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But while many of us in search of the roots of this shared heritage often focus our attention on the contributions of modern Britain, the answers we seek are actually to be found much earlier.
For it is in the medieval history of England, Britain's most important realm, that our search must begin, from the withdrawal of Rome's legions to the beginning of the Tudor dynasty in 1485.
Even if you have a solid familiarity with medieval history as a whole, understanding the lessons of medieval England is essential to rounding out your knowledge of the period. Moreover, these lessons are a key to understanding much of the Western world that followed, including the social, political, and cultural legacies by which that world has been enriched.
The Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest tells the remarkable story of a tumultuous thousand-year period. Dominated by war, conquest, and the struggle to balance the stability brought by royal power with the rights of the governed, it was a period that put into place the foundation of much of the world we know today.
Taught by Professor Jennifer Paxton, an honored scholar and award-winning teacher at Georgetown University and The Catholic University of America, The Story of Medieval England's 36 lectures feature a level of detail and attention to key figures that set this course apart from those with a more narrow focus.
Grasp the Emergence of the Themes that Shaped the Western World
As you journey through The Story of Medieval England's largely chronological narrative—occasionally interrupted for lecture-long explorations of specific topics—you'll see the course's key themes emerge. And as you do, Professor Paxton explains their impact and place in the larger historical picture:
And because so much of history is driven by specific individuals and not just historical circumstance, each lecture is rich in intimate portraits that reveal those individuals at the key moments of their historical destiny. Among the extraordinary figures you'll encounter are many who are undoubtedly familiar, including these:
Learn How History Can Be Shaped Even by Those in Its Shadows
But there are others, as well. You'll meet men and women visible to history only for what they represented as members of a group. These include people like the anonymous craftsman taking up arms in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, enraged that the dramatically reduced work force left by the Black Death still could not command a living wage.
And you'll meet some who achieved fame chiefly among historians, like the Pastons. The story of this family's 15th-century rise from the yeomanry to the gentry bursts forth from the treasure trove of letters they shared for generations and that have survived to this day. As scholars have pored over them, a great amount of detail has emerged that gives us real insight into the achievements and hardship of these new practitioners of upward mobility.
The precious historical legacy represented by the Paston correspondence, however, represents only one of the ways in which Professor Paxton keeps the course vibrant and moving. Presenting her material in a cheerful and comfortable style, she continually unveils fresh perspectives on the lives of the men and women who determined England's history, from the wealthiest noble to the hardest-working serf.
She reads from Chaucer, reveals details from the unprecedented collection of information in what would become known as The Domesday Book, and leads you onto the bloody soil of some of history's most memorable battles—each time turning history into spellbinding narrative.
Medieval British History Made Crystal Clear
Just as important, she does it while making the meaning of each historical moment crystal clear, while also illuminating its role as part of a greater whole. Periodically, she pauses in the overall chronology to devote entire lectures to specific issues, such as Chaucer and the rise of English, or the evolution of knighthood and chivalry, so that your view of history's forest is never overwhelmed by your nearness to the trees.
The result is a course that winds up being not only informative but deeply entertaining, with each lecture drawing you in with its own particular fascinations, including
Throughout The Story of Medieval England, including a tour de force final lecture in which she tightly weaves together the course's main themes and events, Professor Paxton consistently delivers a fresh level of understanding about medieval England, its rulers and subjects, and their significance for the world we live in today. The chain of theme and event that links our world to theirs will never be clearer, rewarding every moment you spend with this course.
Ph.D., Harvard University
Dr. Jennifer Paxton is Professorial Lecturer in History at Georgetown University, where she has taught for more than a decade, and Visiting Assistant Professor of History at The Catholic University of America. The holder of a doctorate in history from Harvard University, where she has also taught and earned a Certificate of Distinction, Professor Paxton is both a widely published award-winning writer and a highly regarded scholar, earning both a Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities and a Frank Knox Memorial Traveling Fellowship. She lectures regularly on medieval history at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Virginia, and has also been invited to speak on British history at the Smithsonian Institution and the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, DC.
Professor Paxton’s research focuses on England from the reign of King Alfred to the late 12th century, particularly the intersection between the authority of church and state and the representation of the past in historical texts, especially those produced by religious communities. She is currently completing a book, Chronicle and Community in Twelfth Century England, that will be published by Oxford University Press. It examines how monastic historians shaped their narratives to project present polemical concerns onto the past.
While this course works well in all formats, the DVD version features more than 1,000 visual elements to take you back to medieval England, including 3-D animations, detailed maps, rich images and illustrations, and on-screen text.
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