Turning Points in Medieval History

Course No. 8276
Professor Dorsey Armstrong, Ph.D.
Purdue University
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Course No. 8276
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Course Overview

711: Tariq ibn Zayid leads an army of 7,000 Muslims from Gibraltar to the southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula, accidentally conquering Spain and creating the unusually tolerant society of Al-Andalus.

1152: Eleanor of Aquitaine, heiress to the largest duchy in France, divorces King Louis VII and marries Henry Plantagenet, changing the shape of nations and producing power struggles from the Hundred Years’ War to the War of the Roses and beyond.

1202: Fibonacci writes the Liber Abaci and introduces the Hindu-Arabic numeral system to Italian merchants, transforming the medieval world of business, banking, and commerce.

These are just three of the many turning points in the history of medieval Europe that prove the Middle Ages were far from “dark.” On the contrary, the era was full of fascinating figures and world-altering events. Learning and innovation flourished, with the printing press, Arabic numerals, the stirrup, and the heavy plow all being introduced into Western society during this time.

Despite these landmark developments exerting far-reaching influence over the course of history, few people have a firm grasp of the medieval narrative or how its ripples gave way to everything that followed.

For an accurate picture of how the political, social, and religious structure of present-day Europe came to be—and even why we’re speaking English today—studying the key events between the years 500 to 1500 is of critical import.

Turning Points in Medieval History delivers an unparalleled look at these moments that profoundly changed the arc of history. Presented in 24 gripping lectures by medievalist and popular Great Courses Professor Dorsey Armstrong of Purdue University, this course weaves the era’s vast array of disparate events into an interconnected tapestry that illuminates why nothing exists in a vacuum.

Explore the Forces that Shaped Modern Europe

Beginning with the fall of Rome—the event that created the medieval world and sent shockwaves reverberating through it—you’ll discover how each episode played a role in sowing the seeds of the modern world. Some lectures provide an in-depth analysis of events that are likely to be familiar, while others may surprise even those well-versed in this period.

As you delve into the many medieval conflicts, hardships, and inventions, you’ll encounter five recurring themes that help you get a handle on the material:

  • The power of the past, primarily a desire to re-create the glory of the Roman Empire
  • Necessity and Crisis, which led to the rapid adoption of Arabic numerals and the various responses to the Black Death—perhaps the era’s most important turning point
  • Serendipity, as in the bountiful warming period known as the Little Optimum
  • Individual personalities from Charlemagne to William of Normandy
  • The confluence of broad historical and social movements that precipitated events like Pope Urban II’s call for the First Crusade

You’ll investigate events, such as the Norman conquest of England in 1066, where the impact was immediate and tangible. In others, like the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western churches, the importance was not recognized for years. Some developments had effects so gradual that their significance can only be recognized from the vantage point of history.

You’ll also touch on a few false turning points, moments that medieval people pointed to as marking a significant shift, but that didn’t really have much impact at all.

As you might expect for a course titled Turning Points in Medieval History, war figures prominently. Here, you’ll come to understand the ways in which a single battle, leader’s decision, or stroke of luck changed the fates of nations.
Among other notable conflicts, you’ll delve into

  • the Battle of Mount Badon, which inspired the legend of King Arthur;
  • King Alfred’s counterattack against Viking raiders in the Battle of Ethandun, which created the idea of England as we know it; and
  • the Battle of Lechfeld, which sparked “the Great Stirrup Controversy,” an ongoing debate among scholars hinging on whether a piece of metal was responsible for producing high and late medieval society.

An Eye-Opening Account of History

Even if you’re a history buff, Professor Armstrong’s dynamic lectures may have you rethinking what you thought you knew. Lecture 16 dispels the notion that the Magna Carta was the most pivotal event of 1215 for its contributions to the development of human rights and justice. Instead, you’ll learn it’s the meeting of the Fourth Lateran Council that is the single most important event to have occurred in that year—and probably the entire 13th century.

Unlike King John’s reluctant acceptance of the Magna Carta, this gathering had an immediate impact on everyone in the medieval world both inside and outside the Christian community, from peasants to popes, because it

  • codified doctrinal issues, the most significant of which was transubstantiation;
  • addressed concerns at the upper levels of ecclesiastical society while dictating behaviors of those at the bottom of the social order;
  • dealt with issues including the Great Schism and local matters of inheritance; and
  • was deeply involved in the “rise of persecuting society,” which had serious consequences for marginalized social groups—most notably, Jews.

Throughout the course, you’ll probe the many ways religion was a powerful force across the millennium, inspiring both acts of great virtue and extreme brutality.

Enter the Classroom of a Noted Authority

As an award-winning educator and expert in Middle English and Arthurian literature, Professor Armstrong offers a depth of knowledge and nuanced perspective. In addition to delivering accurate historical accounts and deep analysis, she peppers her lectures with a wealth of detail that provides a full portrait of the medieval experience. For example, did you know

  • our modern postal service can be traced back to the noble house of Thurn and Taxis, which created a postal system in Florence to transport documents used in 15th-century trade;
  • the world’s oldest continually operating bank, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena in Italy, was founded by the powerful Medici family in the 15th century;
  • until the Fourth Lateran Council, marriage wasn’t considered a sacrament and priests were not required to be celibate; and
  • the terms “upper case” and “lower case” can be traced to early printing presses, where capital letters were stored on higher shelves?

Methodical and meticulous in its approach to a labyrinthine age, Turning Points in Medieval History will help you understand why the West’s transition from the classical to the early modern was a fluid, ongoing process rather than the result of a single pivotal moment. In taking this course, you’ll be able to connect the dots from the sack of Rome through the Renaissance and beyond.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Fall of Rome
    Start your exploration of the Middle Ages with the fall of Rome and the devastating impact that losing the empire’s bureaucratic, economic, political, and military infrastructure had on Britain. Define the idea of a turning point as it’s used by the professor and learn the five major themes that will recur throughout the course. x
  • 2
    King Arthur Defeats the Anglo-Saxons
    The Battle of Mount Badon is arguably more significant today than it was in the Middle Ages. Learn how the figure considered the historical basis for the legendary King Arthur changed the shape of history by rallying the Britons to fight off the Anglo-Saxon invasion and creating a period of peace not known since the fall of Rome. x
  • 3
    Spain Becomes Al-Andalus
    Explore how various broad social movements intersected in surprising ways to facilitate the “accidental” Islamic conquest of Spain in 711, producing the most multicultural and tolerant society in Europe. Understand why this occurred, how it affected medieval Europe’s conception of itself as a Christian land, and ways it ultimately contributed to other turning points, such as the calling of the First Crusade. x
  • 4
    Charlemagne Founds the Palace School at Aachen
    The arts, the church, and an exchange of ideas flourished during the Carolingian Renaissance begat by “Charles the Great,” king of the Franks. Investigate how Charlemagne attempted to re-create Rome in founding his revolutionary Palace School, the lengths he went to in preserving knowledge of the past, and reasons the later Renaissance could not have happened without the scholastic foundation laid at Aachen. x
  • 5
    The Scandinavians Go “A-Viking”
    Starting with one of the most abrupt and startling turning points in the medieval world, the Sack of Lindisfarne by Scandinavian invaders, this lecture considers how climate change, population pressures, social and cultural values, and skill in shipbuilding all combined at exactly the right moment to make Viking raiders a force that changed the medieval world. x
  • 6
    King Alfred Burns Some Cakes
    If not for Alfred the Great, England and English as we know them would look very different. Turn to the effects of Viking raids for the King of Wessex, whose decision to flee into the marshes—and ultimate victory in the Battle of Ethandun—marked one of the most important turning points in not only English history, but the entire medieval world. x
  • 7
    The Battle of Lechfeld
    Examine how a technological shift—effected in part by the stirrup, the horseshoe, and the high-back saddle—combined with a culture of violence produced profound changes in armed conflict after the Battle of Lechfeld in the year 955, when Hungarian and German armies settled a century of mutually destructive violence in a single day. x
  • 8
    The Great Schism
    The moment of schism between the eastern and western halves of the former Roman Empire in 1054 codified what had been true in practice for centuries. See how a dispute between the patriarch of Constantinople and the pope’s representative Humbert of Silva Candida—a dispute that began over a letter about bread—would firmly split the medieval world along religious lines. x
  • 9
    William of Normandy Conquers England
    Perhaps the most clearly defined turning point in the medieval world, William of Normandy’s conquest of England in the 1066 Battle of Hastings inextricably joined England to continental Europe, altered language, dismantled Anglo-Saxon social structures, and put Britain back into a relationship with Rome. Learn about this remarkable conqueror who created an empire through his sheer force of will. x
  • 10
    Peter Abelard Is Castrated
    Meet the brilliant scholar Peter Abelard and his secret wife, Heloise, whose relationship and letters provide deep insight into education, romantic love, and what the medieval world was like for women. Trace how an act of horrific violence perpetrated upon him as he slept provoked Abelard into effecting social and religious change. x
  • 11
    Pope Urban II Calls the First Crusade
    Pope Urban II’s call upon Christians to take up arms and reclaim the Holy Land in 1095 resonated with huge segments of the population. Investigate what social, religious, and economic concerns produced a scenario in which it seemed logical for a farmer or merchant to travel for months to a foreign country to battle an enemy unprovoked. x
  • 12
    The Battle of Hattin
    The Battle of Hattin in 1187 proved a disastrous turning point for European Crusader kingdoms in the Middle East and brought European heads of state into the Levant for decades to come. Examine how the great Muslim leader Saladin’s restraint, chivalry, and measured responses created new interest in the Islamic world just as the persecuting mentality gained steam in Europe. x
  • 13
    Eleanor of Aquitaine Gets a Divorce
    Wife to two kings and mother to three more, Eleanor of Aquitaine impacted matters from literature and fashion to politics and religion. Explore how Eleanor’s divorce and remarriage dramatically shifted the borders and power structures of France and Britain, planting seeds of conflict that would have repercussions into the modern period. x
  • 14
    No More Roman Numerals—The Liber Abaci
    The Hindu-Arabic number system we use today—numerals 0 through 9—was introduced into Europe by the man known as Fibonacci in the book Liber Abaci and rapidly stimulated the economy of the Middle Ages. To understand the impact of this turning point, learn how money exchange and other mathematical functions were performed previously using finger counting and tally sticks. x
  • 15
    King John Accepts the Magna Carta
    The Magna Carta has long been hailed as a milestone in the development of ideas of equality, human rights, law, and justice. But in 1215, it affected King John of England and his angry barons almost exclusively. Understand why the document was a non-event for the majority of English society and only gained greater significance in the centuries that followed. x
  • 16
    The Fourth Lateran Council
    Also occurring in 1215, The Fourth Lateran Council had immediate significance for everyone in the medieval world, yet it goes unrecognized because the canons passed so utterly transformed Western Christianity that it’s difficult to imagine a Catholic Church without them. Delve into how the gathering codified matters of theology and doctrine and gave rise to “a persecuting society.” x
  • 17
    The Persecution of the Jews
    Turn now to the first of three lectures on turning points that were “stretched” over time. Investigate why we see what scholars call the rise in a persecuting society between the 11th and 13th centuries, and how Jews were systematically ostracized from mainstream society and even massacred by Crusading forces. x
  • 18
    Does It Seem Warm to You? The Little Optimum
    Overlapping the persecution of the Jews was the natural phenomenon known as the “Medieval Warm Period” or “the Little Optimum,” which radically reshaped European society from about 1000 to 1300. Trace the cascade effect spurred when average temperatures increased by a few degrees, resulting in everything from better nutrition allowing children to grow into adulthood to Genghis Khan driving his Golden Horde westward. x
  • 19
    Agricultural Advances
    Continue your investigation of the Little Optimum with an analysis of the effects of agricultural innovations that came into existence during this population boom, including the heavy plow, the horse-collar, and the three-field rotation system. Survey related developments such as the revival of urban life, the ascent of cathedral building, and the rise of the university system. x
  • 20
    The Medieval World’s First Poet Laureate
    Focus on some of the more pleasant results of the Little Optimum by investigating how the arts began to flourish, especially at the beginning of the 14th century. Consider why the declaration of Petrarch as poet laureate—the first the Western world had seen since the glory days of Rome—illuminates how much the medieval world had changed. x
  • 21
    The Black Death
    After the appearance of the plague, which killed up to one-half of Europe’s population in a few years, the world would never be the same in terms of demographics, religion, economics, or politics. Trace how church and government infrastructures were affected by disease and why social mobility became possible for the first time. x
  • 22
    Science, Medicine, and the University
    What was medieval medicine like? Learn how illness was treated, as you examine the rise of the university system in 11th-century Salerno, Italy, where medical knowledge from the Greeks and Arabs was being preserved, disseminated, and practiced by men and women from a variety of cultural, religious, and ethnic traditions. x
  • 23
    Gutenberg’s Printing Press
    When Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing press and movable type in 1450, knowledge suddenly became accessible to all strata of society. Analyze how the rise of print culture affected the shape of the political, social, and religious spheres of the medieval world, from the decline of the handwritten book trade to the standardization of English. x
  • 24
    Toward the Early Modern
    As the professor reviews the course’s major themes, consider the validity of Stephen Greenblatt’s argument in the book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, which states that the discovery of a lost Roman text titled On the Nature of Things created a ripple effect that made the European world cease to be “medieval” and start to become “modern.” x

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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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Turning Points in Medieval History is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 56.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive view of important events and trends Really enjoyable and informative overview of medieval society. Some surprises in the topics like bookkeeping. Instructor has a wonderful presentation style. I will look for future offerings from her
Date published: 2017-10-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Too many drawbacks I checked this out from the library to listen to a few lectures and see if it was worth buying. It’s a great topic with five-star potential and a vast selection of events to pick from. I do appreciate her distinction between how a turning point was seen when it happened versus how momentous an event really was in the fullness of time… but… -1 star for constantly recapping previous lectures and previewing future lectures too much -1 star for being so blatantly hostile about anything Christian and so openly fawning over all things Islamic -1 star for presentation style – it’s like she’s new to reading a teleprompter, one that isn’t scrolling at the right speed. -1 for specific event selection. With such a limited number of lectures she had to cut something, but… the siege of Vienna, and no Battle of Tours? While including a castration? Her selection has some good items, but turning points MUST include very real turning points such as those… It may stem from her above-mentioned religious preferences, but in any case, there are some glaring omissions Which leaves us with one star. No, I won’t be buying it. No, I’d not recommend this course.
Date published: 2017-10-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good course I like Dorsey's voice, her selection of topics, the detail she provides. I dislike her repetitiveness. (She often says something and repeats very nearly the same thing a couple or three sentences later.) I dislike her drumming in her four types of turning point. That time could be better used giving more historical details.
Date published: 2017-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Told me exactly what to expect from the course I've listened to it three times and learned something each time.
Date published: 2017-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating course Course is well-worth listening to in just about all respects: interesting, informative, so much included that I hadn't heard or known before, speaker's voice is easy to listen to and the course easy to follow. My only negative comment would be that course was a bit too politically correct when it came to discussing Islamic activity in Spain. I doubt if life was as wonderful under Islamic rule as represented in the course. I don't recall a word said about Islamic raids into non-Islamic areas to gather slaves from among those embattled. I doubt if the enslaved women and children were so enchanted by the situation. However, the course overall is so good that it still easily merits a solid five-stars.
Date published: 2017-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One Of Your Best I have been enjoying your courses for so many years that the inception of my interest is lost in the mists of time. I must have well over 100 of them. This is one of the best. I have listened to the CD at least twice, possibly more times. The professor's presentation is bright and cheerful, and just relaxed enough to make me think an intelligent and interesting friend is briefing me about these historical events. The idea of organizing the outline of history as turning points is a good one, as it gives you the big picture without burying you in the countless details. Occasionally it seems to get in the way of the presentation but the professor breezes past those potential objections, and tells you what happened and why she feels it was important. I hope she does more courses for you, I'm a fan.
Date published: 2017-07-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Middle (not so dark) ages Only part way through but I'm already ready to recommend it. Defines turning points and exemplifies them well. We get to see both sides of the historical argument, "is it the man, or is it the time has come in the tides of mankind" that make history? So far each lecture has made me consider one of the other courses that focuses on this event or than leader--like the short story that makes you want to read the author's novel. The story is complete but you know the experience could be expanded for even greater appreciation. This course is a great place to start enjoying the exploration of history. I was left wanting just a little more, wishing they were 45 minute episodes. Thus one star short of perfect.
Date published: 2017-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable and Enlightening When I studied modern history, medieval history was the equivalent of poking a sleeping Doberman with a stick. Prof. Armstrong’s courses lift the fear. Combining analysis with lively stories, the complex histories are understandable. Her presentation is clear and pleasing. Fine work!
Date published: 2017-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learning with this professor is a great joy! I already know quite a bit about the subject matter and chose this professor because I was confident she would add new details and thoughtful analysis. She did not disappoint!
Date published: 2017-01-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enlightening, interesting and fun This course is well worth the investment (when on sale with a coupon). It's not a definitive, historical treatment of the Middle Ages...it's a collection of sometimes unrelated occurrences in the the period of time from the fall of the (western) Roman Empire to the Renaissance, about 1000 years that, in the opinion of Dorsey Armstrong, changed the course of history, either immediately or over the long term. These lectures are clearly and pleasantly delivered, and present many things to think about and many avenues to research further...this, I feel, is a true measure of a good set of lectures...that spark of interest that makes a person want to learn more. Particularly interesting was the effect of the introduction of Hindu/Arabic numerology on society...the advent of climate change (warming AND cooling) and the effect on population and agriculture advances...the overall effects of the Black Death (aka mass mortality) on western civilization, both long- and short-term. Finally, the final lecture's discussion of Greenblatt's book, 'The Swerve', which deals with the 15th century discovery of Lucretius's 'On the Nature of Things' (De rerum natura), makes the course earn the four stars I awarded it. Good job, Dorsey, you made me think!
Date published: 2017-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simple but putting things together My knowledge of medieval history is nicely several steps above the average but I still enjoyed this series. The basic arrangement of events is not surprising, there is not much to change on it. Nevertheless, prof. Armstrong looks at some events from rather unusual angles and gives answers to a number of my old questions. I particularly enjoyed the lecture on Arabic numerals and the lecture on science and universities. Well, if you are not much familiar with the medieval ages you are still likely to enjoy the course. Its weak point is probably the lecture on Peter Abelard, it did not make me believing he and his castration was a turning point in the medieval history. Agricultural medieval improvements were always boring but important and it was the first time I enjoyed them. I would not mind learning more about the introduction of paper in the 14th century, but that is probably my personal deviation.
Date published: 2016-10-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What fun! I don't normally think of Teaching Company courses as fun, but I so enjoyed this one that is was fun. I live, and move around, in my RV 6 months of each year and I don't know what I would do without The Teaching Company -- I have over 200 of their courses. Some of them are quite heady -- and heavy; some are thought provoking and a few are just fun. I listened to Professor Daileader's trilogy on The Middle Ages. That was before TTC had the reviewing process and I really can't remember much about that series except that it went on and on and on. I enjoyed the short course on 1066: The Year That Changed Everything. I've listened to other courses that cover this period -- 1492, Era of the Crusades, the histories of England of which I remember smatterings, but this course I will remember for sure. Some reviewers didn't like that Professor Armstrong seemed focused on whether the event changed the world immediately, or took much longer to feel the effect. I liked this. From my college courses I would have thought that the Magna Carta produced an instant, overwhelming change to society. She shows us it was otherwise. We all learned in high school or college about The Crusades, Gutenberg's printing press, and The Black Death. But did any of your teachers mention the importance of the invention of the stirrup, the horse yoke, or the use of Arabic numerals? [I always wondered how they did arithmetic in Roman Numerals.] Who else would have lecture titles "King Alfred Burns Some Cakes," "Peter Abelard is Castrated," and "Eleanor of Aquitane Gets a Divorce?" My drive went very quickly as I listened to this course. Yes, one of my pet peeves is a professor who starts a lecture telling us what s/he discussed in the prior lecture, what s/he is going to discuss in this lecture and ends with what s/he will discuss in the next lecture. What a waste of some of the 30 minutes s/he has. But I got over this quickly in this course as the subjects were so interesting and were presented in a pleasant and lively manner. I only gave the Course Content as 4 stars as I am sure there were other topics she could have chosen. I look forward to her other courses on the Middle Ages.
Date published: 2016-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Medieval History: Major Turning Points The fall of Rome -- so what -- asks Professor Dorsey Armstrong in TURNING POINTS in MEDIEVAL HISTORY. Out of the political, social, and psychological shock waves that were generated, it set in motion the beginnings of medieval history, from small kingdoms to the European nation states (5th – 15th centuries) which are slowly sketched as coming into existence. The medieval world was born, torn, developed, and changed, while continually transforming itself throughout the entire political, religious, cultural, economic, and natural dimensions of social life while planting the seeds of the early modern periods designated as the Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, and beyond. Meet GIANTS AND LEGENDS such as: Arthur, Charlemagne, William the Conquer, Urban II, Saladin, Abelard, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Petrarch, Gutenberg, etc. Encounter BATTLES AND FORMATIONS: the Anglo-Saxons, Mount Badon, Vikings, Magyars, Norman Conquest, Crusades, Islam, Battle of Lechfeld, Hattin, Agincourt, etc. Reflect on IDEAS AND INSTITUTIONS: Arthurian legends, Al-Andalus, Carolingian Renaissance, Great Schism, Monasticism, Feudalism, Scholasticism, Humanism, persecuting social psychologies, black death, heresy, faith seeking reason, Magna Carta, 4th Lateran council, universities, etc. Witness TECHNOLOGY AND URBANIZATION: the stirrup, long bow, horse collar, heavy plow, Arabic numbers, double entry bookkeeping, printing press, literature and art, rise of the courtier and decline of noble chivalry, etc. The professor’s IDEA of the medieval concerning the range, depth, and nuance of history itself is phenomenal and conceptual. Various specialized fields supplement the lecture presentations with literary masterpieces, linguistics, archaeological remains, manuscripts, comparative warfare, detailed chronicles, scholarly authors, demographic movements, and climatic changes, etc. affecting the medieval landscape as it struggles toward the future. The METHODOLOGY of using TURNING POINTS (immediate, gradual, looking backwards, false ones) and THEMES (glorious past, crisis, necessity, unintended consequences), coupled at times with the vision of the Roman past, the professor constructs an INTELLECTUAL TOOL that turns, cuts, and penetrates the medieval period throughout 1000+ years and into the early modern period revealing its inner nature and releasing its spirit and cultural dynamism. Once again, repeated from my previous reviews of Professor Armstrong: “she embodies the Renaissance-Humanism of the well rounded individual whose mind is nourished with history, philosophy, theology, science, literature, and print culture … At times, I felt on a pilgrimage to a sacred initiation, or at a round table discussing justice, chivalry, beauty, and adventure, or on a spiritual quest in a divine theology of history!” The idea of the INTERCONNECTEDNESS of all history clearly follows from participating in these lectures. Our understanding of the early modern periods of the RENAISSANCE AND REFORMATION, and interpreting modernity from the ENLIGHTENMENT and beyond are greatly illuminated and enhanced. Reconsider the controversial issues that populate the current media since many of these issues originated in the medieval past. Events and topics such as the Arthurian legends, the English language, literary and artistic creation, Judaism-Christianity-Islamic monotheisms, middle-East conflicts, Eastern-Western relations, constitutional and parliamentary law, technological and military innovations, business practices, university curriculums, etc. were all significant contributions from the so called DARK AGES. Whether by design or unintended, the professor begins and ends these lectures with classical data -- the fall of Rome in the 5th century and the rediscovery in 15th century of a Roman text ON THE NATURE OF THINGS by Lucretius. These two turning points are strategically situated between three metaphysical states of the collective mind-spirit throughout all of human history: the natural-classical (Lucretius), the supersensible-medieval (Dante), and the romantic-modern (Goethe); I would greatly enjoy hearing the Professor analyze and critique George Santayana’s essay THREE PHILOSOPHICAL POETS. But until that time, I will close with the professor’s own words: “From the moment Rome fell, the medieval world was heading toward the early modern period… and so much more…bringing us ever closer to the modern world.” *** An Historical, Cultural, and Artistic Creation  Very Highly Recommended ***
Date published: 2016-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from No faults I bought this course despite some of the negative comments made by some reviewers. Yes, the professor insists on defining all events whether they represent a turning point or not and, yes, she summarizes at the beginning of each lecture the previous lecture, but I did not find this "annoying" as someone put it. Repetition, after all, is the mother of learning. And, who knows, the professor may have missed some turning points such as the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Nevertheless, her course was very well organized, logical, very clearly presented and even entertaining. I truly think that this course is exceptional and recommend it full heatedly to anyone who wants to understand the impact of certain events that happened during the medieval period on our current lives.
Date published: 2015-12-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not as good as I hoped but still interesting Admittedly the major problem I have with this course is something that may or may not be a part of the series.. Professor Armstrong made a point of evaluating the incident at the basis of each lecture on whether it was a ‘turning point’ and if it was, which one(s). Since I have no experience with the other two courses for historical turning points, it may be something central to all three. The evaluation was determining if it was a turning point that a) affected everyone in the country/area; b) affected a limited slice of the populace; c) didn’t affect people until years, decades and maybe miles away or d) really wasn’t a turning point at all. The first lectures had Professor Armstrong check each incident with each option which got very boring. It nearly made me return the course but it was the only course I had grabbed for my 6 hour trip so I stuck with it. Fortunately, as the course progressed, she toned down the repetitive ‘incident and option a; incident and option b, etc”. Something I personally found annoying was the lecture itself which started with a review of the previous lecture and how it may or may not be tied into the current one; what happened in history that is the focus of the lecture and then, after dissecting its relevance as a turning point, we get a short overview on the next lecture. It seemed like nearly a third of the lecture was about the next or previous lectures as if she actually couldn’t fill the entire 30 minutes with the incident itself. Totally aside of my dissatisfaction with her lecture style, I did enjoy the people and situations that she chose. All were interesting and in the end, I didn’t care if it was a valid turning point of history or not, I learning something. Whether it was the truth about who was really protected by the Magna Carta (it wasn’t the peasants); the innovation of using Arabic numbers instead of Roman; the further impact of Charlemagne’s luring knowledgeable people to the University of Aachen or even the effect of a stirrup in battles, the course gave me a slightly different view of some aspects of the Medieval World.
Date published: 2015-09-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The Medieval World Extends Beyond West Europe Much of the content was good and well presented. That said, the course is very incomplete. The Byzantine Empire lasted longer than the world that England created if you date it from 1066. It held off the Muslim onslaught, preserved ancient learning, and gave rise to the Orthodox faith. Its missionaries developed an alphabet for Eastern Europe and translated the Bible 6 centuries before England or Germany had vernacular versions. The Mongol invasion was not the result of the Medieval Warming period, in fact Mongols crossed rivers over winter ice. When they were not involved in internecine warfare, they attacked China and other Asian countries for centuries. Despite modern apologists, these were a savage people responsible for 40M deaths. Read Slavic and Chinese accounts and demographic studies to confirm this. Although they created the largest land empire ever, the notion of expansion to west Europe with its Alps, rivers, and forests is absurd. The Mamluks defeated them handily. The Mongols are the reason why Russia was never fully incorporated into Europe, are ruled by despots, and this deserved its own chapter. Finally, although Saladin got great press, and Muslim learning has been praised for centuries, lets not forget that they have a far worse record of attacking the West in this period of time. Also, while the Jews were persecuted in Europe, they were persecuted by the Prophet himself, and his followers and that persecution extended to other religious groups including Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and Zoroastrians who were effectively wiped out. The Muslim armies were filled with slaves from Europe and other non-Muslim areas, its galleys rowed by Western prisoners, and its world-wide harems filled with enslaved women from the West. Lets put some context into the bad behavior of Christians.
Date published: 2015-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thank you for this excellent course! I cannot thank you enough for this excellent course! Professor Armstrong's lectures are very organized., informative and engaging. Not only did I learn about events and people about which I knew little, I also picked up some helpful pointers about teaching style. For years I dreaded humdrum tasks like exercising, cooking and sitting in airports because they seemed to be a waste of intellectual time, but now that I listen to courses, my everyday life seems more productive. I always keep several hours of lectures in my iPhone. I would like to point out one mistake in the lectures: Dr. Armstrong refers to "Russia", which did not exist in the Middle Ages, instead of the historically accurate Rus'. Thanks for such intellectually stimulating lessons.
Date published: 2015-05-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Broad perspective of medieval evolution This is the second I have taken given by Professor Darcy, the other being "Medieval World". The first course was analytical in nature – focusing on different themes such as medieval warfare, family life, fashion and education to name only a few themes. This course focuses on major events and transitions that ended up affecting medieval history, and as a direct consequence modern history in a dramatic way. So the course is basically composed of a set of narrative histories that are not directly connected one to the other. Together, they give a pretty broad perspective of what the middle ages were like and what caused them to change. Naturally, dramatic – turning point events are easiest to focus on and to understand. One such stunning event is the conquest of England by William of Normandy in 1066 AD. William and the Normans had prior to this event very little to do with England. As a result of the successful conquest, the English Monarchy would end up being of Norman ancestry until the late 15th century, and England will begin henceforth to interact much more closely with the continent instead of with Scandinavia as had been the case up to this point. It would also have a huge effect on the English language, which would assimilate much of the ruling Norman's tongue – French. Another such key event is the stunning victory of Saladin in the Battle of Hattin in the lower Galilee of Israel against the Crusading army led by the king of the state of Jerusalem. This event changed the power balance in Outremer, and in fact the Crusaders would never really gain Jerusalem back after this defeat except for the strange treaty signed by Frederick the second in the sixth Crusade which gave Jerusalem back to the Crusaders for ten years. From a crusading standpoint – crusades went strictly downhill for this point onwards. Another point emphasized by Professor Darcy is that this encounter with Saladin forced the Crusaders to see another aspect of the Muslim culture. Up to that point, the Western and Muslim culture did not interact much outside of the battle field and the conception of Muslims in the eyes of Westerners was very one dimensional and biased. Saladin, however, behaved like the most chivalrous of knights and so, the Crusaders were forced to rethink their stereotype of the Muslims. Professor Darcy also walks us through less dramatic events – actually more like transitions or phases, which nonetheless had a very strong impact on medieval life. A prime example is the warming of Europe by several degrees between the eleventh and fourteenth century. This warming by only several degrees allowed farmers to grow more off their land, and to go from mere subsistence to having just a little bit of spare at the end of each season. This spare allowed them to seek education, to try other farming methods #which in turn yielded even better crops#, and to develop more sophisticated trading and financial methods. Most importantly – it led to a substantial population growth that in turn enlarged the labor force and allowed for development of other activities than farming. Finally, she also mentions events that seemed to be huge turning points, but in retrospect proved not to be so. One prime example is the appointment of Charlemagne to "Holy Roman Emperor" in the year 1800 AD. The event ended up not being significant because Charlemagne had achieved all of his huge achievements #that did in fact transform medieval history in many profound ways# independently of this appointment. The events would have been achieved anyway. In retrospect, the role of Holy Roman Emperor did not bring the Roman Empire out of its grave. Overall this has been an enjoyable course. I have taken close to twenty TGC courses on the medieval era up to this point, and the course was helpful in organizing the expansive narrative of medieval history around key events and transitions. The material was very interesting. As other reviewers have noted, there are always events that fail to make it into such a course and the choice of events and transitions is always arbitrary to some extent. As for the Professor's teaching style – it was OK but not more than that in my opinion. Her presentation felt like she was reading the text rather than giving a live lecture. It just wasn't very dynamic. Having said that, the course was still fun, interesting, and well worth the time to listen to.
Date published: 2015-03-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from It's Okay...I Guess I have listened to several courses that use the "Turning Points" structure, and have enjoyed all of them. One of the features of this style of class is that you tend to think about turning points that the lecturer did not choose, and take issue with events that did make it into the course. At its best, this leads to a thought provoking kind of interactivity with the lectures. In this course, the omissions seemed to be particularly claring, however. For example, there was no discussion of the transition from the Roman model of slavery to the Medieval model of serfdom. How did that happen? Where did the institution of serfdom come from? Professor Dorsey leaves that out completely, and yet it impacted 90% of the population. Another omission is any discussion of battles stopping Muslim expansion into Europe. She devotes two lectures to Islamic victories (the conquest of Spain and the Battle of Hattin), but omits Tours completely. And as other commentators have pointed out, boy, does she prefer Islam to Christianity. All mention of the Crusades is negative, without any consideration of the stimulus that it gave to the revival of shipping and trade across the Mediterranean basin. She devotes a lecture to Peter Abelard and his castration, but never really tells what his lasting contributions to intellectual history are. She does not seem to have the slightest idea how markets work. I listen to one lecture after another on my commute. One particularly grating feature of her style for me was that she would spend about 10-15% of each lecture pre-telling what the next lecture was about. Then she would spend the first 10% of the new lecture recapping the previous one. You lose 25-30% of each lecture's time that way, which only leaves about 20 minutes to develop a topic. Overall, this was a good enough course for making my commute go quickly, but I would not recommend it strongly to others.
Date published: 2015-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Was my first audio course - really good Up to this point I only had DVD,s - Well I was quite pleased with the audio only with this one. While traveling I had this course going on thru my trucks sound system. I will get audio again. This course is very interesting and the professor does a real good job. I have listened to the course twice so far with a few lectures more than this. I would and have recommended this course to others. Really good for all 24 gripping lectures. Who would have thought a lecture about the heavy plow and spurs would be interesting - but WoW. Catch you later. XREBX
Date published: 2014-11-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Survey of Key Middle Ages Events Although I have taken close to 100 courses, this is my first experience with Dr. Armstrong. I could not have been more pleased with this course. Before the Great Courses came into my life, my knowledge of the Middle Ages, ( and Pre 20th Century history, for that matter) was very meager. Over the past few years, I have learned quite a bit about this time frame, having taken Dr. Daileader's courses on the Early and the High Middle Ages, Dr. Noble's courses on Western Civilization, and Late Antiquity, and several of Dr. Harl's on various aspects of the time eras being discussed. I am also in the process of taking Dr. Daileader's course on the Late Middle Ages. This course by Professor Armstrong is a concise compilation of key, tuning-point events, that occurred during the Middle Ages, from approx. the demise of the Roman Empire, to about the year 1600. Dr. Armstrong explains how these events were interpreted as they unfolded. There are about four different of conclusions that can be drawn from these events: 1) events that had immediate consequences 2) events that, at the time, seemed to be a big deal, but in retrospect, have become almost non-events. 3) events that seemed insignificant at first, but, over time, have become key turning points. 4) events that have had both immediate, and enduring consequences. She also talks about the key role of serendipity that has often occurred throughout history, and its' influence on the final outcome of key events. Although some other reviewers have commented that Dr. Armstrong had a dry presentation, I found her delivery to be both engaging, and enthusiastic. This course is only available in audio download, and this is the first course that I have completed 100 percent by streaming on my Android phone. I drive home from work in the wee hours, and I really enjoyed listening to her as I drove home. I had no trouble in thinking and reflecting on the turning point being discussed. This is definitely a survey course. If one is looking for more depth or detail about these events, I recommend the reader consult one of the excellent courses mentioned earlier in my review. In addition, Professor Armstrong has a new course release, "Great Minds of the Medieval World," that offers more depth into several of the personalities introduced in this particular course .In conclusion, if one is looking for a clear and concise presentation of these turning points, this is the place. Thank you, Dr. Armstrong, for helping me put my knowledge into the proper perspective.
Date published: 2014-08-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Addition to my Great Courses Library This course continues the excellence I have come to expect from Dr. Armstrong's presentations. Because it's an audio version, it fitted my commute well, and the format offered great flexibility in allowing me to interrupt the disk to consider items of particular interest. This course was particularly valuable to me. As a late comer to the study of history, I've tried to absorb a lot in a short amount of time. This has resulted in tangled timelines for a lot of historical events that have become disconnected in my understanding. I was first introduced to Dr. Armstrong and her offerings in the Great Courses through her course, Analysis and Critique. Still among my favorite courses, it introduced her pedagogical style. Extremely professional, with an eye toward ensuring continuity for the student, she uses her broad knowledge of medieval history and literature to weave an easily followed thread through the topics she covers. In this course, she does an excellent job of furnishing hook points into a broad narrative stream. From the barbarian invasion of the Roman empire, up through Gutenberg, examining the causes and effects of each event. Change is such a big part of all histories, large and small, and her discussion of the disruptions to existing guilds and trades as books on paper replaced illuminated manuscripts on vellum is reminiscent of the changes in today's economy. I was extremely disturbed to find out that the best job in the history of the world, that of Poggio the Bookfinder, was held by someone who was unemployed. I have found it particularly helpful when, during the course of listening to the lectures, my previous misconceptions are challenged and corrected, or even if I run into a new point of view through which to examine some topic. Dr. Armstrong's course did that well, in several instances. In any historical examination of the evolution of the rights of man, the Magna Carte is presented as an example of a singularly critical event in the evolution of those rights. Dr. Armstrong's presentation rightly points out that it was an example of rights for a very narrow segment of society, and even those rights that inspire our awe were buried deep in the articles. They were overshadowed by things we now consider unimportant. So while the document was important, it didn't tear down the barricades and free mankind. At the same time she is furnishing guideposts for past knowledge, she introduces a wealth of people and events that I had either missed or glossed over in my previous studies. Lechfeld, Abelard, the Little Optimum, I knew of them, but never really positioned them or their importance. On a parting note, I purchase most of my courses from the teaching company without reading the reviews. For this one, I did read the reviews, my philosophy being that “Good or bad, this is an opinion by someone who is a cut above the average man on the street.” The reviews were about what I expected, but I did find an unexpected concern with her voice and her 'feminist' background. I'm old. When I started my education back in the middle of the last century, I had few professors who were young, black or brown, or female. Old White Man was de rigueur. Most of my fellow students were OWM in training, with just a smattering of diversity. Today, I'm in the middle of an explosion of talent that has joined them. The new voices, the new viewpoints don't compete with the old, any more than one delicacy competes with another at a banquet. You don't have to pick and choose. You can enjoy them all. And as far as voices go, if I want to listen to a gravelly old man's voice, I can talk to myself. I may not learn much, but I'm comfortable with my style.
Date published: 2014-07-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyable course overall. Dr. Armstrong is a great presenter. Her voice and articulation make the course attractive. However, Dr. Armstrong lacked in-depth analysis seen in Dr. Daileader's lectures. In addition, some of the turning points were inflated or not even turning points at all such as the legend of king Arthur, where at some interval in the lecture, Dr. Armstrong compared him with Jesus Christ in significance of western history. All ill in all, a pleasant course.
Date published: 2014-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This Course is a Medieval Rush! The Great Courses has the Medieval World covered from start to finish - from Dr. Noble's 'Late Antiquity' through part 3 of Dr. Daileader's trilogy on the Middle Ages. Dr. Armstrong's 'Turning Points' examines in detail 23 seminal events of the Medieval World that Dr. A covered so well in her course of the same name. I am enthralled by History and this is an enthralling course. Each of her lectures added a new knowledge nugget and more often several nuggets. One of the great things about the Great Courses are the many stimulating moments in which you learn something entirely new or remember something entirely forgotten - at 66 I have forgotten a bit.. The reviews are all over the place for this wonderful course. For me this was both a knowledge rush and a 5 star course. This isn't the first course on the Medieval World you should take but it is definitely be the second, third, or fourth.
Date published: 2014-07-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting and Annoying Both There is plenty of interesting information in this course, most of it credible, some of it dubious (like how "King Arthur" defeating the Anglo Saxons was a turning point in history), and some of it downright fascinating (like how the abacus and the decimal system came to Italy). I found Professor Armstrong's delivery somewhat annoying. Listing on CD, it was obvious she was reading from a script. Her tempo was measured, her sentences designed, and she avoided use of contractions. Worse yet, her intonation resembled that of a bedtime story. She constantly inserts remarks like "would you believe?" and "can you imagine?" as if our attention might otherwise stray. I got used to it, though, and I finished all 24 lectures. I have respect for Armstrong as an emerging talent. If you love medieval history, give this lecture series a try.
Date published: 2014-05-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Course but One Sided Professor Dorsey Armstrong is an excellent lecturer. I very much appreciated the way that she presented the information. At first I was annoyed by the way she tied lectures together at the end and beginning of each lecture. It takes up a lot of the time. I grew used to it, and other commentators on this series have said that it is helpful. I have a daughter and son-in-law that attends Purdue University so I actually paid closer attention than usual when the professors experience was given at the first of the lectures. I thought it would be interesting to hear from a professor who was involved in "women studies." Turns out she's a professor of English and Medieval Literature, and Purdue does actually offer a Monroe in women's studies. Well that's disappointing but I'm not an alumni so I can't really be that disappointed. I like the way she taught the course where she pulls in the way that different events are connected. I like documentaries and books that do it as well, so that's just a personal opinion. She seems to jump around a lot some people may not like that. This series of lectures was definitely taught from a liberal viewpoint. And I mean liberal in the modern PC liberal view point. When she first said that Europe became a "persecuting society" I almost laughed out loud, especially when she said they persecuted "infidels, pagans, homosexuals, leprorers, and Jews". She emphasized that there were still pagans at that time in Europe. this is the first time that I've ever heard that people specifically persecuted homosexuals in the medieval times. I suppose it's true, since homosexuals have never been treated very well and there might even have been some pagans at that time, but not many. However, I've never heard of it before, and every example of persecution she gave was against the Jews. Still as I said I almost laughed the first time she said it, but she said it often after that. Very often. In fact it's impossible not to notice since it was a constant refrain. She also presented a very positive view of Islam. I kept wondering if she would like to go to a persecuting society today where they still actually do persecute homosexuals and Jews, and consider Christians infidels. In fact in Iran, an Islamic society they hang you for being a homosexual. While I'm sure that might have been done sometime in the past, somewhere in the Christian West, I can guarantee you it's not done today. This point leads me to something I found absolutely astounding in her choice for a turning point in Medieval History. She only picked two battles, one the Battle of Lechfeld, and the other the Battle of Hattin. I've never heard of the Battle of Lechfeld before, which doesn't mean that much except that I do like history and have listened to a lot of Great Courses history tapes. I'm pretty sure that that battle might or might not have really had a great impact on the development of the "persecuting society" of Europe, but I'm totally sure that the Battle of Tours is an actual turning point because it stopped the Islamic advance into Europe, then we would probably would have been much more like Iran, and would really be persecuting homosexuals. She does give some credit to this battle because she mentions the Song of Roland a couple of times, which she would practically have to mention as a Prof. of Medieval Literature, and that take place in the Battle of Tours. The Battle of Hattin is a turning point, but Prof. Armstrong practically salivates over what a great guy Saladin was. I can't really blame her for that because that seems to be the PC version of the guy. Here's what I've written about Saladin on another Great Courses review that also thought he was a great guy. It's from my Great Courses review on Islam "He then talks about how Saladin spared Jerusalem when he took it. He doesn't mention the account of Saladin taking Hattin. Saladin's secretary writes this account of how he treated the prisoners there: "[Saladin] ordered that they should be beheaded, choosing to have them dead rather than in prison. With him was a whole band of scholars and Sufis and a certain number of devout men and ascetics; each begged to be allowed to kill one of them, and drew his sword and rolled back his sleeve. Saladin, his face joyful, was sitting on his dais; the unbelievers showed black despair." He also doesn't mention that the Saladin planned to treat the prisoners at Jerusalem the same way. The reason he didn't it was because of an agreement he had reached with Christian commander of the city Balian of Ibelin who had threatened to kill all of the Muslims in the city of Jerusalem before Saladin could reach it if he didn't agree to spare the prisoners. He also only "spared" the prisoners that could be ransomed to freedom, the rest were sold as slaves. Nice guy Saladin. If you go to the Wikipedia account of the massacre of Ayyadieh it ends with this ironic sentence "Aayadieh is perhaps the strongest refutation of Richard as a courteous and chivalrous warrior king. On this occasion his almost "theatrical" staging of the massacre showed that he was capable of using terror tactics in an attempt to terrify his opponents into submission. Ironically, Saladin's counter massacre did not hurt his reputation." Many people point out how well Richard and Saladin got along even though they were adversaries. Saladin even sent his physician, who was probably much, much better than anything Richard had, to treat him when Richard was ill. They probably got along well because they were kindred spirits. Why does Dr. Espisito not tell this, if he "has" to tell about the villains of the plot why only the Christian villains? Muslims know Saladin, and not the happy charitable Saladin the west is told about by Dr. Esposito." All that Prof. Tells us about Saladin and Hattin is he did behead Raynald de Chatillon, who probably deserved it, and let King Guy go after giving him ice water. Well when supposedly knowledgeable people present facts like this no wonder everyone thinks Saladin was a paragon of virtue. I liked some of the information she gave that came from her women studies background. I'd never heard of the women doctors before. I'm always a little leery of taking professors to task here. After all they're professors and I'm a programmer. After reading some of the other reviews I see that I'm not the only one who finds her presentation one sided. However, I found her a most engaging lecturer. You can tell she loves the topic and she was very entertaining once you got used to her style. I'd recommend this this series to anyone, but I'd warn them of the biases, and after wards I'd want to see what they thought of it.
Date published: 2014-03-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from If you enjoy Valley Girl speak, buy it! A quite painful exercise. Her "up talking" intonation is an embarrassment that is unforgivable for a professor. Please make her stop! As other reviewers noted, she gets her facts wrong. And don't get me started with her wrong dates. First she (correctly) says that the Rhine froze in 406, but later she inexplicably and forcefully states that it froze in 506. Enough. I can't stand this nonsense. I just sent an email to the TC asking for a refund. My God, I am so much better off simply reading Norman Cantor's book "The Civilization of the Middle Ages." A course like this seems to be the equivalent of a 30 minute Discovery Channel drivel. Stay away, far away.
Date published: 2014-02-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Nice way to make the miles go by I listen to this course while traveling. The content is great and the instructor is engaging. As much as I may think I know about history she often brings fresh info and a fresh perspective. The only negative is that she rehashes each lecture before starting the next one. Since my consumption is often days or weeks apart this is actually helpful for me and not a negative at all. Each lecture is related but can easily stand alone as its own story, which is also an asset for intermittent listening. I definitely recommend this course
Date published: 2013-12-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Turning Points in Medieval History I enjoyed this course very much, the presenter's choice of turning points is interesting (if a little Anglocentric) as are her arguments for why they were significant . I was however appalled by the first episode on the fall of the Western Empire which is full of horrendous "howlers", which any of your several experts on the period could easily have caught. The third episode on the Islamic conquest of Spain presents a highly idealized image of al Andalus, projecting on the whole of Moorish-occupied Spain conditions which only briefly applied to Cordova at the height of Ummayad power in the 10th century. Also she claims the Visigoths were Arian heretics in 711, when they had been good Catholics for over a century. In her discussion of the Great Schism and the Crusades she omits any mention of the 4th Crusade and the sack of Constantinople in 1204, in itself a trning point of medieval history.
Date published: 2013-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding! I have purchased many courses from this website and this has to be my all time favorite. The professor has outstanding presentation skills; she has an even keeled voice perfectly suited for listening to these CD's in the car without having to turn the volume too high (and I'm sure they would be great on an iPod or a TV as well#. The lectures on certain topics #particularly the battles!) kept me riveted. She is also even handed in her presentation and is not biased one way or the other, which is commendable. Oh and I finally understand what the heck Anglo-Saxon means! Also, the events described here really set the audience up for a fuller understanding of all of European history. You simply can't go wrong here.
Date published: 2013-07-07
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