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HON H-211 Spring 2014 Syllabus
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Crisis and Culture in the Ancient and Medieval Mediterranean

Course Meetings

M/W, 11:15 am - 12:30 pm

Jan 13 - May 09, 2014

HU 217, Indiana University, section 22300


Kalani Craig

Office Hours

Mon 1:30-3:30 pm, Hutton, room 216K



Twitter: @kalanicraig

Syllabus contents

  1. Course Description
  2. Readings and Texts
  3. Expectations & Assignments
  4. Grading
  5. Important Dates & Grading 
  1. Student's Conduct
  2. Teacher's Conduct
  3. Writing Assignment Considerations
  5. Theme Assignment Reminders

Course Description

History is full of crisis. From big battles that changed the fate of continents to stories of unrequited love that only mattered to one or two sad souls, what we know about the past is often centered on painful experiences. These crises didn't just change the lives of the people who wrote history; they changed the way history writing worked. This class examines how crisis changed both people and the literary practices of people who wrote history. We'll look at how an author's personal response to crisis shaped the limits of their text, the literary themes on which they depended, and the ways in which they characterized the people around them.

From the earliest appearance of the plague to the Crusades, we'll focus on large-scale crises, the societies they affected and the texts written by people who lived through crisis. We'll also come face to face with personal crises—the anguished advice written by Dhuoda for her captive son and the lifelong complaints of Peter Abelard, a man castrated for love—through the eyes of the people who experienced them. We'll ask several questions to help us understand these authors and the texts they produced in times of crisis:

This approach treats historical records as literary responses to crisis and conflict. Specifically, we'll look at accounts of tense moments in a variety of historical texts, including military, political, religious, and personal records of the past. In all of these readings, we'll make arguments about the relationship between authorial choices and the historical context of the author, the crisis itself, and the cultural values that surrounded the authorship of a particular text.

Readings and Texts

Prokopios. The Secret History, with Related Texts (Hackett Publishing), edited and translated by Anthony Kaldellis. (ISBN-10: 1603841806; ISBN-13: 978-1603841801)

Ibn Shaddad. Rare and Excellent History of Saladin (Ashgate), translated by D.S. Richards. (ISBN-10: 0754633810; ISBN-13: 978-0754633815)

Dhuoda. Handbook for William: A Carolingian Woman's Counsel for Her Son (Catholic Univ of Amer Press), edited and translated by Carol Neel. (ISBN-10: 0813209382; ISBN-13: 978-0813209388)

The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (Penguin Classics), edited by Michael Clanchy, translated by Betty Radice. (ISBN-10: 0140448993; ISBN-13: 978-0140448993)

Homer. The Iliad (Penguin Classics), translated by Robert Fagles. (ISBN-10: 0140445927; ISBN-13: 978-0140445923)

Beowulf: A verse translation (Norton Critical Editions), introduction by Daniel Donoghue, translation by Seamus Heaney. (ISBN-10: 0393975800; ISBN-13: 978-0393975802)

Expectations & Assignments

Assigned readings

You are expected to complete assigned readings by the date on which the readings appear in the syllabus. You should attend lecture and participate in discussion regularly.

The readings are structured to give you practice in both quick skimming and close reading.


You are expected to complete assignments in a timely fashion and demonstrate effort in each step of each assignment throughout the semester. Assignments in this course divide the art of writing into four individual steps, each of which contributes to the completion of a successful writing assignment: initial notes, analysis, rough draft and polished submission. I will assign grades for each step of this process separately, and assignments at the beginning of the semester are weighted less heavily than those at the end of the semester.

In order to make the final, cumulative writing assignment more productive, you will focus on a single theme for the duration of the semester (e.g. the characterization of women, the constraints of genre, the role of narrator, etc.). The theme will be based on class discussion, and we’ll ask Each writing assignment will address that same issue, and your final writing assignment will analyze that issue over the full range of readings from the semester.

Writing assignments, including notes, and outlines, analytical processes and final drafts, take the form of a blog, which allows you some flexibility (the inclusion of images, a more casual tone) but is still subject to the same requirements (argument, evidence/support, citations, and grammatical and stylistic sophistication) as a standard academic paper. For a short example, see this post at Railroads and the Making of Modern America. For a longer, more complex example that will be closer to your final paper, see In the Medieval Middle. You must attend office hours before the first assignment to discuss how you will manage your writing process and what kinds of comments you expect from me.

The assignment system (see below) allows me to acknowledge the level of effort you invest in attempting new skills without requiring instant mastery of those new skills. A writing assignment without citations will automatically receive a zero. (See Academic Conduct section below.) I reserve the right to ask you to resubmit completed notes, analytical process (e.g. an outline or other demonstration of how you developed your analysis prior to the prose phase of the assignment), and rough drafts, after you submit the final draft of any assignment.

On workshop days, you must bring an accessible copy of your writing assignment with you to class (print, or on a computer/tablet that can be marked up). You’ll hand in an electronic version of your writing assignment in OnCourse, and your peers will provide feedback on the other copy during the workshop portion of class.

Learning objectives

In this course, you will:


Final course grade: This is based on participation, workshop responses and paper submission/revisions. There will be no midterms or finals.

Assignment grades: These are based on your mastery of the material and your willingess to make revisions based on my comments, and your peers comments, to each stage of the assignment process (notes, analysis, rough draft, final submission). A submission with significant revisions that takes my comments and applies them broadly will fare considerably better than a submission with minimal revisions limited only to areas I called attention to in my comments.

Participation points: Participation points are divided between small-group discussion, whole-class discussion, and peer-review/workshop participation. Students who attend regularly and do the reading in advance but do not bring written notes to class, contribute to class discussions or participate fully in workshops and peer review will earn a maximum of half of the possible participation points. Demonstrable improvement throughout the semester will be rewarded. Class disruptions, such as audible talking or cellphones ringing, will lead to deductions from the participation grade.

Attendance: You may miss two classes without penalty. I will deduct 2 participation points for each additional absence (see grading below). Workshops are an important part of this class. Missing one will result in an additional 2 pt deduction regardless of where you are in your allotted absences. Note that this policy does not distinguish “excused” from “unexcused” absences.Important

Dates & Grading

Final assignment due dates

Assignment component due dates


Feb 26

Writing assignment 1 final draft

750-1000 words

Feb 5: Initial notes on Prokopios.

Feb 12: Initial analysis of Prokopios and Ibn Shaddad.

Feb 19: Rough draft and workshop.

Feb 21: Peer-review feedback

15 pts total

Notes, analysis, rough draft:

3 pts each

Final draft: 6 pts

Apr 9, 5 pm

Writing assignment #2 final draft

1000-1250 words

Mar 12: Initial notes on Dhuoda, Abelard and Heloise.

Mar 24: Initial analysis of Dhuoda, Abelard and Heloise

Mar 31: Rough draft and workshop.

Apr 2: Peer-review feedback

25 pts total

Notes, analysis: 3 pts each

Rough draft: 5 pts

Final draft: 14 pts

May 7, 5 pm

Final writing assignment

2750-3000 words

Apr 16: Initial notes on the Iliad and Beowulf.

Apr 23: Initial analysis of cumulative sources

Apr 30: Rough draft including all sources, and workshop.

May 2: Peer-review feedback

35 pts total

Notes: automatic 2 pts

Analysis: 2 pts

Rough draft: 6 pts

Final draft: 25 pts


This also includes peer commenting.

25 pts total

Workshop participation: 10 pts

Small group discussion: 10 pts

Whole-class discussion: 5 pts

For questions on how assignments will be assessed, please see the Grading Rubric for Notes, Analysis, Rough Drafts and Final Drafts.

Late assignments will be penalized ½ point for the first day, 1 point for each subsequent day. After 5 days, the grade will be recorded as a zero. Extensions on assignments will be granted only in the most extreme circumstances and then only with appropriate documentation that clearly explains their necessity.

Student's Conduct

Personal conduct

I expect you to treat course participants and instructional staff with respect. Respect is not the same as agreement: it means using respectful language when stating your ideas, asking questions or disagreeing with others. In class it means avoiding disruptive behavior (talking to other students outside of discussion, using laptops or cellphones for unrelated work). Please try to remember to turn off cellphones before class.

Academic conduct

"Plagiarism--A student must not adopt or reproduce ideas, words, or statements of another person without appropriate acknowledgment. A student must give credit to the originality of others and acknowledge an indebtedness whenever he or she does any of the following:

  1. Quotes another person's actual words, either oral or written;
  2. Paraphrases another person's words, either oral or written;
  3. Uses another person's idea, opinion, or theory; or
  4. Borrows facts, statistics, or other illustrative material, unless the information is common knowledge."

(Quoted from Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct, Part III, Student Misconduct, Academic Misconduct)

This is the grossest form of academic dishonesty. Plagiarism will result in an automatic failing grade in the course. The case will also be forwarded to the appropriate administrators for disciplinary action. IU-Bloomington general course policies are available here:

I do utilize plagiarism-detection software (Turnitin, etc.).

Teacher's Conduct

This syllabus has thus far emphasized what you are supposed to do, but I have responsibilities too. I will treat you with respect, encourage a comfortable classroom environment, and return your assignments with constructive comments in a timely fashion. I will be in class as scheduled, on time, and in my office during office hours, barring unforeseen circumstances (notice will be posted in case of unavoidable absence). I will answer email promptly (within 24-36 hours, again barring unforeseen circumstances) and am happy to schedule additional office hours to discuss your work, any difficulties you may be having or to answer any questions you may be worried about asking in class. I'm happy to talk more about the class but you need to take the first steps and ask.

If you have a learning disability, a time conflict, or another issue that may impact your involvement in the course, please come see me as soon as possible. You are encouraged to make an appointment with me to discuss papers and/or issues raised in class.

Writing Assignment Considerations

Please keep in mind that the prompt questions and sample topics are only starting points. Regardless of which theme you work with, you should always consider the following questions, at the very minimum:

Course Calendar & Readings

Unit 1: Introduction

Class Session



Readings Due Before Class Starts


Mon Jan 13

What is history?

What is history? Historiography? How does history function as literature?


Wed, Jan 15

No class.

Please attend mandatory office hours instead.

Friday, Jan. 17: noon - 4 pm

Tuesday, Jan 21: 9 am - 4 pm

Hutton, 216K

Mon, Jan 20

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day


Wed Jan 22

Herodotus and the "Father of Lies"

The Spartans and "300" (Modern interpretations of historical texts)

Skim The Histories Revised (OnCourse), Book Six, 360-413, and 486-497. Close-read 10-15 pages of this text based on what catches your attention (funny, strange, boring, unusual)

Unit 2: Royalty in Crisis

Class Session



Readings Due Before Class Starts


Mon Jan 27

Prokopios' nasty little secret

Plague and riot

The Secret History and Related Texts. Skim "Introduction" and Part I


Wed Jan 29

Belisarios, Theodora, and Prokopios

Close-read Part I of The Secret Histories. Skim Part II.


Mon Feb 03

A plague on the emperor

Close-read 25-30 non-contiguous pages on your topic of interest from Part II of The Secret Histories. Skim and then close read The Wars 1.24 on the Nika Riots (p 136-142 of Prokopios edition translated by Anthony Kaldellis)


Wed Feb 05

Ibn Shaddad and barbaric Frankish Crusaders

Nostalgia for the present?

Rare and Excellent History of Saladin. Skim "Introduction," and Part I.

DUE: Initial notes on Prokopios & Ibn Shaddad


Mon Feb 10

A leader's weakness

Skim Part II of A Rare and Excellent History.


Wed Feb 12

A leader's strengths

Close-read Part I of A Rare and Excellent History.

DUE: Writing assignment #1 analysis


Mon Feb 17

Franks as barbarians?

Close-read 12-15 chapters of Part II of A Rare and Excellent History.


Wed Feb 19


DUE Wednesday Feb 19, 11:15 am: Writing assignment #1 rough draft

DUE Friday Feb 21, 5pm: Workshop #1 peer-review feedback

Unit 3: Personal Crisis

Class Session



Readings Due Before Class Starts


Mon Feb 24

A Hostage Situation

Dhuoda and the heartache of an absent child

Skim "Introduction" to and Books 1, 3, and 4 of Dhuoda's A Handbook for William.


Wed Feb 26

Carolingian fracture

Skim Books 5, 7, and 8 of Dhuoda's A Handbook for William.

DUE: Writing assignment #1 final draft


Mon Mar 03

Carolingian fracture

Close read 20-25 pages from sections 1, 3, and 4 of Dhuoda's A Handbook for William.


Wed Mar 05

Carolingian fracture

Close read 20-25 pages from sections 5, 7, and 8 of Dhuoda's A Handbook for William.


Mon Mar 10

Forbidden Love

Abelard's secret marriage

The Letters of Abelard and Heloise. Skim Abelard's "Historia Calamitatum."


Wed Mar 12

Abelard's public castration

The Letters of Abelard and Heloise. Skim Heloise and Abelard's correspondence

DUE: Initial notes on Dhuoda, Abelard & Heloise

Mon, Mar 17

Spring Break

Wed, Mar 19

Spring Break


Mon Mar 24

Heloise and the aftermath of calamitatum

The Letters of Abelard and Heloise. Close read 20-25 pages of "Historia Calamitatum."

DUE: Writing assignment #2 analysis


Wed Mar 26

Heloise and the aftermath of calamitatum

The Letters of Abelard and Heloise. Close read 4-5 pages each from two letters of Heloise and Abelard's correspondence.


Mon Mar 31


 DUE: Writing assignment #2 rough draft

Unit 4: Heroes in Crisis

Class Session



Readings Due Before Class Starts


Wed Apr 02

Homer and the half-blood prince

The Peloponnesian war and a crisis of poetics

Skim The Iliad:  "Introduction" pages 3-7 (stop at paragraph on Homeric illiteracy and Robert Wood), 12-15 (on the history and poetics of the Iliad), 22-28. Skim Books 1, 6-8, 15.

DUE: Workshop #2 peer-review feedback


Mon Apr 07

Of gods and men

Skim Books 16-17, 21-24 of The Iliad.

DUE: Writing assignment #2 final draft


Wed Apr 09

Of heroes and anti-heroes

Close-read 1 book from Books 1, 6-8 in The Iliad. Pick one army from pp 115-126 and look at the imagery closely.


Mon Apr 14

Of men and women

Close-read 1 book from Books 15-18 and one book from Books 21-24 in The Iliad.


Wed Apr 16

Beowulf's Monster Issues

Viking invasion and Anglo-Saxon unification

Beowulf. Skim "Introduction" and poem.

DUE: Initial notes on The Iliad and Beowulf.


Mon Apr 21

Of monsters and men

Close-read 100-150 lines from the section containing the battle with Grendel.


Wed Apr 23

Of heroes and antiheroes

Close-read Beowulf's word-battle with Unferth.

DUE: Final writing assignment analysis


Mon Apr 28

Of men and women

Close-read 100-150 lines from the section containing the battle with Grendel's mom.


Wed Apr 30

Final paper workshop

Close-read 100-150 lines from the section containing the battle with the dragon.

DUE: FInal writing assignment rough draft

DUE MAY 2, 5pm: Final workshop peer-review feedback

DUE MAY 7, 5pm: Final writing assignment

Theme assignment reminders

Please keep in mind that the prompt questions and sample topics are only starting points. Regardless of which theme you work with, you should always consider the following questions, at the very minimum:

ESCAPE: Does crisis make people long for escape? Do they look for answers the imaginary, the divine or the supernatural? How do these people describe these marvels and how they interact with the natural world? What happens when there is no escape?


COMFORT: Does crisis make people long for the boring repetition of day-to-day habit? Do they look for answers in the tangible, in the human-centered realms of politics, the economy? How do they describe day-to-day life and the kinds of comforts--physical, emotional, spiritual--that helped them cope with crisis?


CHANGE: Does crisis make people focus on massive social and cultural changes? Do they fight to keep people in their place, to stay in their place, or do they push themselves and the people around them to try new things, take on new roles? Do they hold up tradition and tell stories of the good old days, or do they praise the adventurous, the new, and the unusual?


HUMANITY: Does crisis make people focus on their fellow man? Do they see the world around them, and the people in it, as fundamentally good and willing to help each other? Or fundamentally bad and eager to take from other people to make their own lives easier? Are there lots of heroes? Bad guys? How do these stories help us understand people and their reaction to crisis?