Development of Western Civilization – From ca. 800 to 1521: An Eight Part Course with Dr. Teofilo Ruiz

Development of Western Civilization – From ca. 800 to 1521: An Eight Part Course with Dr. Teofilo Ruiz


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This eight-part course has been thoughtfully designed to introduce key historical milestones in the development of Western Civilization. Our conversations will venture back in time to approximately the year 800 CE and proceed across Europe through a narrative timeline of many changes in political leadership, land ownership, and religious beliefs – concluding around the time of Catholic and then Protestant reformations. 
“There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” – Walter Benjamin
With such a vast chronological period to examine together, we will narrow our focus to these three primary areas: 
  • The social, economic, cultural, and political structures which dominated Medieval Society
  • Evolving daily life for citizens in Western Europe during the Renaissance and Reformation  
  • Preliminary encounters between the “Old World” and the “New World” as European nations began colonizing in Africa, North America, and South America. 
Led by Professor Teo F. Ruiz, PhD, we will study the myriad ways in which the rise of centralized nation-states in Europe altered the trajectory of the Western World’s socio-economic landscape. Our curriculum will contextualize many moments of political upheaval and the lasting cultural or anthropological effects of war, famine, and religious reformations. 

A Note from Professor Ruiz: 
As a historian, I am interested in change over time. Participants joining me on this course should expect these deeply complex historical topics to be organized within the context of specific issues: 
  • Cultural transmissions and the relationship between “High” and “Popular” Culture
  • The Individual, the Community, and the State
  • The Place and Role of Women in Western Society
  • Religion, the Individual, the World to Come
  • Concepts and Articulations of Power

Lecture One –  Prelude: From the Fall of Rome in the West to the Reign of Charlemagne  
Our first session will overview the early development of European culture and the impact of the Classical World, the rise of Christianity, and Islam’s expansion and signal achievements as the necessary preludes to the making of the West. Briefly noting the importance of the Byzantine Empire as a counter to the emerging western polities (the papacy, the Carolingian empire, Islam), the lecture traces the rise of the Merovingian dynasty in Frankland, the success of Pippin’s family, and the impact of Charlemagne’s reforms and cultural program before noting the slow fragmentation of political power in Northern Europe after Charlemagne’s death in 814.

Lecture Two – Daily Life in the Year 1000 CE: Turn of the Millennium
The two hundred years after Charlemagne’s death in 814 marked the foundations for all subsequent developments in the social, economic, and political history of western Europe. The basic structures of society came into being during this turbulent period. As is often the case, the dawn of the second millennium also saw a combination of fear and hope. This lecture focuses on the demise of the Carolingian Empire, the feudal revolution around 1000, and the invention of the Tripartite Society (those who work, those who pray, and those who fight). Together we will learn about the Magyars, Saracens, and Vikings as contributors to the forging of a new European world, as well as the early development of cities and urban planning. 

Lecture Three: 
Part One – Religious Landscape of Europe: From Papal Reform to the Crusades
Our third discussion will be divided into two distinct segments: the first focuses on the Churches of Europe, with emphasis on Monastic, Lay, and Papal Reforms, and the confrontation between the pope and the emperor on the issue of Lay Investiture. The conflict between spiritual and temporal at the end of the eleventh century led to the Crusades and shaped the political discourse of western Europe for many centuries afterward. 
Part Two – Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century
In our second part (and grounded on the great intellectual conflict on lay investiture), we will begin to explore the cultural transformations that swept throughout most of Western Europe (with emphasis on France). We will discuss the different literary registers that flourish through the west: Goliardic, Christian, Epic, and Troubadour poetry. We will also review the rebirth of philosophy and the Latin Renaissance of the twelfth century. This section would briefly note the architectural transformations that took place throughout western Europe as Gothic began to replace the Romanesque style. A brief discussion of the important role of translations of Classical works from Arabic to Latin completes our first part of an extended discussion of he 12th century Renaissance. 

Lecture 4 – Continued: Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century
Our fourth discussion centers on the important social and cultural role of courtly love. We begin with the evolving status and different roles of women in Western society. We examine this topic in the broader context of economic revival, end of endemic violence, and, far more significant, new ideas about love, femininity, and courtly romances. From courtly love, we turn to heretics (Albigensians and Waldensians), mystics, and the way a triumphant church began to create discourses of otherness, leading to the birth of the Inquisition in the 1220s. Our discussion will also focus on the rise of universities across Europe, the reception of Aristotle’s entire philosophical body of works (Albert Magnus and Thomas Aquinas), the emergence of radical understandings of the world of matter (Averroism), and the literary works of Dante.

Lecture Five – Trouble with Monarchies and Bureaucracies
Our fifth presentation explores how from the beginning of the twelfth century or so, new ideas about power and diverse ways of organizing political entities began to emerge. This was a very embryonic form of what would later become fairly centralized kingdoms and much later nations. These developments did not occur in a similar fashion throughout western Europe. Italy and Germany did not have the same outcomes. England, France, Castile, and, to a lesser extent, the Scandinavian kingdoms, however, developed new ideologies and instruments of power. Central to these emerging political ideologies were the idea of kings as healers, as sacred kings, and the concept of Pro Patria Mori (translating to "It is sweet and fitting to die for the homeland.")

Lecture Six – The Crisis of the Fourteenth Century: Malthusian Pressure or Structural Weaknesses?
War, famine, plague, and revolution are the guiding themes of our sixth discussion. In the fourteenth century, most of medieval Europe experienced a series of structural crises that tested the resilience of medieval society and institutions. Here we explore in detail aspects of these crises, with emphasis on the four categories mentioned above: the impact of widespread famines, the nature of warfare (the 100 Years War), the devastating presence of pestilence, and widespread peasant rebellions throughout Europe. 

Lecture Seven – Italian Renaissance
From the challenges that most of western Europe faced in the late Middle Ages, we turn to Italy. Because of its intellectual proximity to Classical culture and to the legacy of Rome, Italy was always distinct. Here we discuss the birth of the Renaissance in Italy from Petrarch to Machiavelli and the relationship between humanism and aesthetics. Attention will be given to Renaissance political theory, the slow but inexorable secularization of diverse aspects of everyday life, long-term cultural processes underlined by the Renaissance interest in Magic, Hermeticism, Astrology, and Alchemy

Lecture Eight – The Old World Meets the New: European Expansion
Our course's conclusion will focus on the global impact of western Europe at the end of the Middle Ages. Grounded on new technologies and sea faring that allowed for long sea voyages, the Iberian realms rose to a position of hegemony in Europe and the world at the dawn of the modern world. The encounter of the old and the new worlds marked the transition from local and regional economies to global ones, marked by new and nefarious forms of African enslavement and production. From the encounter between the Old World and the New in 1492 to the fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521 we will cover as much ground as possible in 90 minutes, hinting at the emergence of a new age (the Scientific Revolution, the Protestant Reformation) and the end of the Middle Ages.   

Teo F. Ruiz, PhD is a Cuban-American medieval historian and a Distinguished Research Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama. He is the author of 15 books.

How does it work?
This is an eight-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.
Is there a reading list in advance?
Though the course is open to participants with no background on this topic, there are suggested readings for further investigation. These will be provided at the course's conclusion.
How long are the lectures?
Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.
How much is the course?
The course is $280 USD for eight lectures.
Is a recording available?
Yes. If you need to miss a lecture, you will be sent a recording within 48 hours of the conclusion of each session. These recordings are available to view for 7 days thereafter. 

This conversation is suitable for all ages.

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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