Medieval World

Course No. 8280
Professor Dorsey Armstrong, Ph.D.
Purdue University
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Course No. 8280
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Course Overview

Most of us know that, far from being a time of darkness, the Middle Ages was an essential period in the grand narrative of Western history—one whose political, cultural, economic, scientific, and spiritual developments are an invaluable part of our own modern era. But what was it like to actually live in those extraordinary times?

  • To be a pilgrim embarking with others on a fulfilling spiritual pilgrimage to a saint's holy shrine?
  • To be a serf laboring on a farm—both for your family and the lord to whom you were bound?
  • To be a knight entertaining crowds in a wildly popular jousting tournament or fighting in the heat of battle?

How did these and other average men and women from medieval Europe eat, work, love, rule, laugh, pray, and mourn? Above all, how different—or how similar—were their lives from the way you live today?

Now you can find out.

The Medieval World offers you a different perspective on the society and culture of the Middle Ages: one that goes beyond a simple historical survey and entrenches you in the daily human experience of living during this underappreciated era. Your guide on this extraordinary historical journey is medievalist and Professor Dorsey Armstrong of Purdue University. Drawing on history, literature, the arts, technology, and science, her 36 lectures are a highly nuanced tour that will deepen the way you understand not only the Middle Ages but everything that came afterward: from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment to your own world.

A Unique Understanding on How We Live Now

It is only by studying the lives of everyday men and women in medieval Europe that you can grasp the beginnings of—and connections to—our own 21st-century Western lives. Just like you, these men and women plied their respective trades, raised families, entertained themselves in their spare time, and followed the laws of their society. And their world was one that played an important role in shaping our own modern world.

"For all the differences of the world in which they lived," notes Professor Armstrong, "medieval people were more like us than they were different. It is their world that gave rise to ours, and in our most sacred institutions of government, houses of worship, and social ideals, the shadow of the medieval looms large."

Illuminating the details within these shadows, The Medieval World is a course that is ultimately about people (whether remembered by history or not), the world around them, and how they made their way through their extraordinary surroundings. It's also about the ways in which understanding the medieval experience can shed new light on our own contemporary experience.

Correcting the common modern portrayal of medieval life in profoundly negative terms, Professor Armstrong opens a window onto a world where people didn't just suffer through plague, indentured servitude, and illiteracy. Instead, she reveals a world where people were kind and generous, willing to stand up for what they believed in, intelligent and cunning, ambitious and perseverant.

See the Middle Ages through the Eyes of Its People

Filled with amazing insights, The Medieval World brings you closer than ever before to life as it was lived and felt. In these fascinating lectures, you'll

  • meet the likes of William Caxton, England's first printer who not only printed and distributed a variety of works but also often had to translate them himself;
  • encounter, in an extraordinary lecture about the intricacies of medieval manuscripts and the monks who labored over them, the legendary demon Titivillus, whose sole purpose was to track monks' errors and thus their worthiness for entry into heaven;
  • learn about Hugh of Payns and the role of his Knights Templar—organized for the protection of pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem—in the creation of the first modern bank;
  • see how communities dealt with marriage and its challenges in a time when the church had not yet drawn this institution into its own orbit;
  • and much more.

Whether dealing with the lives of those building a great cathedral, the advances in naval engineering that would make a future "age of exploration" possible, the fears of a village facing the arrival of a longship filled with Viking invaders, or the terrible reality of the Black Death, Professor Armstrong's lectures will bring the Middle Ages to life like no course you've ever taken.

An Expert Medievalist, A Wide Range of Resources

The Medieval World's perspective on the Middle Ages is a unique one. As a medievalist who approaches the era in large part through its written works, Professor Armstrong frequently uses revealing examples of medieval literature from the English, French, Norse, Icelandic, and Italian worlds. An added bonus is her considerable fluency in those no-longer-spoken versions of our own language—such as the Middle English used by Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales.

Professor Armstrong also draws on a wide range of resources to bring this period back to life, including

  • detailed maps,
  • floor plans of buildings,
  • models of a medieval manor,
  • full-color renderings of clothing worn by the (surprisingly fashion-conscious) populace,
  • period correspondence, and
  • musical re-creations recorded on period instruments.

Most of the eye-catching visuals featured in these lectures were commissioned exclusively for this course and can't be found anywhere else.

Presenting her subject in a clear, engaging, and frequently witty style, Professor Armstrong takes care to always root her topics in their necessary historical, social, and cultural contexts—such as the values of the late Roman Empire or the development of Christianity. The result is a thorough course that doesn't require an advanced wealth of knowledge about the Middle Ages but can instead be taken as a stand-alone course.

Rich with information and period detail, The Medieval World is designed to dramatically increase your understanding of how lives in the Middle Ages were really lived. These lives, you'll discover, were not as distant from your own as we once thought. And if they did seem tantalizingly familiar to you before, you'll now know why.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Medieval World
    Enjoy a preview of the developments and innovations that made the medieval period far more exciting than was once thought, including the rise of the university system, manuscript production, and the construction of majestic cathedrals, as well as evidence suggesting that medieval and modern people are more alike than different. x
  • 2
    The Legacy of the Roman World
    Learn how the heritage and ideals of the Roman Empire shaped the early Middle Ages, how Christianity evolved to its position of power within the Roman Empire, and how Germanic peoples from outside the empire "Germanized" both Rome and religion. x
  • 3
    The Christianization of Europe
    Travel back to the 4th-century moment when Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire to explore how the religion changed after Roman rule ended, focusing in particular on the conversion of various communities beyond the borders of the empire, in the region the Romans called "Germania." x
  • 4
    After the Roman Empire—Hybrid Cultures
    The societies that developed out of the Roman Empire were really "hybrids" of Roman, Christian, and Germanic elements. See how examples from the literature, art, and architecture of Anglo-Saxon England reveal this blending and how the values and ideals of these cultures were combined. x
  • 5
    Early Monasticism
    In examining this popular expression of medieval piety, you journey inside the walls of a monastery to observe the daily life of a monk following the "Rule of St. Benedict" and compare this Roman or Benedictine form of monasticism to the very different Celtic model practiced in Ireland. x
  • 6
    From Merovingian Gaul to Carolingian France
    This lecture introduces what was arguably the most important society of the early medieval world of western Europe. The empire of the Franks was ruled first by the Merovingians and then by the Carolingian dynasty, whose most famous ruler, Charlemagne, changed the face of medieval Europe.Although it is Italy that has long laid popular claim to the word "Renaissance," it's hard not to marvel at the changes introduced by Charlemagne. Learn how he successfully brought about an unprecedented flowering of art, architecture, literature, music, and education. x
  • 7
    Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance
    Although it is Italy that has long laid popular claim to the word "Renaissance," it's hard not to marvel at the changes introduced by Charlemagne. Learn how he successfully brought about an unprecedented flowering of art, architecture, literature, music, and education. x
  • 8
    Byzantium, Islam, and the West
    Widen your earlier focus to situate the Western medieval world in context with the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic world, learning how Byzantium differed from the western Roman Empire and how the new religion of Islam placed pressure on both the Byzantine and western European medieval worlds. x
  • 9
    The Viking Invasions
    The expansion of the people known as the Vikings—beginning in the late 8th century—was swift, violent, and far-reaching. Grasp the impact of their raids on various European societies, particularly that of the Franks, as well as the unique aspects of their culture. x
  • 10
    Alfred the Great
    Only one English monarch has ever been termed "the Great." Learn why, in considering the man whose rule in many respects mirrored that of Charlemagne as he resolved the Viking threat, consolidated the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and implemented a program under which learning, education, and the arts flourished. x
  • 11
    The Rearrangement of the Medieval World
    Experience the tumultuous reshaping of western Europe in a lecture that features the emergence of powerful new leaders, invasions, a population explosion, changes in Europe's economy, technological advances, the development of devout Christian piety, the Crusading impulse, and the final break between the Byzantine and Roman churches. x
  • 12
    The Norman Conquest and the Bayeux Tapestry
    Claim a ringside seat at the long struggle for control of the English throne that culminated in the victory of William the Conqueror—a conflict captured for all time in the stunning threads of a 230-foot length of embroidery. x
  • 13
    King Arthur—The Power of the Legend
    Perhaps no other legend has been as enduringly popular as the story of King Arthur. Explore how and why his legend evolved and learn how the reality was markedly different from that depicted in medieval romances. x
  • 14
    The Three Orders of Medieval Society
    Medieval society soon formed into the hierarchy now known as the Three Estates: those who prayed, those who fought, and those who worked. Discover why few routes to understanding this structure are as pleasurable as that offered by the literary genre of Estates Satire, exemplified here in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. x
  • 15
    Pilgrimage and Sainthood
    In this fascinating glimpse of popular religious expression in the Middle Ages, you explore typical pilgrim motivations, the journeys they took, and the different processes by which the saints so often at the emotional heart of those journeys were enshrined. x
  • 16
    Knighthood and Heraldry
    Follow the development of knighthood, from its beginnings as the lowest rank of nobility to its evolution as a hereditary title replete with a complex system of rituals, identity practices, public displays, and idealized imagery. x
  • 17
    The Gothic Cathedral
    Grasp what it took to build a Gothic cathedral, a massive undertaking requiring not only several decades, hundreds of laborers, teams of master craftsmen, and the best architectural minds, but also an acceptance by those who began a project that they would never live to see it completed. x
  • 18
    Piety, Politics, and Persecution
    In this first of two lectures on the Crusades, learn what brought so many to a venture that was part holy war and part pilgrimage. Gain, through eyewitness accounts, a fascinating and occasionally horrifying glimpse into the realities of life on crusade. x
  • 19
    The Persistence of an Ideal
    Participants in the successful First Crusade set up four "Crusader states" in the Middle East, where they soon learned that accommodation was more effective than dominance. Although the Crusading presence in the Holy Land lasted less than two centuries, its impact on the European world still endures. x
  • 20
    Late Medieval Religious Institutions
    Watch as the church and its official representatives experienced dramatic and sometimes unexpected change throughout the High and Late Middle Ages, including monastic reforms, the establishment of new orders, a great schism in the papacy itself, and the growing problem of heresy. x
  • 21
    The Magna Carta
    In this revealing lecture, discover that the Magna Carta, revered today as perhaps the cornerstone of human rights, was considered anything but that at its creation, with its most historic provisions of little concern to the rebellious barons who forced King John to accept it. x
  • 22
    Daily Life in a Noble Household
    Observe the finely tuned orchestration of servants working together to cater to the needs of the noble family, who, in turn, sheltered and protected them. And learn that the medieval castle was built for protection, providing little of the privacy or luxury you might expect x
  • 23
    Daily Life in a Medieval Village
    Although little textual evidence describing medieval village life survives, archaeological excavations at villages such as Wharram Percy, along with pictorial evidence from manuscripts such as the Luttrell Psalter, offer you a vivid picture of the medieval village as a place brimming with life and characters. x
  • 24
    Medieval City Life
    During the High Middle Ages, technological advancements and a population explosion made cities a vital element of the medieval world. More important, they nourished the creation of a new class of individual who did not fit into the traditional confines of the Three Estates. x
  • 25
    Food and Drink
    Here's your chance to set aside the long-held belief that medieval cuisine was bland at best and, at worst, likely to make you ill. Learn how medieval cooks displayed a resourcefulness and skill that allowed them to produce dishes that were both innovative and delicious. x
  • 26
    Music and Entertainment
    Hear for yourself, through re-creations played on medieval instruments, the kinds of music that helped people of the Middle Ages enjoy their leisure time—that is, when they weren't playing board or dice games. x
  • 27
    Dress and Fashion
    Even though little clothing of the period has survived, medieval illustrations and household account entries give us some idea of what medieval clothing was like. They reveal a surprising consciousness of fashion, even within the constraints of so-called "sumptuary laws" designed to preserve the distinction between the noble and the newly wealthy. x
  • 28
    Medieval Medicine
    Learn how medieval medicine—much of it based on the theory of bodily "humors"—began to improve in the 11th century with the foundation of educational institutions devoted to the study of medicine, particularly in Italy. x
  • 29
    The Black Death and its Effects
    It was the worst natural disaster in human history, claiming the lives of perhaps half the people of the medieval world. This riveting lecture covers the plague's impact and the responses to it and offers, through eyewitness accounts, a dramatic view of life during the plague years. x
  • 30
    Childhood in the Middle Ages
    Scholars once believed the Middle Ages had no real conception of childhood, or even that parents—because of high child mortality—could not have formed powerful attachments to their offspring. Learn why these assumptions are untrue, even if medieval concepts of childhood were somewhat different from ours. x
  • 31
    Marriage and the Family
    In this eye-opening lecture, you learn that marriage, for most of the Middle Ages, was a secular institution, governed by customs, traditions, and laws—but not the church. Find out how the medieval world handled issues like divorce, remarriage, spousal abuse, and nonconsummation. x
  • 32
    Art and Artisans
    Although once derided as a "dark age," the medieval world has in fact given us many beautiful, skillfully executed artistic works. Sample some of the best works of this legacy, found in the architecture, sculpture, and stained glass of cathedrals; wall murals; illuminated manuscripts; and even everyday objects. x
  • 33
    Science and Technology
    The Middle Ages saw significant developments in the fields of science and technology. Not surprisingly, most were of a practical nature. Grasp how the demands of agriculture, architecture, education, and even warfare led to important advances. x
  • 34
    Weapons and Warfare
    War was one of the dominant aspects of medieval life, and its significance in terms of scientific and technological innovation isn't surprising. But its impact went even further, and you learn how the need for protection left its mark on both physical and social structures. x
  • 35
    Revolts, Uprisings, and Wars
    Gain insights into how a series of uprisings, revolts, and wars tested and altered the structure of medieval society as Europe entered the Late Middle Ages, hastening the end of the Three Estates system that had already begun to crumble with the rise of the merchant class. x
  • 36
    Toward the Early Modern Period
    In this concluding lecture, you see how a once-sharp historical division has been worn away. Where scholars once spoke of the differences between the Middle Ages and the Modern period, we now tend to see much greater continuity of ideals and values as the medieval world slowly transformed into something new. x

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  • 36 lectures on 6 DVDs
  • 144-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 144-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Dorsey Armstrong

About Your Professor

Dorsey Armstrong, Ph.D.
Purdue University
Dr. Dorsey Armstrong is Associate Professor of English and Medieval Literature at Purdue University, where she has taught since 2002. The holder of an A.B. in English and Creative Writing from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in Medieval Literature from Duke University, she also taught at Centenary College of Louisiana and at California State University, Long Beach. Her research interests include medieval women writers,...
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Medieval World is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 141.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good course. I enjoyed it. My opinion holds that this was a very worthwhile course, and was presented in a very agreeable manner. It's apparent that Prof Armstrong is reading much of her information, which I suspect is more the norm for 36 lessons worth of content than not, but she does so in a pleasant and engaging manner. Other reviewers downgraded the prof on this aspect of the delivery, but I was not personally bothered by it, and remained interested in the vast majority of the lessons. Ordering the text as a reference for all the "moving parts" of the 1000 years covered in this course is highly recommended.
Date published: 2014-11-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Solid introductory course Historically, the middle ages were so termed by renaissance historians because they were between the classical era (Roman and Greek) and the early modern era. In other words, the only content worth noting about this era in their opinion, are the eras that precede it and proceed after it. Professor Armstrong tells us that indeed, the middle ages were in many ways dark and presented a lot of human suffering, but the period is in fact fascinating from a historical point of view and much of human cultural, theological, sociological and economic evolution has its roots in this period. The course presumes to take on a very challenging task: to cover in thirty six lectures all of the middle ages narrative history (Early middle ages from 4th century to about 10th century CE, High Middle Ages from 11th century to 14th century CE, and Late Middle Ages from 14th century to 16th century CE.), and also to cover different thematic aspects of medieval life. The narrative lectures (1-13) cover the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire and the local kingdoms that rose up on its ruins. Particular attention is devoted to the French Royal lines, the Merovingian and Carolingian lines with special emphasis on Charlemagne. Another large section of the narrative history is devoted to Medieval Britain, starting from King Arthur and his wars against the Saxons, the Viking invasions, and the Norman conquest of 1066. A small portion is also dedicated to the rise of the Holy Roman Empire (which is primarily modern Germany). All lectures from lecture fourteen and onwards are thematic – each focusing on one aspect of Medieval life, and I found these most fascinating. Many, many aspects are discussed, among them medicine, food and drink, fashion, weapons and warfare and family life to name only a few. I enjoyed the course, but I found the narrative lectures tried to cover much too much ground in too little time. Perhaps it is sufficient if you consider this to be an introductory course and intend to dive into more depth in other courses. The thematic lectures were very interesting and I felt that they did provide for me a wide introduction on medieval everyday life. As for Professor Armstrong, I found her lecturing style to be a bit monotonous and dry, but not to the extent as to make the lectures and ordeal to listen to. I simply would have been happy if they had been a bit more animated. Overall, this course is highly recommended as an introductory course on the medieval era, as it was for me.
Date published: 2014-10-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An excellent overview of the Middle Ages Professor Armstrong gives a fascinating overview, with colorful insights even during the early recitations of wave after wave of conquering invader after conquering invader. It gets even more interesting after we settle into describing the daily experience of living in the middle ages in the second half of lectures. Great course. I will be checking out Professor Armstrong's other lectures.
Date published: 2014-09-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Boring Presentation This was my first experience with a poor Great Course. The content is fine as an overview of the Middle Ages, which is what we wanted. But the professor's presentation and lectures are so dry and boring, I am not sure how we are going to get through this. My family loves history and we have watched several history courses but are having a hard time with this one. Not sure we will finish it.
Date published: 2014-08-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Decent Buy General Impressions: The content of the course is good enough. It is not an in-depth look at any one topic, but does not claim to be so. It is rather a broad topical survey of the medieval world with several interesting features. For someone new to the period, or for someone just looking for a little historical bubblegum, this will do nicely. My chief complaint of this course - with sincerest apologies to Prof. Armstrong - is the presentation style. Prof. Armstrong's speaking style is impossibly good. It's so perfect, I became convinced after about 10 minutes that I was not being lectured to, but rather being recited to. It sounds as if she's reading the entire course to you from a book. I fully appreciate that this won't bother some people (perhaps even most), but I found it completely off-putting. I struggled to finish the series. Part of the allure of the Great Courses for me has always been the informality of presentations. I feel like I'm sitting in a classroom listening to the professor deliver a college lecture. Prof. Armstrong made me feel like I'd purchased a book on tape - something there are plenty of, something I don't usually enjoy, and something I like that the TC does not dabble in. An unrelated nit: Prof. Armstrong specializes in the King Arthur legend which seemed to come up over and over and over again. I appreciate that this is her area of specialty, but I purchased this course for its breadth. Harping time and time again on the Arthurian lore grated on my nerves. I'm sure I sound down about this course. The content is solid and interesting. If you don't expect to be bothered by being read to, then please purchase it with my blessing. I will probably be putting this one on my shelf for good.
Date published: 2014-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Medieval World My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed this course. It does not overlap with other courses such as History of Medieval England, because it concentrates on the wider European scene and on culture, technology more than politics. However,the professor impressed me by her use of English as spoken at the time-very interesting-and by the excellent illustrations. Highly recommended
Date published: 2014-02-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Overview This course is a good overview of the entire middle ages. It includes the importance of the Roman empire's impact on the middle ages. The course covers the religious, political, social, economic, and daily life in the middle ages. The professor emphasizes how the middle ages are not the dark ages; and how medieval people are not so different from people today. I recommend her course: Turning Points in Medieval History; in which each lecture devotes 30 minutes to understanding one event in detail (and was a little more exciting). This series by contrast is an overview of the entire European history from 500 AD to 1500 AD (with an emphasis in the west). It includes major events but also has a lot of detail about daily life and the people of the medieval world.
Date published: 2013-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A good introductory survey course. I bought this course for my wife and I to watch together. My wife did not have the history courses that I had in college, and for her it was a good introduction to this period in which she has much interest. For me it was a good review of the course work that I had back in college, with some new material that was not known or being taught when I was in college.
Date published: 2013-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great overview and companion to other courses If you have listened to and enjoyed the 3 courses on the MIddle Ages by Prof. Daileader, you will probably enjoy this as well. It is more concise, but nevertheless, it does present a cohesive look at the time period. The professor speaks clearly and directly. I agree with some other reviewers who have commented on the beautiful visual aids. They are really excellent. The maps she uses during her lectures are excellent-I wish they had put these in the study guide! I would also point out that she reads texts in Old English, which I found delightlful (yes, she also translates the texts!), and includes an audio example of monastic chating. All in all, I think this is a very valuable course for people interested in this period of history. It brings a newer perspective to many of the ideas presented in some of the other, older courses about the Middle Ages, and because it is newer, has some frehness in the visual and audio presentation.
Date published: 2013-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating course! My partner and I were looking for something to listen to on long drives - this brilliantly presented whistle-stop tour of the medieval world made the hours fly by in what seemed like minutes. Professor Armstong has a real love for the period and opens up a very human side to the period. She clearly is a world class teacher. Thank you! Some of our favorites included the Lateran Councils (4th); King John the Useless; Ethelread the Unready; and The Plague.
Date published: 2013-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from WONDERFUL ~ EVERY LECTURE A GEM ! DVD REVIEW: Professor Dorsey Armstrong brings the Middle Ages into clear focus with this exciting series of lectures in which she displays a strong teaching flair, giving a superb overview of the period, every lecture a well-constructed gem. This course will tell you how people lived during those "dark times" and illustrate how that term in fact is a misnomer. Dr Armstrong relates clearly what daily life was like then for the average person as well as for the elite. It's a wonderfully educational excursion through the centuries that bridged the fall of the Roman Empire and the start of the enlightenment & the modern era. The lectures cover all aspects of the period, including medicine, theology, war, diet, fashion and literature, delivered in a charmingly competent, smooth style, with no deeply annoying tics. My only criticisms of Dr Armstrong's presentation are that a) her voice trails off sometimes at the end of some sentences so the final word is hard to catch; and b) in lecturing on the Battle of Hastings, she pronounces the name "Harold" as "Herald" ~~ a matter of accent I realise, but accuracy requires the correct pronunciation. I strongly recommend this course in DVD format, to take advantage of the many excellent animated maps, illustrations, artwork, correspondence, colour renditions of clothing, building floor plans ~~ even a fascinating 50-second study of an excavated Viking longship! Criticisms of Dr Armstrong, saying the course is "superficial" and that she has a bias against religion, are, imho, quite unfounded. One cannot expect 18 hours to provide a detailed study of a thousand years, and I did not detect any theological prejudice, but fairness in fact. This course is an introduction to the Mediaeval World, presenting a compelling case that people in those days were far more like ourselves than different! Remarkable. Her readings in old English were expertly done, btw. #
Date published: 2013-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Real Eye-Opener Professor Dorsey is a clear and captivating speaker and the information she provides is more than what I had hoped it would be. More detailed any any book or internet source, with the luxury of re-watching any lecture at any time and without the stress of tests. Thanks!
Date published: 2013-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly enjoyable I just finished watching and/or listening to this course. My interest was piqued after hearing the excellent mini series of lectures of Prof Paxton on 1066. On the recommendation of a review or two I had read beforehand, I bought the online video version, even though I normally get the audio versions of courses. But this was good advice: I think the video version with its excellent use of maps, animated succession line tables, and print outs of the old and middle English made the course far more meaningful. A lot of the art work was very interesting as well, especially when discussing the famous tapestry of the Norman Conquest. While I still listened to much of it, I kept an eye on the computer screen and watched when it seemed additionally useful. Professor Armstrong is delightful to listen to and watch--and I think that watching her at times gives you a sense for her personality and her sense of humor. After hearing her read excerpts of Chaucer and other old English works, while reading it on screen at the same time, I think I finally "got it" as to why Chaucer could be so enjoyable--I have always dreaded reading anything older than Shakespeare--but hearing it read and pronounced makes it less intimidating. Though I am no expert on the Medieval Period as some reviewers no doubt are, the course has really has spurned me on to learn more. I have listened to Prof Daileader's three Medieval courses as well (audio) and they are amazing too and "hard to put down". I agree with other reviewers that those three courses compliment rather than compete with this one and I am very glad to have been through them all and will probably go through them all again. It was clear to me that a lot of work went into the preparation of this course, which is probably more apparent when you see the video version. I highly recommend the course.
Date published: 2013-01-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from My recommendation would come with a caveat. I'd suggest that the friend read some of both the positive and negative reviews presented here. There is plenty to like in the course, and I can understand the objections of some people who didn't like it. My own opinion is that it's a good survey course of the Medieval period, covering a lot of territory, some of it more deeply than others. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as it did Prof. Daileader's three courses on the Middle Ages, but OTOH, the objectives of the two series were different, and this one is half the length of those combined courses. I did enjoy the different perspective that Prof. Armstrong brought to the subject. In some ways, it reminded me of the style of a documentary series one might see on PBS or The History Channel. In fact, I think it would make a good one. It seemed that she let her own personality show through, too, which I always like in a lecturer. My wife listened to it before me and recommended that I hear Prof. Paxton's course on "King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest" first, but logistically I couldn't follow her advice. She did tell me that she greatly enjoyed this one, however. There is considerable commentary here regarding Prof. Armstrong's presentation of the material, much of it negative when it comes to her sound and style. I understand those criticisms, but I personally didn't find her delivery to be unpleasant at all. Yes, on CD it seemed that she was reading the material, presumably from a teleprompter, but that didn't bother me at all. She seldom stumbled over words, and her material was almost invariably easy to understand. Yes, her manner of speaking did sound a bit stilted, but it simply sounded as if she were trying to use vocal inflection to provide variety and avoid a monotonous delivery. IMHO, she succeeded. My only real complaint is that she has a tendency to drop the volume as she speaks the final word of a sentence, and for me that meant it sometimes got lost in road noise. Because the final word was sometimes a "new" word that she had just defined, that meant I had to back up the CD a little bit to listen again. I had no problem finishing the course over the span of about three weeks.
Date published: 2012-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Presentation! Great presentation! The instructor presented a wide variety of interesting topics on the middle ages. I would seek out courses from this highly intelligent and engaging professor.
Date published: 2012-12-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Waste of time and $ This is NOT an enjoyable or informative course. We have not finished it and will be returning it for refund. Professor Armstrong cannot hold our interest, and we have noted errors and/or misconceptions in the few lectures we did watch. This is the first time we have ever thought about returning one of the courses, but it will definitely be returned!
Date published: 2012-12-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from fun course I thought the course was really neat, and I liked Armstrong's style too. Admittedly, I did get the impression that the material was somewhat lighter fare than other Teaching Company/Great Courses offerings. However this did not diminish my enjoyment. I see that Armstrong has another course here on 'turning points' in medieval history, and I look forward to hearing it soon!
Date published: 2012-12-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly Enjoyable Dorsey Armstrong is a great presenter and has enthousiasm and passion for the subject. I am on my second time through with the series, and am enjoying it just as much as the first time. Dorsey Armstrong is is easy to follow, it seems like you can just sit back and relax and watch, yet in the end I knew alot more about the f history and culture of the era than I did before. I would highly recomend!
Date published: 2012-09-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Gateway Course I think this is a great gateway course for studying medieval culture and history. It's true that the "World" in this case is mostly limited to Anglo/Western European events and contexts, but I didn't have the same concerns about that as some of the reviewers who seemed to already possess deep knowledge of the field. The focus on everyday life really helped catch and hold my attention, and I doubt that would have been true to the same extent with some other approach. I also thought that Dr. Armstrong had a steady, pleasing voice that made for easy listening. I'd like to see more "everyday life" courses, and I'd like to see more courses from this professor.
Date published: 2012-08-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Big Disappointment Having purchased, borrowed from the library, and enjoyed many of The Great Courses presentations, I finally ran across a course that was substandard. This was the only time I have returned a purchase to The Great Courses. The course material is at such a low level, it seems more like a middle school presentation than a college course. The fascinating story of the Middle Ages was dumbed-down and trivialized. Ms. Armstrong's delivery was haughty and pretentious, and she seemed to exhibit a disdain for Catholicism. Her vocabulary was very limited. She repeatedly misused the word "decimated." All in all, this course seemed to me to be a waste of time. I almost stopped listening a quarter of the way through, but persevered, hoping for an improvement that did not happen. There are many far greater courses at The Great Courses to spend one's money on.
Date published: 2012-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Course This course is a gem. Dr. Armstrong uses a chronological approach when appropriate and transitions to a thematic approach when that would be more desirable. Her unique command of history, literature, and the implications of events and lifestyle of the middle ages is a perfect blend for a course that one hates to see come to an end. Her manner of presentation is engaging and contributes to the substance of the course. This course has been a perfect supplement to a heavily academic text that I happened to have been reading concurrently with the course and the course really brought the dry text to life. The professor's command of the multiple dimensions of the topic really brought it to life.
Date published: 2012-08-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not a history, just a narrative The title of the course is misleading -it is not a history of Medieval Europe. In reality there is little analysis of the social forces and movements that led to one or another event in the medieval history. The course's narrative is very interesting, but not very analytical. The course covers well the history of England - a tiny place at the periphery of the medieval world, which did not play a significant role on the grand scale of the European history. While entire lectures are dedicated to the mythical King Arthur, the invasion of the Saxons and the raids of the Vikings, etc., the lecturer never mentions Jan Hus of Bohemia, the invasion of the Mongols and many many other really significant events preceding the Renaissance. Very little is covered about the Byzantium Empire and the Italian city-states, where the real history of the Medieval World took place. Little is mentioned about the conversion to Christianity of most of Europe (with exception of France, England and few others). Russia is not mentioned at all during the entire course. Very little is covered about the Turkish expansion and the struggle of the Balkan states against the Turks, including the battle for Constantinople and its effect on the entire history of Europe. Even the history of the Crusades is covered sketchy with very little analysis. I believe that there is a great value in a course on Medieval World. However, this lecturer takes a short-sighted view and presents it as if it were the entire Medieval World. To a certain extent the entire idea about a course on the Medieval World is wasted. I am really disappointed by this fact.
Date published: 2012-06-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Couldn't finish the course I have listened to many Great Courses, but this is the first one I couldn't bring myself to finish. The delivery was read from a script and the content was sub-par. Look for courses from Harl for a better experience.
Date published: 2012-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from People Like Us, in Often Turbulent Times Such shortcomings as some might find in this course are inevitable when attempting to cover the events of some 1,200 years and of many countries and peoples. Such is the unavoidable downside of any survey course. The flip side is that survey courses, such as this one ably does, can provide a useful overview and/or introduction to various fields of study which can often spur one to subsequently delve into areas of specific interest in greater depth. I taught American history at the college level years ago and shared a bias, which Professor Armstrong ably addresses in her course, that the Middle Ages were truly a rather uninteresting and "dark age." Certainly, life in those many centuries between the dissolution of the Roman Empire and the coming of the Enlightenment in Western Europe were very hard times, including seemingly unending warfare of one kind or another, too frequent famines, and the devastation of the great plague. But Professor Armstrong not only ably brings to life many aspects of daily life in her lectures, but also wonderfully portrays the numerous threads of continuity between the Middle Ages and the age of Rome, as well as our own times in succeeding years. Dr. Armstrong wisely teaches history as an evolution and intermingling of cultures, as opposed to picturing time periods of sharp distinction, one from another. Just as the legacy of Rome continued in many rich ways into and throughout the Middle Ages, so also were the major elements of our "modern times" given birth long before the "end" of the Middle Ages. I found Professor Armstrong's presentation both pleasing and clear, with many appropriate visual aids. Throughout the course, which passed all too quickly, she not only frequently reminded us of continuities of subject matter originally discussed in earlier lectures, but also seamlessly interwove literature, theology, and daily life one with another. This not only made her lectures richer, but also demonstrated her impressive scholarship in so many fields of study. Thanks to her, I now have a list of subjects into which I intend to explore further in order to supplement the thirst she engendered. Kudos to her and to the Teaching Company!
Date published: 2012-05-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from too dumbed down; comparative evaluation TC offers some excellent medieval courses. Paxton and Daileader give great conent as well as great delivery in their medieval history courses. Harl is super on Byzantium. These professors have the knack of appealing to their audience, novice or history buff. I was disappointed in the elementary nature of Armstrong's Medieval World course. It provides two perspectives: an overview of history for those who have no background in medieval history that is necessarily a compressed overview ,and thematic discussions of medieval society that are not covered by other TC courses. It is not a surprise that the history lectures are superficial as they are introductory, but so too are the thematic lectures. It is not helpful to say that from the time one enters a Benedictine abbey, one will never again get a good night's sleep. There is much more to be said about medieval society than this professor imparts. On the plus side, while wedded to the teleprompter, I found that the professor's delivery and manner were pleasant. I might mention that I also enjoyed Teofil Ruiz's medieval history course which provides a thoughtful discussion of the middle ages and movingly portrays the lower classes; he has an accent but the content makes it a fine course nonetheless.
Date published: 2012-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable course Everyone in the family enjoyed this course, including my teenage daughter. The content was easily understood (maybe a little too basic at times) but the course covered a variety of interesting topics. So far, this was my favorite course! I would recommend it.
Date published: 2012-03-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from CONTENT IS NOT ENOUGH Content is not enough to make an exceptional teacher, nor an exceptional course. If this were not true, then the wisest of us would purchase a well written book for $25 and save the expense of a lecture series on DVD, or a class at Purdue. Professor Armstrong is an academic. She READS her lectures—word for word. Unquestionably, she has a pleasing appearance, and, for a lecture or two, her initial welcome, and her deliberate and clear articulation, along with careful but artificially crafted sentences, may meet or even exceed general expectation. But sitting through 36 half-hour lectures, one becomes increasingly aware of disengaged (dare I say dead?) eyes, and a sing-songy delivery in which she over-emphasizes certain words for no apparent reason other than to create the illusion of dynamic. And then there is the stiff and very awkward two-step journey set-right every 90 seconds or so in an ill-considered attempt to add a visual dynamic. I believe Professor Armstrong is passionate about her subject. I believe that. And I will give her the benefit of the doubt that she knows what she is talking about. But you can’t ferret this from the lectures. There is no personality, no passion, no immediacy. Anyone could be reading this script. As far as content goes, I think the series is short on illustration and anecdote. We remember anecdotes. We forget disembodied dates and figures. But anecdotes require personalization in delivery, and this is not Professor Armstrong’s strong suit. And often she brings something up, something interesting, and we wait for the other shoe, but it will not drop. She plows on. I have returned two courses to the Teaching Company. I will not return this one because I did benefit, through persistence, from content. But Professor Armstrong should write books.
Date published: 2012-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very enjoyable course This was a fun course. The professor is very engaging. She was a breath of fresh air each time I watched. I recommend this course.
Date published: 2011-12-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Middle Ages Talk about preparation! Professor Armstrong never missed a beat. Charming, thorough, insightful. The entire course was enjoyable and I know I will watch it again and again to go back to those times and feel what they were like. This professor and this course are outstanding.
Date published: 2011-11-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The History That Shows Everyday Medieval Life Some of the other reviews have me wondering if we are talking about the same course. Professor Armstrong is an engaging, pleasant, photogenic and easy-to-follow lecturer. Nor, unless you happen to be Simon Schama, is there anything "dumbed down" about the content. As for the claim that the course is lacking in descriptions of everyday medieval life, such depictions are precisely its unique strength. Perhaps the reviewer simply never got to the later lectures that focus on daily society. Granted, there are some flaws. The lectures are peppered with distracting mispronunciations. Like Philip Daileader, Professor Dorsey pronounces Magyar ("mad jar," or if you want to sound native, "modyor") as "maggie-are." She calls Ely "Eli," as in "Whitney." Shockingly for an Arthurian expert, she pronounces Tintagel "TINT-a-gel." She's also lamentably given to folk etymologies in a few spots, most notably that "Ring Around the Rosie" refers to the Black Death. (In fact, it dates no earlier than the late 19th century and almost certainly originated in America.) She also seems to believe the modern myth that medieval servants and housemistresses, who did not speak French, shouted "gardy-loo!" before tossing the chamberpots. Bafflingly, she says that the Scandinavian origins of the Varangians were "hotly disputed for years by Soviet scholars, who wanted the founders of Kiev to be Slavic." That statement would earn her a D on any freshman Russian History exam. As someone who learned his Russian from Soviet sources during the 1970s, I can assure you that every Soviet schoolchild could quote the lines in the Chronicle that say the Slavs appealed to the Norse Varangians to "come and rule over us," that their first prince had the very non-Slavic name Rurik, and that the very name "Russian" comes from the Rothmen ("red men" tribe) of Sweden. For reasons I don't understand, she insists on using the German name for Cologne (Köln), but the English names of Vienna and Munich. But I pick nits. Overall, this is a fascinating course that brings the medieval world to life in rich, vivid detail. What it offers that other courses do not is a clear peek into daily life in the Middle Ages: What life was (and was not) like for women, peasants, craftsmen, merchants, clerics, townspeople and lords and ladies. (Prepare to be surprised.) I find myself listening to these captivating lectures over and over and over.
Date published: 2011-11-12
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