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The Middle Ages around the World

Uncover the seminal events and currents of the Middle Ages as they radiated not only through Europe, but also around the world.
The Middle Ages around the World is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 56.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great! Just finished this great overview of the Middle Ages. Prof. Salisbury knows her subject matter and is not afraid to go down a rabbit hole if it makes a good point. I would recommend this course and will take more of her courses.
Date published: 2024-02-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent course; reading a script problematic I have taken two of Professor Salisbury's courses, and have found them both to be substantively excellent. What I find off-putting, with this and certain other Great Courses offerings, is the lecturer reading a script from a monitor, and not always knowing what is coming next, the result frequently being sentences whose cadences don't align with their content.
Date published: 2024-01-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A wonderful story-teller tells a sweeping tale Prof. Salisbury is a delightful weaver of historical tales that held my interest throughout the 24-lecture series. She provides an integrated vision of a massive topic, both in time and geography. Seldom has education been so entertaining.
Date published: 2023-11-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very disappointed The most populous country throughout the period was India. Frequent references by the questionable expert mentioned Persian contributions, yet India and Persia are treated as after thoughts. She us clearly western biased and her work thus lacks credibility
Date published: 2023-10-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging For whatever reason, her lecture style is engaging and most of the information sticks.
Date published: 2023-10-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from She needed a little more research Very interesting series and well-presented. But why didn’t she take better care in her pronunciation of Chinese names and places? It’s not that difficult. A historian should be more careful and respectful. I was surprised. Otherwise, good series.
Date published: 2023-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enlightened global perspective of medieval history I have read about and studied the medieval era for many years. This is the first time I have taken a course that brought together many threads of the middle ages from different regions of the globe. I learned so much about history that can only come from crossing regional divides and bringing major themes of the medieval world together in one course. Professor Salisbury presents insightful content and teaches with great passion. My husband and I loved it and intend to watch it again.
Date published: 2023-06-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good vocal delivery Prof. Salisbury has a very good vocal delivery, with a pleasant voice and good pacing. However, her incessant and exaggerated hand gestures are so distracting that I just listen to the lectures while looking away.
Date published: 2023-03-21
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The Middle Ages was a time of major historical shifts and transformations across the globe. In this enthralling course you’ll chart the fall and rebuilding of empires; learn about the economics and technology that drove medieval civilizations; map the great medieval trading networks; study the Age of Faith; and explore medieval history, culture, and thought from Europe and Africa to the Middle East, Asia, and beyond.


Joyce E. Salisbury

When dealing with human beings, nothing is simple or predictable, and these are the kinds of wonderful contradictions that have kept me engaged for so long.


University of Wisconsin–Green Bay

Joyce E. Salisbury is Professor Emerita of Humanistic Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where she taught history and served as associate dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences and director of International Education. She earned her Ph.D. in Medieval History at Rutgers University, specializing in religious and social history.

Professor Salisbury began her career performing research in Spain, and she has continued to travel there to conduct further research, lecture, and guide students and other travelers. She is currently working on a book about the history of early Christian martyrdom.

In addition to receiving the University of Wisconsin's Outstanding Teaching award, she was named Professor of the Year in 1991 by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. She has taught three times on Semester at Sea, a study-abroad program on a ship that circumnavigates the world with more than 500 students for a full semester.

Professor Salisbury is a prolific author whose books include the award-winning Perpetua's Passion: Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman; The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages; Rome's Christian Empress: Galla Placidia Rules at the Twilight of the Empire; and the widely used textbook The West in the World. She has been interviewed many times on National Public Radio on topics from religion to the books she has written, and she appeared on the PBS special The Road from Christ to Constantine.

By This Professor

Warriors, Queens, and Intellectuals: 36 Great Women before 1400
The History of Spain: Land on a Crossroad
The Middle Ages around the World
The Middle Ages around the World


Medieval Beginnings: The Fall of Empires

01: Medieval Beginnings: The Fall of Empires

Investigate the turbulent events that marked the beginning of the Middle Ages. Trace the rise of warrior peoples from the Asian steppes that brought down the Chinese, Indian, and Roman empires, and the advent of Germanic kings who ruled the West. Take account of the great trading networks that connected the civilizations of Asia with those of the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.

33 min
Constantinople, Aksum, and Tang China

02: Constantinople, Aksum, and Tang China

Grasp the vital relationship in the medieval world between sophisticated, walled cities, and the rural peasants and serfs that supported their existence. Visit the three greatest cities of the early Middle Ages: Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire; Chang’an, the seat of China’s Tang Dynasty; and the African kingdom of Aksum, a crossroads of trade, culture, and religions.

32 min
The Rise of Islam and Europe’s Knights

03: The Rise of Islam and Europe’s Knights

One of the pivotal events of the Middle Ages was the rise of Islam. Learn about the visions of the merchant Muhammad and how his ideas spread as a powerful new religion. Track the expansion of Islam through the conquests of Arab armies and how conquered peoples fared under Muslim rule. Then discover the origins of the European feudal system and the warfare practiced by armored knights.

32 min
Creating an Islamic Culture

04: Creating an Islamic Culture

Take account of the cultural transformations that Muslim rule brought to its domains and the growth of trade, new cities, and great centers of learning that it fostered. Study the five “pillars” of Islam and its main religious rituals. Assess forces of disunity within Islam, such as the split between Shiite and Sunni factions, and the influences of non-Arab cultures that joined the religion.

33 min
The Medieval Spread of Religions

05: The Medieval Spread of Religions

The medieval era was an Age of Faith, characterized by world-changing religious events and processes of change. Within Christianity, examine the doctrinal disputes that led to the schism between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Learn how Hinduism predominated within India, and how Buddhism moved from India into Southeast Asia, China, and Japan, splitting into two main schools.

34 min
The Medieval Rebuilding of Empires

06: The Medieval Rebuilding of Empires

The 8th and 9th centuries brought a re-ordering of empires from Europe to the Far East. First, study the reuniting of Northern Europe under the Frankish emperor, Charlemagne, and the rule of Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid, who founded the great city of Baghdad. Witness the golden age of China’s Tang dynasty and the burgeoning cultures of the Silla kingdom of Korea and the Heian Empire of Japan.

33 min
North America and Viking Explorers

07: North America and Viking Explorers

Peoples from Northern Europe also ventured far afield in the Middle Ages. Here, follow the voyages of the Vikings in their fast-moving ships and how they reached North America in the 10th century. Learn about the Viking settlements on Iceland and Greenland and their expeditions further west while seeking hospitable lands, leading to violent conflict with Algonquian tribes and later the Inuit.

33 min
Medieval Growth and Prosperity

08: Medieval Growth and Prosperity

The High Middle Ages saw phenomenal growth in civilizations across the world, in the areas of population, wealth, and expansion. Look into the technological innovations that underlay the flourishing of China’s Song Dynasty, and the agricultural innovations and new technology for power that fueled prosperity in Europe. Then note the rise of the Seljuk Turks, and the threat they posed to the West.

31 min
The Crusades’ Clash of Cultures, 1097–1291

09: The Crusades’ Clash of Cultures, 1097–1291

Trace the origins of the Crusades, as Europeans launched wars to recover the Holy Lands for Christendom. Follow the series of Crusades that unfolded over 200 years, initially taking Jerusalem and establishing Christian kingdoms in the Middle East. Take account of the disasters of the later Crusades, and the consequent strengthening of Islam and loss of prestige for the Western church.

32 min
Medieval Towns and Trade Networks

10: Medieval Towns and Trade Networks

In the High Middle Ages, new commerce and trade networks transformed societies and cultures. See how medieval commercial towns arose across Western Europe in order to satisfy the desire for trade. Survey the long-distance trading zones that fed the wealth of these cities. Within Africa, assess the trade-rich Mali Empire, the fabled city of Timbuktu, and the wealthy trade of the Swahili Coast.

29 min
Cathedrals to Pagodas: Sacred Architecture

11: Cathedrals to Pagodas: Sacred Architecture

Religious buildings are perhaps the most visited remnants of the Middle Ages. Begin with the sublime Hagia Sophia church in Istanbul, emblem of the Byzantine Empire and later a mosque. Then study the features and symbolism of medieval Romanesque churches, Gothic cathedrals, synagogues, and mosques. See their Asian counterparts in Angkor Wat (Hinduism), Borobodur (Buddhism) and Chinese pagodas.

30 min
Universities and Intellectual Discovery

12: Universities and Intellectual Discovery

The High Middle Ages saw a global movement toward a culture of education. Look first at China, and the educational system rooted in rigorous civil service examinations. Study intellectual trends in the Muslim world, and the major advances in medicine, mathematics, and philosophy. Then witness the rise of universities in the West, which set the stage for the post-medieval scientific revolution.

31 min
Life in a Medieval Palace

13: Life in a Medieval Palace

Look into medieval values through daily life in great palaces. Visualize life in European castles, taking account of accommodations, dress, and food and drink. Contrast that with the Alhambra palace of Islamic Spain and its layout, interiors, and separation of men and women. Conclude with China’s sumptuous palaces, highlighting the lifestyle of royals, diet, and traditional cultural practices.

31 min
Medieval Tales of Heroes and Lovers

14: Medieval Tales of Heroes and Lovers

Delve into the landmarks of medieval literature, beginning with the heroic epics of different cultures, from Europe’s Beowolf and The Song of Roland to the Tibetan Epic of King Gesar. Then study the tradition of medieval Romantic Love, as seen in works such as Japan’s Tale of Genji and the Western Arthurian romances and Romance of the Rose. Consider the enduring influence of these works.

31 min
Mongol Conquests: From China to Russia

15: Mongol Conquests: From China to Russia

The Mongol Empire shaped the history of Central and East Asia through the 13th century. See how Genghis Kahn created a vast empire and note the features of Mongol rule, including its religious inclusiveness, strategic control of trade, and freedoms for women. Follow the Mongol conquests of India; Russia; the Islamic world, from Persia to Baghdad; and, finally, China, establishing the Yuan Dynasty.

31 min
Marco Polo Travels East to China

16: Marco Polo Travels East to China

The Travels of Marco Polo is among history’s most famous and influential travel narratives. Track the route of Marco’s three-year journey from Venice across Central Asia, to reach the court of the great Kublai Kahn. Learn about the 24 years he spent in service to the Kahn, during which he traveled extensively across China and Asia, before making a triumphant journey back to Venice.

29 min
Medieval Pilgrims and Travelers

17: Medieval Pilgrims and Travelers

Religious pilgrimage was a central feature of medieval life. First, visualize pilgrimage to the Holy Land through the writings of the Spanish pilgrim Egeria. Note how travel to venerate holy relics was a major lure for the faithful. Witness spiritual pilgrimage in Asia, in Japan through the diaries of Abutsu and Lady Nijo, and in the Muslim world with Ibn Battuta, Islam’s most iconic traveler.

30 min
Fictional Travels and Monstrous Races

18: Fictional Travels and Monstrous Races

In the Middle Ages, fictional travel writing became more influential than real accounts. Discover The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, a hugely impactful work written by a man who never left home. Follow the route and details of his invented travels, drawn from other books. See how his descriptions of nonexistent creatures contributed to the cruelty and exploitation of the later Age of Discovery.

30 min
High Middle Ages in the Pacific: Polynesia

19: High Middle Ages in the Pacific: Polynesia

Consider the astonishing feat of navigation through which medieval peoples from Samoa and Tonga settled the Polynesian islands of the South Pacific. Learn about Polynesian societies and culture, highlighting the phenomenal giant statues of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and how they were built. Note how the statue building ultimately had severe consequences for the island’s ecosystem.

29 min
High Middle Ages in the Americas

20: High Middle Ages in the Americas

Investigate the agricultural methods, based in cultivating maize and other staple crops, that supported highly populated, advanced civilizations in the Americas. Discover the culture, artifacts, and monumental architecture of the Maya in Mexico, the Anasazi in North America, and the Chimu in Peru. Learn also about the innovative, large-population cultures that thrived in the Amazon rainforest.

27 min
Late Medieval Disasters: Climate and Plague

21: Late Medieval Disasters: Climate and Plague

From 1300 to 1450, a series of disasters destroyed structures of medieval society. Track the climate changes that produced widespread famine across the Eurasian continent. Then investigate the devastation of bubonic plague that swept the world. Witness how the disease spread and take stock of the rebellions and far-reaching societal changes that took place in the wake of the famine and plague.

29 min
Religious Struggles in the Age of Faith

22: Religious Struggles in the Age of Faith

The medieval Age of Faith was transformed by the 14th-century disasters of famine, plague, and warfare. Learn how these upheavals caused many to question their understanding of faith and the world. Learn how within Christendom, China, and the lands of Islam, people responded by blaming rulers or by appealing to God directly, forcing key changes both within these faiths and in secular society.

27 min
Medieval Warfare Ends with Gunpowder

23: Medieval Warfare Ends with Gunpowder

Trace the transformative effects on warfare of gunpowder, first developed by the Chinese. See how gunpowder weapons spread to the Islamic world, and to Europe in the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. Visualize the new armies and military strategy, using cannon, guns, and longbows, and the decline of mounted knights. Witness these currents of events in the extraordinary story of Joan of Arc.

29 min
Medieval Empires Fall as Islam Revives

24: Medieval Empires Fall as Islam Revives

As the Middle Ages drew to a close, major political shifts changed the power balance in Asia. Take account of the fall of the Mongol Empire and the new empires of Tamerlane, the Russian state, and the Ottoman Turks. Learn how the Ottomans took Constantinople, initiating an empire that would last 600 years. Conclude with a look at how medieval culture left a clear mark on the future world.

32 min