The Humanistic Tradition I

From the Ancient World to The Reformation

Course Description

Professor: Robert W. Brown

The Humanistic Tradition is an interdisciplinary seminar in the humanities that introduces mankind’s most enduring creations in art, architecture, literature, thought, and music.  It begins with the invention of civilization in the Near East and concludes with the Protestant Reformation.  Because this time span covers thousands of years of eventful human history and culture, we will encounter, and even then all-too-briefly, only a few of the finest examples of mankind’s achievements.  Owing to the overwhelming importance of Greek civilization, one of the three major roots (the Classical) of our western cultural tradition, for the subsequent history of western art, architecture, literature, and thought, we will give an extended study to this ancient people and the many superlative works conceived and constructed by them.  We will next, after venturing but a passing glance at the Hellenistic era and the “grandeur that was Rome,” focus our attention on the origin, nature, and early history of the Christian religion, the second of our cultural roots (the Judeo-Christian), and on that great medieval civilization, rooted in the culture of the Germanic barbarians (the third of our cultural roots) yet permeated with the spirit of Christianity, that grew up, flourished, and then declined in the thousand years between AD 500 and 1500.  Our semester will conclude with a study of new movements in the arts and in thought that appeared during the Late Middle Ages and that gave birth to the Renaissance and the Reformation, the beginning of modern times.  This course satisfies the UNC Pembroke General Education objective that students "should demonstrate knowledge of, appreciation for, and understanding of the contributions to society of" the arts, literature, history, and ideas.

Coherence for a course such as The Humanistic Tradition, which covers a lengthy period of time, which moves from civilization to civilization, and which seeks to view the humanities as an integrated whole, requires an evident scheme of organization.  This course is, first of all, organized chronologically, largely so that the process by which culture diffuses may be observed and so that it becomes evident how the achievements of any superior civilization are built on foundations erected by its predecessors.  It is also organized geographically, moving westward and northward from the civilizations of the ancient Near East to those of the Mediterranean (Greece, Rome, and the Early Christian) to those of northern Europe of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Reformation.  And because each of these civilizations provides more than ample material for a lifetime of study, the course concentrates on representative cultural centers (such as Classical Athens, Hellenistic Pergamon, Imperial Rome, Christian Ravenna, the medieval monastery, the Romanesque pilgrimage church, the Gothic cathedral, or Renaissance Florence) at a time when a singularly high point of cultural development had been reached and when such a distinct style had emerged and so penetrated the arts, architecture, and thought as to give each civilization an unusually high degree of unity and integration.  These cultural centers serve accordingly as ideal foci for the interdisciplinary study of the humanities.  Finally, the course examines how each of these civilizations sought to answer the perennial questions about the nature of God, man, society, history, and nature.

Course Goals

**a chronological interdisciplinary survey of the western humanistic tradition and its achievements in art, architecture, thought, literature, and music from the Ancient World to the Early Modern Period;

**an introduction to the major stages in the development of the western intellectual and cultural tradition and a synopsis of the distinguishing characteristics of each;

**an introduction to the appreciation and understanding of representative works of art, architecture, thought, and literature as both products and mirrors of specific historical and cultural moments;

**an introduction to the major forms of the western intellectual and cultural tradition, for there is an intimate and reciprocal relationship between the form (the epic poem or the tragic drama, for example) in which a work is cast and its content;

**an appreciation of the content of each work, both for what it reveals about the time in which it was created and for what it has to say to the modern world;

**an understanding of history as a field of academic inquiry and an appreciation of the relevance of the study of history for the modern world;

**an introduction to World Wide Web resources dealing with the Humanistic Tradition and an analysis of web sites.


Understanding historical, artistic, and cultural works fundamental for our western humanistic tradition requires a focus on selected, representative civilizations and works of art, architecture, and thought.  Frequently, these will provide a topic for class discussion.  Basic survey knowledge for each civilization is provided by the text; a careful reading of this book will help situate each work of art, architecture, literature, thought, or music in its appropriate historical context.  In literature, for example, we will read selections from the Antigone of Sophocles; we will also read excerpts from Virgil’s great epic The Aeneid, The Song of Roland, and The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri; in philosophy, we will sample the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius, and Pico della Mirandonla; in architecture, we will study the classical temple of the Parthenon, the Romanesque church of Ste Foy, and the magnificent Gothic cathedral of Notre-Dame de Chartres; and in art, we will study works ranging from Greek sculpture to the early Christian mosaics in Ravenna to the frescos of Giotto.  As we read, look, and listen to these works of inspired genius, we will be seeking what each of them has to tell us regarding the “perennial questions” asked by men and women over the ages about God, nature, man, society, and history.  For it is, in the final analysis, the attempt to wrestle with these ultimately unanswerable questions that gives enduring vitality and excitement to the subject matter of the humanities.

Course Requirements and Policies

1. Required Text.

Gloria K. Fiero, The Humanistic Tradition: Vol. 1: Prehistory to the Early Modern World. 5th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2006.

Reading assignments are indicated on the accompanying Course Outline.  Since this is not a lecture course and since class discussion of particular works of art or thought or literature will require some background knowledge, it is essential that the readings assigned for each class be done before that class meets.

2. Questions for Class Discussion. On a regular basis, hand-outs with questions relating to the reading assignments will be distributed.  Students will be assigned to answer these questions in class and to stimulate discussion of them.  These questions are posted on the web site for this course.

3. Study Sheets and Tests.  For each chapter in the text, a study sheet will be distributed; short answer, identification, matching, and multiple-choice items on the mid-term and the final will be taken from these lists. For each word (these are starred on the lists) to be identified, you should be able to answer the following questions:  Who? What? Where? Why? and When?  For an author, architect, artist, or composer, give at least one major work as an example; for a work of art, architecture, thought, literature, or music, give its creator or author.

4. Tests.  Three tests (or two [a mid-term and a final], if the class prefers), each consisting of an essay [dealing with  works of art, architecture, thought, or music discussed in class] question; short answer, matching, and multiple-choice items; and diagrams.  Essays are to be written at home and submitted on the day of the examination.  Make-up tests [of the original test] will be given only if the student notifies the instructor in advance of an assigned test date; these make-up tests must be taken before the next scheduled class meeting.  Make-up tests taken after the class meeting following the original test will consist of the essay questions and twenty-five identification questions.  Approximate test dates may be found on the Course Outline.

5. Analysis of a Painting, Sculpture, or a Building.  Each student in HON 200 will complete an Analysis of a Painting, a work of sculpture, or a Building using the required format.  The results of this analysis will be presented in class using PowerPoint.  The written report and the PowerPoint are due the class period after the presentation.

6. Short Paper.  Each student in HON 200 will complete a short paper (a minimum of five typed pages), based upon supplementary reading or research, on a topic (restricted to subjects covered in this course) of his/her choice.  Detailed instructions will be provided in a separate handout.  A portfolio containing the Preliminary and Final Topic Statements, the Annotated Bibliographies, and the Paper is due on 29 November 2004.

7. Internet Analysis.  The Analysis of an Internet Site must be a review and analysis of World Wide Web Materials on a topic relevant to HON 200.  The site analyzed should be selected from those listed on the HON 200 Web Links page.  Specific directions for this assignment will be posted on the Internet Site for HON 200.  The analysis is due on 13 September 2004.

8. Grading and Grading Scale.  Grading will be based on the three tests, the discussion questions and the paper/essays.

3 Tests                          45%
Two Papers                   30%
Internet Analysis          15%
Class partic/Disc Q’s    10%
Extra Credit                   05%
Total                             105%
Grading Scale. A=100-93; A-=92-90; B+=89-88; B=87-83; B-=82-80; C+=79-78; C=77-73; D+=69-68; D=67-63; D-=62-60; F=59-0.

9. Extra Credit.  A maximum of five (5) points (added to your final course average) may be earned by reading and writing a review or analysis of an approved book or internet site or by submitting a second analysis of  a painting, sculpture, or building.  The essay grade will determine the number of points earned:  A = 5 points; A-/B+ = 4 points; B/B- = 3 points; C+/C = 2 points; C- = 1 point.

10. Class Attendance.  Regular class attendance is important.  Material discussed in class will be emphasized on the tests.  In addition, a significant proportion of the final grade is based on class participation.  Students are accordingly expected to attend every class, beginning with the first session.  Absence from class, no matter what the cause, does not excuse a student from any course requirements.  Make-up work is at the discretion of the instructor.  Excessive absences will probably result in a reduced course grade, and, in such cases, the student’s advisor may be notified.  Attendance will be taken.

11. Late Work.  Work submitted late will be accepted without penalty if arrangements are made in advance; otherwise, late work will be accepted but penalized at least five points.

12. Web Pages.  Selected materials for this course are posted on the HON 200 Web Page.  The address is  There is also a web site (currently under construction) for the Fiero text:  Click on the “Student Center” link to reach links to materials for each chapter.

13. Office Hours.  Office hours are posted on my door (D212).  If an appointment is needed at other than the posted times, please see me after class or call 910.521.6438 (office) or 910.521.6229 (History Department); email is best:

14. Honor Code. Students are expected to comply with all the provisions of the Academic Honor Code, which is printed in the Student Handbook, and is available on the web site of the Office of Student Affairs.

15. Emergency Information Hot Line. For information about possible university closings or delays in opening, call 910.521.6888 or access the UNC Pembroke web page.

16. Students with Documented Disabilities.  Any student with a documented disability needing academic adjustments should speak directly to Disability Support Services and the instructor, as early in the semester (preferably within the first class week) as possible.  All discussions will remain confidential.  This syllabus is available in alternative formats upon request.  For assistance, please contact Mary Helen Walker, Disability Support Services, Career Services Center, Room 210 (910.521.6695) or visit the Office of Disability Support Services web site.

This Page is Maintained by Robert W. Brown
Last Update:  12.VII.2007

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