Late Middle Ages

Course No. 8296
Professor Philip Daileader, Ph.D.
The College of William and Mary
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Course No. 8296
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Course Overview

Were the two centuries from c. 1300 to c. 1500—an age that has come to be known as the Late Middle Ages—an era of calamity or an era of rebirth? Should we look on this time as still clearly medieval or as one in which humanity took its first decisive steps into modernity? Was it a period as distant from us as it appears, or was it closer than we suspect? Students of history are still trying, even after so many centuries, to reach anything approaching a consensus on the answers to these questions.

Ponder the many contradictions on your own and you may be frustrated by inconclusive answers. Instead, let Professor Philip Daileader be your guide and set you on the path to answers with The Late Middle Ages, the final course in his excellent trilogy that began with The Early Middle Ages and The High Middle Ages.

This provocative 24-lecture course introduces you to the age's major events, personalities, and developments and arms you with the essentials you need to form your own ideas about this age of extremes—an age that, according to Professor Daileader, "experiences disasters and tragedies of such magnitude that those who survive them cannot remember the like, and doubt that subsequent generations will be capable of believing their descriptions."

An Era of Disease, War, and Religious Turmoil ...

There was the Black Death, which killed perhaps half the population of Europe in four years and remained a constant and terrifying presence for centuries to come. ...

There was the carnage of frequent wars, particularly the Hundred Years War, and a steady progression in the deadly effectiveness of the weapons with which those wars might be waged. ...

There was religious turmoil, with the papacy humiliated, the popes departing Rome, and a Great Papal Schism that ultimately produced three competing popes, leaving the Catholic Church with no clear leader for a period of nearly 40 years. ...

And there was the threat of rebellion in both city and country as disasters and social change took their inevitable toll.

... or Were the Seeds of Modernity Planted?

On the other hand, even as Europe was reeling under these onslaughts, a powerful new way of thinking was coming to fruition. This was the beginning of the intellectual and cultural movement known as Humanism.

By Humanism's precepts, which harkened back to the moral inspiration inherent in Classical artistic values, humans have an enormous capacity for goodness, for creativity, even for the achievement of happiness. Moreover, that happiness was something that could be experienced not in the next life, but in this one.

But these were hardly the only forces that tug modern-day historians in multiple directions. The Middle Ages was also a period when the persisting legacy of knights, serfs, and castles coexisted with the cannons and muskets newly made possible by gunpowder.

It was a period when Scholastic theologians continued to question the nature of God and the salvation of humanity, while this new breed of Humanists urged a focus on humanity itself. And it was a time enlightened enough to welcome and appreciate the rise of the printing press, yet it still permitted and tolerated the torments of the Spanish Inquisition.

With a world of such contradictions and juxtapositions, is it any wonder that historians, including those who have been the most influential and evocative in studying this period, have differed on how history is to judge this era?debating even when it ended and modernity began?

As you might imagine, Professor Daileader is no stranger to this discussion. His opinion is that modernity in Europe came much later than is generally thought, occurring between 1750 and 1850.

More importantly, Professor Daileader's wealth of teaching skills has drawn consistent recognition and honors, beginning with his four Certificates of Distinction while still a graduate student at Harvard and ranging to his current occupancy of one of William and Mary's University Chairs in Teaching Excellence.

Encounter Extraordinary People and Events

The teaching skills that helped earn those honors include a delightful narrative style and a wry and pointed sense of humor, both of which are on regular display throughout these lectures. The result is a compelling course that introduces you to an extraordinary array of people and events.

  • Meet women like Christine de Pizan, possibly the first woman to support herself and her family entirely through her literary efforts. Left to her own devices after the deaths of her husband and father, the Italian-born resident of France put her superb education to work, writing and selling poems, royal biographies, a defense of Joan of Arc, and even a book on military theory. But her greatest contributions were as an early feminist; with major works defending the intellectual and moral equality of women, she launched a discussion that would last for centuries.
  • Encounter rulers who helped turn the tide of history, like Ferdinand and Isabella, who sponsored Columbus's voyages to the Americas but also expelled both the Jews and Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula and established the Spanish Inquisition. Or Philip IV of France, whose drive to assert supremacy over the papacy included the so-called Babylonian Captivity of the popes in Avignon and the arrest and trial of the Knights Templar, the military order supposedly answerable only to the pope.
  • And discover radical thinkers and theologians such as John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, and William Ockham, whose ideas dared to approach—and cross—the forbidden lines of heresy, sparking controversy, rebellion, and the sometimes fatal opposition of the church.

But as fascinating as the people of the Late Middle Ages were, its signpost events and developments were no less gripping, and Professor Daileader creates vibrant pictures in showing how each contributed to this complex and important era, including:

  • The Black Death, which claimed what some historians now believe to be fully half of Europe's population in its first four-year visit (there were others) and left in its wake not only death and grief but widespread social and economic complications.
  • The influence of the Inquisition's courts and the idea of the "witch"—especially the female witch—as well as the occurrence of the first witch trials and the widespread ordeals women fell prey to in the 16th and 17th centuries.
  • The coming of paper to Europe, after its invention in China 1,000 years earlier, and the replacement of parchment by paper. This development was critical to the feasibility and spread of the printing press, perhaps even more so than the demands presented by the rise of literacy.
  • The far-reaching effects of the historical transaction that has come to be known as the Columbian Exchange. The massive trade of plants, animals, and diseases between the Old and New Worlds rapidly changed both areas forever. As Europe gained enormous demographic and economic benefits, it was often at the cost of profound devastation to the Americas.

The impact of the exchange that began with Columbus's voyage is still felt today, as is the impact of the entire era whose end it roughly marks and whose story is presented so brilliantly in The Late Middle Ages.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Late Middle Ages—Rebirth, Waning, Calamity?
    This lecture introduces the course and its focus on two major questions debated by historians for centuries: Did the 14th and 15th centuries mark the turning point between the medieval and the modern? Was this period a high or a low point in European history? x
  • 2
    Philip the Fair versus Boniface VIII
    You'll examine the conflict between the king of France and the papacy. The results—a growth of French influence and a weakened papacy—will shape the religious history of 14th-century Europe. x
  • 3
    Fall of the Templars and the Avignon Papacy
    Continued French defiance of papal authority generates a perception of French influence that—even though exaggerated by influential foreign voices such as Petrarch's—can only diminish the authority of an institution that aspires to universality. x
  • 4
    The Great Papal Schism
    Two unusual papal elections produce two popes, one in Rome and the other in Avignon, with each claiming legitimacy. The resulting split, complete with competing lines of popes, will divide Christian Europe for nearly two generations. x
  • 5
    The Hundred Years War, Part 1
    The political history of 14th-century Europe will be dominated by more than a century of continual conflict between France and England over the latter's claims to the French throne. x
  • 6
    The Hundred Years War, Part 2
    Although the thrones of the combatants ultimately remain unchanged, the war demonstrates the effectiveness of the longbow against knights and contributes to the emergence of larger, infantry-based armies—a trend that will soon have political and social repercussions. x
  • 7
    The Black Death, Part 1
    With its population at a difficult level to sustain, Europe is ill-equipped to confront the calamity that arrives in 1347. Medical and cultural assumptions of the time are limited and the population drops by one-third, perhaps by one-half, in four years. x
  • 8
    The Black Death, Part 2
    The consequences of the Black Death and subsequent outbreaks of plague include an increase in geographical mobility and wages and a drop in rents, land values, and food prices. The result is a rising gap between rich and poor, increasing the social tensions that sometimes manifested themselves in revolt. x
  • 9
    Revolt in Town and Country
    The Late Middle Ages witnessed a relatively high number of large-scale revolts, and you'll examine both rural and urban examples: the Peasants' Revolt in England of 1381 and the revolt of the Ciompi in Florence in 1378. x
  • 10
    William Ockham
    You'll learn about the life and works of a man whose theological views and criticisms of the papacy made him a polarizing figure, not only during his own lifetime but for centuries to come. x
  • 11
    John Wycliffe and the Lollards
    Another controversial English Scholastic theologian has an even greater impact than Ockham, inspiring—through his ideas about the church, priesthood, and spiritual authority—the first large-scale heretical movement to emerge in medieval England. x
  • 12
    Jan Hus and the Hussite Rebellion
    The execution of the man willing to defend Wycliffe's ideas in the Holy Roman Empire touches off a series of revolts known as the Hussite Wars, during which the Hussites become the only medieval heretical group to fight successfully for the establishment of their own church. x
  • 13
    Witchcraft
    Although the 16th and 17th centuries were the great age of European witch hunts, the first European witch trials date to the Late Middle Ages. You'll discover the fusion of the concepts of heresy and "harmful" magic that set the stage for those witch hunts. x
  • 14
    Christine de Pizan and Catherine of Siena
    You'll look at the work of two of the late-medieval culture's most noteworthy women: one perhaps the first self-supporting female author, the other a mystic who was to become one of the first female Doctors of the Church. x
  • 15
    Gunpowder
    The introduction of gunpowder and the weapons for it is one of the most important technological developments in late-medieval Europe, altering the balance of power and, together with other changes in military technology, forcing the medieval nobility to function less as warriors and more as courtiers. x
  • 16
    The Printing Press
    The printing press greatly increases the efficiency with which knowledge is disseminated, making it easier for subsequent generations to build on and surpass the intellectual achievements of their predecessors. x
  • 17
    Renaissance Humanism, Part 1
    This first of two lectures on Humanism looks at the emergence of this strong belief in the inherent goodness, intellectual capability, and dignity of the individual, combined with a profound admiration for Classical literature and art and a desire to revive the literary and artistic values of antiquity. x
  • 18
    Renaissance Humanism, Part 2
    Continuing our discussion of Hu­man­ism, you'll look at its differences from the dominant intellectual method of the time—Scholasticism—and the role Hu­manist ideas were destined to play in Euro­pean intellectual life. x
  • 19
    The Fall of the Byzantine Empire
    The eastern half of the Roman Empire outlives the western half by nearly 1,000 years. This lecture traces the fall of that empire, with the resulting migration of Byzantine scholars to Italy, helping to fuel the revival of antiquity's values then taking place in the West. x
  • 20
    Ferdinand and Isabella
    The marriage of the heir to the throne of Aragon to the heir to the throne of Castile sets the stage for one of the most important political events of the late 15th century: the dynastic unification of most of present-day Spain. x
  • 21
    The Spanish Inquisition
    In 1478, Ferdinand and Isabella establish the Spanish Inquisition. It is a reaction to the large number of Jews converting to Christianity in the aftermath of earlier pogroms and doubts about their sincerity, with Spanish Inquisitors likely playing a role in the decision to expel the Jews in 1492. x
  • 22
    The Age of Exploration
    During the 15th century, Portuguese and Spanish explorers begin to venture down the west coast of Africa and farther out into the Atlantic Ocean, reaching places where no European, to anyone's knowledge, had ever been before—with enormous economic consequences to Europe. x
  • 23
    Columbus and the Columbian Exchange
    Christopher Columbus's voyage to the Americas in 1492 marks a turning point not just in European history but in global history. Trading plants, animals, minerals, and diseases between the Americas and Europe quickly changed both continents. x
  • 24
    When Did the Middle Ages End?
    Humanists of the Italian Renaissance came to believe they had brought the Middle Ages to an end, but there are several reasons to dispute that claim, as this closing lecture makes clear. x

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  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 136-page printed course guidebook
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  • 24 lectures on 12 CDs
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  • 136-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Philip Daileader

About Your Professor

Philip Daileader, Ph.D.
The College of William and Mary
Dr. Philip Daileader is Associate Professor of History at The College of William and Mary. He earned his B.A. in History from Johns Hopkins University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from Harvard University. Before taking his position at William and Mary, he taught at the University of Alabama and the State University of New York at New Paltz. Professor Daileader received William and Mary's 2004 Alumni Fellowship Award...
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Reviews

Late Middle Ages is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 97.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from All 3 of Daileader's Middle Ages courses excellent I have bought & enjoyed a whole lot of Great Courses lectures & Professor Daileader's sequence of Early- High- & Late-Middle Ages is one of the BEST--coherent & concise, with interesting insights into economics, politics, religion. "Culture" is slow to change: it is easy to see the roots of later developments--Renaissance, Age of Exploration, Enlightenment, & Modernity--as have they been shaped by the experience of the Middle Ages. A must for anyone who really wants to understand "The West"....
Date published: 2018-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Late Middle ages Thorough History Presented in scholarly manner.enjoyable11
Date published: 2018-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Capping Off the Middle Ages Trilogy with a bang! The Late Middle Ages caps off Daileader Middle Ages trilogy. The essential question that he seeks to answer is when did the Middle Ages end. The answer is quite surprising. This course is more chronological than the previous one and looks at the great crisis that occurred in the 1300’s that helped to bring about the Modern World in Europe. As always in Professor Daileader courses, he goes an excellent job analysis and synthesizing the content of the Middle Ages and making it accessible to modern listeners. The worst part about this course was finishing it. I loved this Middle Ages trilogy of courses so much. I never wanted them to end.
Date published: 2018-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The "Past" Is Closer Than We Often Think I remember how, when I was a young student, anytime I heard a reference to, or -- even worse -- had to take a course on -- "the Middle Ages," I thought boring! After all, the "good stuff" ended when the Roman Empire fell and didn't pick up again until the Renaissance! Well, the period did have knights and castles, but... So young and so wrong! I appreciate how this engaging professor so clearly demonstrated the threads of continuity running through -- and evolving with -- the 1,000 year period of the Middle Ages that he covers in his three courses. I also found interesting his contention that the Middle Ages did not exactly "end" when many historians have long said they did (at the tumultuous time of the Renaissance and Reformation). Rather, elements of them -- methods of work, viewpoints on the relationship between humankind and a divinity, and on fixed social divisions -- continued on for several more centuries. Indeed, in many ways, we today are a lot less different from those times than I suspect we would like to think. We have our own certitudes about "how the universe works" that, while up to snuff with regards to current scientific knowledge, are in many respects not a lot unlike the commonly accepted beliefs in the Middle Ages about what their own state of knowledge taught them: that the centrality of the earth in the heavens was well established. Just as Galileo and Copernicus rocked that boat, so I suspect is our own little life raft going to be rocked again and again by what future generations of scientists discover. Too, while we can also shudder with horror at the incredibly disastrous waves of the Black Death that so devastated Europe, we are but one step away from an as yet unknown pandemic -- or nuclear warfare induced decades-long global winter -- from suffering similar massive losses of life. And do we dare smile at the rigidities of their religious beliefs, given some of our own time's pronouncements? This course is not only a fascinating review of a truly interesting -- and equally horrifying -- period of history, but it also gives us a chance -- as we listen to these lectures and imagine ourselves, however briefly, as possible residents of those distant centuries -- to gain a fresh perspective on our own times which, as people have always thought before us, are, indeed, truly modern times. History teaches, inspires, and humbles -- and these are all good things. Recommended for questing minds!
Date published: 2017-11-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent third course in a series on the middle a I watched this course after watching The Early Middle Ages and the High Middle Ages, taught by Daileader. I think they can each stand nd alone. The instructor presents the material clearly, describes different interpretations of the texts and evidence, and does not barrage the viewer with names and dates. Audio.version would probably be sufficient.
Date published: 2017-10-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply Wonderful! We have three courses by Professor Daileader - "Early Middle Ages", "High Middle Ages", and "The Late Middle Ages". They are all simply wonderful courses. The Professor is extremely knowledgeable and so obviously enthused about the material. The presentation is very well organized and so logical. Thank you, Professor Daileader! We would recommend this and the other two courses without reservation to anyone.
Date published: 2017-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Late Middle Ages Exceeded expectations and well worth investment. Good finish to the presenters two previous classes, Early Middle Ages and High Middole Ages.
Date published: 2017-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course! Especially enjoyed comparative analysis of notable historians of the period, and the professor's own compelling analysis.
Date published: 2017-03-09
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