Short Paper 1 – Due Session 2

2–page discussion paper on a 'technology' that you employ on a regular basis, but about the history or characteristics of which you rarely pause to consider. Your discussion should indicate the ways in which this particular technology intersects with the larger themes of economic history. Be creative and feel free to have some fun with this assignment. It has no right answer, but nevertheless your discussion should reveal a high level of thoughtfulness.

Short Paper 2 – Due Session 5

3–page analysis of a primary source document. Your analysis should incorporate insights from the readings on the early middle ages assigned for the previous week.

Use the document that contains three short excerpts from an early 5th century description of Rome, a mid-6th century excerpt from Gregory of Tours' History of the Franks that explains a Frankish campaign against Italy, and a late 6th century lament from Pope Gregory the Great. You should read all three selections, and think about the information one might glean from them. You should also think about the kind of evidence provided in this source and the types of questions that it raises as well as answers. Keep in mind that our authors are all cultural elites, Gregory of Tours, a member of the old Roman-Gallo senatorial class, and the Bishop of an important city and the burial site of the most venerated late Romano-Gallo saint, St. Martin of Tours; Gregory the Great, the Father of the Medieval Papacy; and Marcellinus, an historian of Rome originally from the Greek-speaking east of the empire.

You should write roughly three pages double spaced, in which you can raise questions about the selections as well as reflect on what the selections tell us about economic and/or social conditions in the 5th and 6th centuries. Keep in mind as you work the broader issues we have raised in class. You are welcome to consult outside materials if you feel you need to understand the context better, but the fundamental point of this exercise is for you to do a close reading of some primary sources and to see what you can discern from within the text itself. So don't rely much on outside reading if you are tempted to do some.

Documents for Short Paper 2 (PDF)

Short Paper 3 – Due Session 10

3–page discussion paper comparing traditional accounts of the manorial economy with more recent evaluations of it.

The reading material that will be most helpful in writing this essay, ie. the Campbell and Clark articles, Chapter 1 of Lopez's book, the Carolingian Capitulary and the so-called Plan of St. Gall. You will be well-served by thinking again of the famous Pirenne thesis which saw a primary evidence of discontinuity between the Roman and Medieval periods to be the decine of long-distance trade and the rise of an autarkic agricultural system in its place. You will find the traditional account of this transition in Lopez. The McCormick reading for last week, and the readings for this next week, suggest some alternative points of view.

Long Paper 1 – Due Session 15

6–page paper due on the plague and its consequences.

Your assigned topic area is the plague episode known as the Black Death, and more broadly, the late medieval context in which it occured. It is your job to formulate a question you want to address and then develop a thesis (really just an answer to the question you pose) that you will defend in your paper. Potential questions include:

  • If the 14th century was indeed a century of crisis, what kind of crisis was it? Possible candidates can be found for example in the Barbara Harvey reading.
  • Were the elements of a 14th c. crisis the result of forces endogenous to the economy of the late middle ages, or exogenous to it? Very simply, this question could be thought of as the poor planning versus bad luck question, or some combination of the two.
  • What would a Malthusian say to the above question, and would their position be supported by the evidence we have from Europe both before and after the middle of the 14th century?
  • What were the economic consequences of the Black Death episode, either in the very short term, or over the longer term? If you work in this area do not forget to consult the Domar article, which although not about the plague or the Black Death per se, does present a model with useful things to think about for a situation of severe population decline.

For all of the above questions, don't forget that you have one very useful primary source selection, the Chronicle of Henry Knighton. All of these questions could be answered more fully with evidence from a contemporary source. This should give you more than enough to get started with, but of course, there are many more questions one might want to ask as well.

Oral Presentation – Due Session 17

Oral Presentation of thesis for 6-page final essay (topic to be announced after spring break). Each student is expected to present to the class a brief summary of the historical problem or question you intend to address in your essay, a clear thesis statement, a note about the kinds of evidence you intend to gather to support your thesis, and a quick wrap up of all these components. If you do this, you will be well on your way to writing a strong essay.

Draft of Long Paper 2 – Due Session 19

First draft of 6–page paper.

You may use a topic of your own choosing as long as it's approved in advance. It is recomment that you use one of the following topics:

  • Economic historians, and social scientists more generally, have looked to the later middle ages (variously defined) as a critical period in shaping the future European economic success story. Choose several features of the later medieval economy for discussion, and indicate why you do or do not think those features contributed to the future economic achievement of (western) Europe.
  • Choose two (or at most three) of the major theoretical approaches to the study of the medieval economy (ie. Malthusian, monetarist, Marxist, world system, etc.) and discuss their relative merits as explanatory systems for the broad developments we have documented in this course.

Both of these prompts are quite broad. You will need to do more than just "answer them" if you are to write a successful essay. Remember that the most important thing you must do to begin writing is to have an argument -- a thesis. So as you think about these prompts, think about what it is you want to argue. Start your paper from that point, not the prompts themselves. Your assignment for section in the week of April 16th (ie. following the Patriot’s Day holiday) is to prepare a short power point presentation of 2 or 3 at most slides in which you pose your question, state your thesis, and give a very brief suggestion of what evidence you want to bring to bear on the problem.

Long Paper 2 – Due Session 24

Final version of 6–page paper.