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Essay Questions

Oct 24, 2018 | 0 comments

Oct 24, 2018 | Essays | 0 comments

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Essay Questions 2

Answer one of the following four questions (approximately 1200-1500 words)

  1. To what extent were barbarians responsible for the fall of the Western Roman Empire?

2) To what extent, and in what ways, did the societies of the Middle East changed in the early Islamic period (622-750 AD)?

3) How powerful was Charlemagne?

4) To what extent do the Vikings deserve their reputation for violence and destruction?

General advice: as you will see, these questions are intentionally quite open and can be interpreted in several ways. That means there is no ‘right answer’; it does mean that you have to develop your own answers and support it with your own evidence. Two essays, which gave entirely different answers to the same question could score equally well. What I am looking for is an answer, which is direct, relevant, well-supported, and independent.

Reading: I have produced some fairly extensive reading lists to help you. It may look like a lot at first glance, but you will see that I have recommended particular page ranges and also made comments to guide you. Also, all the questions are based not only on topics but also on questions, we have discussed in class. If you were listening and participating in class, these topics won’t seem new. If you need a reminder, have a look at the slides on the Course Homepage. I also recommend starting by reviewing the reading set for each of the classes that were relevant to the week’s topic. It will be extremely difficult to gain a good mark if you don’t read enough, mainly because if you aren’t well informed about the topic, you will be unable to formulate your own opinion. I therefore strongly recommend reading widely and starting your reading as early as possible. If you leave it till the last minute, you will make your task extremely difficult.

Last time people asked if all the reading was compulsory. Technically, the answer to this question is no. If you left out some of the books it would still be possible to get a good mark. However, it is strongly recommended that you use this reading list as a base. I have deliberately produced a reading list consisting of modern (or classic) academic works. It is designed to give you enough knowledge, and different views, to allow you to answer the question successfully whilst not overwhelming you. The most straightforward way of succeeding is simply to read everything (or almost everything) on the reading list. You can, if you wish, include other works as well and gain credit for this, but these should be up-to-date works of high academic quality, which reflect contemporary debates amongst leading historians or relevant primary sources that you can of a way of including. If you rely on a small number of books, or outdated books, such as many of the standard school texts published in the Soviet period, for example, your reading is very unlikely to meet these criteria. I will be expecting to see plenty of good quality, English-language works in your footnotes and bibliography and strong evidence you have read and thought about them.

Writing the draft essay: It is strongly recommended that you write a draft essay. It is clear from the first essay that people who got targeted feedback generally did better than those who did not. Please submit the draft essay even if you don’t feel confident about it. It is a risk-free help. It is much better to submit something than nothing.

You will notice from the reading list that, with a few exceptions, the emphasis is on secondary literature. However, it is still important that you think about and refer to primary sources. You can refer to these either when you encounter them in the secondary literature and reference them like this e.g ‘Ibn Fadhlan, Risala, taken from Blockmans and Hoppenbrouwers, pages 94-95’ or you can take them from my slides and reference them like this e.g. ‘Gildas, On the Ruin of Britain, taken from class 6 slide.’ Just bear in mind that all of our information, ultimately, comes from primary sources. Historians are merely people who read (or look at) and discuss these works.

As you will see, most of the recommended books are available only in the library. Books marked * are available electronically. Books marked ** are available in the library or electronically. All the recommended books have been put in the reserve section of the library.

  1. To what extent were barbarians responsible for the fall of the Western Roman Empire?

Recommended reading

*Campbell B., The Romans, and their world: a short introduction (Yale, 2011), pages 244-248

Collins R., Early Medieval Europe 300-1000 (London, 1991), pages 79-98

A very useful discussion of the historiographical question of why the empire fell

Craughwell T., How the Barbarians shaped the Modern World (Beverley, 2008), pages 8-127

This is easy to read the introduction to the barbarian invasion which contains lots of nice pictures. It tends to over-dramatize a bit but it does give you a good idea of the difference between various barbarian peoples. Rather than use it all, this book could be useful if you approached the essay by choosing two or three barbarian groups as case studies.

**Goffart W., Barbarian Tides (Philadelphia, 2006), especially pages 6-7 and 230-239

A useful counter-argument from an eminent scholar and an attempt to downplay the barbarians as a destructive force

Heather P., The Fall of the Roman Empire: a New History (London, 2005), especially pages 16, 110-128 and 431-459

An excellent read; a very good narrative with lots of good discussions.

Mathisen R. W. ‘Violent Behaviour and the Construction of Barbarian Identity in Late Antiquity’ in H.A. Drake (ed.), Violence in Late Antiquity: Perceptions and Practices (Aldershot, 2006), pages 27-35

Looks at the perception of barbarian violence in late antiquity

Pirenne H., Mohammed and Charlemagne, first published in 1939. This edition published by Routledge (Abingdon, 2008), pages 118-35 and 147-164

One of the founding texts on the question as we discussed in class. Argues that the Arab conquests rather than the invasions of the Germanic barbarians were the real end of antiquity. You don’t have to read it all but at least make sure you understand the basic argument. See especially pages 118-35 and 147-164

Pohl W., ‘Perceptions of Barbarian Violence’, in H.A. Drake (ed.), Violence in Late Antiquity: Perceptions and Practices (Aldershot, 2006), pages 15-26

Like Mathisen’s article, looks at how barbarian violence was perceived in antiquity itself

2) To what extent, and in what ways, did the societies of the Middle East changed in the early Islamic period (622-750 AD)?

Recommended reading

Ansary T., Destiny Disrupted: a History of the World through Islamic Eyes (New York, 2009)

Pages xix-xxii contains a very useful summary of traditional Muslim views of early Islamic history. Useful to use in combination with Lockman’s book: it would be useful to contrast the views of modern scholars with these traditional narratives?

**Bennison A., The Great Caliphs: the Golden Age of the ‘Abbasid Empire (Yale, 2009)

Contains a good general narrative for the Umayyad period but also pages 54-68 are very useful for thinking about continuities in the urban landscape

Cook D., ‘Syria and the Arabs’ in Philip Rousseau (ed.), A Companion to Late Antiquity (London, 2009), pages 467-478)

(Potentially useful if you want to focus on Syria as a case study of how a key region of the Byzantine Empire became a key region of the Caliphate but not necessary)

Kennedy H., The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates (New York, 2004)

Excellent basic narrative by a highly respected scholar

Lapidus I., A History of Islamic Societies (Cambridge, 2002), pages 10-51

**Lockman Z., Contending Visions of the Middle East: the History and Politics of Orientalism (Cambridge, 2004)

Pages 8-27 contain a very summary of traditional Western views of early Islamic history

Marsham A., ‘The Early Caliphate and the Inheritance of Late Antiquity’ in Philip Rousseau (ed.), A Companion to Late Antiquity (London, 2009), pages 479-496

An extremely useful discussion

**Milwright M., An Introduction to Islamic Archaeology (Edinburgh, 2010), especially pages 24-43

A very useful discussion of the continuities between late antique and early Muslim archaeology

Pirenne H., Mohammed and Charlemagne, first published in 1939. This edition published by Routledge (Abingdon, 2008)

One of the founding texts on the question as we discussed in class. Argues that the Arab conquests rather than the invasions of the Germanic barbarians were the real end of antiquity. You don’t have to read it all but at least make sure you understand the basic argument. See especially pages 118-35 and 147-164

3) How powerful was Charlemagne?

Recommended reading

**Bennison A., The Great Caliphs: the Golden Age of the ‘Abbasid Empire (Yale, 2009), especially pages 27-36

Gives a good overview of the extent and nature of Abbasid power and therefore useful to compare with Charlemagne

Blockmans W. and Hoppenbrouwers P., Introduction to Medieval Europe 300-1500, pages 103-117

A very useful overview of Charlemagne’s empire, its power, and limitations

Clot A., Harun al-Rashid and the World of the Thousand and One Nights (New York, 1989), especially pages 100-110 and 250-251

Useful for Charlemagne’s relations with the Caliph

Collins R., Early Medieval Europe 300-1000 (London, 2010), pages 280-307

A very good narrative

Costambeys M. et al., The Carolingian World (Cambridge, 2011), especially pages 1-31; 65-80; 170-194

Lots of useful discussions

Dutton P., ‘Karolus Magnus or Karolus Felix: the making of Charlemagne’s reputation and Legend’, in Matthew Gabriele and Jayce Stuckey (eds.), The Legend of Charlemagne in the Middle Ages: Power, Faith, and Crusade (Cambridge, 2011), pages 23-37

A useful look at how Charlemagne’s reputation developed. How far do these traditional views coincide with modern ones?

Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, translated David Ganz in Two Lives of Charlemagne: Einhard and Notker the Stammerer (London, 2008)

A crucial primary source. Einhard’s work is more interesting and important and also quite short but I recommend trying to find the bits which are most relevant to your argument. I also strongly recommend reading the introductory notes first as this will make your job much easier. The mother’s work is later and considered less reliable. I know of one other translation of Einhard’s biography which is available online but the English are more old-fashioned: http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/einhard.asp.

*Latowsky A. A., Emperor of the World: Charlemagne and the Construction of Imperial Authority 800-1229 (Cornell, 2013), pages 19-58

An interesting skeptical look at Charlemagne’s famous diplomatic relations – perhaps his biographers exaggerated them for literary purposes?

McKitterick R., Charlemagne: the Formation of a European Identity (Cambridge, 2008), especially pages 135-136 and 278-291

A good book from a highly respected scholar

Sypeck J., Becoming Charlemagne: Europe, Baghdad and the Empires of 800 (New York, 2006)

Contains a useful general narrative

Williams H., Emperor of the West (London, 2010), especially pages 68-138 and 229-263

Wilson D., Charlemagne (New York, 2006)

Contains a useful general narrative

4) To what extent do the Vikings deserve their reputation for violence and destruction?

Recommended reading

Bagge S., Cross and Scepter: The Rise of the Scandinavian Kingdoms from the Vikings to the Reformation (Princeton, 2014)

Pages 9-49 give a good overview of the Viking Age and the creation of the Scandinavian kingdoms

Blockmans W. and Hoppenbrouwers P., Introduction to Medieval Europe 300-1500, pages 94-95

Contains Ibn Fadhlan’s famous account of the burial of the Viking chief

Collins R., Early Medieval Europe 300-1000 (London, 2010), pages 344-370

Good general narrative

Craughwell T., How the Barbarians shaped the Modern World (Beverley, 2008), pages 128-203

This book overdramatizes a bit as enjoyable as a narrative and contains some good visual sources which you can use. Best treated as an introduction

Ferguson R., The Hammer, and the Cross: a New History of the Vikings (London, 2009)

A very useful narrative source but contains good discussion as well. The book is probably too long to read all, but it could work well if you picked two or three regions to discuss as case studies. Pages 28-31 is very useful. Pages 64-70 on Scotland and pages 105-107 on the Siege of Paris are good. There are many useful discussions from other regions too.

French S. E., The Code of the Warrior: explaining Warrior Values Past and Present (New York, 2003)

Pages 93-114 are on the Vikings as warriors and extremely interesting. Like the ‘Rational Bandits’ article, it is a very useful attempt to theorize about Viking violence.

Graham-Campbell J., The Viking World (London, 2013)

Very introductory, but contains good visual sources which you are quite welcome to use. See especially pages 18-33 and 58-99

*Kurrild-Klitgaard P. and Svendsen G. T., ‘Rational Bandits: Plunder, Public Goods, and the Vikings’ in Public Choice 117 (2003)

A really interesting attempt to theorize about Viking violence. Available through JStor

*Richards J., The Vikings: a very short introduction (Oxford, 2005), especially pages 47-62

Short W. R., Icelanders in the Viking Age (London, 2010)

Pages 14-31 on the creation of Iceland as a state are useful. Pages 40-57 on violence are useful too. Does Viking Iceland provide a good example of the Vikings as a creative, rather than a destructive force?

Williams G. et al. (ed.), Vikings: Life and Legend (New York, 2014)

Good for visual sources like pictures and maps. Pages 116-117 on warriors could also be useful

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