Kyle Dickson's Archive

Life and Death in Christian Europe

by   |  09.05.09  |  221- Middle Ages

    Through a period defined by social and political change, the Church provided a surprising continuity to the religious and cultural life of medieval Europe. It was the “catholic” or universal Church which set the shared calendar that established feast and fast days. It was the Church that authorized a shared liturgy spoken in a shared language “Latin” in cathedrals, monasteries, and parish churches from the Mediterranean to the North Sea.

    For most men and women, whether highborn aristocrats or of the laboring majority, it was the local church that unified their lives as well. The life-cycle of Christian Europe was organized by holy sacraments administered in the church, from their baptism to their confirmation, from their marriage to the christenings and weddings of their children, until finally they received extreme unction or last rites and were buried on the grounds of the church facing east to await a common resurrection.

Life and Death in Dartford Exercise

    A day’s ride from London, the pilgrims’ first stop would have been the small town of Dartford. This village represents an interesting crossroads in Britain’s history as not only a hostelry for travelers but also as the reputed home of Wat Tyler, the leader of the 1381 Peasant’s Revolt. Take a moment to read the following summary of Wat Tyler’s Revolt. What does this conflict, which lead to the murder of another Archbishop of Canterbury, say about the relationship between the authorities–church and state–and the commoners?

    Before class, spend 15-20 minutes learning about life and death in medieval Dartford. Your research will focus on the “Population and the People” articles on the Dartford Town Archive (especially those on the lives of the Rich, the Poor, and Pilgrims). As you read, take note of interesting details including typical life expectancy and factors influencing quality of life for both rich and poor. What details surprise you? How do you account for such high infant mortality or low life expectancy numbers? Bring details and observations to class this week or use them as the foundation for your own Blog Post #1.

    Medieval Dartford

    (Once you’ve finished, you might compare life expectancy in medieval Dartford with recent statistics for the US or the UK from the World Factbook. What parts of the world today have figures closer to medieval Dartford’s and why?)

Medieval Hierarchies

by   |  09.03.09  |  221- Middle Ages

    The High Middle Ages was a period governed by hierarchies. Living in times of political instability, violent epidemics, and wars at home and abroad, medieval men and women sought certainty and order. Through hierarchies, medieval scholars were able to organize the “known world” into a comprehensible system where everyone or everything had its place. The most familiar of these hierarchies is known as the Great Chain of Being.

    In passages like Psalm 8, medieval readers found a divinely ordered universe:

      O Lord, our Lord,
      how majestic is your name in all the earth! . . .
      When I consider your heavens,
      the work of your fingers,
      the moon and the stars,
      which you have set in place,
      what is man that you are mindful of him,
      the son of man that you care for him?
      You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
      and crowned him with glory and honor.
      You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
      you put everything under his feet:
      all flocks and herds,
      and the beasts of the field,
      the birds of the air,
      and the fish of the sea,
      all that swim the paths of the seas.
      O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (NIV)

    This view of our “Middle Station,” placed “a little lower than the heavenly beings” and above the rest of creation suggested to the medieval mind a world with a place for everything and everything in its place. They took the Psalmist’s bare outline with similar systems found in Aristotle and elaborated them into a Great Chain of all life, connecting the earth firmly to the heavens. Each rank or level was represented by a link of that chain beginning with the Vegetable and then the Animal world and rising from the human orders to the Angels until you reached God.

    Great Chain of Being

    The desire for order systematized such a hierarchy further by distinguishing between noble animals like the eagle and brute beasts such as the ox. Some, like Pope Gregory I, went further to see hierarchy in heaven itself: “We know on the authority of Scripture that there are nine orders of angels, viz., Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominions, Throne, Cherubim, and Seraphim.” Therefore, hierarchies appeared to be a part of God’s nature, and since they were founded upon the authority of scripture and classical learning they were seen–like the metaphoric chain itself–to be fixed and immutable.

    Another familiar hierarchy divided medieval society into Three Estates. This social hierarchy also illustrates certain tensions already apparent in the Middle Ages. For an overview of the basic degrees, read the “Medieval Estates and Orders” article at Norton Topics Online. Since Chaucer uses the estates to order his “General Prologue,” you will want to be familiar with this framework.

    Medieval Estates and Orders

    In Chaucer’s “General Prologue,” we start to sense problems or tensions inherent in social models like the medieval estates. Has God placed secular authority (Kings, Princes, and Nobles) above or below sacred authority (Popes, Archbishops, and Bishops)? Are these positions truly fixed, or can they allow for movement between stations? Where do merchants who neither fight nor labor fit into the system? As we’ll see, by the end of the Middle Ages, familiar hierarchies and symbols of order began to give way to new ways of seeing the world.

    For an interesting glimpse of this tension, watch the opening 10 minutes of “The Monk,” one of a series of Monty-Pythonesque documentaries put together by ex-Python Terry Jones. In this episode of the BBC’s Medieval Lives, he describes some of the early excesses in the medieval church as well as early reforms by monks like St. Benedict.

    Terry Jones’ “The Monk”

Sutton Hoo Artifacts

by   |  08.27.09  |  221- Middle Ages

    Sixty years ago the faint outlines of a ship were found in a burial mound being excavated in southeast England. The mound was of the type described by Tacitus in his Germania:

      In their funerals there is no pomp; they simply observe the custom of burning the bodies of illustrious men with certain kinds of wood. They do not heap garments or spices on the funeral pile. The armor and weapons of the dead man and in some cases his horse are consigned to the fire. A turf mound forms the tomb. Monuments with their lofty elaborate splendor they reject as oppressive to the dead. It is thought becoming for women to bewail, for men to remember the dead. (Germania)

    Archeologists called the site Sutton Hoo and dated the mound to around the seventh century, but the most startling discovery in these excavations was a treasure hoard now housed in the British Museum. Before class, spend some time looking at the Sutton Hoo hoard online, and then speculate on what these artifacts tell us about the person buried here and the culture these objects represent.


Sutton Hoo Exercise

    For this exercise you will go to the British Museum website and search for “Sutton Hoo.” Choose 4 or 5 of the objects recovered from these excavations (and on display in the British Museum) to examine in more detail. Before reading about these artifacts, study the larger image of each and speculate on the following questions:

      – What was this object?
      – What kind of person did it belong to?
      – What function did it serve?
      – What social or symbolic value might it have contributed to its owner?

    British Museum database

    Next choose 1 object and write a three paragraph summary of your findings. In the first paragraph you should provide a physical description of the artifact. The second should then speculate on its uses or importance. In the third paragraph you should review the catalog article on your object and compare your ideas with the conclusions other researchers have come to. (*See the sample student post below before you begin writing.)

    Sutton Hoo Scepter – Student Example

    Bring your summary class to begin our discussion of the Anglo Saxons.

Welcome to Major British Writers

0 Commentsby   |  08.21.09  |  Announcements

    I’m looking forward to meeting each of you this next week and working through some truly great works of literature that have shaped and changed the world. I can’t believe they pay me for this!DSC00023sm

    Sometime this week, come on into the class blog and look around a little. Before we begin Beowulf, I’m asking you to post a short introduction to the Class Introductions discussion thread in the sidebar. You’ll respond to several questions. No one will be marking your responses up with a red pen (we’ll save that for later!), but this will give us a chance to get to hear a little more from you than we’ll have time for in class this week.

    *Before you post, I’m asking you to Add Your Own Avatar. This profile photo will appear on class blogs, so please choose a mugshot that helps us (mainly me) connect names with faces. (For information about gravatars, see ACU Blogs.)

    The first week of any semester can be disorienting, so if you have questions about the class blog feel free to post that to the Unit 1 Discussion Thread.
    For now, you’ve already impressed me with wisdom beyond your years in making two key decisions: returning to ACU and signing up for this class. I look forward to learning with you and from you this semester,

    Kyle Dickson

Pilgrims and Journeys


0 Commentsby   |  08.20.09  |  Announcements

    For thousands of years, journeys have been a recurring motif in world literature. Whether in the form of odysseys or wilderness wanderings, sea voyages or expeditions into unknown territory, characters have been setting off on narrative explorations of the physical and spiritual world. England has welcomed its fair share of literary wanderers, from Beowulf to Bilbo Baggins, with their astonishing tales of There and Back Again.

    So many great stories from the Bible begin or end with a journey. It would be hard to retell the stories of Jonah or the Prodigal Son without images of the road or the open sea. How meaningful would their endings be without time spent in a far-off country or the belly of a fish? In the allegorical world of Pilgrim’s Progress, as Christian travels from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, it is the journey and not the destination which maintains our interest. Christian’s progress reminds us that stories, like journeys, follow a path toward maturity or knowledge, toward death or life. This progress is a story Christian readers share since, as the King James Version affirms, we too are “pilgrims and strangers on the earth.”

    An academic “course” is, strictly speaking, a path or journey toward knowledge and personal growth. We’re glad you’re undertaking such a journey with us. Willingly or unwillingly, eagerly or with some trepidation, we’re preparing to set off into a far-off country together.


Middle Ages Timeline

by   |  08.20.09  |  221- Middle Ages

    Before class, spend a few minutes reviewing the British Invasions timeline. This interactive timeline will introduce you to the Anglo Saxon period and give you a clearer sense of Britain’s place in the larger world. Taking notes as you go will help you keep the most important names and dates straight.    

    British Invasions Intro

    Once you’ve viewed the British Invasions introductory film, open the following Flash timeline covering the nations and tribes that influenced Britain over its first 1,000 years.

    British Invasions timeline

      British Invasions transcript

    After 1066 Exercise

      As we move into the Middle English period, review the timeline and then select one of the dates after 1066 to research on the web. Using the links provided as a starting point, spend 15 minutes learning as much as you can about this event. After you can answer the basic journalistic questions (Who? What? When? Where? Why?), write a short summary of your event. 

      Once you’ve described the basics, consider whether your event served as a “cultural turning point.” In what ways might your date have had larger or longer range implications than can be explained by the basic facts. Add a short interpretation to your summary which speculates on the event’s broader political, religious, social, or economic significance. (See Student Example on the Crusades before you begin writing.)

      1095 – First Crusade Begins – Student Example

      Bring your summary and interpretation to our next class where we will discuss dates following 1066. The period after the Norman Invasion was one of significant change in almost every area of life, so be ready to discuss reasons for these changes and how they are reflected in works like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.