LA200.HP: Western Cultural Traditions I


John Spurlock, Ph.D.

St. Joseph Hall 402

724 830-1021 or ext. 4460

Fall 2009

Office Hours

Monday & Wednesday 2-3

M&W online chat hours 3-4

Tuesday and Thursday 3:30-4

Other times by appointment.




Note: This syllabus contains the best possible information on this course. Even so, it is subject to change with appropriate notice. The instructor will attempt to maintain an updated syllabus online. Once notice has been given, you are responsible for complying with any change in assignments or due dates.


            Welcome to WCT on the web! Although the catalog description (please consult the Seton Hill University catalog) is rather general, this course offers an introduction to the culture and history of the civilizations that arose in the Near East, Mediterranean, and Europe from 5000 B.C. to A.D. 1600. That is quite a sweep of time! Obviously, we cannot do justice to all of the important developments over such a long period and such a wide area in eight weeks. In this course we will study several important issues as our way of deepening our understanding of human history. So, this course is not a traditional survey of western civilization. I will assign background reading for each assignment, but I will not ask you to memorize information or prepare for tests. I want you to put your energy into thinking about the material and completing the assignments—on time!


            Please read the following points carefully. They will give you a better idea of what to expect and how to approach this course.


  • This is an eight-week intensive course that follows the Saturday class schedule. Your first assignment is due August 24 (so get busy!) and the last day of class is October 10.
  • The textbook for this course is Merry Wiesner and others, Discovering the Western Past: A Look at the Evidence, vol. 1, sixth edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004). You can purchase the book at the Seton Hill College bookstore, or online at (Note: You might find another edition of this book. That’s fine, but you are still responsible for the material that we cover. You will have to see that the chapter titles match the ones that we use from the fifth edition.)
  • This is an online course.    The entire course will be conducted through the Griffingate site. You will download your papers to the course site. You must save these papers in Microsoft Word 97. I cannot open attachments in other word processing programs. Also, I will make comments on your papers using Word 97, and you will need that program to read those comments.
  • All materials for this course (other than the textbook) are on the website. I will post the assignments every at least one week in advance. It is your responsibility to read the assignments carefully and follow the directions for the work you do and the times for submitting your work.
  • This is not a self-paced course. There will be assignments due weekly, and sometimes there will be more than one. Each one will have a 48-hour window for submission. I urge you to submit early in the window. The date stamp provided by the course site is the absolute determiner of whether an assignment is on time or not. Assignments must be submitted on time to receive credit. There are no make-ups, and no extra credit.


We will be in touch regularly over the semester, through e-mail and online discussion. Let me know how you are doing and what problems you come up against. 


Course Goals

Our goal for WCT this year is to provide the opportunity, resources, and encouragement so that students will be able to:

Students will demonstrate this through:

Demonstrate a general understanding of the geography of the ancient Near East, Mediterranean basin, and Europe, and the political, social, economic, and cultural implications of that geography.

Use of maps throughout the course. In particular, the first assignment asks students to analyze documents dealing with the influence of place and natural resources (in this case water) on the development of civilization.

Acquire a broad, chronological grasp of the cultural history of Western Civilization.

Making use of background materials to provide context for specific chapter assignments.

Acquire skills for exploring the past, including critical reading of texts from the past and basic tools for research.

Critically reading historical texts and reaching conclusions based on a variety of types of evidence. Students will pursue this goal in each of the assignments.

Identify with people of history--to place yourself imaginatively in their context, to "see through their eyes, feel through their hearts," above all, to become aware of the cultural assumptions and expectations that shape our own views as well as theirs.

Reading about and coming to understand the lives of many people through the text, understanding their lives and the context (cultural, economic, and social) that shaped their lives. 

Recognize and articulate how cultures of the past have embodied their answers to questions of human meaning and how those answers may influence our world today.

Developing responses and ultimately substantial papers in response to the major questions posed in each chapter.

Continue the quest for human meaning, by placing your own experiences within the context of history, culture, race, gender, and class.

Joining threaded discussions on major questions raised in the chapters and in the course. 




Code of Academic Conduct

Seton Hill University expects that all its students will practice academic honesty and ethical conduct. The university regards plagiarism, cheating on examinations, falsification of papers, non-sanctioned collaboration, and misuse or illegal use of library material, computer material, or any other material, published or unpublished, as violations of academic honesty.


Please consider the following advice from historian Richard Wightman Fox:

 Don’t claim the ideas or words of someone else as your own. Do use the ideas and words of others to help develop your own. Do have friends read and comment on drafts of your papers. Always give explicit credit when you use anyone’s exact thoughts or language, whether in paraphrasing or quoting them. Give an acknowledgment of someone who’s helped you overall. Intellectual work is about developing and sharing your ideas, and it’s about taking note of and praising other people who have shared good ones with you.


Statement on Disabilities

If you have a disability that may require consideration by the instructor, you should contact the Coordinator of Disabled Student Services at 724-838-4295 or . It is recommended that this be accomplished by the second week of class. If you need accommodations for successful participation in class activities prior to your appointment at the Disabled Student Services Office, you should offer information in writing which includes suggestions for assistance in participating in and completing class assignments. It is not necessary to disclose the nature of your disability.




Design and Assessment

The basic principle that we use in these assignments is to provide a means of thinking about the material you are using and then to return to the material to re-examine your ideas with your new insights, that is, thinking about thinking. The course seeks to build individual competence, but also to build on group and whole-class collaboration. In this way, students learn to develop their own conclusions and insights, but also benefit from the thought of fellow students.

 Role of the Instructor

This course cannot be teacher-centered. Instead, you as the learner are the lead investigator. You need to consider whatever background material is provided, and you must follow the guidelines given in the text. Early in the course I will provide a great deal of direction and step-by-step instructions on how to do the paper assignments. But as the course progresses, you should become more independent. I can provide help when you are stumped or need some more information to move forward. 

The assignments and grading will take place as follows:

Response and Comment

50 points


100 points

Point totals subject to change in response to the needs of the class.


Response and Comment

Each week you will go to the “Forums” section on Griffingate where you will have two questions (or sets of questions) to answer based on assigned reading. This asks that you consider the question in light of what you have read. If you express your view, you have to provide some support for your view based on the readings. The responses need not go into great detail, and wordiness for its own sake is not desirable. But, the response will need to take the question(s) seriously and base answers on material in the text. Each response is worth 3 points, and will be scored on the following criteria:

Points              Criteria


No response or response not posted on time.


Response with no support or other discussion, or response to only some of the questions: “I think the Greeks had good ideas.”


Response to all parts of the question with some discussion or some analysis of material: “The Greek ideas about politics only make sense if you know about the polis.”


Response that shows use of all sources and careful consideration of the question: “Aristotle clearly referred to the polis in his writing about politics. His ideas are interesting, but it is even more interesting to compare what he says to …”

I also ask that you comment on at least two other student responses. You will have 24 hours after the due date/time for response postings to post your comments. I will give credit for comments that go beyond simply agreeing or disagreeing. You need to state why you agree or disagree, or why the response is helpful to you.



The response and comment assignments should help you to think about the material we are studying. If you take these assignments seriously, it will help you develop thoughtful responses to the kinds of questions that are important for historians, and to begin developing your skill in analyzing source documents and synthesizing information drawn from these documents.

Each week there will be a paper assignment posted in the weekly subheadings on Griffingate that requires that you answer questions raised in chapters in the book. There are no correct answers hiding in another place in the book. You must become the historian and develop responses to these questions, based on the evidence provided in the text. These are the papers that you will send to me as attachments (saved in MS Word 97).

The first paper will be rather short, but each subsequent paper should grow in both length and development of the arguments. I will make comments on your papers and return them to you so you will have some guide for developing your papers. Also, I hope to post examples of excellent papers so you can see how these assignments can be done.

In general, papers should conform to the following criteria.

·         Paper must be completed on time (the date stamp on Griffingate  is the definitive turn-in time).

·         Paper must contain an opening paragraph that provides answers to the main questions for the assignment. This paragraph should make it clear how you will develop your answers to the questions

·         Paper should be clearly organized. The reader should always know exactly where s/he is in your argument.

·         Paper must provide support for your conclusion using the evidence in the textbook. Each piece of evidence should be evaluated for its usefulness and reliability. The paper should draw material from the “Background” sections only to help explain the documents that you are using.

·         Papers that do all of the above satisfactorily will receive 80 per cent of the total points. Papers that demonstrate better insights or more craft in dealing with the sources will receive more points.




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