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This short assignment is designed to help you develop skills in critically analyzing a primary source. The paper will be based on your close reading and analysis of sources from our tutorials. This is not a research essay, and you are not expected to look outside of the course materials for new information. However, you are expected to be familiar with the course readings and lectures. You should choose only one of the questions below (under “Questions”) and write a short (3-5 pages, double-spaced) essay in which you answer it. Your essay should have a thesis, and should present arguments that support that thesis; each argument should be supported by textual evidence.
Remember that “critical analysis” is not the same thing as “hate fest.” Even when texts are inaccurate or misleading, we can often learn something from them. Part of this exercise involves thinking about how unreliable texts can still serve as guides to our understanding of the past.
Tacitus’s Germania gives an extensive description of “The Germans”, that is, Germanic tribes living beyond the borders of the Roman Empire. Pick two or three passages from the text. What do you learn about (a) the Germans and (b) the Romans from each passage? In general, what is the use of primary sources that we know to be biassed and inaccurate?
In Chapter 7 of The Monks of Kublai Kahn, Rabban Sawma meets with Catholic cardinals in Rome and discusses Christian theology as well as the politics of the Mongol Empire. How was the Mongol relationship between State and church different from the analogous relationship in Latin Christendom? How can you explain the fact that people from such diverse backgrounds were able to carry out a sophisticated theological discussion about Christianity?
In chapters 144-145 of Njal’s Saga, the legal case against Flossi and the burners fails on a technicality, leading to a pitched battle which nearly destroys the Icelandic Allthing, or Parliament. How do these passages (and the rest of your reading from Njal’s Saga) shed light on the problems of governance in a stateless society? Can you imagine something similar happening in any of the major empires that we have studied in the class thus far?