Course Exam—HIST/HUMN 201

Western Thought and Culture 1: Before the Reformation

HIST 201 / HUMN 201 (Western Thought and Culture 1: Before the Reformation) is a three-credit introductory course that is intended as a foundation course for Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of General Studies students.  This course has no prerequisites and is designed for students with little or no previous university experience.  It provides a good starting place for new students intending to study history, literature, philosophy, or other aspects of the humanities.

HIST 201 / HUMN 201 is the first of two three-credit courses that, together, survey the development of Western civilization from its origins in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt to the complicated and sophisticated post-industrial world.  Although the course employs a historical framework, its overall approach is interdisciplinary, drawing upon the findings of archaeologists, classical scholars, theologians, art historians, literary critics, philosophers, and historians of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Students should note that HUMN 201 is a cross-listed course.  It may not be taken for credit by students who have obtained credit for HIST 201 or vice versa.  HIST 201 / HUMN 201 have a Challenge for Credit option if you are interested.

Western Thought and Culture 1: Before the Reformation is comprised of twelve units, one essay weighing twenty-five percent, one essay worth thirty-five percent, and a final examination weighing forty percent.  The twelve units within this course cover several interesting topics such as Alexander the Great, the renaissance, ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, the roman world, the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire, and the civilization of Byzantium.  To receive credit for HIST 201 / HUMN 201, you must achieve a course composite grade of at least fifty percent and a grade of at least fifty percent on the final examination.

Students should be aware that the final examination for HIST 201 / HUMN 201 must be taken online with an Athabasca University approved exam invigilator at an approved invigilation center.  It is students’ responsibility to ensure that the chosen invigilation center can accommodate online exams.  For a list of invigilators who can accommodate online exams, visit the Exam Invigilation Network.

Dr. Marc B. Cels just celebrated his tenth anniversary with Athabasca University, joining in 2008! He states, “I took over responsibility for coordinating HUMN/HIST 201 just in 2016, when Professor David Gregory, who created the course (and many of our history courses), retired.  I do not usually tutor the course, except to cover for the regular tutors.”

He continues, “I am responsible for most of AU’s courses on European history before 1500.  My research specialty is medieval Christianity, and I work on teasing out medieval teachings and beliefs about anger, forgiveness, and peacemaking.  I majored in History at the University of Calgary, and went on to do a Master’s and PhD in Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto.  I taught at the University of Toronto and Wilfrid Laurier U.  before settling at AU.”

Alongside HIST 201 / HUMN 201 (Western Thought and Culture 1: Before the Reformation), he is also the course coordinator (professor) of eight European courses, which include: HUMN/HIST/CLAS 309: Ancient Greece, HUMN/HIST/CLAS 309: Ancient Rome, HUMN/HIST/RELS 313: Early Christians, HIST 371: Early Medieval Europe, HIST 372: High Medieval Europe (he tutors this course as well), HIST 373: Renaissance, and HIST 383: The Vikings (he also tutors this course).  He is also developing a new course, which will be called HIST 208: The World to 1500.

Dr. Cels explains HIST 201 / HUMN 201 as “a first-year survey history course on ‘western civilization’ before modern times.  It introduces students to some ancient civilizations and early European history.  So, that’s from ancient Egypt, 5,000 years ago, through the Greeks and Romans, to the Middle Ages and Renaissance, up to 500 years ago.  This course stresses the artistic, philosophical, literary, and religious developments of these civilizations.  Dr. Gregory also injected this version of the course (Rev.  C5) with references to the history of music, his special area of interest.  That makes it kind of neat.”

I asked him to provide some insight to the structure of the course and he provided a lot of useful information, stating “HUMN/HIST 201 is an online, Moodle-based course that is divided into twelve chronological units, each of which is imagined as one week’s work.  The units survey western civilization from the ancient Near East (Iraq and Egypt), through ancient Greece and Rome, the European Middle Ages, to the European Renaissance.  The Study Guide for each unit discusses the cultural developments of each period and assigns about a chapter from an illustrated textbook.  For each unit, one or two illustrated streaming video lectures are also assigned: these provide background on the events that shaped the culture of each period.  Students seem to either love or hate the videos, so we provide the option of reading the typed transcripts.  We provide the videos for the sake of visual and auditory learners.  The units are peppered with short passages of writing from the past: these give a taste of the historical record from each period.  Each unit has study questions that help students make focused notes for review later.  There are also non-credit, self-tests in each unit.  One’s tutor is also only a message away for advice and to answer questions.”

He continues, “Half-way through the units, students write a short essay (2000 words) based on course materials.  At the end of the course, they write a research essay (3000-4000 words) that lets them look at topic in more detail.  For both essays, students choose from lists of assigned topics related to events discussed in the course.  They also sit a 3-hour final exam that reviews the whole course.  It is wise to take the exam after completing the essay assignments, in case a student finds an exam question related to the paper topic they have chosen.  The exam consists of one part short written answers and one part short essay answers.  In both parts, students chose which questions they answer from a list of options.  Students, who wrote answers to the study questions in the Study Guide, will have a good set of notes to review so that names, dates, and events will be fresh in their minds before the exam.  Everyone learns differently, so it is good for students to consult with their tutor about various ways to prep for the exam or tackle the essay assignments.  The AU Write Site and librarians are also available to support students.”

Dr. Cels states that “the challenge for any AU student is organizing their time, keeping good notes, and setting their own deadlines.  This course runs through a lot of history—for some it will be familiar, and for others it will be entirely new.  I recommend trying to set a regular pace to build on the knowledge from unit to unit before one starts forgetting it.  Some students, especially history buffs, like to read the textbook quickly—but they will have a harder time recalling the details that pile up.  Better to work through the readings as they are assigned in the Study Guide.  The Study Guide, textbook, and videos reiterate ideas and explain them in different ways, which helps students to learn them.  The units are broken up into bits, so even if one is busy, they should still be able to chip away at the course so they continue to make progress.  For any student setting out on this course, I recommend contacting his or her individualized study tutor for tips.  The tutor knows the course well, can explain his or her expectations, and respond to questions.”

“This course attracts many students, and it has one of the highest enrolments among the HIST courses!” He states, “It is hard to generalize about these students.  This survey provides a foundation for students not only in history, but also art, religion, music, literature, and philosophy.  Students in other areas often take this 201 to fulfill a humanities area breadth requirement.  Having taken this course, students will have a better idea of what other Humanities courses they may wish to take.  Students preparing to become Social Studies teachers often take this course, since it covers so many formative periods of western civilization.  It is also great preparation for anyone planning to tour Europe or who enjoys art, literature, and music.”

Most courses have content that may be more difficult than others, Dr. Cels explained that “Students need a strong work ethic and need to be organized.  A challenge in taking any AU course is organizing one’s studies around other courses, work, and other commitments.  The particular challenge of an introductory History course is the wide range of events, places, people, and dates to keep straight: the solution is to establish a regular study schedule.  The essay assignments are probably the biggest challenge for students who are new to essay-writing or returning to essay-writing from a hiatus: discussing expectations with one’s tutor and allowing time to plan and prepare for the essay helps a lot.”

Overall, he states that “Students come away with a better understanding of how the major periods of western civilization fit together—ancient, classical, medieval and Renaissance.  Students are often familiar with bits of these periods from pop culture or general reading, but this course brings them together.  Many of the ideas and creations of long-dead people still shape the lives of people around the world today.  Nevertheless, people in the past were very different from us, which goes to show that the ways we think, feel, and act change over time and are not fixed—that’s one of most important lessons that the study of history teaches us.”

Whether HIST 201 / HUMN 201 is a program or degree requirement of yours, or the content discussed above is of interest to you, this course will have you learning the development of Western civilization!

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