Medieval and Early Modern World, c. 500 – 1700 CE

Home/ Medieval and Early Modern World, c. 500 – 1700 CE
Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSUS1HS4024

Semester and Year Offered: Monsoon Semester

Course Coordinator and Team: Prof. Denys P. Leighton (has also been taught by Dr. Dhiraj K. Nite and Dr. Yogesh Snehi); guest lecturing has been utilized on some topics.

Email of course coordinator: denys[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: Must be taken in programme sequence by BA Hons. History students. May be elected by other UG students in years II or III of their programme. Recommended for students who have completed BA History course ‘Ancient Societies’.

Aim: To familiarize students with structures and dynamics of the history of the ‘medieval’ and ‘early modern’ world by focusing on relations among societies and civilizations. Models of historical periodization are explored to help achieve better understanding of large-scale processes in relation to temporally specific historical events. Course focuses on phenomena of human migration, cultural (including religious) movements, inventions and technological diffusions, patterns of economic activity (e.g., agriculture, trade) and ecological/environmental patterns as connected to use of resources. Historical events and processes that will be considered include the following: collapse of the western Roman empire and the waning of Classical Antiquity, 300 - 500 CE; expansion of Islamic and Christian polities 600 -1500 CE in relation to ‘civilizational’ identities; European Crusades in ‘the Holy Land’ and in Europe; causes and consequences of China’s expansion during the late Tang and Song dynasties (including the rise of the Mongols); European colonizations of the Americas and related interactions between Europe, Asia and Africa c. 1500 – 1800 CE; an ‘Industrious Revolution’ emerging in several regions of the world by c. 1700.

Course Outcomes:

  1. Students appreciate world or global history c. 500 – 1700 CE as ‘connected histories’ rather than a sum of regional and national histories.
  2. Students learn models of historical periodization that can be applied to one or to several global regions and discover the historicity of geographical-cultural formations such as ‘Europe’ and ‘Asia’.
  3. Students grasp what is revealed and obscured by scholars’ use of terms such as ‘Westernization’ and ‘Southernization’; similarly, they learn to apply concepts such as ‘Romanization’, ‘Christianization’, ‘Islamization’ and ‘feudalism’ in ways that strengthen understanding of contemporary events as well as historical processes.
  4. Students understand historical phenomena through such concepts as environment, gender and class.
  5. Through two writing assignments, students hone critical reading skills and develop academic writing abilities.

Brief description of modules/topics:

  1. Unit I (WEEKS I – II): Periodizing global history; cross-cultural interactions as focus of global history; ‘Southernization’, c. 500 BCE – 1200 CE.
  2. Unit II (WEEK III): Diffusion and dominance; the ‘Ecumene’ in relation to Greek, Roman and Persian polities. Decline of the global ‘Classical’ world, 200 - 500 CE
  3. Unit III (WEEKS IV – V): World religions, trade, post-classical political models, 500 – 800 CE.
  4. Unit IV (WEEK VI): Al-Andalus and the making of Europe: Muslims, Jews and Christians.
  5. Unit V (WEEK VII): Feudalism in Europe: princes, prelates, and landlords, c. 1000 – 1300 CE.
  6. Unit VI (WEEK VIII): Global trade ‘before European hegemony’ (1000 – 1500 CE). The Mongols and the world they made.
  7. WEEK IX: holidays
  8. Unit VII (WEEK X): Cities, towns and countryside in Eurasia, c. 1000 - 1500 CE. Climate, environment and demography in medieval Europe and China.
  9. Unit VIII (WEEKS XI - XII): Connecting the Old World and the New, c. 1500 -1700. The ‘Atlantic slave system’ and a global economy.
  10. Unit IX (WEEK XIII): The Industrious Revolution and the end of ‘early’ modernity.
  11. Conclusions and review (WEEK XIV).

Assessment Details with weights:



Date/period in which assessment will take place



Written assignment 1

Week 4 or 5



Mid-semester examination

Week 7 or 8



Written assignment 2

Week 12



End-semester examination

During designated end-sems. period



Essential reading:

  • J. H. Bentley, ‘Cross-Cultural Interaction and Periodization in World History’, American Historical Review, 101/3 (1996), pp. 749-70
  • Richard M. Eaton, Islamic History as Global History (Washington: American Historical Assoc., 1994)
  • Richard C. Hoffmann, ‘Elemental Resources and Aquatic Ecosystems: Medieval Europeans and their Rivers,’ in T. Tvedt and R. Coopey (eds.), A History of Water. Volume 2 (London: I. B. Tauris, 2010), pp. 166 – 202
  • Derek Keene, ‘Feeding Medieval Cities, 600 – 1500,’ (London: Inst. of Hist. Research, 1998)
  • Patrick Manning, ‘The Problem of Interactions in World History’, American Historical Review, 101/3 (1996), pp. 771-82
  • Carolyn Merchant, ‘Hydraulic Technologies and the Agricultural Transformation of the English Fens,’ Environmental Review, 7/2 (1983), pp. 165-78
  • Maarten Prak, ‘Citizenship in Pre-Modern Eurasia: A Comparison Between China, the Near East and Europe’ (2011):
  • Richard Price, ‘Africans Discover America: the Ritualization of Gardens, Landscapes and Seascapes by Suriname Maroons,’ in Sacred Gardens and Landscapes (Dumbarton Oaks, 2007), pp. 221 – 38.
  • Linda Shaffer, ‘Southernization’, Journal of World History, 5/1 (1994), pp. 1-21
  • Peter N. Stearns (ed.), World History in Documents: A Comparative Reader (New York: NYU Press, 1999), excerpts from Chaps. 14 – 16 (‘Europeans and American Indians’, ‘The Spread of Slavery and the Atlantic Slave Trade’, ‘Forced Labor’)
  • articles: ‘Al-Andalus’, ‘Crusades’, ‘Ecumene’, ‘Europa (mythology)’, ‘Feudalism’, ‘Medieval [European] Demography’, ‘Xiongnu’.
  • Ling Zhang, ‘Changing with the Yellow River. . . .’ Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 69/1 (2009), pp. 1–36
  • Supplementary readings:
  • J. L. Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony (New York: Oxford UP, 1989)
  • Perry Anderson, Lineages of the Absolutist State (London: Verso, 1974)
  • Euan Cameron, (ed.), Early Modern Europe: An Oxford History (New Delhi: Oxford UP, 2003)
  • Christopher J. Friedrichs, ‘What Made the Eurasian City Work? Urban Political Cultures in Early Modern Europe and Asia’, in: Glenn Clark, Judith Owens and Greg T. Smith (eds), City Limits: Perspectives on the Historical European City (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's UP, 2010), 29-64
  • Thomas F. Glick, Islamic and Christian Spain in the Early Middle Ages (Library of Iberian Resources Online [orig. 1986]), Intro. and Chap. 1
  • David Levering Lewis, God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570 – 1215 (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008)
  • Harbans Mukhia, ed., The Feudalism Debate (New Delhi: Manohar, 1999)
  • Kenneth Pomeranz and Steven Topik, The World That Trade Created, 3rd edn (New York: Taylor and Francis, 2013)