-207 -- Sources: pp. 274-285
March 30 Third Examination (20%)
April 1 (1) The Renaissance
(2) da Vinci, Machiavelli, More and Erasmus
READING: Text: pp. 212-225 -- Sources: pp.291-297, 299-305, 309-312
April 6 Film: A Man For All Seasons (part 1)
April 8 Film: A Man For All Seasons (part 2)
April 13 (1) The Reformation
(2) Luther and Calvin
(3) The Counter-Reformation
READING: Text: pp. 226-241 -- Sources: pp.317-328, 336-345
April 15 The Age of Exploration and Exploitation
READING: Text: pp.243-250, 262-275 -- Sources: pp.348-353
April 20 (1) The Scientific Revolution, 1543-1650
(2) Copernicus to Descartes
READING: Text: pp. 276-283 -- Sources: pp. 383-395
April 22 (1) The Scientific Revolution, 1650-1750
(2) Isaac Newton
READING: Text: pp. 283-293 -- Sources: pp. 398-404
April 27 General Discussion and Review
READING: Text: pp. 293-302, 306-307 -- Sources: pp. 406-409
April 29 Fourth Examination (20%)

| Return to Syllabi |

| The History Guide |

copyright 2000 Steven Kreis
Last Revised -- May 12, 2004