Discussion Questions for Wed. & Fri. Precepts


History & Historical Thinking
The Code of Hammurabi
Early Christian Martyrdom
Ambrose and Augustine on War

Religion & Violence in the Later Roman Empire

Christian & Jewish Accounts of the Crusades
Columbus & the Enterpise of the Indies

W, 9/2:  History, Historical Thinking, & Their Importance
(article by Sam Wineburg, "Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts"; page numbers refer to article itself, which starts on p.3, not to Course Packet pages)

1. What is Wineburg’s aim or goal with this article?  What is he seeking to achieve?  

2. In this article Wineburg compares the “familiar past” with the “strange and inaccessible past” (pp. 6,7)?  What does he mean by these two terms and why does he contrast them?

3. What is the example of Derek meant to teach us?  What does Wineburg mean when he states that “Derek read these document, but he learned little from them.” (p. 9)?

4. What does Wineburg mean when he asserts, “The goal of historical study should be to teach us what we cannot see, to acquaint us with the congenital blurriness of our vision.” (p. 11)?

5. How do textbooks create an "illusion" of the past? (p. 12)

6. What does the example of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and A Midwife’s Tale teach us about the role of the historian in recreating the past?

7. Briefly describe the two divergent ways students read the documents on Lincoln and race?

8. In what ways was the American historian Bob Alston an “expert” on Lincoln What does Wineburg mean by this phrase?

9. According to Wineburg, how can history teach us the virtue of humility?

10. Wineburg concludes his essay by noting that history presents us with a choice to learn about rhinoceroses or unicorns?  What does he mean by this odd metaphor?

W, 9/9:  The Code of Hammurabi
Choose any one of the questions (1-10) to answer in a one paragraph response. Indicate on the response which question you are answering. As always, be ready to discuss all of these questions during discussion.  For an image of the Code of Hammurabi, which is an actual column or stele, see  the following website:  Stele with Hummaribi's Code

1. The stele of Hammurabi contains not only the text of the Code of Hammurabi but also a pictorial depiction of the Code's origin (stele) What is this image?  (You may want to do some research here.)  Why would it be important to have both the image and the text?

2. Does the visual convey information the text does not?  For example, what do the size of the two figures, their positioning vis-à-vis one another, and their clothing tell us that is not expressed in the text?  Conversely, what does the text tell us about the relationship between Marduk & Hammurabi that the picture does not reflect?

3. What reasons does the text give for the existence of laws?
4. What kinds of problems are these laws concerned with?  Give a specific example.

5. What is the position of women in the laws?
        -What indication is there that some Babylonian women engaged in business?          
        - Clearly men had more rights than women in this society; but what laws can you identify that seem aimed at protecting certain rights of women?

6. Which laws deviate from the egalitarian standard of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?"  Why is this deviation significant?

7. What qualities does this text say a ruler should have to enable him to write new laws?

8. What evidence about Babylonian society does the Code provide?  (Think about political, social and economic structures as well as values, beliefs, and way of life.)

9. What does the pictorial image and/or the text of the Code reveal about religion, violence, or the interrelation of the two in this society?

10. What would you like to know about this society that is missing in the information it gives us?
11. Would you consider this Code “fair” by modern standards?  Why or why not?

W, 9/23:  Early Christian Martyrdom
Work through all of the following questions in preparation for discussion in class.  Be sure to have passages ready to support your responses.  You may also choose any one of there questions for your primary-source analysis.

1. In each of the Martyrdom accounts in your Course Packet (CP, pp.25-46), why is Christianity perceived as a threat to the Roman government or Roman society?  To what extent is the persecution of Christians in these texts due to their religious beliefs?  Give concrete examples from the text to support your answer.
2. How does the account of The Martyrs of Lyons differ in date, geographical setting, form, and/or style from the Passion of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity?  [Although the text does not indicate this clearly, the martyrdom of Perpetua & Felicity took place in Carthage, North Africa c.203]
3. What do these accounts of martyrdom reveal about Roman society, and particularly Roman views of violence?

4. Early Christians advocated non-violence and passivity in the face of injustice.  Argue for or against this claim drawing supporting evidence for your argument from ONE of the two longer martyrdom accounts.

5. What can we learn from the accounts of the military martyrs (pp.43-46) about early Christian views of violence and/or warfare?

W, 9/30:  Ambrose & Augustine on War
:  This week we will be looking at developing views of violence and especially war in the Christian Roman Empire.  A strongly recommended excerpt from the Roman orator and statesman Cicero (106-43 BCE) is included because his thinking about the question of a just war significantly influenced both Ambrose and Augustine. These two Roman bishops and theologians were Christians writing in the late fourth to early fifth century CE, a period when Christianity had become the dominant and the official religion of the Roman Empire.  The thought of Ambrose and especially Augustine is foundational for discussions of just war down to the present day.

Until now we have been focuing on legal, social, and religious history.  The study of these writings brings us more into the realm of intellectual history.  Your assignment for this week is to write four questions based on your reading of Ambrose and Augustine.  At least one question must focus on Ambrose, and at least two questions must focus on the texts of Augustine.  Please type your four questions, and be ready to discuss them in your precept group.  These questions will not be graded, but they will be collected and reviewed and serve as a warm up for another question-writing exercise in the coming weeks.

W, 10/7:  Religion and Violence in the Later Roman Empire

*Please complete all the readings for this week and be prepared to discuss the texts and these questions in your discussion section on Wed., 10/7. 
Written Assignment
:  Choose one of the three questions below and type a 1-page response.  Be sure to cite the text or give a concrete example or illustrations to support one main point.  You may single space your response, but please do not go over 1 page!  This response will count as a precept assignment (2%).

1. The two letters of Bishop Ambrose of Milan to Emperor Theodosius I, both written toward the end of the fourth century, are fascinating texts for studying changing relations between church and state and between emperors and bishops in this period.  They also illumine religious perspectives on violence in the Christian Roman Empire.  Though written by the same person, these two letters present different perspectives on violence on the part of the bishop, the emperor, and others in the text.  Briefly compare Ambrose's response to violence in the two accounts.  How might you account for the apparent differences in his reaction?
2. The second set of texts for this week recount the same event -- the murder of a female pagan philosopher in Alexandria in the year 415.  These three brief accounts were written by three different authors between the fifth and late sixth century:  the fifth-century church historian, Socrates Scholasticus; the pagan philosopher Damascius, whose account  was written in the early sixth century but has come down to us in a tenth century Byzantine encylopedia (called the Suda); and the late seventh-century bishop, John of Nikiu.  Note points of agreement as well as discrepancies in their accounts.  Discuss the value and/or the limitations of these accounts in determining the details of Hyptia's murder. 
3. The Life of St. Martin is a hagiographical text, i.e. a Christian saint's life, written in the early fifth century.  What forms of violence appear in this text, how is violence connected with religion, and how would you describe the author's perspective on violence?

W, 10/14: Western Perspectives on the Crusades - Fulcher of Chartres and Solomon bar Samson

1. What do the prologue and the early chapters of Fulcher of Chartres's account reveal about the state of European society and the church in the eleventh century?  In what ways do some of the problems in society (e.g. I.12-13 &
III.7) and the reforming ideals of the church (e.g. chapters I-II) relate to or feed into the crusading movement?
2. In chapters II & III Fulcher relates Pope Urban II's famous speech that set the crusading movement in motion.  What different motivations does Pope Urban II provide for an expedition to Jersualem?
3. How do the crusaders understand their religion, and what does it have to do with they way they perceive their mission?  (Find specific passages that support your view.)  How would you characterize their motives? 
4. How does Fulcher of Chartres know about the progress of the First Crusade?  Why is his role in the crusading movement important to his text?
In his Chronicle, Fulcher describes several relics.  How are these relics used?  How do crusaders respond to the discovery of relics?  How do people determine whether or not a relic is authentic?
What were some of the problems that crusaders faced when they tried to capture a town or castle from Muslims?  How do crusaders deal with the problems they encounter?
7. How do crusaders view Muslims?  How do the crusaders deal with captured or conquered Muslims?  Why do you think the crusaders behave in the ways they do?

8. According to the account of Solomon bar Samson, how did the crusading Franks end up attacking Jews in the Rhineland?  How do the Franks view the Jews and their religion according to this author?  How do the Jews view the religion of the crusaders?  (What specific expressions and metaphors does he use to describe their Christian beliefs?)
9. In what terms does Solomon ben Samson describe the sacrifice or mass suicide of the Jews in Mainz?  How does he interpret what happened there?  How does this account of “martyrdom” compare with the martyrdom accounts of early Christians that we read a couple weeks ago?  (What similarities and/or contrasts did you find with regard to piety, religious emotions, views of death or views of the persecutors?)
10. The account of Soloman bar Samson was one of several accounts of Jewish martydom during the Crusades.  Who was the probable audience for such texts?  What would have motivated people to pass on these horrific tales?

W, 10/28:  Columbus and the Indies
Assignment connected with this week's theme and reading:

Choose two of the following three sections of the reading and type up two discussion questions (one from each of the 2 sections you choose).   Then respond to one of these questions in a one-paragraph response.  Please hand in  you typed questions and response on Wed., Oct. 28, even though we will be meeting in the library rather than in class that day.  Here are the sections  you should read of Christopher Columbus and the Enterprise of the Indies (Bedford, 2005).

            A. Christopher Columbus (43-59)

            B. Four Voyages (60-83; 123-139)

            C. European Constructions of the New World (155-176)

EXTRA CREDIT:  Columbus, of course, is a controversial historical figure today.  Find an image of Columbus from the internet, a magazine, book or other source
that highlights a controversial feature of his life and bring it to class along with a one-paragraph commentary on the meaning of the image you chose.  Everyone who hands in this assignment (the image and a short commentary) will get 1 point of extra credit.  The most creative of these submissions will be given an additional extra credit point!