ONLINE: HONORS HISTORY & Literature
The Middle Ages
Instructor: Roy Speed
Our History & Literature of the Middle Ages is a year-long online course in close reading of medieval texts. The emphasis is, for the most part, England and English literature, but a great deal of what the students learn about this period will be applicable to other European societies and cultures.
The "Medieval Millennium" — roughly 500 to 1500 ad — encompasses a huge swath of British history, and English literature of the period spans everything from Anglo-Saxon poetry and Beowulf to The Canterbury Tales and Le Morte Darthur. This course provides both historical perspective and a deep dive into the most important literature of the period.
Students in this course use the English experience as a prism through which to view and understand the medieval age of Europe. Our readings will be of two principal types:
- history books — not history texts, but works of history, both modern and medieval;
- works of literature — which we will read primarily for their aesthetic value but also for their historical interest.
Students in this course are tutored in close reading, annotating texts, research skills, and presentation skills. There is some mapwork, with geography a perennial enhancement to understanding history, and students are assigned independent research on specific historical issues, culminating in written reports and presentations to the class. Among the historical topics covered in this course:
- The Roman occupation and departure. — It's surprising that the Romans didn't have a more enduring effect on the British Isles. We survey the essential remnants of the Roman period and the limits of Roman influence.
- Life in Anglo-Saxon England. — We examine the everyday circumstances and culture of village and country life prior to the Norman Conquest.
- The Norman Invasion. — We examine the events leading up to the Norman Conquest and its effects both on ordinary English folk and on the institutions of British government and law.
- The development of the English language. — We examine the multitude of influences that English comprises and the evolving sounds of the language. We savor the evolution over hundreds of years both of English verse, meter, rhyme, and so on, and of particular words, phrases, and expressions.
- The age of chivalry. — We peer into the origins of chivalric values and traditions, explore how those values permeated many aspects of medieval life, and study relevant literature.
The final reading in this course is not medieval at all, nor is it English: our students read Volume 1 of the early Spanish novel Don Quixote. The reason: Compared to all the medieval texts the students have been reading all year, Don Quixote seems outrageously modern and enables them to see where they've been — gives them a useful perspective on the intellectual and emotional constraints peculiar to the Middle Ages.
Homework & other assignments
Students should plan on 3.5 to 4 hours of homework each week. Homework comprises mainly close reading, annotation, and preparation for class discussions, but there are also other types of activities. When we reach The Canterbury Tales, for instance, students select and memorize a substantial passage of Chaucer's verse, including the authentic pronunciation of 14th-century English; they then deliver that passage to the other students in class.
Students are also assigned independent research on specific historical issues. They will have two major research projects, culminating in:
- one research report — reports will be
drafted in MLA format with correct
citations and bibliography;
Texts to purchase
In this course, we will study the following works, either in part or in their entirety. Students must purchase their own copies of these specific editions (all links below are to the correct editions on Amazon):
A note on used books: You may purchase new copies, but feel free to get used books provided that:
- you get the specific edition we're using;
- the book is free of internal markings or underlinings.
The reason: This course emphasizes close reading and annotation, and the instructor will at various points review the student's annotations. Purchasing a used text containing someone else's annotations defeats the purpose of this entire line of instruction. — For details on this instructor's approach to annotation, see this article.
- one online presentation — students use PowerPoint to present their findings to the class, and the course will include both a tutorial in PowerPoint design and coaching in effective delivery online.
To support these efforts, students are also instructed in project planning, annotating texts, outlining ideas for reports and presentations, and correct MLA format. Additional assignments include:
- Periodic quizzes sent to participants. These quizzes serve as aid to learning and mastering the content; they may also be used to help with generating a grade.
- Memorization. Students will memorize a substantial passage of Chaucer's Middle English. They will be coached in correct pronunciation, and recordings of authentic pronunciation will be made available to them.
The fee for this two-semester course is
$ 1340. ($ 670 per semester).
To register, you must pay the fee for Semester 1; we will invoice you for Semester 2, with payment due by September 1.
Your course fee covers two semesters and 75 hours of instruction. Texts are not included (see Texts to purchase at right).
Registration now open
FALL 2021 – SPRING 2022
Students attend two classes
per week, beginning August 30:
Mondays 1:00 – 2:30 pm EST
Thursdays 4:15 – 5:15 pm EST
To register a student, click here:
Fee for entire year: $ 1340.
Please note: At registration, you will pay
the fee for the fall semester ($ 670); for the
winter-spring semester we will invoice you,
with payment due by September 1, 2021.
For more information, please contact us.
Our approach to ...
History & Literature
Our history and literature classes consist of lecture, discussion, and—most important—close reading. Each course emphasizes reading primary sources from the period under study, and lecture is used to outline the events that form the connective tissue among those readings. Throughout the course, history is presented as an act of imagination requiring great energy and diligence. Our students absorb details about peoples, geography, languages, cultures, events, and then, in their minds, assemble those details into a coherent picture of the past.
In our course "The Ancient World," for instance, students read widely and deeply in ancient authors—e.g., Herodotus, Thucydides, Tacitus; they read The Epic of Gilgamesh—and all to populate their minds with ancient voices, events, concerns. As a result, the eras studied come to life in the minds of our students.
Students also do in-depth research projects and deliver oral presentations on their topics.
In the course of these studies, our students acquire vital skills:
- close reading and annotating difficult texts;
- mapwork and geography;
- research skills;
- planning, designing, and delivering presentations.