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The Medieval World

Travel back in time to the Middle Ages and learn how people really lived in this 36-lecture course that draws on history, literature, the arts, technology, science, and more to expand your understanding of the Middle Ages.
Medieval World is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 167.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from MEDIEVAL LIFE MADE UNDERSTANDABLE Prof. Armstrong has a relatable teaching style. She is able to take big events and show us the effects on ordinary people. In the early feudal Middle Ages, before the Black Death, the three orders of society were clearly defined: those who pray, those who fight, and those who work. In the Crusades starting in the 11th century, she points out not just Muslims in the Middle East were targeted, but Cathars in France and any Jewish community the Crusaders that happened to be on their way to the Holy Land was fair game for annihilation. The Inquisition targeted heretical Christians. For example, she points out in 1215 Fourth Lateran Council officially mandated that Jews and other non-Christians identify themselves as outside the faith and, of course, could not intermarry with Christians. In another example her ability to go from the event to the effect was the 8th century introduction of the Koran's instruction for a man to take multiple wives as having the practical effect of solving the problem of what to do with women who would otherwise remain unmarried. When looking at Constantine's conversion, she sees it as hijacking Christianity to make the empire more unified and stable. For the Christian religion's far greater rate of adoption than that of the Jewish religion, that was because Christianity "pushed hard" for converts. As for operation of the guild system in Italy, she memorably describes it as rivalry between the popolo grosso (the "fat people") and the popolo minuto (the "little people). I like the effort made to redecorate the Great Courses set with a Medieval theme.
Date published: 2024-05-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An absolute masterpiece in history. This course on the Medieval World is another masterpiece captured by the TTC collection. Dra Armstrong is an exceptional teacher, who knows how to transmit a huge amount of historical and cultural knowledge with simplicity. She also has a rare talent of bringing the basics, so that everyone can follow, até The same time that she illuminates these basics with original contributions and her own original perspectives. This course should be taken by everyone who is interested in society and culture.
Date published: 2024-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent series Professor Armstrong has done an excellent job in creating and delivering these lectures on the medieval world. I was amazed at how well thought out and balanced each lecture was. She is easy to listen to and follow. Her research was solid and very complete. Bravo! I found each lecture was very interesting. She has a great ability to pull together high-interest stories and accounts from history. I'm learning more not only about the Middle Ages but how to communicate well.
Date published: 2024-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great course The best Learning Company course on Medieval history I've seen so far. The selection of lecture topics was excellent. The presentations were also excellent.
Date published: 2023-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from wonderful presentation This is not the first lecture by Dorsey Armstrong I have listened to. She does a wonderful job presenting historical facts in an understandable and interesting fashion. I am always amazed about how organized her lectures are and the insights into the everyday peoples' lives during medieval times...not just the history.
Date published: 2023-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Medieval World review The course on the Medieval World was excellent and the instructor, Dorsey Armstrong is first rate; she knows her material. Look, she covers a lot of ground, and any one lecture could be a course in and of itself. For an overview of the Middle Ages, this course is highly recommended.
Date published: 2022-12-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting and informative Well planned, with various lectures reinforcing one another. Gives what I believe is about as thorough and solid picture of the Middle Ages as is possible, focusing on the actual lives people might have led rather than battles, rulers, etc.
Date published: 2022-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Knows the subject well I have enjoyed all the courses By Dorsey Armstrong I have taken. She has mastered the subject well. I really appreciate her unbiased approach to the subject especially in the area of religion. She gives the facts not just her opinion.
Date published: 2022-03-22
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What was it like to live during the Middle Ages? Find out with The Medieval World, which offers you a different perspective on this period: one that entrenches you in the experiences of everyday men and women. Professor Dorsey Armstrong draws on history, literature, the arts, technology, science, and more for this 36-lecture tour that will expand your understanding of the Middle Ages.


Dorsey Armstrong

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


Purdue University

Dorsey Armstrong is a Professor of English and Medieval Literature at Purdue University, where she is also the head of the Department of English. She received her PhD in Medieval Literature from Duke University. She is the executive editor of the academic journal Arthuriana, which publishes cutting-edge research on the legend of King Arthur, from its medieval origins to its modern enactments. She is a recipient of the Charles B. Murphy Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award, Purdue’s top undergraduate teaching honor. Her other Great Courses include The Black Death: The World’s Most Devastating Plague and The Medieval World.

By This Professor

King Arthur: History and Legend
Years That Changed History: 1215
La Peste Negra: La Plaga Más Devastadora del Mundo
Analysis and Critique: How to Engage and Write about Anything
The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague
The Black Death: New Lessons from Recent Research
Great Minds of the Medieval World
The Medieval World

01: The Medieval World

Enjoy a preview of the developments and innovations that made the medieval period far more exciting than was once thought, including the rise of the university system, manuscript production, and the construction of majestic cathedrals, as well as evidence suggesting that medieval and modern people are more alike than different.

31 min
The Legacy of the Roman World

02: The Legacy of the Roman World

Learn how the heritage and ideals of the Roman Empire shaped the early Middle Ages, how Christianity evolved to its position of power within the Roman Empire, and how Germanic peoples from outside the empire "Germanized" both Rome and religion.

32 min
The Christianization of Europe

03: The Christianization of Europe

Travel back to the 4th-century moment when Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire to explore how the religion changed after Roman rule ended, focusing in particular on the conversion of various communities beyond the borders of the empire, in the region the Romans called "Germania."

31 min
After the Roman Empire—Hybrid Cultures

04: After the Roman Empire—Hybrid Cultures

The societies that developed out of the Roman Empire were really "hybrids" of Roman, Christian, and Germanic elements. See how examples from the literature, art, and architecture of Anglo-Saxon England reveal this blending and how the values and ideals of these cultures were combined.

31 min
Early Monasticism

05: Early Monasticism

In examining this popular expression of medieval piety, you journey inside the walls of a monastery to observe the daily life of a monk following the "Rule of St. Benedict" and compare this Roman or Benedictine form of monasticism to the very different Celtic model practiced in Ireland.

29 min
From Merovingian Gaul to Carolingian France

06: From Merovingian Gaul to Carolingian France

This lecture introduces what was arguably the most important society of the early medieval world of western Europe. The empire of the Franks was ruled first by the Merovingians and then by the Carolingian dynasty, whose most famous ruler, Charlemagne, changed the face of medieval Europe. Although it is Italy that has long laid popular claim to the word "Renaissance," it's hard not to marvel at the changes introduced by Charlemagne. Learn how he successfully brought about an unprecedented flowering of art, architecture, literature, music, and education.

30 min
Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance

07: Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance

Although it is Italy that has long laid popular claim to the word "Renaissance," it's hard not to marvel at the changes introduced by Charlemagne. Learn how he successfully brought about an unprecedented flowering of art, architecture, literature, music, and education.

29 min
Byzantium, Islam, and the West

08: Byzantium, Islam, and the West

Widen your earlier focus to situate the Western medieval world in context with the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic world, learning how Byzantium differed from the western Roman Empire and how the new religion of Islam placed pressure on both the Byzantine and western European medieval worlds.

30 min
The Viking Invasions

09: The Viking Invasions

The expansion of the people known as the Vikings—beginning in the late 8th century—was swift, violent, and far-reaching. Grasp the impact of their raids on various European societies, particularly that of the Franks, as well as the unique aspects of their culture.

29 min
Alfred the Great

10: Alfred the Great

Only one English monarch has ever been termed "the Great." Learn why, in considering the man whose rule in many respects mirrored that of Charlemagne as he resolved the Viking threat, consolidated the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and implemented a program under which learning, education, and the arts flourished.

30 min
The Rearrangement of the Medieval World

11: The Rearrangement of the Medieval World

Experience the tumultuous reshaping of western Europe in a lecture that features the emergence of powerful new leaders, invasions, a population explosion, changes in Europe's economy, technological advances, the development of devout Christian piety, the Crusading impulse, and the final break between the Byzantine and Roman churches.

30 min
The Norman Conquest and the Bayeux Tapestry

12: The Norman Conquest and the Bayeux Tapestry

Claim a ringside seat at the long struggle for control of the English throne that culminated in the victory of William the Conqueror—a conflict captured for all time in the stunning threads of a 230-foot length of embroidery.

29 min
King Arthur—The Power of the Legend

13: King Arthur—The Power of the Legend

Perhaps no other legend has been as enduringly popular as the story of King Arthur. Explore how and why his legend evolved and learn how the reality was markedly different from that depicted in medieval romances.

33 min
The Three Orders of Medieval Society

14: The Three Orders of Medieval Society

Medieval society soon formed into the hierarchy now known as the Three Estates: those who prayed, those who fought, and those who worked. Discover why few routes to understanding this structure are as pleasurable as that offered by the literary genre of Estates Satire, exemplified here in Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales."

30 min
Pilgrimage and Sainthood

15: Pilgrimage and Sainthood

In this fascinating glimpse of popular religious expression in the Middle Ages, you explore typical pilgrim motivations, the journeys they took, and the different processes by which the saints so often at the emotional heart of those journeys were enshrined.

30 min
Knighthood and Heraldry

16: Knighthood and Heraldry

Follow the development of knighthood, from its beginnings as the lowest rank of nobility to its evolution as a hereditary title replete with a complex system of rituals, identity practices, public displays, and idealized imagery.

30 min
The Gothic Cathedral

17: The Gothic Cathedral

Grasp what it took to build a Gothic cathedral, a massive undertaking requiring not only several decades, hundreds of laborers, teams of master craftsmen, and the best architectural minds, but also an acceptance by those who began a project that they would never live to see it completed.

31 min
Piety, Politics, and Persecution

18: Piety, Politics, and Persecution

In this first of two lectures on the Crusades, learn what brought so many to a venture that was part holy war and part pilgrimage. Gain, through eyewitness accounts, a fascinating and occasionally horrifying glimpse into the realities of life on crusade.

31 min
The Persistence of an Ideal

19: The Persistence of an Ideal

Participants in the successful First Crusade set up four "Crusader states" in the Middle East, where they soon learned that accommodation was more effective than dominance. Although the Crusading presence in the Holy Land lasted less than two centuries, its impact on the European world still endures.

29 min
Late Medieval Religious Institutions

20: Late Medieval Religious Institutions

Watch as the church and its official representatives experienced dramatic and sometimes unexpected change throughout the High and Late Middle Ages, including monastic reforms, the establishment of new orders, a great schism in the papacy itself, and the growing problem of heresy.

31 min
The Magna Carta

21: The Magna Carta

In this revealing lecture, discover that the Magna Carta, revered today as perhaps the cornerstone of human rights, was considered anything but that at its creation, with its most historic provisions of little concern to the rebellious barons who forced King John to accept it.

33 min
Daily Life in a Noble Household

22: Daily Life in a Noble Household

Observe the finely tuned orchestration of servants working together to cater to the needs of the noble family, who, in turn, sheltered and protected them. And learn that the medieval castle was built for protection, providing little of the privacy or luxury you might expect

31 min
Daily Life in a Medieval Village

23: Daily Life in a Medieval Village

Although little textual evidence describing medieval village life survives, archaeological excavations at villages such as Wharram Percy, along with pictorial evidence from manuscripts such as the Luttrell Psalter, offer you a vivid picture of the medieval village as a place brimming with life and characters.

31 min
Medieval City Life

24: Medieval City Life

During the High Middle Ages, technological advancements and a population explosion made cities a vital element of the medieval world. More important, they nourished the creation of a new class of individual who did not fit into the traditional confines of the Three Estates.

31 min
Food and Drink

25: Food and Drink

Here's your chance to set aside the long-held belief that medieval cuisine was bland at best and, at worst, likely to make you ill. Learn how medieval cooks displayed a resourcefulness and skill that allowed them to produce dishes that were both innovative and delicious.

30 min
Music and Entertainment

26: Music and Entertainment

Hear for yourself, through re-creations played on medieval instruments, the kinds of music that helped people of the Middle Ages enjoy their leisure time—that is, when they weren't playing board or dice games.

27 min
Dress and Fashion

27: Dress and Fashion

Even though little clothing of the period has survived, medieval illustrations and household account entries give us some idea of what medieval clothing was like. They reveal a surprising consciousness of fashion, even within the constraints of so-called "sumptuary laws" designed to preserve the distinction between the noble and the newly wealthy.

31 min
Medieval Medicine

28: Medieval Medicine

Learn how medieval medicine—much of it based on the theory of bodily "humors"—began to improve in the 11th century with the foundation of educational institutions devoted to the study of medicine, particularly in Italy.

32 min
The Black Death and its Effects

29: The Black Death and its Effects

It was the worst natural disaster in human history, claiming the lives of perhaps half the people of the medieval world. This riveting lecture covers the plague's impact and the responses to it and offers, through eyewitness accounts, a dramatic view of life during the plague years.

31 min
Childhood in the Middle Ages

30: Childhood in the Middle Ages

Scholars once believed the Middle Ages had no real conception of childhood, or even that parents—because of high child mortality—could not have formed powerful attachments to their offspring. Learn why these assumptions are untrue, even if medieval concepts of childhood were somewhat different from ours.

30 min
Marriage and the Family

31: Marriage and the Family

In this eye-opening lecture, you learn that marriage, for most of the Middle Ages, was a secular institution, governed by customs, traditions, and laws—but not the church. Find out how the medieval world handled issues like divorce, remarriage, spousal abuse, and nonconsummation.

30 min
Art and Artisans

32: Art and Artisans

Although once derided as a "dark age," the medieval world has in fact given us many beautiful, skillfully executed artistic works. Sample some of the best works of this legacy, found in the architecture, sculpture, and stained glass of cathedrals; wall murals; illuminated manuscripts; and even everyday objects.

31 min
Science and Technology

33: Science and Technology

The Middle Ages saw significant developments in the fields of science and technology. Not surprisingly, most were of a practical nature. Grasp how the demands of agriculture, architecture, education, and even warfare led to important advances.

28 min
Weapons and Warfare

34: Weapons and Warfare

War was one of the dominant aspects of medieval life, and its significance in terms of scientific and technological innovation isn't surprising. But its impact went even further, and you learn how the need for protection left its mark on both physical and social structures.

30 min
Revolts, Uprisings, and Wars

35: Revolts, Uprisings, and Wars

Gain insights into how a series of uprisings, revolts, and wars tested and altered the structure of medieval society as Europe entered the Late Middle Ages, hastening the end of the Three Estates system that had already begun to crumble with the rise of the merchant class.

32 min
Toward the Early Modern Period

36: Toward the Early Modern Period

In this concluding lecture, you see how a once-sharp historical division has been worn away. Where scholars once spoke of the differences between the Middle Ages and the Modern period, we now tend to see much greater continuity of ideals and values as the medieval world slowly transformed into something new.

32 min