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Medieval Europe: Crisis and Renewal

Examine the crises of late medieval society and the manner in which, during the 14th and 15th centuries, men and women responded to these crises by formulating new concepts of love, art, religion, and political organization.
Medieval Europe: Crisis and Renewal is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 52.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Outstanding course but with a few irritants. This course has much to recommend it. Professor Ruiz provides a well organized, insightful, multifaceted, and nuanced overview of the 14th and 15th centuries in Europe. His often fascinating stories show how Europeans, mostly those residing along the Atlantic coast and to a lesser extent in Italy, began evolving toward what we call modernity. This is a great course for anyone interested in the period. My only complaint is that the professor, who is a consistently well-informed and friendly guide on this tour through history, repeats several meaningless phrases with maddening frequency. The most common are "in a sense" and "that is to say." I sometimes like to listen to courses a second time, but I'm not sure I will be able to in this case.
Date published: 2023-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Maybe the greatest professor ever ! Professor Ruiz is the best one I ever heard on TGC, and he is teaching perhaps the most difficult subject, History, which can be very subjective. But his angle of analysis is very deep, sociological, of the meaning of the events and not so much about dates, names and dry descriptions , which was the way we were taught History in school. Thank you TGC and Teo !!
Date published: 2023-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Portrait of Ordinary Life in the Late Middle Ages Contrary to most courses on medieval Europe, which focus on major events or major leaders, this course examines life in the late Middle Ages, i.e., from about 1300 CE to about 1500 CE. There is greater emphasis on farmers or city artisans than on nobility or church leadership. This provides insight and perspective into Western civilization that is not readily available elsewhere. Note that there are 16 lectures instead of the more normal 24 and each lecture is 45 minutes long instead of the more normal 30 minutes. Dr. Ruiz is one of my favorite lecturers at The Great Courses (TGC). He speaks with a heavy Spanish accent but it is not difficult to follow him. On the contrary, he speaks with such pathos that it is easy to follow. It was almost as though I was one of his graduate students sitting around a table, all drinking coffee, listening to him discuss the topic. The course guide is not very readable since it is written in outline form. It has no graphics at all. It averages a little more than two pages per lecture, so it summarizes only on the highest level. It does include a timeline and a bibliography in its appendix but no biographical notes, which would have been helpful. This course is available only in audio. In fact, it is introduced as one of “The Great Courses on Tape Series.” Yes, it was initially published on cassette tape. Fortunately, TGC has converted it to audio streaming; it would be a great loss if this course were no longer available. The course was published in 1996.
Date published: 2023-01-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A dog's breakfast In my opinion, Prof. Ruiz has made a dog’s breakfast of this lecture series. He attempts to integrate history, art, religion, economics and literature to create a social history of the late medieval era. While the series has some interesting moments – particularly when Ruiz discusses late Medieval Spanish history, his specialty – the progression is disjointed, and Ruiz seems somewhat capricious with respect to his subject matter. I found the most glaring problem with this course is that Ruiz makes sweeping statements without citing his sources or his historiographical approach to support his claims. The contrast is notable when compared to other Great Courses history lecturers – Garret Fagen, Thomas Noble, Robert Allison, Elizabeth Vandiver – who all are meticulous about explaining the historical evidence for their narrative. Ruiz frequently believes that trends became worse around the year 1300, thus begging the question “compared to what?” Did manners and etiquette only become part of the social “discourse of difference” in the early 15th century? Were ‘lepers’ treated much better in the early Middle Ages? Were certain practices universal across Western Europe or did they emerge intermittently or isolated to several regions? Did “The Church” react uniformly to an issue or did bishops, the religious orders, a weakened papacy react differently depending on a variety of circumstances. His sweeping characterizations are highly problematic. His dabbling in art and religion are equally problematic. Ruiz makes some odd assertions – for example, that beginning around 1300, peasants began to be depicted as sub-human in art. Is this true in the Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry, a work he later cites? What depictions in pre-14th century art form the basis of his comparison? He also calls medieval art as allegorical in contrast to Renaissance art which is representational. There is plenty of allegory in Renaissance art, something he seems at one point to acknowledge. Why does he repeatedly draw this bogus distinction in that case? Even more shoddy was his bizarre assertion that the doctrine of purgatory was “invented during the late twelfth century as a means of giving the newly wealthy access to salvation.” Surely, the evolution of this doctrine might require a slightly more nuanced explanation; shoe-horning solely an economic interpretation of this doctrine seems downright ham-handed. His language sounds oddly Soviet and anachronistic at times – “A kulak class arose” in the early 14th century. “Most peasants become proletarianized, while a few become bourgeois.” Or, “as the sworn enemy of the nobility; the bourgeois patricians championed royal power”. Would love to see the oath the entirety of the Western bourgeoise class took against the nobility… I bought this course heavily discounted and, in fairness, did learn from it. Still, I do wonder whether it is time for the Great Courses to retire this one. It simply isn’t up to snuff.
Date published: 2021-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great History I just started this course and found it fascinating. The professor is exceptional and knowledgeable. It is highly recommended to every student of mid-evil history.
Date published: 2021-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great lectures! The lectures cover a vast series of topics but have a special emphasis on the life of people during the period. I really enjoyed them. And Dr Ruiz has first hand knowledge as he has written the books on the period, but has no problem citing many other researchers. I only disagreed on how he treats Columbus, who clearly was not a saint, but he did what nobody did before. And I think Dr Ruiz is too severe with him.
Date published: 2021-11-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent topic, very knowledgeable professor and very interesting presentation, only reason I don’t give it five stars is the professor’s very annoying habit of using the expression “That is to say” practically on every other sentence, if I had a dime for every time he uses it i’d be a rich man. He should look up the many synonyms in the dictionaries for that expression.
Date published: 2021-09-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from New details This book covered some details about the Middle Ages I had not heard before. The lecturer has an engaging manner. So I am happy with the purchase.
Date published: 2021-08-05
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The Middle Ages was a time that tested human perseverance


Teofilo F. Ruiz

The terror of history is that awareness not only of the untold cruelties of our life on earth, of the ephemeral nature of our lives, of our emotions, of the cultural constructions we make.


University of California, Los Angeles

Dr. Teofilo F. Ruiz is Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. A student of Joseph R. Strayer, Dr. Ruiz earned his Ph.D. from Princeton University. Prior to taking his post at UCLA, he held teaching positions at Brooklyn College, the City University of New York Graduate Center, the University of Michigan, the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences in Paris, and Princeton University-as the 250th Anniversary Visiting Professor for Distinguished Teaching. In 1994-1995, the Carnegie Foundation selected Professor Ruiz as one of four Outstanding Teachers of the Year in the United States. Professor Ruiz has been the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and the American Council of Learned Societies. Dr. Ruiz has published six books, more than 40 articles, and more than 100 reviews and smaller articles in national and international scholarly journals. His Crisis and Continuity, Land and Town in Late Medieval Castile was awarded the Premio del Rey Prize by the American Historical Association.

Europe in 1300—An Introduction

01: Europe in 1300—An Introduction

Professor Ruiz sets the geographical, linguistic, and historiographical contexts for the course. Understanding how medieval men and women imagined their society and saw themselves provides insight on how they responded to the imminent crises.

44 min
Europe in 1300—Rural Society

02: Europe in 1300—Rural Society

Peasants were the group most dramatically affected by late medieval crises. We look at their difficult daily lives and crucial, but lowly, roles in society.

45 min
Europe in 1300—Urban Society

03: Europe in 1300—Urban Society

Focusing on the rise of towns and cities, we examine the sources of so much inspiring art and great learning that shaped society in the Middle Ages and years to come. The character of the bourgeoisie and state of popular culture are reflected in fundamental changes in value systems and religious beliefs.

45 min
Europe in 1300—Church, State and Learning

04: Europe in 1300—Church, State and Learning

As the power of the papacy is envied and emulated throughout Europe, changes occur in the relationship between church and state. Professor Ruiz describes those changes while tracing the origin of political organizations and a political point of view that emphasized the state over the church.

45 min
An Age of Crises—Hunger

05: An Age of Crises—Hunger

We study the great famines of 1315-317 and their impact on European society in succeeding decades. Medieval governments are unable to deal with the consequences of widespread hunger, rising violence, crimes against property, high mortality rates, and a reduced population.

45 min
An Age of Crises—War

06: An Age of Crises—War

We discuss the Hundred Years War and its affect on social, economic, political, and cultural structures. We deal with the impact of military technology on society, the role of war, the rise of knightly orders, and the contradictions of war's savagery and chivalry's ideals.

45 min
An Age of Crises—The Black Death

07: An Age of Crises—The Black Death

The Black Plague had an enormous impact on Europeans in the mid-14th century. We consider the development of the church after the plague, violence against Jews and lepers following the spread of the plague, and the reaction of authorities to its onslaught.

45 min
An Age of Crises—Popular Rebellions

08: An Age of Crises—Popular Rebellions

Many peasant and urban uprisings occurred as individuals at the top of society sought to maintain their positions in a time of vast economic and social dislocation. Those below, and those caught in the middle, often reacted with violence.

45 min
Late Medieval Society—Politics

09: Late Medieval Society—Politics

Professor Ruiz introduces new political concepts formed in the late Middle Ages, including first steps toward the genesis of the nation state. Centralized monarchies emerged at the end of the 15th century in France and England as a result of crises that pushed thinkers and rulers to develop concepts of sovereignty.

45 min
Late Medieval Society—Castile in the Fifteenth Century

10: Late Medieval Society—Castile in the Fifteenth Century

We see how the ideas and practices of government were put into service in the kingdom of Castile in Spain, and how age-old medieval institutions were utilized by the Castilian monarchy to organize the nation state.

45 min
Late Medieval Society—Culture and Mentality, Part I

11: Late Medieval Society—Culture and Mentality, Part I

We examine the birth of Renaissance culture in Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries and its spread to other parts of western Europe. Beginning with Dante, we consider the transforming factors of Renaissance humanism and art.

45 min
Late Medieval Society—Culture and Mentality, Part II

12: Late Medieval Society—Culture and Mentality, Part II

Continuing the examination of the birth of Renaissance culture in Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries, we consider new artistic models, aesthetic sensibilities, and a new spirit.

45 min
Late Medieval Society—Love, Sexuality, and Misogyny, Part I

13: Late Medieval Society—Love, Sexuality, and Misogyny, Part I

Professor Ruiz discusses how concepts of love, sexuality, the body, and marriage were transformed by the crises of the late Middle Ages. Boccaccio's "Decameron" and Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" are studied for statements on love and sexuality.

45 min
Late Medieval Society—Love, Sexuality, and Misogyny, Part II

14: Late Medieval Society—Love, Sexuality, and Misogyny, Part II

We discuss the Spanish Inquisition, the witch craze, and other examples of society turning against specific groups in its midst.

44 min
Late Medieval Society—The Blending of High and Popular Culture

15: Late Medieval Society—The Blending of High and Popular Culture

We see how festivals, royal entries, and carnivals were used to expand the power and influence of nation states. The mix of certain elements of high and popular cultures in jousts, "pas d'armes" (passage of arms), and other public festivals were of great benefit to rulers of the day.

45 min
The Beginnings of Modernity

16: The Beginnings of Modernity

Professor Ruiz gives a rousing summation and provides a peek into the next era. The fall of Constantinople and subsequent reception of Greek Classical knowledge in the West, the disruption of trade routes in the East, and the voyages of discovery are all treated as dramatic transforming factors in European lives.

45 min