Medieval History 101: The Unauthorized Version

Welcome to my Random Laypersons! Welcome to the VFM, welcome to the Dread Ilk, welcome to the Reprehensibles, welcome to the Unauthorized, and welcome to the Bears! 

This is the History Course you have been waiting for! 

Or, rather, it will be, as soon as I get some feedback from you.

I was greatly encouraged when Vox asked you the other night about whether you would be interested in such a course and so many of you said, “Yes—as long as it is real history!”

As Fencing Bear would put it, “Three cheers!” 

We are thinking about having a video a week, starting this summer. 

The first question that I have is about format. What kind of format would make for a good course online? 

What I do not want is to have these videos simply be lectures, the canonical professor-talks-while-the-students-doze lectures you get in the movies before the professor starts encouraging the students to stand on their desks.  

I want, in fact, to make them real—in the sense of the kinds of discussion I would give my students at the University of Chicago. 

Which means you are going to have to do a bit of homework. 

Don’t worry, it will be fun!

Here’s the format I would like to try. I know that those of you who have been following Vox are familiar with his blog. Professor Fulton Brown is a great fan of blogs! You can see several that I have designed for courses I have taught on animals in the Middle Ages, Mary and Mariology, medieval Christian mythology, and Tolkien: Medieval and Modern

I use these course blogs as a place for students to talk about the readings they have done and the themes we have discussed in class. I am always encouraged at how much insight they are able to bring to our discussions, as well as stimulated by the questions they raise. 

This is how I would like to use the blog for our online course

I will post a short reading (about a page) a few days before our scheduled “class.” You will be invited to leave comments on the blog, whether asking questions about the text or suggesting themes you would like me to address. Your comments will help me gauge the level of familiarity that readers have with the text, as well as help me craft my comments on what I would like you to learn from it. Following the video “class,” you can return to the blog and leave additional comments. Our goal will be to build up a common understanding of how to study history beyond learning the relevant facts.

I will also post reading lists for those who want to delve further. There are thousands upon thousands of books already published on the history of Europe in the Middle Ages. My role as a teacher is to help you learn how to read and evaluate them. 

One week our text might be a portion of a medieval chronicle. Another week it could be an image from an illuminated manuscript. Another week it might be a cathedral. Another week it might be a poem. 

My goal would be to introduce you to the sources for medieval history as well as giving you practice interpreting them so that you know how to evaluate the narratives you find in the history books.
Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat the things that appear in history books but never actually happened. —Scott Adams, Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel (2002)
I am also looking forward to using the video portion of our “course” to have guests talk about their own research in the field.

Which brings me to my main request right now, as I am making lesson plans for the summer: What would you like most to learn about the Middle Ages? Please let me know in the comments to this post!

Clearly, the most important question:

Do you want to hear more about Milo?! He has some nice things to say about me

For my further adventures in fighting the culture war, see MedievalGate

For the New York Times coverage of my friendship with Milo and Vox, see “MedievalGate Makes the Headlines—and the Tweets!” 

On Vox’s support for Milo, see “How to Be God-Right.”


  1. Speculum ? Wrong field I trust?

    1. It is the flagship journal of our field! The Journal of the Medieval Academy of America. The title means “mirror,” a perfectly good medieval referent! Think “Mirror of Princes.” Mary is also called the mirror of God.

  2. "... leave additional comments. Our goal will be to build up a common understanding of how to study history beyond learning the relevant facts."

    Laudatory but I suspect you'll be getting scores and scores of comments, far to many to critically review unless, perhaps your format allows up arrows (^) that the readers/students can use to denote relevance of of comments to the subject matter, hence willowing down the number you have to read and synopsize .

    1. The blog comments seem to work well on Vox Popoli, but I take your point about volume. I hope we get a good conversation going!

  3. Anxiously awaiting registration etc. How fun!

  4. Am looking forward to this. One thing that would be useful is to get a realistic sense of what people's relationship with the Church was actually like, vs. the lurid tales everyone hears!

  5. What I'd like to learn more about his continental Europe, not just focused on England.

    Regardless, I'm excited about this course.

    Thank you.

  6. Uhuru! I am stoked. I want to learn everything, but I am interested in how influential Christianity was in shaping culture and technology during the era.

  7. I'm looking forward to learning all that you have to offer. I would like to gain a fuller, more accurate picture of slavery during the Middle Ages-the interaction between Africa, Europe, and Asia as well as Christian, Muslim, and Vikings and their role in the trade and how this shaped their relationships. I'd also like to learn more about the Crusades.

    1. I just came across something and I need your input: were African slaves Muslims? I'd n very heard this and my research shows the African slaves were not muslim

  8. Would love to know more about how the Gaelic languages were pushed out of Britain, or generally the cultural consequences of Scots, Bretons, etc. colliding with Germans throughout Britain's history.

  9. I know next to nothing about the middle ages. Almost all of the people I follow online reference ancient times, a lot. I feel like an outsider because I never know what they are talking about. I've begun books on the subject, but the material is so vast and overwhelming that I easily get lost, lose interest and never finish the book. So, I'm always interested but never learning anything.
    I hope that doesn't make me look like too much of a doofus:)

    One thing in particular I will mention is that more than once I became frustrated and ultimately quit either a book or lectures because I could not envision the place being talked about. Having a map to look at of the cities, towns and countries being taught would be a huge help for me.

    1. One of my goals for the course is to help people learn how to keep reading! I agree, it is easy to get lost. I am here as your guide!

  10. Well, Professor, I'm going to subscribe when the option opens. So good job.

    Browsing your blog, I don't think for a second you'll have trouble making very interesting lectures if you feel like it. But the Internet offers you multiple advantages: you don't have to fiddle with projectors or university computers. So make the most of it! Use videos or pictures that show us what medieval life was like- or what is laughably anachronistic. Link us to guest lecturers who emphasize the points you are making in the course over Skype or UnAuthorized subscriber chats. Don't hesitate to talk about medieval society in pop culture, such as why Game of Thrones is a historical dumpster fire, why Dan and David's military strategy is completely insane, or what Notre Dame looked like and why the cathedrals are vital to the European identity.

    If you're being paid for this course, you may have a real reason to digitize copies of the books for the readings, and encourage students to pay the authors for them. Information wants to travel, and whatever amount they receive from this course is more than they expect.

    Best of luck with the project!

  11. Would the "Shorter Cambridge Medieval History" serve as an adequate reference to the material of your course, or would you recommend the full version?

    1. An eager student! I am working now on the course website (blog) and will have more information about recommended reading there. I ordered the older CMH because I don't have a set myself, and I wanted to check how useful it would be as a reference.

  12. I’m looking forward to this, but with squinted eyes. This is because I’m what’s today known as a “traditional” Catholic. Before the Judas Council (i.e., Vatican II, 1962-65, with the wretched Pope Francis being its apotheosis, and with all—ALL—of the post-conciliar popes being toxic to a greater or lesser degree), we “traditional” Catholics were simply known as, get this, CATHOLICS. We’re simply what Catholics before the Judas Council would recognize as precisely Catholics, while they’d see those processed by the Judas Council as Protestants. But since the revolution of the Judas Council, we “traditional” Catholics have been marginalized and hence forced to seek refuge with groups such as the SSPX, founded by the saintly Abp. Marcel Lefebvre, the St. Athanasius of our wretched times. We now also seek like minds at websites such as Ite ad Thomam, Rorate Caeli, akaCatholic, IP5, etc., and in books such as Romano Amerio’s Iota Unum, Dominique Bourmaud’s One Hundred Years of Modernism, Matthias Gaudron’s The Catechism of the Crisis in the Church, and of course Abp. Lefebvre’s own An Open Letter to Confused Catholics.

    In any event, being Protestantized, those processed by the Judas Council despise the Middle Ages. Hence they also harbor contempt for that greatest mind ever produced; namely, St. Thomas Aquinas. I’ll be on the watch during this course for signs of Judas Council infection. For example, will the 13th century be treated as part of the “Dark Ages,” or will it be presented as what it was; that is, quite possibly the greatest of all centuries? Will the Blessed Virgin Mary be treated with the hyperdulia (note: not latria) she deserves, or will such deserved hyperdulia be treated (following the Judas Council’s relentless Protestantizing) as an “accretion” of the Middle Ages? In short, will the Middle Ages be presented with any stench of the ubiquitous diabolical disorientation spawned by modernity and its infernal Judas Council?

    So while I indeed greatly look forward to this course, the smoldering post-Judas Council wasteland forces me to do so with a jaundiced eye. A shame. But so it is.

    1. I think you are going to be pleasantly surprised. If you would like reassurance, try reading this chapter from my most recent book:

    2. Will do. Thanks. Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum!

    3. Jeremiah Alphonso, I am truly intrigued by your comments. I am about as "random layperson" as it gets being a lifelong Methodist...back row Methodist at that. I have spent my adult life fretting over some Pope or other for many years. Naturally I know of Mary but only from Protestant mention. She is much more the "Way In" to the Light than I realized. I have Fencing Bear to thank for that.


  13. Professor Fulton Brown, would you consider duplicating your blog post in a Telegram channel? I think it might be very fitting. The latest update allows for a sort of separate discussion space within a channel, it might create a good environment for conversation. Alex.

    1. Hi, Alex! I have posted a link in my Telegram channel:

    2. Thanks! Didn't know you have one :)

    3. Just got around to taking a look at your reading list, Rachel. Splendid list! But I think you left out . . . and . . . (shameless self-promotion)


  14. Reading through all the linked pages from your email, I got SO excited- yet also overwhelmed!

    I've had more than a passing interest in the Middle Ages, but it seems opaque to me. My only impression is that of a dark and superstitious age, since I get my "knowledge" from films (the French "The Return of Martin Guerre" with a youngish Gerard Depardieu and Nathalie Baye, and "Jeanne la Pucelle" on Joan of Arc, both of which seem to recreate the period quite authentically- why are French filmmakers so good at that?). The history books I've been exposed in school and in mass media most often emphasize the ignorance of the age- yet barely mention the existence of all those great minds in your list of recommended books and references! Could it have something to do with the Catholicity of those minds? I have imbibed the impression that anything pre-Luther (not necessarily him per se; just the centuries before him) was no good. The brainwashing has been very effective, don't you think? (And I grew up in SE Asia, specifically, the Philippines, studied in a public educational system patterned after the US one, complete with that liberal bias).

    My little library is a slapdash sampling of the period's greatest minds: Dante's Divine Comedy (not easy to understand), Hildegard of Bingen's book on medicinal treatments (not to mention her ethereal music first made famous by Anonymous 4), Thomas a Kempis, St Augustine's "City of God" and "Confessions"- both yet to be plowed through, and a small booklet on St Benedict's Rules that I bought out of sheer curiosity while visiting the saint's hometown of Norcia, Italy (book's tucked away somewhere; I believe it's in Latin, which I never learned in school!), to name a few. With this course of yours, I'll be forced to crack open those books now and actually read them!

    Among other things, wold love to get a more fair-minded assessment of the Spanish Inquisition (I got my first non-negative view of it in a book on Isabel the Catholic Queen). Also, how dd the medieval universities actually work - what went on within their walls (the University of Paris, e.g.)? Am sure will think of more later, but my brain is tired after a day's work.

    But again, I look forward to this course, which I'm sure will thrill as much as it will enlighten us all!

  15. I'm floored, this sounds like it could be an amazing course. I enjoyed God's Battalions recently and found it confirms my biases; while good, I hope to find more meat than that in your courses. From the required reading you've shared, I think I will.

    Also, we homeschool our kids: 6,9,10,11,12. For the oldest ones I am looking to do a trustworthy history of various time periods. We have a couple things for the middle ages: I sort of trust Classical Conversations; and we will be doing a local great books program, However, I want to supplement our kids starting around age 13 with some serious history. If you could tailor a slate of courses to age 13 - 17 (well-loved standard homeschoolers, not bottom-feeding public edumacation automatons... heh I am one) I would be grateful and pay ready money for it. :)

  16. I realized didn't tell you what I'd like to see specifically. I read Life In a Medieval Village last year, and while the source material is clear, I simply don't trust the interpretation and conclusions drawn (the old problem of which historian do you trust). I would like to understand at a detailed level what daily life was like in the middle ages, and what were some typical perspectives and world views.

    Of course, the middle ages are so interesting I would be likely to happily learn almost any topic. The thing that motivates me to actually learn from you is I know I completely trust the intentions of the instructor.


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