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Western Civilizations to 1650

Mid-term exam essay questions

This is a "take-home" exam.  Answer any ONE of these questions in a typed essay. 

Each question requires that you think about ideas and examples from the lectures, the Coffin textbook, the Brophy reader, and (in some cases) the Wessley study guide (documents).  Each question asks you to interpret documents from Brody.  You will find that this is much easier if you think about how the documents fit into their historical contexts (into the setting of their specific time, place and conditions).  That means you should review the lecture notes and Coffin text.  But the core of your paper must the presentation and analysis of information from the documents in Brody.

Be sure that you understand exactly what the question is asking.  Then review your notes on the lectures and on the readings (including the documents!) to organize an answer for that question.

Your essay must have: 

1)      An introduction that tells the reader what you are writing about and what your main point (thesis) will be. 

2)      Several clearly organized paragraphs in the body of the essay that prove your main point.  Each body paragraph must be devoted to explaining a single issue or idea in detail.  Each body paragraph must have specific evidence or examples.  In each paragraph, you must explain how the specific evidence and examples are connected to (demonstrate/ illustrate) the main idea you are explaining in that paragraph. 

3)      A conclusion that sums up your main point (thesis).

Your essay must be at least 4 pages long but no longer than 6 pages, not counting endnotes. 

Your essay must be double spaced, with 1-inch margins, in 12 pt. font.   New paragraphs must be indented by no more than 6 spaces. Do not "double skip" lines between paragraphs.

Correctly put all quoted material in quotation marks.  Be sure to read the linked directions on the difference between quoting, paraphrasing, summarizing, and plagiarism.

Provide correct endnotes for all quoted or paraphrased evidence.  Be sure to read the linked directions on using endnotes, and pay special attention to the section on "documents and essays that are reprinted in a book."  


Question A

In one of our first lectures, I commented that studying laws can tell us a great deal about history.  For instance:

*Laws can tell you about a society's social hierarchies--e.g., about the differences between elites and non-elites, or the status of women, children, and "outsiders." 

*Laws can tell you about the organization of the economy--e.g., about property rights, the existence of various kinds of property (including tools), types of economic activity (such as farming), and types of labor (such as slavery). 

*Laws can tell you about the organization of government—e.g., if it had a Kingship, if it was a theocracy, what powers the King claimed as King, what powers rested with other religious authorities (the Temple priest or the gods), what aspects of people's lives the government tried to regulate, what aspects of people's lives other religious authorities tried to regulate (etc.).   

Laws might not necessarily tell you exactly how people behaved, but they tell you how the lawmakers wanted people to behave; they might not tell you what people valued, but they tell you what lawmakers wanted people to value; they might not tell you exactly how much authority those in power really exercised, but they do tell you what authority those in power claimed to have.

Examine law codes from and writing about laws in ancient Mesopotamia, among the Hebrews (circa 500 BCE), among the Spartans, and among the Romans in the Early and Late Republican eras as a way of comparing and contrasting at least one of the following aspects of these societies:  1) the organization of the economy, 2) the organization of the social (status) hierarchy; 3) the powers of the ruler or the powers of religious authorities.

Try to focus on specific aspects of social hierarchy, economy, or government:  you might, for instance, discuss what these laws tell us about the nature of property and property rights in each society, or about the status of women in each society, or the role of the king or religious authorities in enforcing moral codes and values (or many other topics!).     

To do this requires that you review material on these societies from the textbook and the lecture notes, but in particular it requires that you consider the law codes of Hammurabi and of Middle Assyria; The Torah Laws of the Hebrews; Xenophon's "The Laws and Customs of the Spartans"; The Roman "Twelve Tables"; and Cicero's "On the Laws" (there are selections of Hammurabi's Code and the Twelve Tables in both Brody and Wessley—be sure to look at both versions).


Question B

One of the points that I have made several times in lecture is that most ancient and classical societies were agricultural, which shaped not only economic life but also cultural life.  But how do we know about the agricultural nature of ancient Mesopotamia, the Hebrew tribes, the Greek city states, and Rome?

Examine various documents about ancient Mesopotamia, the Hebrew tribes, the Greek city states, and Rome and explain what these documents can tell us about the agricultural base of each society and how agriculture (farming, raising domesticated animals, etc) shaped their cultures.

Among the documents relevant to answering this question are:  The Laws of Ancient Mesopotamia; The Letters of Deir el-Medina; The Book of I Kings;  Herodotus, The Histories:  Customs of the Persians;  The Torah:  Laws; Plato, The Republic; Hellenistic Authors, Short Poems; Columella, Management of a Large Estate. (All of these are in Brody.) 


Question C 

One of the points that I made in our first lectures is that although peoples in the past and in different civilizations did not necessarily have the same feelings and attitudes as we do about personal matters like love and friendship, sickness and death, they certainly were concerned with such matters.

Examine various types of documents about ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Hebrew tribes, the Greek city states, and Rome and explain what these documents can tell us about the how people in each society thought and felt about either love and friendship OR sickness and death.

Among the documents relevant to answering this question are:  The Social Order in Assyria (in Wessley); The Epic of Gilgamesh; Songs of the Birdcatcher's Daughter; Harper's Songs; The Letters of Deir el-Medina; Herodotus, The Histories:  Customs of the Persians; The Torah:  Laws; Hesiod, Work and Days; Spartan Values and Society; Epictetus, The Manual: Stoicism; Hellenistic Authors, Short Poems; Tacitus, Germania [remember that Tacitus is contrasting the ways of the Germans to the ways of the Romans].  (All except the first are in Brody.)