Studying history is a significant and necessary task, because knowing one's history is important to knowing how the world came to be the way that it is today. The history of Medieval Europe is the foundation of Western Civilization, so knowing it will help us understand where the governments, economies, institutions and culture of the United States and Europe originated and evolved from. In this unit, we find out what happens to Western Europe after the fall of the western half of the Roman Empire, the causes and effects of Europe's descent into the Middle Ages, the emergence of new powerful institutions and social, economic, and political structures, and then the subsequent undoing of these structures as Europe's Medieval Age comes to a close. Through lecture, discussion, analysis of primary and secondary sources, simulations, and other student engagement activities, we will examine several essential questions in this unit, including: How did the fall of the western Roman Empire change Europe? What caused the rise of new powerful institutions, such as the Catholic Church, secular monarchs, and the feudal system in Europe? What were the effects of these emerging powers, and how did they relate to and conflict with one another? The Roman Empire was a great stabilizing force in Europe for thousands of years, so when it fell, Europe descended into chaos. Smaller, secular kingdoms came into power and competed with each other to fill the void that the Roman Empire had left behind. Europeans were desperate for stability, so the political and economic system of feudalism developed. People were willing to give up certain rights in exchange for safety and property.
A new relationship between the church and secular kings was developing as well. The secular kings and papacy formed a partnership that helped spread Christianity and the power of both institutions throughout Europe. Although it was a mutually beneficial relationship, it was a contentious one as well, with both powers constantly battling for power and dominance. During the Black Death and the Crusades, all of these power structures converged. The horrific costs and loss of life that occurred from these two events caused people to question old institutions and led to the decline of the Early Middle Ages.
In this unit, students will be asked to look at the Medieval times from multiple perspectives and question old, traditional stereotypes and ideals. Students will look at primary source documents about the Catholic church to immerse themselves in the society of the time; students will look at the church through the eyes of the Europeans and discover that the church functioned as more than just a religious institution. Students will also see the Crusades from multiple views; knights were not always as chivalrous as they are portrayed in T.V. and movies today. Furthermore, the Crusades may be seen as a victorious display of faith in one set of eyes, but a massacre in another. The study of multiple perspectives is essential in history and the analysis of any current event today. Through this unit, students will learn how conflict in history arose and how to look at events from a balanced and inquisitive point of view.
Studying Medieval European history is important in forming our identity as a western civilization. As Americans, we are all from different ethnic and national backgrounds, but Europe's origins and contributions to history are still significant to our past, present, and future.
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