Medieval Technology and Urban Life Syllabus TIBCG 440

Winter 2005 University of Washington, Tacoma
M-W 4:15 PM  GWP 103
Michael Kucher <kucher at u dot washington dot edu>
Office hours: M-W, 3-4 PM  SCI 222
Course URL:

For Campus Info in case of snow: 253-383-INFO

The course will focus on  Medieval Technology and Urban Life in Northern Italian cities, in particular Florence and Siena. Diligent reading, careful analysis, and thoughtful interpretation of primary sources--presented through quality writing--will be essential features of the course. The emphasis in particular will be on the integration of primary sources with secondary materials. Together we will strive for the highest quality of written work through a combination of peer review and re-writing multiple drafts of each paper. The importance of carefully crafted writing in the course can be seen in the choice of required texts and in the grading system.

Course objectives

Students will gain an understanding of major issues confronting the historian of medieval technology through course lectures, readings of primary and secondary sources, and class discussions. Class discussions of the readings as well as writing mulitple short analytic essays will give students training in critical thinking.

Required books (available at the University Bookstore or online)

Course Highlights
Grading and Evaluation:
Class Participation, Preparation, & Presentations  40%
Book Review #1 (5 pp.)  15%
Book Review #2 (5 pp.)  15%
Medieval appearance, demeanor, or diction 10%
Other Essays and Annotated Bibliography 30%

Exceptional work will earn an A; work above average a B; average work a C; below average a D. Work that fails to meet minimum standards for written work or which is not turned in will yield an F. The take-home essay will cover all readings, discussions, and presentations. You are responsible for finding out from other students what happened during any class you miss.

Class Preparation and Participation

This is not a lecture course. The success of the class for each student will depend on how well he or she is prepared and to what extent each student contributes to furthering the class discussion. The quality of preparation and participation will be as important as the quantity.  Coming to class unprepared will count as a zero for the day toward your final grade. If I notice a lot of students are unprepared any week I may offer a pop quiz on the material covered to date.

How Assignments are Evaluated

All assignments will be graded for clarity of composition and grammar as well as content. All assignments must be typed, double-spaced, with at least one-inch margins, in a 12-point Roman typeface, with serifs. Sources will be cited in footnotes or endnotes using A to Z. If you have any doubts about format you may also consult The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th ed. (available in the UWT Library on the Writing Resources Shelf ) or contact the UWT Writing Center at uwtwrite@u. All assignments must be turned in on time. Late assignments will be dropped 0.1 grade point for each day late, except in extreme circumstances (death certificates must be notarized copies with raised seals and bear the student's name in the space marked "deceased"). No extensions will be granted except for a written medical excuse presented before the due date of the assignment.

Finally, all assignments must be delivered on hard copy or as ASCII text. DO NOT ATTACH MS WORD(r) OR OTHER DOCUMENTS TO YOUR E-MAIL.  Word documents can carry computer viruses.

General Evaluation of Written Work

Writing effectively means more than writing clearly and concisely and using correct grammar. Excellent papers will meet all of the following criteria:

  1. The paper addresses all of the questions and issues posed in the assignment.
  2. The paper draws upon relevant readings and class discussions. The paper applies what you have been learning.
  3. The paper is thoroughly and properly documented.
  4. The paper adds your own insights to the analyses. The quality of your own ideas is important. Show your own independent thinking as much as possible.
  5. The paper is convincing. You have the responsibility to justify your arguments. You must back up your points and conclusion. Support your argument by using evidence from the class readings or other sources. Use explicit examples to illustrate what you say. Do not assume anything on the part of the reader.
  6. The paper is well organized. It has an introduction with a thesis (argument), it has a body supporting this thesis, and it ends with a conclusion summarizing the main points.
  7. The paper has no spelling or grammatical errors.
Critical Book Reviews

Two critical book reviews in which you analyze an author's sources and methods, and place your reading of the primary sources in the context of the book or article you have chosen to review. Each of which will be accompanied by a 5-minute oral presentation to the class. Books and articles reviewed must be on the course bibliography, jstor, or approved by me in advance. No exceptions.

Each student will analyze several chapters from two books from the course bibliography or the bibliographies in readings for the course. You will write a 5 page analysis of the author's sources and discuss the methods by which the author uses those sources to make an argument. BOOK REVIEWS ARE NOT BOOK REPORTS. BOOK REVIEWS ARE NOT MERELY SUMMARIES OF THE BOOK OR ARTICLE YOU HAVE READ. You will also have the opportunity to make a brief presentation of your analysis to the whole class. You are responsible for obtaining your books in a timely manner so you can submit your analysis on the due date. These analyses are intended to get you to think critically about the ways in which other authors write history. The presentations will provide an opportunity to present your comments and work, in addition to giving the rest of the class an idea of the different research and analytical methods you have employed in your work. See the online handout at on how to write these.

Annotated Bibliography:

Your final project for the course will be an annotated bibliography of at least 15 scholarly sources related to a topic of your own choosing.  Each source will have a full citation and a one or two sentence annotation capturing the work's thesis and major evidence used and likely readership.

Conduct in the Classroom

Students are advised to familiarize themselves with UW policies published at: and to note that any activity that may distract other students from course content is explicitly prohibited.  These activities include:

Plagiarism = Academic Suicide  Need I say more?

Grade Grubbing

The only possible reason for questioning a grade is if you think the professor made a mathematical error. Otherwise, all grades are final. Goods grades are never given--they are earned through what Winston Churchill called, "Blood, toil, tears, and sweat." (13 May, 1940). If you are studying for this course between 15 and 20 hours a week (3-4 HOURS PER CREDIT HOUR) and spending a few hours each week at the Writing Center and still only getting a C or a D, please come talk to me about how to improve your work.


If you choose to drop the course, you are responsible for reporting the change to the registrar's office. If you stop coming to class and do not contact the registrar, you will end up receiving a failing grade even if you attended only once.

If you would like to request academic accommodations due to a permanent or temporary physical, sensory, psychological/emotional or learning disability, please contact Lisa Tice, counselor for Disability Support Services (DSS). An appointment can be made through the front desk of Student Affairs (692-4400), by phoning Lisa directly at 692-4493 (voice), 692-4413 (TDD), or by e-mail ( Appropriate accommodations are arranged after you've presented the required documentation of your disability to DSS, and you have conferred with the DSS counselor.

"Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech. . . ."

The right to free speech applies in our classroom as well as in your written work. In light of the potentially controversial topics we will be studying, let me assure you that you will not be graded on your opinions, but on the quality of the evidence and the cogency the argument with which you support your position. The freedom of speech works both ways. Some of the primary documents used in this course may be considered by some readers "adult material" because of their sexual content. If this presents a problem for any reason, THIS IS NOT THE COURSE FOR YOU. A quick, cover-to-cover reading of the Decameron will help you make this choice.

© Copyright 1998-2005 Michael Kucher      Revised: 5 January  2005

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