This page contains brief descriptions of selected courses
I have or am currently teaching at Westminster College. Each of the courses
listed below is linked to its own resource page, including assignments,
grading policies, readings and course schedule.
101 (Western Civilization I)
125 (Early Modern France)
All knowledge is self-knowledge. Thus to take on the task of studying the
ancient and pre-modern roots of our Western Civilization is actually to
seek to know more about ourselves--our culture, our beliefs, our
habits of mind, and indeed, our darker sides. History 101, "Civilization
to 1715," has as its purpose the surveying of the ancient, medieval and
early-modern cultures that have traditionally been viewed as part of the
"Western Tradition." Without loosing sight of the distinctiveness of pre-modern
civilizations, this course seeks to identify those themes, institutions,
and beliefs that link our age with the past. We will trace Western history
from the builders of the Pyramids to the builder of Versailles, from the
first papyrus scribblings to the printing press, from the establishment
of the Covenant with Israel to Luther’s publishing his 95 theses. "Civilization
to 1714," then, is the history of our own society, for, by 1715, the essential
features of the modern world were already in place.
152 (Twentieth Century Russia)
One one level, this course is about France in the early modern period--from
the sixteenth century to the French Revolution at the close of the eighteenth.
In it, we explore the personalities, movements, historical sites, artwork
and ideologies that made this the most brilliant and glittering age in
European history--the Grand Siecle, the "Great Century." We will explore
some of the most important historical and literary figures in modern European
history--from Louis XIV (the Sun King), Moliere, Sully, and Bodin, to the
leaders of the French revolution. These centuries were "the French centuries,"
and telling their story is, in large measure, telling the story of European
history in general. But on another level, we are concerned with fundamental
issues of the nation and the state: How has the role of religion and philosophy
in the formation and running of national states evolved since the founding
of the modern state by the absolutist kings? How have civil war and revolution
been used to remedy societal ills? Do revolutions work? Is religion no
longer a significant regulator of human behavior? These are the larger
questions we shall be exploring in this course; and inasmuch as France
is where may of these questions were first asked, it is only right that
we seek the answers there--in the age of the Sun King and on the bloody
123 (Middle Ages)
No nation has influenced twentieth-century history more than Russia.
In its heroic contributions to two world wars, in its revolutionary ideology
and economy, in its colorful and ruthless (and sometimes saintly) leaders,
in its contributions to technology and to the arts, in its brutality and
blood-letting—no European culture quite compares. Thus, Russian history
in our century is vital to an assessment of our recent past. But
a solid foundation in modern Russian history is vital also in our time
as we map out the course of the next century—as Europe integrates into
the European Union, as the US plots out its ever complex foreign policy,
and as the dilemma of thousands of nuclear-tipped warheads is tackled.
The twentieth century began, we will argue, in the First World War and
the Russian Revolution. And it has ended with a new Russian Revolution.
Making sense of these tumultuous events, and speculating on what they mean
for our global future, is the purpose of this course.
125/CLC 121 (Early Modern France/Studies in French Literature: Cluster
The words "medieval" and "middle ages" often conjure up an image of a dark
and gloomy time, a semi-civilized, unlearned and uncouth age which separates
the greatness of antiquity from the reason, humanism and cultural refinement
of the Renaissance. The image is a distorted one. Medieval society was
a dynamic, highly fertile time intellectually, socially, and politically;
and it is in the intellectual, social, technological, and philosophical
discoveries of this age that we can locate the foundations of our own world.
History 123, "The Middle Ages, 300-1300," then, seeks to exploded the myths
which prevail about the Middle Ages. The course will introduce students
both to the uniqueness of medieval societies and cultures—focusing particularly
on France, England and Germany—and to those institutions and beliefs that
have influenced the formation of own social, political and philosophical
systems—particularly the role of the Church, the principles of lordship
and "good government," the family and women, and scholasticism. The Middle
Ages shall be revealed to be far more civilized—indeed, far less "dark"—period
in Western history than its popular reputation might suggest it was.
CLC 121: This course is an introduction to the neo-classical literature
of and seventeenth-century France and its legacy. It will present different
authors and examine a range of literary genres in order to project a more
accurate picture of the cultural wealth and diversity of this period. The
course will raise such questions as: How does society influence literature?
How does literature influence society? How do authors work within generic
literary boundaries? How does literature often function as social commentary
of the events in society, economy, culture, and politics of the day? These
questions, while directed at a fairly specific context – the France of
Louis XIV – are in fact applicable to most every culture that produces
written literature. In this way, the course asks broad questions that pertain
to cultures and periods well beyond early-modern France of the age and
court of the "Sun King."
151: Medieval and Early Modern Russia
HIS 125: This is a course about France and Europe in the early modern
period – from the Wars of Religion in the mid-sixteenth century, to the
onset of the French Revolution in 1789. Particular attention is paid to
the life and reign of Louis XIV. In it, we explore the personalities, movements,
historical sites, and ideologies that made this arguably the most glittering
age in European history – the Grand Siècle, or the "Great
Century." These centuries were "the French centuries," and telling their
story is, in large measure, telling the story of European history in general.
But on another level, we are concerned with fundamental issues of the nation
and the state. How did the modern state come into being? Who are the founders
of the nation-states of Europe? How has the public role religion plays
in national states changed in this period and up until our own day? Is
religion no longer a significant regulator of human behavior? These are
the larger questions we shall be exploring in this course. And inasmuch
as France is where many of these questions were first asked (and answered),
it is only right that we seek the answers there – in bloody confessional
wars between Protestants and Catholics, and in the reign and age of the
Despite the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, the ending of the
Cold War and the near total collapse of the Russian economy, it is arguable
that no country will be more important for the international economy and
global security in the next century than Russia. Understanding Russia,
then, is fundamental to finding ways to cooperate and coexist with this
vast and powerful country. The purpose of this course is to provide an
introduction to the cultural, social, economic and political structures
in Russian history from earliest times down to the mid-nineteenth century,
when many of the features of modern Russia fell into place. We are all
products of our past, and this is especially true of the Russians. In examining
a range of topics--from serfdom to autocracy--and personalities--from Ivan
the Terrible to the great poet Alexander Pushkin--we can begin to grasp
not only how the modern Russian state came into being, but acquire some
sense of the character of the Russians themselves. This course will plunge
students into the primary sources of Russian history: ancient chronicles,
works of "high-" and "low-brow" literature, and religious art and architecture.
The main purpose of the course (beyond, of course, mastery of lots of names
and dates) is for students to obtain a sense of the structure of Russian
history and a general appreciation of the formative power of historical
events on culture.
Dr. Russell E. Martin