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Temaomtale HIS113

Fordjuping i eldre historie

Stor fisk som spiser mindre fisk
Bruegel the Elder (1556) - Big Fish Eat Little Fish.

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Du har valet mellom ulike tema i HIS113, men du kan berre velje eitt. Hausten 2021 tilbys følgande tema:

Tema 1Death and the Afterlife in Medieval Scandinavia, c. 1000 – 1500 AD

Ansvarlig: Embla Aae

Death is the inevitable conclusion of all human life. Until science progresses to a point where it might permit humans to live indefinitely, death is a concept with which we all must grapple at one point or another. Likewise, all cultures coming before us have found it necessary to develop myths, ideas, and strategies to regulate death within their communities—the people who were experiencing what we now designate as the Middle Ages were no exception.  

This course will examine the various ways in which death affected the lives of Medieval Scandinavians over a period of 500 years and how their understanding of the afterlife shaped their actions in the here-and-now. The course will commence with a look at certain memorial practices peculiar to the conversion period in Scandinavia, such as runestones raised for the souls of the dead. Working our way through the Catholic era, we will note how the emergence of concepts such as Purgatory shaped Medieval interactions with death and the afterlife throughout this period. 

The idea of the soul’s eternal existence was crucial to the perception of self in the Middle Ages. Just as a modern person might experience anxiety at the thought of dying without realising their full potential as an individual, medieval people would fear dying in a manner that did not safeguard their souls for eternity. To understand the reasoning underlying medieval death practices, we will look at perceptions of the soul in different types of carved or written sources from Scandinavia, such as rune stones, rune sticks, and manuscripts. Comparing these with sources from other parts of Europe will provide a thorough understanding of the measures people took to protect their souls in preparation for death.  

Through engagement with relevant literature and a selection of primary sources from the period, we will get a glimpse at life at the northernmost periphery of Roman Catholicism through the lens of death. How was society shaped by death’s presence, and who had access to the different Medieval death practices? Did practices in the north conform to Catholic norms, or did Scandinavian people relate differently to the afterlife? 

Tema 2: The Rise of the Modern State

Ansvarlig: Stephan Sander-Faes

Pre-modern Europe was not a peaceful place, and the better part of its history is marred by seemingly endless conflict. Driven by confessional as well as political motives, the ambitions of kings and ministers were accompanied by the establishment of increasingly large standing (military) and sitting (bureaucracy) armies. These changes were usually administered in a hap-hazard way and mostly improvised, but their intended—and unintended—consequences shaped the emergence of the European state. By the late 18th century, centuries of violent strife and power-political struggles have divided Europe into a number of distinctly circumscribed states, very much unlike other areas of the globe such as China, the Middle East, or (albeit to lesser degrees) northern America.

With the benefit of hindsight, scholarship identified a gradual, but non-linear tendency that took shape from the middle of 17th century onwards and informs most periodisation efforts of European history across the Humanities and Social Sciences. This so-called ‘Westphalian model’ emphasises state sovereignty and international law, and it is widely held as a, if not the, analytical yardstick to assess organisational development. Scholars of state formation traditionally emphasise geopolitical competition, which fed into the establishment and growth over the course emphasise the state’s coercive institutions (military and bureaucracy) and mobilisation capabilities. In this hyper-competitive environment, war, not peace, was the norm, with most scholars agreeing with Charles Tilly that indeed ‘war made the state, and the state made war’. On these general trends, economists, historians, International Relation (IR) scholars, political scientists, and sociologists are overwhelmingly in agreement.

In this course, we will look at the emergence and historical development of the (modern) European state. While the chronological emphasis rests on the late medieval (c. 1350-1500) and early modern periods, we will also discuss the interrelated aspects of bureaucracy, economic development, social relations, and warfare. Conceptually, we will also look at the scholarly debates that accompanied the development of the major theories of state formation since the 19th century.

Core Issues:

  • Who and what drove modern state formation?
  • How did the ‘modern state’ accomplish its formation and how did the nascent ‘administrative state’ (Max Weber) extend its reach further and further?
  • May we be able to discern distinct ‘directions’ in which, e.g., communication, media, people, etc. flowed during the period under consideration?
  • What about roads not taken? What kind, or type, of ‘state’ eventually emerged in Europe and the US after 1648?
  • And, lastly, how did asymmetries of power relations between actors affect, (re-) order, and influence state formation?

Overview of the Course

General framework: in the introductory bloc (weeks 33-35) we will discuss the contours of the course and the pertinent historiography; in the second bloc, ‘Pre-state history’ (weeks 36-37), we will cover the main avenues of development up until the 14th century; in the third bloc, ‘Leviathan rising’ (weeks 38-41), we will focus on the rise of the European state (system) from the 14th century to the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48); in the final bloc (weeks 42-44), the period from the Westphalian Peace to the French Revolution (1648-1789) takes centre stage, and we will discuss the state as an instrument of power-politics; the course concludes with remarks on the main trends, key concepts, and essential readings.