This review was a long time coming; specifically, because, I alternated this course along with another Great Courses lecture series (“Reason and Faith”, that whose second half of content will be forthcoming). So it feels like an epic, even though it is but a normal series of lectures. Despite not being an epic course, however, I learned an epic amount from this course. So it all worked out.
Comprising twenty-four lectures, each lecture in this series of classes focused on a different aspect of the crux between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Some lectures were bunched together in order to focus on a single topic (like St. Augustine or early incarnations of historically important empires), others were single shot lectures which delved into a specific aspect of a certain topic (contemporary views on analyzing the Middle Ages or how the medieval family evolved, among others). With each lecture totaling around 30-35 minutes, it was an easy process to listen to and take notes to each session on a weekly basis.
But, let’s be honest, a Great Course lecture series is sort of like one of Oxford’s “Very Short Introduction” titles: because they are all so similar in format, if you’ve read one then you’ve read them all. They are hard to review, in other words because of the shared formatting and because one can only say so much. So to try and circumvent some of this awkwardness, let me just get straight into the heart of this lecture series.
The professor: Philip Daileader was excellent.
I want to be honest though; there were times were his voice irked me. He has this tendency to stop and pause to take a breath in an unnatural manner. What I mean is that it is very noticeable. While many lecturers suffer from this problem, it seems more noticeable with him in this course because of the audio only format in which I bought the course on. When you only have the lecturer’s voice to go on, you notice things which you perhaps would not otherwise on a video format. Other than that small complaint—or reflection, more accurately—I found Daileader to be an informative and highly knowledgeable narrator. As a course, he constructed the series of lectures in a tight and cohesive manner; the content flowed naturally and built upon previous lectures while pushing forward. It did what I find to be common to the highest stage of a course—it took the learner on an intellectual expedition while never losing sight of the end goal: survey knowledge about a subject matter.
Prior to coming into this course, I only knew the bare bones about the early Late Antiquity-Middle Ages nexus. I knew that there was a degree of disease and I also knew that there was a lot of fighting with Barbarians. After the fighting, a certain part of the Roman Empire collapsed and then some new societies sprang forward. Beyond that, I didn’t know a whole lot of details. This lecture series filled in those details.
I learned about St. Augustine and his role in Christianity. I learned about the formation and contradictions of the Roman Empire—the basis of its foundation, conflict with Christianity, conversion to Christianity, and then renewed conflict with paganism. I learned about so-called Barbarian societies and how they were far more than merely wild haired Others; I learned about their marriage customs and legal codes, I learned about how they tried to preserve Roman culture, yet ultimately, failed. I learned about the rise, as well as, the importance of the Carolingian Empire and how it overtook its Merovingian predecessor to become a dominant force before collapsing itself, giving way to three new kingdoms, two of which, which would ultimately grow into France and Germany. And finally, I learned about the rise of feudalism, what feudalism was, and how the medieval estates differed from the Roman latifundas. In short, I learned a great deal.
Do I have all of this content memorized? No, don’t be absurd; for that I will need additional study. I will need to go back over the lectures again and augment my engagement with additional research. But I am saying this: the net gain from this course has been immensely helpful and the time I spent in laboring on these lecture notes has been well spent.
I never would have thought that this late period of time was so rich and complex, but it is. With professor Daileader, meanwhile, offering such a concise introduction to these courses, I could not but help it when I recommend this course to anyone who wants to delve into this period. As an educational tool, I am not sure you are going to find a better survey of the Late Antiquity-early middle Ages epoch. So snatch it up!
The Early Middle Ages
Narrated by Philip Daileader