History 3XX - Fall 2000

European Women's Histories, 1300-1800

Goals and Approach:

The past few decades have seen tremendous changes in the lives that women live, both in the so-called West and in the rest of the world. Indeed, the changes that have taken place, although far from uniform in their impact and far from complete in themselves, are nothing short of revolutionary. Many more women have control of their reproductive capacities; many more women can choose between career and family options; and women now take on important and very public roles in society far more often. So dramatic has this progress been in comparison with the past that it is now hard to see and understand the world as women in past ages did. It is often difficult for us to see in the world that women now confront the origins of current challenges being faced, the beginnings of successes achieved or simply mark the paths women have walked. This problem crops up even where the very recent past is at issue. It is, for example, only a lack of historical perspective that allows some to argue that we should regard the domestic roles of the women in 1950s U.S. society as traditional. In fact, the position of women within the family has shifted frequently in practically every society one could name, and seldom in one unbroken progression. If, as it's been said, women hold up half the sky, it is vital to know how they have helped maintain the heavens all these years!

In light of the above, this course has two primary aims. First, I want you to leave the course with the knowledge and the analytical skills to place women's experiences, whether in the present or the past, in the broader context of social, economic, cultural and political change. Second, at the course's end you should have a deeper understanding of the roles women have played in the past and their significance for the societies in which they lived. This will not simply be a matter of our cataloging women's many salutary contributions. Rather our task will be to look at how women interacted with and influenced the societies in which they lived as they struggled to survive and prosper and how society shaped their opportunities and determined what a woman could/should be.

As I am a European historian by training and as the experiences of European women continue to shape the present, this course focuses on Western Europe. We will also circumscribe ourselves in terms of time, following women's lives from the Middle Ages to the dawn of what historians think of as modernity, the beginning of the 19th century. My reasoning here is again part practical, part intellectual. The focus of my own work is the period from 1300-1800 and the period from 1300-1800 is one during which many of the structures and forces that have shaped and continue to shape women's lives in the West came to be. The last point to make about the structure of the course is that we will approach our subject thematically and chronologically. I have divided the course into two-week units in which we will consider a particular aspect of women's lives across the period our course covers, which means we will look at our chosen half-century from seven different perspectives.

Ideal Environment:

For me a syllabus represents a contract between me (the instructor) and you (the student). Part of that contract for me is that we both make an honest effort to create a productive classroom environment, as this is an important part of what really allows learning to take place. The heart of the class-room environment (for me) rests in respect, enthusiasm, and openness. This may sound general, so I will elaborate. Enthusiasm means a persistent willingness to tackle the problems that come up in the readings and assignments for each week. It does not mean that everyone always has to show up happy and cheerful, but readiness to make a contribution to class is a must. Respect in the classroom means valuing each person's participation, not because their ideas are the best (although you might think so), but because they are trying to make a contribution to the group. Openness lies in the freedom for people to express their thoughts and opinions, which includes scope for debate and disagreement with me or anyone else. The closer we approach this ideal environment, the more the classroom will be an effective space for clarifying, making manageable and even experimenting with the issues confronted in the course. This ideal may not always be achievable, but in my view we should always strive for it.



Course work consists of four elements: participation in discussion, any assigned informal writings and three reaction papers.


a. Preparation: In order to participate in class discussions and other activities you will need to do the assigned readings. Please budget time to complete readings for the date in which they appear in the assignment and reading schedule. The readings are in two forms, which are listed below.

Olwen Hufton, The Prospect Before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe, 1500-1800 (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1995)

Specialized Studies:

Susan Amussen, An Ordered Society: Gender and Class in Early Modern England (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994).

Women and Politics in the Age of Democratic Revolution, edited by Harriet B. Applewhite and Darline G. Levy (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1993)

Barbara Duden, The Woman Beneath the Skin: A Doctors Patients in Eighteenth-Century Germany (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998)

Martha Howell, The Marriage Exchange: Property, Social Place, and Gender in Cities of the Low Countries, 1300-1500 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998)

Mary Parry, Gender and Disorder in Early Modern Seville (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990)

Women in Reformation and Counter-Reformation Europe: Public and Private Worlds, edited by Sherrin Marshall (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989)

Primary Sources:

The Memoirs of Gleuckel of Hameln, translated by Marvin Rosen, with an Introduction by Robert Rosen (Schocken Press, 1998)

Convents Confront the Reformation: Catholic and Protestant Nuns in Germany, edited by Merry Wiesner Hanks (Marquette, WI: Marquette University Press, 1997)

Additional source handouts as needed.

All of the above readings will be required for the course. Most important for an overview of key issues will be The Prospect Before Her. You will also use this book to identify the additional secondary literature for which you will be responsible on a weekly basis (see Discussion for an explanation). The specialized studies and primary sources will do double duty in the course. We will use them to structure our two-week units and they will also serve as the primary material for the papers you write in the course.

b. Discussion: Discussion is crucial to the success of this course. I cannot stress this enough. Each week you will be responsible for doing the common readings and in addition you will need to select an appropriate (article-length) reading from the copious bibliography in the main textbook for the course: The Prospect Before Her by Olwen Hufton. I will not require you to make a formal presentation of the article you choose, but I expect to hear from you about it in the course of our in-class discussions.

c. Informal Writings: Occasionally I may assign short writing exercises to help focus our discussions. The emphasis will vary from paper to paper. Informal writing will also be graded with a check, check-plus, check-minus system and include comments.

d. Credit for Participation: Informal writing(s) and class discussion will be worth 25% of the final grade.

Reaction Papers: You will have to write four reaction papers, each of which will be worth 15% of the total grade in the course. Instructions for the papers are at the class web-site:

Mid-term Examination: There will be one formal examination in this course at the mid-term. The midterm will consist chiefly of essay questions (two in number) that will be chosen from among a list of possibilities handed out well in advance of the test. This examination will have a weight of 15% in the final grade.

Guidelines for Academic Work:

Late Papers, Other Work & Missed Examinations: Late work of any sort will lose a grade per day after the set due date. Barring a serious illness or other extenuating circumstance which can be documented, there will be no exceptions to this rule. Examinations not taken on the scheduled day will result in a zero being entered into the gradebook unless a documented extenuating circumstance arises.

Incompletes: Incompletes will be granted on a case by case. Please come see me two weeks before the end of term if you think that you will need to take an incomplete. If you do not do this I will have difficulty in granting your request.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism is the representation of the work of another as your own. In all of the writing you do for this course you must make clear to me which ideas in a paper are your own and which come from someone else. This is especially important for any formal essays you write. In these such essays you must cite all primary and secondary sources you use in accordance with the proper conventions. I will hand out a sheet explaining the basics of citation before any formal essays come due. If for some reason you do not receive a copy of this hand-out, do not assume you will be exempt from following its guidelines. You are responsible for knowing what's in the hand-out. The recommended penalties for plagiarism are a failing grade on the assignment for the first offense and failure of the course for a second offense. Please heed this warning.

Readings and Due Dates:

Controlling Women's Bodies, Controlling Women's Behavior

Week 1

Common Readings: Woman Beneath the Skin, 1-103; The Prospect, 1-27.

Week 2

Common Readings: Woman Beneath the Skin, 104-184; The Prospect, 28-61.

The Female Life-Cycle

Week 3

Common Reading: The Prospect, 137-254.

Women, Religion and Spirituality

Week 4

Common Readings: Women in Reformation and Counter-Reformation Europe, 1-7, 29-88, 120-165 & The Prospect, 336-362.

Turn In: Reaction Paper #1

Week 5

Common Readings: Women in Reformation and Counter-Reformation Europe, 8-28, 89-119, 166-206; Convents Confront the Reformation & The Prospect, 363-423.

Women at Work, Women in Business


Common Readings: Selections from: Gleuckel of Hameln & The Prospect, 69-101.

Week 7

Common Readings: Selections from: Gleuckel of Hameln

Reproducing Families: Women, Marriage and Property

Week 8

Common Readings: The Prospect, 62-69; The Marriage Exchange,

Turn In: Reaction Paper #2

Take: Midterm Examination.

Week 9

Common Readings: The Marriage Exchange, & The Prospect, 102-136.

Women, Politics and Revolt

Week 10

Common Readings: Selections from: Women and Politics & The Prospect, 463-491.

Week 11

Common Readings: Selections from: Women and Politics.

Turn In: Reaction Paper #3

Prostitution and Sexual Misconduct

Week 12

Common Readings: Selection from: Gender and Disorder & The Prospect, 303-336.

Week 13

Common Readings: Selection from: Gender and Disorder.

Women and Scandal

Week 14

Common Readings: Selection from: An Ordered Society & The Prospect, 255-302.

Week 15

Common Readings: Selection from: An Ordered Society.

Turn In: Reaction Paper #4

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