This week, we're spending three class periods to get from 1842 to 1860 because, just as you can't understand how the South is different without understanding the impact of slavery, you can't understand California's history (and, if I may, its exceptionalism) without understanding the implications of the Gold Rush. I wrote two diaries on the Gold rush in the fall, and this week, we'll look at why, if gold was discovered early in 1848, the football team in San Francisco is called the 49ers.
Our Western Civ material will cover the whole issue of "barbarian" control of Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire by looking at some of the successor societies and the impact they had on the parts of the Roman Empire they occupied. This will take us roughly from 410 to 850, as we examine the Visigoths, a group my textbook calls "the first new society," and the Merovingian Dynasty, the founders of the Holy Roman Empire.
I really didn't get very far into any of this during the fall. I discovered I had no notes WHATSOEVER on the Visigoths and a whole bunch of cut and paste stuff on Charlemagne. So this is going to be fairly impressionistic and probably not the incisive analysis you've come to expect from me.
Here's Southern Europe between 476 and 526:
Unfortunately, the new Gothic kingdoms didn't pay much attention to the traditions of classical learning, and it fell to the Eastern, later called the Byzantine, empire to preserve them. As it happens, the Moorish invaders who displaced the Visigoths brought a respect for classical learning with them, and I think I'm going to discuss the three important non-Christian thinkers who flourished in Moorish Spain -- Avicenna, Averroes and Moses ben Maimon -- next week.
And here's another map.
I guess we know (and the map shows how) that Charlemagne's territorial expansion created the Holy Roman Empire, which included all of Christianized Europe except the British Isles. He built his capital in Aachen, where the cathedral shows both Byzantine and European medieval (I'm staying away from the term "Gothic" here, which was used by Renaissance historians to show their contempt for medieval architecture) influences.
Thus, the work of understanding and preserving the work of the past continued in Charlemagne's Europe. Alcuin's liturgical guide, which he produced for Charlemagne, served as the basis for the Roman Catholic Missal until the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Not exactly the Dark Ages, this.
I'm not pretending to be an expert on any of this, since the last time I studied this material in an academic setting was the fall of 1967, but I think it demonstrates a degree of continuity from at least Christianized Rome through the years after the Western Empire "fell" that I'm not sure we all think of when we consider the medieval period.