Years That Changed History: 1215

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
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Too much repetition but overall good While I understand this time period is Dr. Armstrong's forte, it could have been less focused on Europe. Her droning on about R.I. Monroe and his theory of persecution society and the Medieval Warm Period over the course of 5-6 lectures was a boring way to start each lecture. Once or twice is fine to reinforce but 6 times is too enough. The rest of the course was interesting and well researched with lots of anecdotes and proof it was a violent time period. I'm not convinced that it was any more or less violent, tho, than any other 300-400 year stretch of time. Man has not been kind to his friends and neighbors.
Date published: 2020-09-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very interesting and well-presented! This was the first course I viewed; since then, I've been through eight others. I found the subject matter fascinating, and the delivery very effective. Armstrong is a very engaging communicator. I'm kind of old-school and am more used to presenters staying still versus turning to and fro to different cameras. But, after a couple lectures, I was fine with the style. I guess I would call myself a "synthesis guy" when it comes to what appeals to me in lectures; I love seeing facts tied together, and learning about the origins and implications of historical events. In that regard, this was a very fine class for me. I really enjoyed it, and I did some further outside reading. Does the presenter have cultural biases? Yes. Everyone does, and I think they were apparent in this course. But, I don't feel like they ruined any of the content for me.
Date published: 2020-09-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from AKIN TO ZINN'S "HISTORY..." BUT FOR 1215 This teacher appears to have an anti-West/Christian worldview. At least three times she uses a derogatory remark of "White" people. Her definition of "Grace" shows a complete lack of Christian theology, and she mentions that Christians followed the crucified Christ with only a scant reference to his resurrection. She seems to swoon over Saladin and Islam, making their conquering of North Africa and Europe etc appear like an invitation to come over and enjoy the party. She doesn't mention the fact that Saladin didn't slaughter the Christians (one time) due to political expedience, and that he still slaughtered many others. Also, the "Golden Age" of Islam was mostly from non-muslims. As for Genghis Khan, she makes him sound like a philosopher/king as he killed and conquered the world, while casting judgment on the Crusades. As for the Mayans and Incas, they were incredibly enlightened, and only 1 minute is given to their child sacrificing. Oh, by the way. Did she get inspiration from Zinn's "A People's History..."?
Date published: 2020-08-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good course and excellent professor I purchased the course on DVD and recently completed it and enjoyed it. I learned about about this period in time. I thought the professor was excellent and was very knowledgeable overall. The course focused a lot on what was going on in Europe (her area of expertise) but I thought it skimmed over a little too quickly on what was going on in other parts of the world around 1215.
Date published: 2020-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Magna and Lateran I'm only ten lessons into it and it's a spellbinder. Dr. Armstrong is a magnificent story-teller.
Date published: 2020-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Want to raise my hand to ask a question I really enjoyed the series on the Black Death and now this one. Each series or episodes are just long enough. I've been binge watching and sometimes the repetition is a little much but it does reinforce what was heard so in the long run it's fine. Some times I simply want to raise my hand and say "wait, I need more clarification". However, I do find myself Googling a lot. I wish for every time she says "it's too complicated / complex to go into that now", that there could be another course about the item. I find her very interesting and enjoy the courses of hers I've seen. Are there any more Years That Changed History?
Date published: 2020-08-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting period history for medievalists I bought this course along with Dorsey Armstrong's course on the black death. The detail regarding the magna carta and associated church councils and ensuing history are very interesting . I find her lecture style pleasant to listen. I recommend this course to anyone interested in medieval history.
Date published: 2020-07-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lots of information This was my first Great Course. I loved it. I learned and learned. The professor is engaging. I can’t wait to see more of her courses.
Date published: 2020-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 1215 This woman is brilliant and made me want to take more of her courses. I want to read more about this period of history.
Date published: 2020-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Magna Carta I had very little idea what an impact the Magna Carta has had on western societies. Funny at times, tragic in other parts but full on entertaining to hear the history of the Magna Carta. The professor was correct when she said that this was going to be a "wild ride". I'm not so worried about the missing portions of society but it is great to get this snapshot view of what was going on in 1215. Sometimes it's not so good to be the King or at least for King John that was such the case. I have very little knowledge in regards to early European history so this was a great course for me. I wish this was taught in U.S. K-12 schools, sadly they seem to want to start in 1649.
Date published: 2020-06-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Then and Now Fascinating information about a time long ago that has similarities to our time now. Like how it doesn't limit influences to just Europe.
Date published: 2020-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course from a superb teacher I've enjoyed Prof Armstrong's other TC courses, and just finished this one -- it's excellent. We all know of 1215 at the year of Magna Carta. It's a terrific idea to cover the world beyond England in the years around 1215. Armstrong provides a very interesting summary of the factors leading to the Magna Carta and goes into detail about what it actually did. Then she covers deeply important developments such as the 4th Lateran Council of the Roman Catholic Church, discusses important kingdoms in Africa (Mali and Great Zimbabwe), and has a fascinating section on Ghenghis Khan and the Mongols, and finally ends with a lecture on Japan. It all hangs together beautifully and is superb history.
Date published: 2020-05-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The title is accurate. As with her other courses, Dr. Armstrong presents her material in an engaging manner filled with detailed information. The inclusion of events in Africa, the Americas and Japan was refreshing. The importance of understanding the influences that led to the events of 1215 and the consequences of those events for the centuries which followed (which she details so skillfully) is a reminder that this is the only way that history makes sense. I look forward to her future courses!
Date published: 2020-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love her enthusiasm! I'm 2/3 of the way through the course and I'm really enjoying it. I love Dr. Armstrong's enthusiasm! She is a great teacher and I'll have to look at her other lecture series.
Date published: 2020-05-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding content & presentation Based on previous courses, I routinely acquire Dr. Armstrong's presentations and have yet to be disappointed. Interesting content delivered in an engaging style.
Date published: 2020-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Year in History I learned so much from this lecture course. It is very enlightening to see what was happening across the world at a particular time in history.
Date published: 2020-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Competent delivery, factual history I'm not sure why I bought this course, but I'm glad I did! My 1st introduction to Professor Dorsey Armstrong...... and, of course, the "middle ages". Prof Armstrong managed to allow me to enter the year 1215 from several geographical vantage points and experience some of the upheaval that occurred during that turbulent time. I'm interested enough in her historical insight that I am now considering another of her courses.
Date published: 2020-04-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Professor style This was an interesting way to present a series of important events around the world. Much of the material was new to me and I've been studying (graduate school level) and reading history for 50+ years. It is probably because I'm eighty years old, but the professor's style was off putting. She repeatedly used valley girl phrases like "Sooo..." and other trendy goodies. It became tiresome. She also has a habit of introducing a subject by saying it is very complicated and would take a whole course to explain, but she'll simplify for our sake. A good rule is not to apologize for what is a reasonable approach. Simplification is the essence of teaching. Alfred North Whitehead: "Any simplification is an oversimplification". I'll admit she teaches a generation that includes my grandchildren and she receives teaching awards. But if you expect rigorous vocabulary and precise descriptions in an engaging academic style, you will be disappointed.
Date published: 2020-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Such an interesting view of the years around 1215 I have listened to the first half, approximately, and am enjoying it immensely. I'm starting the Genghis Khan segments. The instructor is outstanding -- I wish I my college history professors had been this good. I had never heard about the Lateran Councils!
Date published: 2020-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific survey course Armstrong is one of my favorite GC professors. She is never boring, and she is often outright funny. The 1215 course might be Armstrong's best so far. I didn't know anything about the Fourth Laterine Council or Genghis Kahn before this course. Also, even though I'm a lawyer I didn't know nearly enough about the Magna Carta. This course filled in those blanks with tons of details.
Date published: 2020-01-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Much better than earlier series. This is a more recent series by Dr Armstrong, and is much improved over her earlier presentations. These were really quite light weight, but she has got much better since then. I was hesitant to get this series after my previous experiences, but the topic interested me. The European sections especially, so I took the risk. I'm glad I did, as this is a fascinating topic well explored.
Date published: 2020-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Fabulous Offering from Dorsey Armstrong I purchased this course based upon my interest in the material and because I think Professor Armstrong is superb in her delivery of the material.
Date published: 2020-01-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Professor As with the other courses I have taken with Professor Armstrong, this course kept my attention throughout. Extremely knowledgeable, yet she relates to her students with humor and without the pretensions that can ruin a course. The non European lectures were an added bonus, and I am now doing some more in depth reading about the Mongols. A would encourage everyone to listen to this course.
Date published: 2019-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I’m loving it I am only through the first 5 lectures, but I love Dorseys style and presentation.Were I at Perdue I would definitely take her courses. I had my grandson watch one as he is studying the Magna Carta.
Date published: 2019-12-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow! Wait, What? This is presented in a systematic manner that causes you to sit up and pay attention. These events occurred over 700 years ago and many of them shaped or influenced our lives today. We tend to think we are at the peak of cultural and economic advancement yeah we only havThese events occurred over 700 years ago and many of them shaped or influenced our lives today. We tend to think we are at the peak of cultural and economic advancement. Yet the only difference between then and now is we have electricity to power our cell phones. There are incredible achievements made 700 years agoThat we can only hope to repeat some day.
Date published: 2019-11-22
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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.

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