Great Minds of the Medieval World

Rated 5 out of 5 by from A compelling Medieval Overview I listened once to the 24 lectures by Prof. Dorsey Armstrong and am now going through it a second time and taking notes. When I was casually listening, it seemed as if the information was rather sparse. Now that I am actually taking notes and typing them later, I am finding the information much more complete and thought provoking. Dr. Armstrong covers each of the great minds with a short biographical description of their background and society and then delves into their main contributions to the field of knowledge. She describes the influence these people had on one another to preserve classical works and to pursue doctrinal issues in Christianity. The ideas of each person are summarized as well as the effect these works had on the population in general. Her lecturing is done in a lively manner with humorous and illuminating anecdotes. This course is a wonderful way to become acquainted with the major themes circulating and evolving in theology through these times.
Date published: 2021-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Explore the Middle Ages Though Prominent People This course was a great jumping off point for learning about the Medieval world and the progression of knowledge into the age of the Renaissance. After completing this course I took a course on the Renaissance and the foundations learned in this course helped me immensely.
Date published: 2020-12-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Snapshot of Medieval History While an intriguing snapshot of several key figures throughout the Medieval world, the course's strongest strength - that it shows how interrelated the works of all of these figures are - is also its greatest weakness. It is unavoidable and completely understandable that half of the lectures are given over to key figures of the Christian tradition, but it is also somewhat tiresome and requires no little dedication to finish. In short, while I would not recommend this to a casual viewer, someone looking to get a complete overview of the Medieval world would do well to view this series upon completion of Dr. Armstrong's other courses on the subject.
Date published: 2020-11-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Great Lecture! I subscribed to TGC because of Dr. Armstrong's Black Death series. I am now working my way through all her lectures, I will watch anything she does! Great work!
Date published: 2020-08-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Teacher Professor Dorsey Armstrong is probably my favorite teacher among the many Great Courses I have. She brings history to life and truly helps me understand the times and people being talked about. The historical figures featured in this series are very interesting. I didn’t know some of the great minds introduced to me here but I’m glad I do now. I also know more about the ones I was familiar with. Thank you Dorsey and thank you Great Courses.
Date published: 2020-07-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I purchased this course as an introduction to the subject. I had little prior experience with medieval history. I agree with other reviewers that the course was a little superficial but served as a good introduction for further studies for me. Professor Armstrong presented the information clearly, was pleasant and obviously knowledgeable and enthusiastic. I would recommend the course only as an introduction to important medieval thinkers.
Date published: 2020-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Minds of the Medieval World I plan to buy more courses on Medieval history. But what I really want is a full course on Pragmatism. The most important American philosophy. Borne in the USA.
Date published: 2020-03-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Great Minds of Medieval World Review I've been a TGC customer for many years and this was by far the poorest course I've purchased. Dr. Armstrong sounds like she's just blandly reading from a script rather than giving the customer a "lecture feel". Her style doesn't hold the student's attention. This is unfortunate since the subject is of great interest to me. I would not recommend this course nor would I purchase another course Dr. Armstrong teaches.
Date published: 2019-07-02
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Great Minds of the Medieval World
Course Trailer
Augustine of Hippo
1: Augustine of Hippo

Begin the inquiry with Augustine, whose writings were a towering influence on the great medieval minds that followed. Trace Augustine's life, from his early experiences and restless spiritual inquiry to his conversion to Christianity and ministry. Study his core teachings on the nature of language, good and evil, and free will.

31 min
Ambrose, Jerome, and Gregory the Great
2: Ambrose, Jerome, and Gregory the Great

These three extraordinary figures, together with Augustine, are considered the fathers of the Christian church. Learn about Ambrose's contributions to aligning the ideals of the classical world with those of Christianity, Jerome's writings and his seminal Latin version of the Bible, and Gregory's influential "fourfold" model of reading scripture.

29 min
Boethius and the Consolation of Philosophy
3: Boethius and the Consolation of Philosophy

The remarkable Anicius Boethius combined a top-level political career with noteworthy contributions to education and philosophy. Assess his huge influence in defining the parameters of medieval education; his work to heal schisms in the early church; and his masterwork, the Consolation of Philosophy, written as he awaited execution on false charges.

29 min
Isidore of Seville and the Etymologies
4: Isidore of Seville and the Etymologies

Isidore of Seville left another extraordinary legacy to education. Trace the arc of his career, from his early immersion in the Greek and Roman classics to his advocacy of cathedral schools and his creation of the Etymologies, a massive encyclopedia of human knowledge and one of the most influential books of the Middle Ages.

30 min
The Venerable Bede
5: The Venerable Bede

The English monk Bede rose to become a revered and beloved teacher and a huge influence on future generations of scholars and educators. Following his seemingly miraculous survival of the plague, learn about his self-education and astonishing body of works, and study excerpts from his monumental Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

30 min
Alcuin, Charlemagne, and Alfred the Great
6: Alcuin, Charlemagne, and Alfred the Great

Now, investigate the remarkable partnership between the British scholar Alcuin of York and the Frankish emperor Charlemagne in creating a palace school and center of learning at Aachen. Grasp how both Charlemagne and Alfred the Great of England demonstrated a visionary commitment to learning by working to gather, preserve, and translate important texts.

30 min
Avicenna and the Golden Age of Islam
7: Avicenna and the Golden Age of Islam

The Islamic scholar Avicenna was one of history's great polymaths. Learn about his remarkable youthful accomplishments, his impact on medieval medicine through two core texts, and the astounding range of his writings. Explore three key elements of his thought: his views on "essence" and "existence," the problem of evil, and the mind/body dualism.

31 min
Alhacen and the Scientific Method
8: Alhacen and the Scientific Method

This lecture discusses another of the great minds of Islam's Golden Age. Investigate Alhacen's seminal theories of optics and vision, which laid the foundation for later optical science. Grasp his contribution to resolving classic scientific conundrums, and his role in developing scientific methodology, based in rigorous empirical testing of his own theories.

30 min
Averroes and Aristotelian Philosophy
9: Averroes and Aristotelian Philosophy

Averroes's extraordinary mind was shaped by the sophisticated society of medieval Muslim Spain. Follow his long scholarly service to the caliph of Marrakesh, which produced his hugely influential commentaries on Aristotle, reconciling Aristotle's philosophy with Islamic thought. Learn also about his illustrious legal career and contributions to medicine.

32 min
Maimonides and Jewish Law
10: Maimonides and Jewish Law

The writings of Maimonides, the Jewish scholar, philosopher, and jurist, remain a key component of Jewish culture and have influenced legal philosophy down to the modern day. Here, explore his cornerstone work on Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah, his Guide for the Perplexed, which works to integrate Greek philosophy with Jewish theology, and his thought on the Via Negativa, or Negative Theology.

30 min
Rashi and Biblical Interpretation
11: Rashi and Biblical Interpretation

Discover the remarkable commentaries on the Torah and Talmud by the French Jewish rabbi Rashi-works considered definitive within the faith-in which he sought to thoroughly explicate the texts to readers. Using textual excerpts, learn how later scholar-writers known as "tosafists" worked to further elaborate and extend Rashi's commentaries.

29 min
Saladin and the Defeat of the Crusaders
12: Saladin and the Defeat of the Crusaders

Here, encounter one of history's most unusual political leaders: a brilliant military commander who worked for peace, and also demonstrated a deep interest in learning and faith. Track his ingenious strategy against the Crusaders at the battle of Hattin, and follow the aftermath of the conflict, events that reveal Saladin's visionary acts of humanity and broadmindedness.

30 min
Hildegard of Bingen
13: Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard, the medieval mystic and polymath, was recently recognized as both a saint and a Doctor of the Church. Follow her unique accomplishments as the only woman of her time to write officially sanctioned theological books and to preach openly. Investigate her remarkable visions and her achievements in music, medicine, and literature.

31 min
Bernard of Clairvaux
14: Bernard of Clairvaux

Like Pope Gregory the Great, Bernard of Clairvaux made a historic contribution through promoting and explicating important religious teachings. Learn about his seminal work in monastic reform, his great skill as an orator, his public role in resolving religious controversies of his time, and his influential writings on church doctrine.

30 min
Abelard and Heloise
15: Abelard and Heloise

This lecture highlights two of history's legendary intellects. Trace the career of Peter Abelard as a teacher and philosophical writer of vast impact, and the intellectual and religious life of his student, Héloïse, whose brilliance may have exceeded his own. Grasp how their tragic relationship ultimately served as a catalyst for their greatest intellectual achievements.

30 min
Peter Lombard and the Sentences
16: Peter Lombard and the Sentences

In the Sentences, Peter Lombard wrote the most important and commented-upon theological textbook of the Middle Ages. Study the book's key influences and Lombard's original thought on matters such as the Holy Spirit and the nature of Christ, and learn how the book offers a systematic framework for exploring important theological questions.

29 min
Thomas Aquinas
17: Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas's towering influence as a religious scholar extends from the Middle Ages to the present day. Investigate his magnum opus, the Summa Theologiae, focusing on his thought on Aristotelian philosophy and his famous arguments for God's existence. Learn also about his remarkable character and astounding powers of mind.

30 min
William of Ockham and John Duns Scotus
18: William of Ockham and John Duns Scotus

The work of two remarkable British scholars influenced both philosophical and political thought. Learn about Duns Scotus's provocative theories on the "univocity" of being and the notion of haecceity, or "thisness." Grasp how Ockham's thought anticipates modern ideas about knowledge, language, and the separation of church and state.

30 min
Geoffrey Chaucer and Dante Alighieri
19: Geoffrey Chaucer and Dante Alighieri

This lecture explores interesting parallels in the work and thought of two literary geniuses. Contemplate the range of Dante and Chaucer's writings, highlighting Dante's Divine Comedy and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and observe how the two authors employed a literary strategy that allowed them to speak about every level and aspect of society.

30 min
Francesco Petrarch
20: Francesco Petrarch

The Italian poet Petrarch stood at the crossroads of the medieval and early modern worlds. Learn about his life and key works, and his role in a growing cultural shift that placed new emphasis on the individual, a valuing of art and history, and an intersection of the secular and religious worlds.

31 min
Lorenzo de' Medici
21: Lorenzo de' Medici

Known as Il Magnifico, Lorenzo de' Medici was a statesman and civic leader of extraordinary farsightedness. Trace his remarkable diplomatic accomplishments as de facto political leader of Florence, as well as his activity as a patron of literature and art, founder of a school for sculpture, and promoter of continuing education.

31 min
Christine de Pisan
22: Christine de Pisan

The intellectually brilliant Christine de Pisan became Europe's first professional female writer. Learn about the extraordinary diversity of her work, her masterful love poetry, and her writings in response to the distorted representation of women in medieval literature, highlighting her allegorical text, The Book of the City of Ladies.

30 min
Sir Thomas Malory and Le Morte Darthur
23: Sir Thomas Malory and Le Morte Darthur

Malory's massive retelling of Arthurian legend reflects deeply on the social order of his times. Grasp how this remarkable text elaborates an ideal code of knightly conduct, and then "tests" it throughout the narrative, comprising a stark commentary on medieval political realities while offering an inspiring vision of what might yet be.

30 min
William Caxton and the Birth of Printing
24: William Caxton and the Birth of Printing

Conclude by assessing the remarkable contribution of England's first printer. Learn about the advent of movable type printing and Caxton's ingenious entrepreneurship in publishing, highlighting his role in shaping the tastes of the reading public, standardizing English, and making the works of the Middle Ages' great minds accessible.

32 min
Dorsey Armstrong

Every turning point in the medieval world discussed in these lectures shifted the flow of the river of history, bringing us ever closer to the modern world.


Duke University


Purdue University

About Dorsey Armstrong

Dr. Dorsey Armstrong is Associate Professor of English and Medieval Literature at Purdue University, where she has taught since 2002. The holder of an A.B. in English and Creative Writing from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in Medieval Literature from Duke University, she also taught at Centenary College of Louisiana and at California State University, Long Beach. Her research interests include medieval women writers, late-medieval print culture, and the Arthurian legend, on which she has published extensively, including the 2009 book Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur: A New Modern English Translation Based on the Winchester Manuscript and Gender and the Chivalric Community in Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur, published in 2003. In January 2009, she became editor-in-chief of the academic journal Arthuriana, which publishes the most cutting-edge research on the legend of King Arthur, from its medieval origins to its enactments in the present moment. Her current research project-Mapping Malory's Morte-is an exploration of the role played by geography in Malory's version of the story of King Arthur.

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