Writing History in the Middle Ages

History 280/285B

Spring 2015
Day & Time: 
Tu 4-6P

CCN for 280B.001: 39774

CCN for 285B.001: 39879

The amount of history written in the European middle ages is staggering, dwarfing the number histories from contemporary Byzantium, China, and Islam. The diversity of the genres and the creativity with which writers adapted them is equally staggering. There are Latin histories and vernacular histories, prose histories and verse histories. There are histories of kingdoms and peoples, of cities, monasteries, and bishoprics, histories of reigns, histories of events, histories of the world and histories of individual families, even histories of fictions (e.g., Geoffrey of Monmouth's history of Arthur). Sometimes people (Salimbene, for instance) seem to write history just because they want to write history without caring much whether it's a history of anything at all. Because historians and literary scholars need to specialize in order to get any research done, too often they use particular histories relevant to their work without much awareness of what is or is not distinctive about them, and they make broad generalizations drawn from outmoded scholarship or limited reading. The purpose of this course is simply to read a small but representative sample of interesting histories from the middle ages, along with a small but representative selection of the most important recent scholarship. We will begin with four fundamental histories: Eusebius' History of the Church; Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People; the Royal Frankish  Annals; and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (concentrating especially on the "A" version). Because students are likely to have quite varied interests and needs, subsequent readings will be determined in the first class, according to a consensus within the class. I anticipate that the majority of the readings after the first four will be drawn from the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries (e.g., choosing from among Raoul Glaber, Lampert of Hersfeld, Berthold of Reichenau, Suger of Saint-Denis, Orderic Vitalis, Galbert of Bruges, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Henry of Huntingdon, Roger of Wendoever, Otto of Freising, Matthew Paris, Salimbene…). Almost all readings will be in English translation. Students who wish to take the seminar as a 285 will need to write a paper that demonstrates research ability using research languages. Much of the most important scholarship is in German, though only two such works will be assigned. For students who cannot read German, alternative assignments in French will be arranged. 

Course Books

Carolingian Chronicles by Scholz, Bernhard, and Rogers, Barbara University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Paperbacks. ISBN: 978-0472061860 Required
The History of the Church by Eusebius Penguin. ISBN: 978-0-14-044535-0 Required
History of the English Church and People by Bede Penguin. ISBN: 9780140445657 Required
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle by Swanton, Michael Routledge. ISBN: 978-0415921299 Required