European and World History

Studied in one of four periods, this is a paper in non-British Isles History, which combines the study of an extended period with geographical range. It is approached more thematically than British Isles History, with an emphasis on the conceptual categories – of gender, economy, culture, state and religion – which enable us to understand both what past societies have had in common and where they have differed:

In, say, 400 CE, human experience in Eurasia had been much the same for half a millennium or more.  Ancient empires—Roman, Persian, Chinese—had brought strong government and a generally ‘civilized’ standard of life. By the end of the period, most recognizable features of the world created by these empires had ceased to exist.  Nearly all the most prosperous and articulate arenas of ancient civilization had succumbed to ‘barbarian invasion’ (though historians are increasingly unsure that ‘barbarian’ or ‘invasion’ is a helpful way to think about who was involved or what was happening). Of course, there were some basic continuities. The average age of death (twenty five) did not change: childbirth, war, and disease were as fatal as ever. But the changes in this period were arguably more total and more startling than any before the nineteenth-century advent of European industry and empire. Not coincidentally, nineteenth-century Europeans saw in this era a distant reflection of themselves.

Political transformations were in fact the least of it. The period witnessed the triumph of monotheism, specifically, worship of the God of Abraham, and in China, the spread of Buddhism. Already in the fourth century, the Roman Emperors had left their old gods behind, and adopted Christianity as their state-sponsored cult; in the seventh century, Muslims bore witness to a new and, they claimed, definitive set of revelations from the Angel Gabriel, set down in the Qur’an. In Christian and Muslim societies, religious communities worked their way free of political structures, and looked to reset the terms for family life, marriage, gender and sexuality. Literate scribes helped to develop new forms of information technology: the book as we know it replaced the scroll as the dominant medium of the written word; in Europe, handwriting itself took the shape it has today.

Overall, there were costs and benefits to the collapse of ancient empires. While it was certainly harder to find a hot bath, a comfortable chair, an elaborately-served meal or a library of light literature in the seventh-century West than three centuries earlier, it was unnecessary for peasant producers to hand over a high proportion of their income to the tax collector.

A key feature of late ancient and early medieval history is that because the sources are so relatively few, students can access a relatively high proportion of what is available.  In translation, you can explore Roman historians (including a first-hand account of an embassy to Attila the Hun), Christian chroniclers, writers of saints’ lives, treatises from Muslim anthropologists, Buddhist missionaries and pilgrims. You will be introduced to material culture of enduring beauty and no less palpable strangeness. The world of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages is an electric field of current research and debate. This paper aims to show why.

This paper is a wide-ranging introduction to the centuries between 1000 and 1300, a three-hundred-year period of remarkable dynamism across the medieval world. Wherever we look, this was a time of substantial environmental change and population growth, increased urbanisation and commercialisation, evolving gender relations, diversifying forms of spirituality, and complex forms of social, religious and political organisation. New communities emerged which replaced or radically reorientated longstanding empires. Connections within and between different world regions intensified. But this was also a period of confrontation. Peace and war co-existed in ambiguous tension. Longstanding ideologies were questioned or given new meanings. New statements of authority brought new forms of dissent. Intellectual life was stimulated by deepening cross-cultural connections and the new needs of changing societies. This paper enables you to study the immense fluidity and variety of social, religious, political and economic forms in this period in many different ways. It allows you to range widely across the very different geographies and societies of the medieval world while also engaging closely with contemporary sources, both written and material. Women are regarded as integral to all topics in the paper and can also be studied comparatively across cultures. The paper also allows you to explore the masculinities associated with medieval religious, military and political structures, and to explore intersectionalities between gender, class and race in different medieval societies. You can approach this paper from either a World or a European perspective or a combination of the two.

If you adopt a ‘World’ perspective, you can explore topics such as the urban-based empires of west Africa; the Muslim polities which took shape in the Islamic world following the disintegration of the Abbasid caliphate; the transformation of Byzantium; the Song empire in China; the great city of Cahokia on the Mississippi river. On a pan-Eurasian scale, there is the opportunity to study steppe peoples, such as the Seljuk Turks and the Mongols, and the complex mixture of conquest and assimilation which characterised their territorial and cultural expansion. You may wish to look at the connections which linked different medieval regions, including networks of merchants and scholars from a variety of religious traditions, including, Judaism, Islam, Christianity and Buddhism. You can think about how regions were linked through marriages between powerful families, relationships established through concubinage and slavery, and the complex roles played by women, children, and non-elite men in building and maintaining communities.

A principally European approach to the paper, looking primarily at Latin Christendom (western and central Europe), gives you the opportunity to explore in detail the ways in which disparate regions were pulled together through centralising ideologies of a shared faith administered through the Roman church, and a shared intellectual and cultural legacy inherited from the ancient empire of Rome. Crusades, pilgrimage, monasticism, religious orders, saints’ cults, universities and education all contributed to building this communal identity, which could also be violent and exclusionary, particularly of Jews and those accused of heresy. At the same time, the increase in available resources during these unusually warm centuries – largely extracted through peasant and in some cases slave labour – enabled the assertion of royal, aristocratic, legal, economic and administrative power, high consumption court cultures, the expansion of cities, literacy, interregional warfare, and violent, often religiously-justified, expansion into the ‘pagan’ regions of the Baltic and eastern Europe, and Muslim governed territories in Iberia, Sicily and the Middle East. In these frontier regions, there were also rich multicultural and trading interactions, including with Byzantium and the principalities of Rus’.

The period from 1400 to 1650 can be considered a defining moment in the creation of modern Europe and its relations with the rest of the world.

Beginning when population and agricultural production had been sharply reduced by plague, it saw both rise to new levels, while the development of cross-European trade began the process of economic specialization. Explorers, adventurers and merchants were opening up the New World of America, Africa and the Far East, laying the basis of a future world economy. Expansion of the material world was matched by enlargement of intellectual and cultural horizons. A new type of lay scholar, the humanist, rediscovered the texts of Latin and Greek antiquity, and developed intellectual interests, in language, morals and history, which differed markedly from those of medieval scholasticism. Artists and architects likewise took fresh inspiration from classical models, creating the glories of the High Renaissance and Baroque. The possibilities of new technology were most dramatically realised in the invention of printing.

Yet just as Renaissance drew Europeans closer in learning and culture, Reformation created unprecedented divisions in religion. Luther and Calvin succeeded where fifteenth-century heretics had failed, creating new churches, and forcing the long process of reform within the Roman Catholic Church to harden into Counter-Reformation. Economic and religious pressures put new strains on political structures. Expanding resources after 1500 enabled monarchs to support increasingly spectacular courts, larger administrations and more permanent armies, while forging new alliances with their nobilities. By contrast city-state republics flourished in the fifteenth century and declined in the sixteenth, only to set a new example in the successful revolt of the Dutch against the Spanish Monarchy.

By concentrating on broad themes rather than on the detail of developments within individual countries, the paper offers you the opportunity to study the whole process of historical change within this period. The lectures will introduce you to the major topics, while tutorials and classes take advantage of the range and quality of historical writing on this period to examine a wide variety of specific problems and subjects. To encourage study of the full range of developments within the period, the examination paper will require you to answer questions from three of the four sections into which it is divided.

This course approaches the nineteenth century in the widest possible way, ranging from population trends and social structure to cultural history and from revolutions to imperialism. It centres on Primarily in Europe (including the British Isles) ventures beyond this particularly when dealing with imperialism.

The nineteenth century is often hailed as the century of nationalism. The paper will cover the state and to the spread of state structures and national institutions and the construction of national identities and the pursuit of the nation-state are studied, as are the scientific ideas - such as Social Darwinism - underpinning them. A number of areas are also studied including the population explosion of the nineteenth century, the agricultural and industrial revolutions which helped to sustain it, the dramatic growth of towns, the various waves of emigration to the New World, the European élites, (noble and non-noble, conservative and liberal) and a study of peasants, industrial workers, and some of the social and political movements which played such a prominent role in the shaping of the nineteenth century (including the revolutions of 1830, 1848, 1871 and 1905). Finally, the changing gender roles and ideologies, and the question of whether the century was one of secularization or religious revival are also covered.

Undergraduates are expected to attend all 16 lectures designed for the course, in order to gain a sense of the broad themes and how they interlock, although for their weekly essays they may specialise in the subjects of their choice.

Please note that the options listed above are illustrative and may be subject to change.

Teaching: 16 lectures; 7 tutorials or 7 college classes (or a mixture), with submitted essays or essay plans for discussion.

Assessment: This paper is assessed with a 3-hour written examination.