21H.134J | Spring 2012 | Undergraduate

Medieval Economic History in Comparative Perspective

Instructor Insights

Course Overview

This page focuses on the course 21H.134J Medieval Economic History in Comparative Perspective as it was taught by Professor Anne McCants in Spring 2012.

This course surveys the conditions of material life and changing social and economic conditions in medieval Europe with reference to the comparative context of contemporary Islamic, Chinese, and central Asian experiences. Beyond the content, this course is intended to help students think, problem solve, and communicate.

Course Outcomes

Course Goals for Students

  • To hone their ability to think, problem solve, and make connections
  • To develop their ability to fashion and communicate ideas
  • To understand a world different from their own; to gain the perspective that their presumptions are a construction of the world that they grew up in and the experiences that they’ve had
  • To think critically about the function and obligation of economies
  • To learn to read texts
  • To learn history and geography

Instructor Interview

"Humanities classes help students fashion ideas, think critically, problem solve, make connections, understand different perspectives, and communicate."
— Prof. McCants

In the following pages, Prof. McCants describes various aspects of how she teaches 21H.134J Medieval Economic History in Comparative Perspective.

Curriculum Information


  • None

Requirements Satisfied

  • HASS-S
  • CI-H


  • Every spring semester unless Prof. McCants is on leave

Student Information


43 students

Breakdown by Year

Primarily juniors and seniors; some sophomores; very few freshmen

Breakdown by Major

Primarily economics majors, minors, and concentrators

Typical Student Background

A lot of the students are economists and know Neoclassical economic theory pretty well. However, an economics background is not presumed and all economics concepts are explained before they’re used.

Most students enter the class with little knowledge of medieval history besides what they’ve gleaned from inaccurate movie portrayals. They learn background material in the course via storytelling, timelines, maps, and other material. According to Prof. McCants, “For a student who actually knows some medieval history, it might sound patronizing and annoying, but such students are so rare.”

How Student Time Was Spent

During an average week, students were expected to spend 12 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:


  • Met every Monday
  • All students together
  • Taught by Prof. McCants unless she was out of town
  • A “chatty” lecture with lots of questions and answers from both the instructor and the students
  • Interactive exercises, such as the start-of-term survey, board exercises, and other activities that got people standing up and moving around or writing


  • Met every Wednesday
  • Students split into three recitation sections, each with about 15-20 students.
  • Students were expected to complete their readings before recitation each week.
  • Assignments were submitted, returned, and discussed during recitation sections.

Out of Class

Course Team Roles

Lead Instructor (Prof. Anne McCants - additional profile)

  • Lead instructor; responsible for course development and organization
  • Lectured every Monday unless she was out of town
  • Led a recitation section on Wednesdays

Teaching Assistants (2) - typically a senior lecturer (Dr. Steven Ostrow) and a graduate student

  • Fully led one recitation section each: taught the section, met with students, graded papers on their own terms. When there’s a first-time TA, the course staff meets to calibrate paper grading, but beyond that, Teaching Assistants have jurisdiction over their students’ papers.
  • Sometimes helped out in the main lecture during interactive activities
  • Attended every lecture and assisted when appropriate
  • Taught the lecture section when Prof. McCants was out of town

Entire Teaching Team

Prof. McCants is a medievalist; one of the TAs is always a senior lecturer who is an ancient historian; and the third TA is typically a graduate student working in the 19th or 20th century. Collectively, their expertise spans a lot of history, allowing them to provide historical context, answer questions about other time periods when relevant, and interpret events and issues in different historical contexts.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2012
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Presentation Assignments
Instructor Insights