Course: HIS211
Instructor: Grafton
F 2015

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

HIS 211 is a survey class of the history of Europe from Antiquity to the Renaissance. A big focus in this class is given to Ancient Greece and the development of Christianity and all of the forms it took throughout Europe. For each period of European history Prof. Grafton prefers to talk about the shape the society took in that period, rather than about individual events. He gives an overview of the religious, economic, technological, cultural, architectural developments of the time. Two or three individuals become the focus for each period so that through the writings from them or about them we can understand the whole of society.  This explains why the course never requires any memorization of historical dates, names of kings or other details. Rather it aims to help the students reach an understanding of the forces (religious, cultural, scientific and technological) that shaped European civilization. - - - From a different student's perspective: In the Fall 2015 course, there was an in-class quiz that tested knowledge of specific people, a midterm that had a section on identification of people's names and objects/historical practices, and a portion on the final that tested knowledge of specific concepts or figures. In this case, in addition to knowledge of  overarching themes through Western Civilization,  students do need to spend some time memorizing the importance of specific people and concepts, though never dates.

Learning From Classroom Instruction

  1. Lectures
At the beginning of each lecture Prof. Grafton delivers a sheet which contains key words divided in sections. The keywords follow the order that the lecture is going to follow. The lecture is large and there is no student interaction. Professor Grafton is a very eloquent speaker, which means that the lecture is fast-paced. However this is not the type of lecture in which you need to put down everything, since Prof. Grafton can go into very detailed descriptions or examples that he uses for the purpose of making clearer the ideas he is conveying. The sheet he gives at the beginning of the lecture has a lot of space to take notes. I took all of my notes on these sheets and the correspondence between my notes and the key words made the structure of the lecture clear when reading afterwards. You can also take notes on a separate notebook but it is important to clear out the correspondence between key words on the sheet and your paper since this will help to understand the main ideas of the lecture. - - - He does not allow computers in lecture, so you will have to rely on handwritten notes and his lecture handout when reviewing notes. It can be helpful to type up your notes right after lecture, so that you can make it legible and structured on a Word document, and add anything that comes to mind from lecture that you hadn't written down. This also allows you to use the "command+find" option later in the semester when you are trying to remember a concept from weeks prior.
  1. Precept
In precept we talked exclusively about the readings, which for this class are in the form of written documents from the period under examination. One of the most important questions asked from the readings was what we could infer from them about the historical period. We also evaluated the reliability of each source and compared sources. Precept is important because it is an indicator of the most important sources from the readings (the ones which will show up on the exam) and the discussions happening in precept are the ones that come closer to the type of thinking required from the class and the exams. Thus taking notes of which sources were discussed in precept and some main things discussed about those sources can be of great help when preparing for exams. - - - Every week the day before precept, my preceptor required a short paragraph with observations or questions from that week's reading (not summaries). This factored into the participation grade for precepts. It is also useful to write down the questions that the preceptor asks in precept. When looking back on readings during exam studying, it is helpful have reminders of what should be considered about each text. Also, make note of parallels and comparisons preceptor and other students draw between that week's reading, with any readings or lecture material that is from prior weeks. You will be asked to identify five 5-6 line quotes on the midterm and final exams. Because of this, it would be useful to make flashcards after each precept of the important quotes that your preceptor drew out from each primary source document. If every week you write the name and author of the document on one side and the quote on the other, by the end of the semester you will have an effective study tool for your final exam.

Learning For and From Assignments

This course has about 100 pages of reading per week, an in-class midterm and final examination, and a 5-7 page final paper. - - - In Fall 2015 and Fall 2016, there was also an in-class quiz made up of identification terms around Week 3. In Fall 2015, weekly readings ranged from 100-200 pages of reading, but the average was closer to 150-200 pages a week.
  1. Readings
The readings include the readings from the "History of Western Civilization", which is a sort of history textbook and the readings from the books that contain all the first hand documents, letters, etc from a certain historical period. The second type of readings are the most important ones, since you will be discussing them in precept and will be asked to identify them on the exam. The first one provides more historical detail than the lectures, however you are never asked to know more than is provided on the lecture. When reading the first hand documents it is of great help to underline some of the parts that seem more important or expressive of the themes discussed in lecture, this will help when going through these readings again to study for the exams. Also be aware that some of the documents provide way too much detail, for example the legal documents. For this class it is more important to focus on texts that describe or are written by a specific individuals since they are also some of the most expressive and telling first hand documents of the period.
  1. Midterm
The midterm includes ID-s and key word questions. For the key word questions you are given terms that are of historic importance (never obscure ones) and you write what you have learnt about these terms. For the ID questions you are given a passage from the first-hand document you have read and you are required to identify the passage and its author, describe how you managed to identify it (style, hints on the text) and finally describe the historical significance of the passage. Describing the historical significance of the passage is the most important part of the question, and it requires both an evaluation of why this text was important for the historical period when it was produced and why this text is important to us in order to understand the historical period when it was produced. This type of thinking happens during precept, but it is also important that you practice it with what you see as the most important documents from your readings. - - - If you have made flashcards of quotes for each of the significant readings, by going through and reviewing each card you will be able to study for quote identifications (even if the exact quote does not match your flashcard, your understanding of the author's tone or argument will help you). By making a flashcard for each of Professor Grafton's terms from the lecture handouts, you will have a useful tool for studying for the keyword identification portion of the exam as well.
  1. Exam
The exam has the same questions as the midterm (this time only from the second part of the semester) and one essay question. The essay questions all have very broad themes: the themes that you have encountered during the semester and that Prof. Grafton has underlined in the lectures. During the last lecture he will also mention the most important themes of the course. When studying for the essay part it is thus more helpful to study the course material in a thematic way rather than in a chronological way. List all of the most important themes: religion, architecture, science, the city etc and then think about all of the events and texts related to each theme. - - - If you have typed your notes, it can be helpful to print out your notes and use different color highlighters to keep track of themes present at each historical moment, so that you can go through your notes chronologically and by theme at the same time. See the midterm section for tools on studying for quote and keyword IDs.
  1. Final Paper
The topic choice for the final paper is extremely open-ended. You have to choose some document (or a series of documents) from the period of Antiquity until Renaissance that has not been discussed in precept. Once you have chosen a text that you like then you can decide about your thesis. Since you read so many documents during the class there will usually be one or two texts that you have found very interesting and have not been discussed in precept. Starting from there will take you to your thesis, with the help of your preceptor. It is important to stay modest in the scope of the paper since it is only a 5-6 pages one. - - - The close reading you are asked to do for your final paper is similar to the way in which your preceptor has led analysis of primary sources in precept. The questions that the preceptor asks that you have written down can also serve as jumping-off points when you are trying to structure your argument.

External Resources

I used the Encyclopedia Britannica many times when I would notice some key word (a name or place) on the sheet that Prof. Grafton gave us and would not remember what it meant.

What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection

Being a 200 level class this class is less demanding than many other history courses at Princeton which makes it a very famous HA option. The class approaches learning about history in an entirely new way compared to many high school programs so it can be very interesting even if you have learnt a lot about European history. - - - In some ways, this class is less demanding than other history courses: the only paper due is 5-7 pages, instead of two papers that might each be 8-15 pages long, for example. Also, the readings discussed in precept are mainly primary sources, so they often flow more narratively and are less dense or verbose than scholarly articles. However, the course might be more demanding than other history courses for this reason: students are expected to keep track of changing themes over thousands of years of history for essay-style questions on exams, but are also expected to remember names and specific quotes from a total of about 1,000 pages of reading of primary sources over the course of the semester. Professor Grafton and preceptors do introduce specific themes to follow, but if you have not had prior exposure to this history,  the names and concepts might take longer to understand and place in the larger context. A note: underclassmen should not shy away from 300 and 400 level courses in the humanities, nor should they automatically enroll in 200 level courses. The number level does not signify level of difficulty. Instead, it signifies the structure of the course. 200 level courses, like this one, are often large lecture courses that cover a topic in breadth, while 300 level courses are slightly more focused, and 400 level courses dive deeply into one specific topic (and are mainly small seminar classes, rarely large lecture-style courses).
Europe from Antiquity to 1700

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