Course 14.70J / 21H.416J
Medieval Economic History in Comparative Perspective


General Information

Class Hours: MW 9:30-11:00 Room 56-154

Prof. McCants
Office hrs. T 10:30-11:30 and W 11-12

TA: Ariel Rubin
Office hrs. W 2-3:30

This course will survey the conditions of material life and the changing social and economic relations in medieval Europe with reference to the comparative context of contemporary Islamic, Chinese, and central Asian experiences. Subject covers the emergence and decline of feudal institutions, the transformation of peasant agriculture, living standards and the course of epidemic disease, and the ebb and flow of long-distance trade across the Eurasian system. Particular emphasis will be placed on the study of those factors, both institutional and technological, which have contributed to the emergence of capitalist organization and economic growth in western Europe in contrast to the trajectories followed by the other major medieval economies.

This course has a scheduled three hour final exam. In addition, each student will be expected to write two very short (1 page each) discussion papers, and three substantive essays (6 pages each) over the course of the term. The discussion papers will be due on February 18 (or 20) and March 17, and the longer essays will be due on March 10, April 12 (or 14), and May 3. The discussion papers should pertain to the reading assigned for the week they are due. Students will be asked to write their first essay on a common assigned topic which will expand on their first discussion paper. The last two essays will be on general themes relevant to the reading we have done just prior to the due dates. More specific information on these themes will be given in class.

No internet sources should be consulted for your papers, other than those which are either primary source collections, or are academically refereed sites. If you are unsure about a site, please consult me prior to using it. If used, all internet sources must be properly footnoted and cited in your bibliography at the end of your paper just as for any other type of source. Plagiarism from any kind of source will not be tolerated. Cheating earns an automatic F (0%) for the assignment. Moreover, all cases of cheating will be reported to the COD for their consideration of the appropriate disciplinary action to take with the student involved. If you are unsure what plagiarism is please see the MIT Online Writing Communication Center. If you are still uncertain, please see me.


20% for each paper -- total of 60%
5% for the two discussion papers
20% for final exam
15% for class participation -- demonstrating mastery of the assigned readings.

Late Paper and Un-excused Absence Policy:

Late papers will be accepted without penalty in the case of a medical emergency or some other type of emergency which has been brought to my attention in advance. Otherwise, late papers will be graded down 5% points for each day they are late. Students are expected to attend every class. Two un-excused absences will be permitted without penalty. However, each un-excused absence above two will result in your final grade being lowered by 2% points. If you know in advance that you must travel during the week for professional reasons, please see me as soon as possible so that we can make appropriate arrangements.

Books for purchase at the COOP

Hawthorn, The Standard of Living: Tanner Lectures, Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Robert Lopez, The Commercial Revolution of the Middle Ages, Cambridge University Press, 1976.
Giles Milton, Nathanielís Nutmeg, Penguin, 2000.
Kenneth Pomeranz and Steven Topik, The World that Trade Created, M.E. Sharpe, 1999.

All other readings can be found in PDF format on-line at this web site.