AP European History Book Request Follow-up

13 Aug

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

From me:
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:

Before the Industrial Revolution: European Society and Economy, 1000-1700 by Carlo Cipolla

After the Black Death, Second Edition: A Social History of Early Modern Europe by George Huppert

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 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.


Posted by on August 13, 2010 in Books


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6 responses to “AP European History Book Request Follow-up

  1. Dstarr

    August 13, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    For 1450 to the present, there are some momentous events, of which WWI has to be right up there. Massey's "Dreadnought" is an excellent and readable account of the naval build up that proceeded the war. Barbara Tuchman's "Guns of August" and "Proud Tower" are important works showing how the war broke out and the social and political atmosphere before the war. I'd think students would read all of them.

  2. Medieval History Geek

    August 13, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    Thank you for your comment and the suggestions.I should probably clarify that while I welcome any comments for any of the period covered by the course, this blog is a Medieval blog and the area I'm interested in providing information for would be to cover the earlier portion of the course, that which teachers currently assign Manchester to cover, which would be up to about 1520. There may be texts frequently assigned for other periods that are as misguided as Manchester is regarding Medieval History but that should probably be taken up in a blog or other forum which focuses on that period.

  3. Uncle Frank

    November 21, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    Thanks for your blog. I too am an amateur Middle Ages enthusiast and have with great effort overcome the wrong minded descriptions of the ages between Western Roman Empire's collapse and the rise of Renaissance thought. I would suggest the podcast Europe from its Origins by Joseph Hogarty. This is an excellent review of the social, economic and religious forces at work that ultimately defined Europe and most of Western thought and culture.

  4. Tacita Sempronia

    August 25, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    One book which might be worth adding to your list: Barbara W. Tuchman's _A Distant Mirror_, which covers the fourteenth century and brings admirable focus, context, and chronology to its tumult. Tuchman offers vivid portraits of the major figures of the age, intelligent (and intelligible!) analysis of military engagements, a wealth of detail both lurid and well-sourced, and cogent, coherent arguments about the implications of the developments she describes. She has one additional virtue, for classroom use: she's a scrupulous writer, one who contextualizes her sources and balances narrative, detail, and analysis. For AP students–required to produce essays on some very complex topics, and often poorly prepared for the task by textbooks written in summary style–Tuchman is an excellent example of history written _well_. Selections from this book could furnish lessons on the practice of history as well as on its content. (It's worth noting that Tuchman is the author of DStarr's recommendations–I'm a little puzzled he didn't mention this work, since it's more germane to your period.)

  5. Curt Emanuel

    August 27, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Unfortunately A Distant Mirror doesn't have a very good reputation among historians. I haven't read it but from what others have said, Tuchman appears to overly rely on a limited number of sources and pretty much took them at face value even though some have been shown to be pretty unreliable. I've also been told that she went a bit overboard with some characterizations.OTOH, the errors are nothing like what comes out of Manchester. It's supposed to be a very good read and well written. I know a lot of people who first became interested in the Middle Ages from reading it. I bought a copy from a used bookstore a few weeks ago and will read it eventually.

  6. Owen Symes

    October 12, 2015 at 2:57 am

    For my money, Will Durant’s The Age of Faith would make for a good starting point. He recognizes his limitations and tries to be transparent in his prejudices; he gives the Medieval mind, I think, a pretty fair shake; includes Jews, Christians, and Muslims in his purview; and gives one of the most sympathetic accounts of the wonder of religion that I’ve had the pleasure of reading. He does his imperfect best to convey the life pulsing through Medieval Europe, very much as it did in Antiquity, and for better or worse as it continues to do today.


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