E. Essay Topics

General instructions

Two essays are required for History 213: the deadline for the first falls on the Friday of week 10 in Michaelmas Term (i.e. 12 December 2008), that for the other on the Friday of week 10 in Lent Term (i.e. 20 March 2009). The topics for each deadline are listed below. Please choose one question from each list and submit your essay in before the appropriate deadline. If none of these questions appeals, or if you want to pursue a special interest that has been left out, please consult PAH and together we can define an alternative question relating to your interests.

Note also the following instructions:

  • Note that the due dates coincide with the departmental deadlines for the submission of course work and that you will lose marks if your essays are submitted late unless you have been granted a formal extension.
  • The two essays have equal weighting: that is, each is worth 50% of your coursework mark.
  • Essays should be submitted in accordance with the instructions given in the departmental Student Handbook. That is, they must be submitted through the essay box next to Room B.52 Furness, in order to ensure that its submission is noted in the register. Essays are not to be given directly to your tutor.
  • Note that if you have to submit an essay by post, be sure to retain proof of postage and to keep a copy of the essay. Without proof of postage, the Department is unable to accept a claim that work has been submitted through the post.
  • The essay should be at least 2250 words and not more than 2750 words in length, excluding footnotes and bibliography. Please include a word count at the conclusion of your essay.
  • Remember the warnings that you have been given about plagiarism.
  • Marks will be given for command of the conventions of the formal history essay. This includes the use of appropriate language and style, the use of notes to support your argument, and the compilation of an accurate bibliography which lists the books you have actually used.
  • One of the key skills which is tested by essay writing is your ability to find and select material which is relevant to your topic. The reading list on the course website is not exhaustive: initiative in finding material useful to your argument will improve your mark.
  • You are not, though, expected to read all the books relevant to a topic. The reading lists on the course website is extensive in order to help all students doing the course to find useful material for their essays.
  • Please consider the needs of other students when borrowing books from the library. Given the likely demand for books and stringency of the deadlines, it will be wise to make an early start on your essays, and please return books as quickly as possible.
  • Above all, it is essential that you answer the question posed with a coherent argument which is supported by reference to the evidence.
  • At this level, it is usually be sufficient to refer to the evidence as it has been reported and interpreted by other historians, but reference to and quotation of primary sources will help to produce a successful essay.

Topics for Michaelmas Term, 2008

  1. 'Although the Germanic peoples did not intend it, their invasions, the disruption these caused, and the consequent dismembering of the Roman state were undoubtedly the principal cause of the death of the Roman economy' (Ward-Perkins, Fall of Rome, p. 134). Discuss.
  2. What implications did the shift in the fifth to sixth centuries from an aristocracy largely comprised of civilians to one largely comprised of military men have for the long-term development of the Frankish world?
  3. Did the Franks have a distinctive approach to issues of ethnicity? If so, how did this approach evolve and to what extent was it responsible for their long-term success as a people?
  4. 'My treasury is always empty. All our wealth has fallen into the hands of the Church. There is no one with any power left except the bishops. Nobody respects me as king: all respect has passed to the bishops in their cities.' (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, vi.49.) Why was Chilperic I (561-84)'s treasury always empty? To what extent were his complaints about the Church valid?
  5. 'The principal concern of articulate bishops in the sixth century was not how to suppress paganism. It was how to impose a "correct" interpretation on a bewildering range of religious practices, most of which claimed to be "Christian".' (Peter Brown, Rise of Western Christendom, p. 147). Discuss.
  6. 'Female violence [was] a normal feature of Merovingian society, especially where single women had no immediate male protectors, but did have a great deal of personal honour to defend’ (Gradowicz-Pancer, 'De-Gendering Female Violence', p. 1). Discuss.
  7. Were the achievements of the Carolingians adequate compensation for the terrible costs incurred during their rise to power? Justify your answer.

Topics for Lent Term, 2009

  1. What significance should historians of the Frankish world attach to the reign of Louis the Pious, emperor of the Romans and king of the Franks (814-40)? Justify your answer.
  2. How, why and to what effect did EITHER the Vikings OR the Magyars become involved with the Franks?
  3. Why did the political order created by the Charlemagne, king of the Franks (768-814), disintegrate in the second half of the ninth century? Justify your answer.
  4. What was the 'Carolingian Renaissance'? Justify your answer.
  5. 'Before anything else, the castla’s job was to force (forcare) peasants, that is to say, to prepare them to submit to banal exactions by subjecting them to a regime of measured terror. Judiciously conditioned, they would pose no further resistance to the requisitions which the bailiffs might seek from them in complete contempt of their [former] status as free men.' (Bonnassie, 'Banal Seigneury', p. 132.) Discuss.
  6. 'Are you not my Romans? Because of you, I [Otto III, king of the Eastern Franks (983-1002)] have abandoned my homeland and my kinsmen. For love of you, I have cast off my Saxons and all of the Germans, my own blood. I led you to distant regions of our empire, where your fathers never set foot, even when they held the world in subjection. All of this, that I might spread your name and glory to the ends of the earth. I adopted you as sons and favoured you above all others. For your sake, as you were placed above everyone else, I was universally hated and resented.' (Thangmar, Life of the Bernwald, bishop of Hildesheim, § 25). Amongst whom and why was Otto III 'universally hated and resented'? Why has Thangmar put these words into Otto III's mouth?
  7. 'Tenth-century churchmen emphasised the kingship of Christ, and made kingship Christ-centred. They called on the earthly king to be Christ’s special imitator. Like Christ, the king must willingly undergo travails; like Christ’s, a king’s service, even his humiliation, brought glory to him and well-being to his people’ (Janet Nelson, New Cambridge Medieval History, iii, 95). What consequences did the trend towards Christ-centred kingship have for the development of kingship in the tenth century?

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