Years That Changed History: 1215

Rated 5 out of 5 by from 1215 is well structured, and enjoyable. I found this course to be well structured and well presented. Dr. Armstrong made the world in 1215 very interesting, and much more globally connected than I realized. Her course ties in very well with her other Great Courses and related Great Courses of other lecturers. I watch the Great Courses while rowing my Concept 2 rower, so it is important that I can clearly hear and understand the lecturer. Dr. Armstrong is always easy to understand. She speaks clearly both with voice and body language. Her enthusiasm for the material is infectious, and I find that I always learn easily from her courses. She must engage me well because my rowing pace is always extremely steady during her lectures.
Date published: 2021-01-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Dishonest, Shallow, Woke - Review Heavily Censored Most of this course is inaccurate, incomplete, unbalanced, selective in its outrage, and given to adopting niche positions. Dr. Armstrong is an authority on literature and she should stick to that topic rather than world history. She adopts a novel position as follows: there was a Medieval Warming Period that made life far better for everyone but the rich who had to contend with a larger population and scarcer resources, greater urbanization. The nobles, the Church, and society at large began to centralize. This somehow led to a “culture of persecution” against Jews, heretics, homosexuals, and lepers. The sole source for Dr. Armstrong uses is Robert Moore’s The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Authority and Deviance in Western Europe 950-1250. There was a Medieval Warming but religious intolerance and popular enthusiasm for discrimination is not contingent on the weather or competition for resources. Perhaps Dr. Armstrong should acquaint herself with just these examples: the Russian Orthodox Church dealing with heretics and later “Old Believers”; the enthusiasm of Protestant King James of Scotland and England ridding the kingdoms of witches; or the soul stealing craze in 1768 China. Secular examples can be found in the terror of the French Revolution, fascist regimes, and communist regimes. Jews, heretics, homosexuals, and lepers are not new categories of people and I can’t imagine how they would conspire to pose a credible threat to those in authority. Discrimination and ill-treatment of these groups pre- and post-dated 1215 and were hardly contingent on weather. The culture of persecution led to the Fourth Lateran Council to issue cannons 69 and 70 that removed certain rights and protections given to Jews. They had to wear distinctive clothing and Dr. Armstrong extends this to the 20th century when the practice was adopted by the Nazis. Treatment of Jews in Europe is frequently singled out as a series of horrific pogroms and deportations and I don’t disagree except context is absent. Jews have been maltreated worldwide from the Exodus account to the present day. Dr. Armstrong adopts the now outdated and inaccurate description of the Muslim world in 1215 describing it as a paradise compared to the Christian world. Muslims had scholars, great buildings, modern plumbing, a cosmopolitan outlook, religious toleration, medical care, intermarriage, recovery of Greek language and knowledge, libraries, and mathematical discoveries. Since the events surrounding the publication of “Satanic Verses”, and 9/11, a multitude of authors including Raymond Ibrahim, Robert Spencer, Oriana Fallaci, Ibn Warraq, David Cook, Reuven Firestone, Richard C. Martin, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Oriana Fallaci have described an entirely different Muslim world. Regarding religious toleration, Jews and Christians were subjected to dhimmitude requiring distinctive dress, limits on religious practice, limits on civil activities, mistreatment by courts, and payment of jizya, a tax. Dhimmis had to show submission and obeisance or suffer arbitrary punishment. Intermarriage was possible only for a Muslim man who could have multiple wives and sex slaves. Sharia law requires someone leaving the Muslim religion or becoming an apostate to be killed. Some women were subjected to FGM. They were to be veiled when in public. Divorce was easy for men, not so for women. Adultery by women was to be punished by stoning. Slavery had been proscribed in the Christian world. Dr. Armstrong failed to observe that the Muslim world depended on slavery to serve as farm labor, military slaves, eunuchs, galley slaves, and coerced concubines in harems. Slaves were Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or pagan with origins in Turkic tribes, Africa, India, and Eastern Europe. Islamic mathematical knowledge, like all their learning, was derivative. Algebra was invented by the Greek Diophantus 900 years before Islam was founded. Zero appeared in Mesopotamia around 3 B.C. India used zero in the 5C. It was from India or China that Muslims became familiar with zero. Dr. Armstrong takes Christians to task for the Crusades, but she does not mention that concurrently, the Muslim world was carrying out a jihad in India. Massive casualties resulted for Hindus and Jains. Hindu shrines were destroyed and Muslim temples were built with spolia. Sultan of Delhi, Kutb-d Din Aibak, slaughtered his subjects by the hundreds of thousands as did Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlak. Their conquests are described as having rivers of Hindu blood spilled, looting, and r**e. Whatever the Crusader atrocities in the Levant, at least they were trying to recapture territory; the conquest of India was a jihad. It should also be noted that this was not a weather-related. Saladin is portrayed as a gallant and romantic figure. This glorification of war leaders should be tempered. Saladin had a habit of sparing cities he captured, but in defeat, or in retaliation, he was savage in the killing and torture of prisoners. A brief account is given about the lot of women in 1215, specifically Hildegard of Bingen, Heloise, and Eleanor of Aquitaine. The problem is that these women died before 1215. These were representative women. Dr. Armstrong assures us that things got worse for women on account of the “culture of persecution”. In describing the castration of Peter Abelard, Heloise’s lover, Dr. Armstrong uses the following unfortunate sentence “that is not what is important here”. I think that Abelard would differ. Probably Heloise too and any male watching the lecture. If Dr. Armstrong is giving an account of the lot of women in 1215, why not mention the Chinese practice of complete subservience of wives to the family of the husband? Foot binding was starting to find purchase in the China of 1215. What of the Hindu practice of suttee? Four lectures describe the Mongol invasion of the steppes, forming the largest contiguous empire that lasted just over 100 years and which fragmented in just over a century. Dr. Armstrong cites only one author, and not just any author, but Jack Weatherford, who has stridently taken the most extreme position in defending Genghis Khan. Weatherford is often criticized for downplaying the massive casualties inflicted by Genghis and his successors. His critics make an analogy of him being the equivalent of a Holocaust denier. He was decorated by the Mongolia. There is that saying that you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. The Mongol expansion was brought about by breaking every possible law of war: killing civilians; destroying crops; using human shields; forcing men, women, and children to become refugees to overwhelm a foe; using humans and their corpses as landfill; destroying living quarters; using captives as soldiers; deliberately causing collateral damage; and by her own admission, using biological warfare. Dr. Armstrong is in rhapsodic in describing Genghis Khan and his successors. She compares Genghis Khan to Shakespeare. The Mongols adopted the existing steppe warrior way of fighting war and Genghis Khan united the normally warring tribes and organized them in a different reporting units. What Dr. Armstrong describes as their military virtues are necessities and traditional nomad tactics. The Mongols invented nothing. They used captive engineers for siege warfare. Dr. Armstrong is heartbroken by the library in Baghdad being destroyed where the Tigris was said to be black from ink and red from blood. The same account describes men, women and children being separated and put to the sword, the women after being ravished but that is not mentioned When Mongols attack in winter, it is something Dr. Armstrong considers to be a matter of tactical genius. On the steppes, the Mongol horses could reach grass through the snow so seasons did not make a difference. Setting fire to Kiev, a city made entirely of wood, is also considered to be a clever tactic. At no point does Dr. Armstrong show any sympathy for casualties. The ends justify the means and Pax Mongolica was ushered in. Was this something special? Couriers now travelled faster. But the Silk Road had been in existence for centuries and no secret remained as such for long. The Byzantines stole silkworms and mulberry trees and set up their own silk manufacture. The same technology interchange would have applied to paper and gunpowder. What Dr. Armstrong seems to be oblivious about is that in the East, China, Indochina, Japan, Indonesia, and the Indian Subcontinent had a brisk trade by sea. Europe and the Muslim world also had seaborne trade. Intermediaries were used but there was plenty of trade throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe without the need for continental trade. Further, the Slavic World and Hungary did not benefit in any way from the Mongol invasion and it was referred to as the Mongol Yoke. Dr. Armstrong never discusses the human costs. The talented population was removed as were attractive women and boys as rewards for Mongol soldiers. Treasure was looted. Torture, killing, and violation of captives followed. Mongols distrusted cities so many were destroyed, some never to be rebuilt. Agriculture interfered with grazing so peasants were killed outright. If you were captured in battle, your remaining life would be one of pain. Mass starvation, death by exposure or disease followed. It was a bad time to be young, old, pregnant, or infirm. As a parting gift, the Mongols brought Black Death to the subjugated countries and those beyond. Genghis Khan and his followers were responsible for 40 million deaths, the second highest total of human slaughter. As a percentage, the Mongols killed 11% of the world’s population. Some dispute that number either raising it or lowering it. Regardless, the figure even by the lowest apologist standards is in the seven figures and was not exceeded till the Second WWII.
Date published: 2021-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great overview course This course was fun to watch, also held my attention quite well. Professor Armstrong is very skilled in her delivery. Having worked my way through several history courses thus far, this has been one of those that has helped stitch together several other historical segments from other history courses.
Date published: 2020-12-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fine overview Professor Armstrong presents a wonderfully organized and well prepared overview of a critical time period in world history. It is neither detailed nor comprehensive, and, I think, never intended to be. I appreciated the attempts to bring in historical events that happened outside of our usual western European point of view and particularly enjoyed the background on Genghis Khan and his impact on a large part of the world during this time frame. This course, like many others in the Great Courses library, is meant to spark interest in a particular subject or historic time period, and should guide the reader/listener/watcher to delve deeper into any subject that tickles his or her fancy. Good course...Dorsey does a great job! Coupon/ know the drill.
Date published: 2020-12-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I wanted to learn Plenty of pointless bulk talk. Too slow with distracting "snarky?" tones. I think they may think they are funny. Too much bias not enough substance. Interesting topic.
Date published: 2020-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course This course has many things going for it - a personable, enthusiastic, knowledgable presenter who makes a conscious effort to offer a broad, overarching view of the era and, where possible, drill down to details of specific events and areas. The worst can be said is that at times events have been too simplified while at others the lecturer repeats details unnecessarily. All things considered, this course has more going for it than not and makes an excellent companion to existing Middle Ages lectures... even if one finds oneself looking for course covering in greater detail the political situation of the era in the various areas.
Date published: 2020-11-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fun and informative I liked the concept of studying one year (and the years around it), and I learned a lot about Catholic history, as well as the Mongol Empire, that I didn't know. The professor is engaging and knowledgable, although I think at times she plays down to the audience, adopting 21st century turns of phrase which imply that we need to be talked to "on our own level" -- I don't think that's necessary for most Great Courses subscribers. Prof. Armstrong also has an unfortunate habit of rubbing her nose at some point during every lecture; I wanted to hand her a tissue, and didn't understand why those moments couldn't be edited out.
Date published: 2020-10-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So much happened in just one year I thought that this was a curious name for a course. Just how much history could have happened in one year? Well considering what we have all gone through in 2020, quite a lot. It saw the Magna Carta, which while not important at the time became one of the establishing events for constitutional government. The Fourth Lateran Council met to define Christian doctrine more succinctly but created as Prof. Armstrong called it “a persecuting society”. But my favorite lectures were those on the Mongols. I guess we just imagine them as the terrifying horde of imagination. But Armstrong gave me a second look at them. Because, despite their fearsome appearance, they helped to create a meritocracy and established universal religious toleration. While I cannot forgive them for destroying Baghdad, they are just as key for world history. I have long enjoyed Professor Armstrong’s lectures and her cheeky style of delivery. And I hope that this is not the last we hear from her.
Date published: 2020-09-26
  • y_2021, m_1, d_26, h_17
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.13
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_6, tr_61
  • loc_en_CA, sid_3323, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.1
  • CLOUD, getReviews, 4.42ms
Years That Changed History: 1215
Course Trailer
The World before 1215
1: The World before 1215

Begin your survey of this amazing year with some context. Europe in the 13th century was experiencing a period of climate warming, which led to a population boom as well as the expansion of urban centers and the growth of cities. Meanwhile, in Asia, the Mongols were finding their ages-old way of life threatened by these same changes.

34 min
The Magna Carta: Patching Up a Squabble
2: The Magna Carta: Patching Up a Squabble

History buffs likely know that the Magna Carta was drafted in 1215, and that it helped establish English law as we know it. But what was actually in this document? And why was it created in the first place? Here, you’ll discover the surprisingly narrowly-focused origins of a short-lived document—what seemed at the time like a minor footnote in history.

31 min
What’s Really in the Magna Carta?
3: What’s Really in the Magna Carta?

Continue your study of the Magna Carta by investigating some of its most interesting clauses. As you learned in the previous lecture, the document was meant to appease a group of nobles, and the negotiated settlement is a delightful mix of grand pronouncements and specific requests—including that widows shall not be compelled to remarry.

30 min
The Magna Carta’s Legacy
4: The Magna Carta’s Legacy

Although the Magna Carta is revered today as a founding document of British law and a democratic sensibility, it’s stunning to reflect on how easily it could have been forgotten. Shortly after it was officially accepted by both king and nobles, the pope annulled the document; yet that isn’t the end of the story. Here, trace the Magna Carta’s story across the ages.

28 min
What Inspired the Fourth Lateran Council?
5: What Inspired the Fourth Lateran Council?

If you went back in time and asked anyone in 1215 what the most important event of the year was, most people in Europe would cite the Fourth Lateran Council. In this lecture, Professor Armstrong surveys the history of Christianity and the events leading up to this pivotal ecclesiastical event.

31 min
Canons for Christian Practice and Belief
6: Canons for Christian Practice and Belief

Delve into the canons that were decreed at the Fourth Lateran Council. Find out what Church leaders were trying to accomplish, or what crises they were attempting to address. From heresies to marriage to the nature of the priesthood, the Fourth Lateran Council took on issues that affected nearly everyone in Europe.

30 min
The Canons of Persecution
7: The Canons of Persecution

Continue your study of the Fourth Lateran Council with this examination of the “canons of persecution.” Whereas the canons you studied in Lecture 6 primarily affected Christians, the canons in this lecture were directed specifically at non-Christians—particularly Muslims and Jews. After exploring these persecution canons, consider the background for the Crusades.

28 min
Civilizations in the Americas in 1215
8: Civilizations in the Americas in 1215

Shift your attention from Europe to the Americas, where a number of civilizations were thriving in 1215. Although no single lecture could do justice to all of these civilizations, Professor Armstrong spotlights the Pueblo people, the Incas, and the Maya, providing a solid foundation for what was happening on the American continents at the time.

29 min
Civilizations of Sub-Saharan Africa in 1215
9: Civilizations of Sub-Saharan Africa in 1215

Africa in 1215 was home to a number of fascinating civilizations, including the Mali Empire, the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, and the Ethiopian Empire. Travel to Sub-Saharan Africa to review the history leading up to these great civilizations, meet some of the major figures, and explore some of their great feats, from mining to dry-stone engineering.

30 min
The Crusading Impulse
10: The Crusading Impulse

A few lectures ago, you studied the “persecution canons” of the Fourth Lateran Council and saw the tense relationship between the Church and non-Christians. Here, Professor Armstrong unpacks the background to the Crusades, beginning with Pope Urban II’s 1095 call for Christians to take the Holy Land back from the Muslims.

32 min
The Fourth Crusade and the Crusader States
11: The Fourth Crusade and the Crusader States

In the century after Pope Urban II, a “crusading impulse” had taken over medieval western Europe. In this lecture, you will examine the Fourth Crusade, which began in 1198 and culminated with the sack of Constantinople in 1204. Then turn to the Children’s Crusade that followed.

30 min
The Fourth Lateran Council and the Jews
12: The Fourth Lateran Council and the Jews

The Fourth Lateran Council marked a turning point for Jewish communities in medieval Europe. In this first of two lectures on the Jewish experience around 1215, Professor Armstrong provides an overview of anti-Semitism in medieval European society. Reflect on the uneasy relationship between Jews and Christians.

29 min
The Jews in 1215 and Beyond
13: The Jews in 1215 and Beyond

Continue your study of the Jewish experience in medieval Europe. Examine the aftermath of 1215 and the Fourth Lateran Council’s insistence on Christian dominance. In the 13th century, institutional persecution began trickling down to the masses, leading to blood libel accusations, among other abominations.

30 min
Francis of Assisi and the Mendicant Orders
14: Francis of Assisi and the Mendicant Orders

As you may recall, the Fourth Lateran Council attempted to curb the formation of new monastic orders, yet the Church soon after granted an exception for the Franciscans and the Dominicans. Dive into the background of these orders, meet St. Francis of Assisi, and see how his life inspired the creation of a new religious order.

34 min
The Crusade against the Cathars
15: The Crusade against the Cathars

Catharism is a version of Christianity even more revolutionary than the mendicant orders you studied in the last lecture. In fact, Catharism was so radical that some people argued its belief system was not Christianity at all. See why, in the early 13th century, the pope turned his attention away from the Crusades abroad to root out Catharism at home.

33 min
Mongol Culture before Genghis Khan
16: Mongol Culture before Genghis Khan

Too often, western history books portray the Mongols as bloodthirsty murderers and destroyers hellbent on destroying civilization, but the true story of Mongol society is much different. As Marco Polo relayed after a visit to Kublai Khan, the Mongols did much to stabilize the societies they conquered. Explore the dual identity of the Mongols.

31 min
The Mongols and the Rise of Genghis Khan
17: The Mongols and the Rise of Genghis Khan

The rise of Genghis Khan is an amazing, unbelievable story. How did a low-ranking man from the Mongolian steppes rise up to be one of the greatest military leaders the world has ever seen? In this lecture, Professor Armstrong surveys the dazzling rise of Genghis Khan, outlines his military strategy, and surveys his conquests across Asia.

32 min
The Battle of Beijing
18: The Battle of Beijing

By the early 13th century, Genghis Khan had defeated all of his immediate rivals and brought a number of regional tribes under his banner, including the Huns, Turks, and Tatars. His crowning achievement was his success at the Battle of Beijing, when he consolidated his control of China. As you’ll discover, the battle was decidedly one-sided from the start.

30 min
What Happened to the Mongols after 1215?
19: What Happened to the Mongols after 1215?

When Genghis Khan died, his greatest legacies were his tradition of warfare as well as the way he unified so many disparate groups of people. In this final lecture on the Mongols, follow the story of his sons and grandsons, and witness the collapse of the largest, contiguous political entity ever to exist.

33 min
The Status of Women in 1215
20: The Status of Women in 1215

To tackle the subject of what the world was like in general for women in 1215, Professor Armstrong returns to medieval Europe, which was home to many powerful and well-educated women. Explore the lives of three exemplary women of the time: Hildegard of Bingen, Héloïse, and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

33 min
Literary Trends in the Early 13th Century
21: Literary Trends in the Early 13th Century

Religious writing was flourishing in 1215, and religious tracts and guides provide a crucial window into 13th-century spirituality and behavior. Beyond religion, however, the Norse and Icelandic sagas offer great insight into the myths, events, and stories of a pagan, pre-Christian past, while the Arthurian legend grew in popularity throughout the medieval world. Review this amazing—and sometimes amazingly weird—literature.

34 min
The Islamic World in 1215
22: The Islamic World in 1215

In the 13th century, the Islamic world was experiencing a golden age of art, science, education, and more. From Baghdad’s House of Wisdom to figures such as Avicenna, Averroës, Saladin, and more, take a tour of this grand world. Learn about the foundations of modern medicine and mathematics.

32 min
Japan and Samurai Culture
23: Japan and Samurai Culture

Mongol culture affected huge swaths of the world, including Japan. After reflecting on the feudal structure of Japan in the 13th century, Professor Armstrong traces the rise of the shoguns, which is rooted in the 1185 conflict between the Taira and Minamoto clans. Examine the history of shoguns, the samurai, and more.

31 min
The World after 1215
24: The World after 1215

Much of this course has been about looking back to a watershed year in world history. In this final lecture, Professor Armstrong looks forward to consider how the events from this course shaped the centuries that followed. With a shifting climate, the decline of population, and the catastrophic Black Death in the 14th century, we can look back and see that the year 1215 is truly an anomalous time.

38 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.

Also By This Professor