A couple of weeks ago I posted a request for suggestions of books which might replace William Manchester’s A World Lit Only by Fire as an assigned textbook for students taking the Advanced Placement (AP) European History Course.
At the time I posted this I had not fully studied the details of the course, which would have provided a little more direction on what kind of materials would be useful. The AP European History Course, which is where Manchester is generally used, is designed to cover European History from 1450 to the present. In essence, little of it deals with the Middle Ages. This doesn’t stop Manchester from being a terrible choice for students to read, however it does change the type of texts which would be of most help. You can find out more about this course at The AP European History Course Website.
The AP Program is a very good thing and I completely support it. I’d just like to see something other than Manchester used for this course. One of the problems is that teachers have a hard time finding something students will read. They will read Manchester. Little wonder as it seems to have a focus on the seedy, raunchy side of life. And, at least for the Medieval Period, it’s largely a work of fiction. Hopefully we can come up with some good alternatives.
I haven’t received a great deal of response to this request to date but I want to recognize those who did contribute, even where that contribution was in response to my overly vague request and covered the entire Medieval period, not just the years from 1450. These books may have some usefulness for teachers researching appropriate materials to assign for the AP World History Course.
From Larry Swain, Bemidji State University:
The Making of the Middle Ages by Richard Southern
The Oxford History of Medieval Europe by George Holmes, editor
The Penguin History of Medieval Europe by Maurice Keen – I haven’t read this, just heard good things about it as an overview.
Larry was responding to my request for good books that provided an overview of the entire Medieval Period. However these are inexpensive and may find use, either in the European History or, more likely, the AP World History Course. At the very least, if someone has read Manchester and would like a more balanced view of the period, (I recently had an e-mail from a High School student making this very request) these are inexpensive, fairly readable options.
From Elizabeth Dachowski, Tennessee State University:
Joan of Arc: Her Story by Régine Pernoud and Marie-Véronique Clin – This book includes primary source documents as well as short essays on various topics – Joan in Cinema, for example. These essays would make good starting points for paper topics.
Peasant Fires: The Drummer of Niklashausen by Richard Wunderli
Elizabeth was more familiar with the class. She felt that both Cippola and Huppert might make good overviews. She mentioned that Huppert had some issues but nothing on the scale of Manchester.
She also felt that for something like this, providing a “slice of life” might be better. Pernoud/Clin and Wunderli fit here and she felt some of Steven Ozment’s books might also work.
I hope to get more contributions as time goes on. For now I’ll attach this post as a link at the end of my Manchester review and try to keep updating it. Also, if anyone would like to provide a brief summary of any of these, I’d welcome it – I haven’t read any of them though I have read Pernoud’s Joan of Arc: By Herself and Her Witnesses and found it quite good – she links her narrative with a lot of source documents. As I mentioned in my Manchester review, beyond the content, I have a problem with assigning a book to AP History students that doesn’t footnote.
NOTE: This page is primarily for HS history teachers (and possibly some parents). I thought that the Amazon.com links would make for the simplest and most valuable use but if you prefer that I put together a proper citation list at the bottom of the page, I can do that as well. Just leave a comment or e-mail me.