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The Middle Ages around the World

Uncover the seminal events and currents of the Middle Ages as they radiated not only through Europe, but also around the world.
The Middle Ages around the World is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 49.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good vocal delivery Prof. Salisbury has a very good vocal delivery, with a pleasant voice and good pacing. However, her incessant and exaggerated hand gestures are so distracting that I just listen to the lectures while looking away.
Date published: 2023-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A marvelous journey through the Middle Ages The sweep and scope of this course was extraordinary. There is a weaving of events that I was familiar with as well as many I was not. The great thing was, I had never seen how these mostly parallel but sometimes intersecting worlds of East and West came to be. She changes points of view almost transparently.
Date published: 2023-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course. Great coverage. I just finished this course by Professor Joyce E. Salisbury, a lively and passionate storyteller. I learned a lot from every lecture. The instructor covered the entire world, including Polynesia and North America, not just Europe. The class about Viking explorers in North America during the Middle Ages is fascinating (No, Christopher Colombus did not discover America!) The changes in China are well covered. The Mongol Conquests were impressive. Books are recommended after each course, and I started reading one about Genghis Kahn. I reviewed each class by reading the accompanying manual, which I found very useful. A wonderful class! Thank you!
Date published: 2023-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good course I always like in a course like this when the instructor talks about what was going on all over the world, and not just in one area and is able to relate all this together. I think she is very knowledgeable and objective.
Date published: 2023-01-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Extra Details and Insights! As I started viewing this course, I had a brief initial concern that it was perhaps likely to repeat information I had already learned elsewhere. I wondered if I would have been better off simply reviewing others of The Great Courses already in my collection. Early on, though, I realized that Dr. Joyce E. Salisbury had a wealth of extra details and insights to share with me, even though the topics she was addressing overlapped those in at least five others among The Great Courses. Here are some key strengths of “The Middle Ages around the World:” * Dr. Salisbury is a gifted storyteller, not-at-all emotionless or dry. * She can explain and summarize information effectively. * High school students, as well as those older, would likely appreciate her genial manner of speech. * Her lectures are a valuable complement to everything I’d previously learned about the Middle Ages. * Dr. Salisbury shares an ability with some of my other favourite Great Courses presenters (Dr. Steven L. Tuck, Dr. Robert I. Weiner, and Dr. Dorsey Armstrong come to mind), that of enabling me to see through the eyes of people who lived in times and places very different from my own. * Individual lectures in this set have a stand-alone character. * As the title promises, the scope of the history reported and analyzed here encompasses the globe. In my opinion, other considerations could have improved overall product quality: * Staging of this course ought to have been better. As with too many of The Great Courses produced since 2019, a professor presented in a fixed position in front of a Zoom-meeting-like background is not as engaging as a professor seen teaching from a classroom or studio. * A number of visual accompaniments provided are not well chosen. In Lecture 19, for example, while Dr. Salisbury is describing traditional Tahitian dancing, a video clip of Maori dancing comes on-screen; and then, while she discusses Maori dancing, Hawaiian dancers are simultaneously depicted. Her descriptions are accurate, but the illustrations are not. I know this is so because my wife is a former teacher of Polynesian dances who could quickly point out those discrepancies. * Some factual errors are made in both the lectures and the course guidebook. One example (from Lecture 16) is that the year 1291 CE is given as the year Marco Polo set out from Venice to China and also as the year he started back from China. Correct would be 1271 first, and then 1291. Occasional slips of the tongue by a speaker are certainly not grievous faults, but their repetition in the guidebook suggests less-excusable, inadequate proofreading. On balance, this is a worthwhile course that I am pleased to recommend. Dr. Salisbury herself is more consistently impressive, though, than are the production values as a whole.
Date published: 2022-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Spellbinding Some of the most informative, dense, well-organized lectures I’ve seen from the Great Courses. And Professor Salisbury’s delivery makes the absorption of knowledge so pleasant. Instead of standing behind a lectern or pacing in front of the camera, she sits in a chair, and with a perfectly modulated voice and complete mastery of her elocution, she weaves religion, history, art, and ecology into a beautiful and comprehensible tapestry. Her organization is exceptional. In her lecture on the Viking Explorers, she integrates information about the ships that made the voyages with the backstory of Leif Erickson (I did not know he purchased his ship from a fellow Norseman who sited North America but did not land) to the Viking settlements in Greenland and North America and the native Inuit who survived the Norse in both hostile environments. Yes, that’s an astounding amount of information, and one could lament it is cursory, but if a teacher inspires a student to reach out further to gain more knowledge, isn’t that the purpose of education? This course makes no pretense to be other than overviews. But if your interest is piqued, you can then indulge in Philip Daileader’s three courses on the Early, High, and Late Medieval Ages which focus on Europe or Edwin Barnhart’s American series that covers North America, Mesoamerica and South America. I believe Professor Salisbury accomplishes her goal which is to present a millennium which was previously called “The Dark Ages” as a period of emerging social and political institutions, the nascence of two world religions, and a time of great cultural exchange. Her choice of subjects and the masterful delivery make this a superb set of lectures. So settle in with a cup of cocoa and be taken away on a voyage of discovery.
Date published: 2022-12-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great presentation style. Very enjoyable presentation style. For a lay person, the content is just fine. I wish Wondrium courses would list the instructors name at the beginning of every lecture to burn it in my brain so when I look for other courses I can seek out that person's courses.
Date published: 2022-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sweeping and informative I really enjoyed and learned a lot from this course by Prof. Salisbury. I hope she does many more TC courses. She's an enthusiastic, articulate, and effective lecturer. She covers the 'classic' middle ages very well. It's a bit odd, I think, to think of the middle ages in Polynesia and in the Americas, as they were totally isolated from Europe (except for a few Viking expeditions). Even in these areas, I learned a lot. But just think of this course as 'The Middle Ages in the parts of the world that were connected, and the history of the same era in the other parts of the world', and you'll enjoy it.
Date published: 2022-10-30
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The Middle Ages was a time of major historical shifts and transformations across the globe. In this enthralling course you’ll chart the fall and rebuilding of empires; learn about the economics and technology that drove medieval civilizations; map the great medieval trading networks; study the Age of Faith; and explore medieval history, culture, and thought from Europe and Africa to the Middle East, Asia, and beyond.


Joyce E. Salisbury

When dealing with human beings, nothing is simple or predictable, and these are the kinds of wonderful contradictions that have kept me engaged for so long.


University of Wisconsin–Green Bay

Joyce E. Salisbury is Professor Emerita of Humanistic Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where she taught history and served as associate dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences and director of International Education. She earned her Ph.D. in Medieval History at Rutgers University, specializing in religious and social history.

Professor Salisbury began her career performing research in Spain, and she has continued to travel there to conduct further research, lecture, and guide students and other travelers. She is currently working on a book about the history of early Christian martyrdom.

In addition to receiving the University of Wisconsin's Outstanding Teaching award, she was named Professor of the Year in 1991 by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. She has taught three times on Semester at Sea, a study-abroad program on a ship that circumnavigates the world with more than 500 students for a full semester.

Professor Salisbury is a prolific author whose books include the award-winning Perpetua's Passion: Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman; The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages; Rome's Christian Empress: Galla Placidia Rules at the Twilight of the Empire; and the widely used textbook The West in the World. She has been interviewed many times on National Public Radio on topics from religion to the books she has written, and she appeared on the PBS special The Road from Christ to Constantine.

By This Professor

Warriors, Queens, and Intellectuals: 36 Great Women before 1400
The History of Spain: Land on a Crossroad
The Middle Ages around the World
The Middle Ages around the World


Medieval Beginnings: The Fall of Empires

01: Medieval Beginnings: The Fall of Empires

Investigate the turbulent events that marked the beginning of the Middle Ages. Trace the rise of warrior peoples from the Asian steppes that brought down the Chinese, Indian, and Roman empires, and the advent of Germanic kings who ruled the West. Take account of the great trading networks that connected the civilizations of Asia with those of the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.

33 min
Constantinople, Aksum, and Tang China

02: Constantinople, Aksum, and Tang China

Grasp the vital relationship in the medieval world between sophisticated, walled cities, and the rural peasants and serfs that supported their existence. Visit the three greatest cities of the early Middle Ages: Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire; Chang’an, the seat of China’s Tang Dynasty; and the African kingdom of Aksum, a crossroads of trade, culture, and religions.

32 min
The Rise of Islam and Europe’s Knights

03: The Rise of Islam and Europe’s Knights

One of the pivotal events of the Middle Ages was the rise of Islam. Learn about the visions of the merchant Muhammad and how his ideas spread as a powerful new religion. Track the expansion of Islam through the conquests of Arab armies and how conquered peoples fared under Muslim rule. Then discover the origins of the European feudal system and the warfare practiced by armored knights.

32 min
Creating an Islamic Culture

04: Creating an Islamic Culture

Take account of the cultural transformations that Muslim rule brought to its domains and the growth of trade, new cities, and great centers of learning that it fostered. Study the five “pillars” of Islam and its main religious rituals. Assess forces of disunity within Islam, such as the split between Shiite and Sunni factions, and the influences of non-Arab cultures that joined the religion.

33 min
The Medieval Spread of Religions

05: The Medieval Spread of Religions

The medieval era was an Age of Faith, characterized by world-changing religious events and processes of change. Within Christianity, examine the doctrinal disputes that led to the schism between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Learn how Hinduism predominated within India, and how Buddhism moved from India into Southeast Asia, China, and Japan, splitting into two main schools.

34 min
The Medieval Rebuilding of Empires

06: The Medieval Rebuilding of Empires

The 8th and 9th centuries brought a re-ordering of empires from Europe to the Far East. First, study the reuniting of Northern Europe under the Frankish emperor, Charlemagne, and the rule of Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid, who founded the great city of Baghdad. Witness the golden age of China’s Tang dynasty and the burgeoning cultures of the Silla kingdom of Korea and the Heian Empire of Japan.

33 min
North America and Viking Explorers

07: North America and Viking Explorers

Peoples from Northern Europe also ventured far afield in the Middle Ages. Here, follow the voyages of the Vikings in their fast-moving ships and how they reached North America in the 10th century. Learn about the Viking settlements on Iceland and Greenland and their expeditions further west while seeking hospitable lands, leading to violent conflict with Algonquian tribes and later the Inuit.

33 min
Medieval Growth and Prosperity

08: Medieval Growth and Prosperity

The High Middle Ages saw phenomenal growth in civilizations across the world, in the areas of population, wealth, and expansion. Look into the technological innovations that underlay the flourishing of China’s Song Dynasty, and the agricultural innovations and new technology for power that fueled prosperity in Europe. Then note the rise of the Seljuk Turks, and the threat they posed to the West.

31 min
The Crusades’ Clash of Cultures, 1097–1291

09: The Crusades’ Clash of Cultures, 1097–1291

Trace the origins of the Crusades, as Europeans launched wars to recover the Holy Lands for Christendom. Follow the series of Crusades that unfolded over 200 years, initially taking Jerusalem and establishing Christian kingdoms in the Middle East. Take account of the disasters of the later Crusades, and the consequent strengthening of Islam and loss of prestige for the Western church.

32 min
Medieval Towns and Trade Networks

10: Medieval Towns and Trade Networks

In the High Middle Ages, new commerce and trade networks transformed societies and cultures. See how medieval commercial towns arose across Western Europe in order to satisfy the desire for trade. Survey the long-distance trading zones that fed the wealth of these cities. Within Africa, assess the trade-rich Mali Empire, the fabled city of Timbuktu, and the wealthy trade of the Swahili Coast.

29 min
Cathedrals to Pagodas: Sacred Architecture

11: Cathedrals to Pagodas: Sacred Architecture

Religious buildings are perhaps the most visited remnants of the Middle Ages. Begin with the sublime Hagia Sophia church in Istanbul, emblem of the Byzantine Empire and later a mosque. Then study the features and symbolism of medieval Romanesque churches, Gothic cathedrals, synagogues, and mosques. See their Asian counterparts in Angkor Wat (Hinduism), Borobodur (Buddhism) and Chinese pagodas.

30 min
Universities and Intellectual Discovery

12: Universities and Intellectual Discovery

The High Middle Ages saw a global movement toward a culture of education. Look first at China, and the educational system rooted in rigorous civil service examinations. Study intellectual trends in the Muslim world, and the major advances in medicine, mathematics, and philosophy. Then witness the rise of universities in the West, which set the stage for the post-medieval scientific revolution.

31 min
Life in a Medieval Palace

13: Life in a Medieval Palace

Look into medieval values through daily life in great palaces. Visualize life in European castles, taking account of accommodations, dress, and food and drink. Contrast that with the Alhambra palace of Islamic Spain and its layout, interiors, and separation of men and women. Conclude with China’s sumptuous palaces, highlighting the lifestyle of royals, diet, and traditional cultural practices.

31 min
Medieval Tales of Heroes and Lovers

14: Medieval Tales of Heroes and Lovers

Delve into the landmarks of medieval literature, beginning with the heroic epics of different cultures, from Europe’s Beowolf and The Song of Roland to the Tibetan Epic of King Gesar. Then study the tradition of medieval Romantic Love, as seen in works such as Japan’s Tale of Genji and the Western Arthurian romances and Romance of the Rose. Consider the enduring influence of these works.

31 min
Mongol Conquests: From China to Russia

15: Mongol Conquests: From China to Russia

The Mongol Empire shaped the history of Central and East Asia through the 13th century. See how Genghis Kahn created a vast empire and note the features of Mongol rule, including its religious inclusiveness, strategic control of trade, and freedoms for women. Follow the Mongol conquests of India; Russia; the Islamic world, from Persia to Baghdad; and, finally, China, establishing the Yuan Dynasty.

31 min
Marco Polo Travels East to China

16: Marco Polo Travels East to China

The Travels of Marco Polo is among history’s most famous and influential travel narratives. Track the route of Marco’s three-year journey from Venice across Central Asia, to reach the court of the great Kublai Kahn. Learn about the 24 years he spent in service to the Kahn, during which he traveled extensively across China and Asia, before making a triumphant journey back to Venice.

29 min
Medieval Pilgrims and Travelers

17: Medieval Pilgrims and Travelers

Religious pilgrimage was a central feature of medieval life. First, visualize pilgrimage to the Holy Land through the writings of the Spanish pilgrim Egeria. Note how travel to venerate holy relics was a major lure for the faithful. Witness spiritual pilgrimage in Asia, in Japan through the diaries of Abutsu and Lady Nijo, and in the Muslim world with Ibn Battuta, Islam’s most iconic traveler.

30 min
Fictional Travels and Monstrous Races

18: Fictional Travels and Monstrous Races

In the Middle Ages, fictional travel writing became more influential than real accounts. Discover The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, a hugely impactful work written by a man who never left home. Follow the route and details of his invented travels, drawn from other books. See how his descriptions of nonexistent creatures contributed to the cruelty and exploitation of the later Age of Discovery.

30 min
High Middle Ages in the Pacific: Polynesia

19: High Middle Ages in the Pacific: Polynesia

Consider the astonishing feat of navigation through which medieval peoples from Samoa and Tonga settled the Polynesian islands of the South Pacific. Learn about Polynesian societies and culture, highlighting the phenomenal giant statues of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and how they were built. Note how the statue building ultimately had severe consequences for the island’s ecosystem.

29 min
High Middle Ages in the Americas

20: High Middle Ages in the Americas

Investigate the agricultural methods, based in cultivating maize and other staple crops, that supported highly populated, advanced civilizations in the Americas. Discover the culture, artifacts, and monumental architecture of the Maya in Mexico, the Anasazi in North America, and the Chimu in Peru. Learn also about the innovative, large-population cultures that thrived in the Amazon rainforest.

27 min
Late Medieval Disasters: Climate and Plague

21: Late Medieval Disasters: Climate and Plague

From 1300 to 1450, a series of disasters destroyed structures of medieval society. Track the climate changes that produced widespread famine across the Eurasian continent. Then investigate the devastation of bubonic plague that swept the world. Witness how the disease spread and take stock of the rebellions and far-reaching societal changes that took place in the wake of the famine and plague.

29 min
Religious Struggles in the Age of Faith

22: Religious Struggles in the Age of Faith

The medieval Age of Faith was transformed by the 14th-century disasters of famine, plague, and warfare. Learn how these upheavals caused many to question their understanding of faith and the world. Learn how within Christendom, China, and the lands of Islam, people responded by blaming rulers or by appealing to God directly, forcing key changes both within these faiths and in secular society.

27 min
Medieval Warfare Ends with Gunpowder

23: Medieval Warfare Ends with Gunpowder

Trace the transformative effects on warfare of gunpowder, first developed by the Chinese. See how gunpowder weapons spread to the Islamic world, and to Europe in the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. Visualize the new armies and military strategy, using cannon, guns, and longbows, and the decline of mounted knights. Witness these currents of events in the extraordinary story of Joan of Arc.

29 min
Medieval Empires Fall as Islam Revives

24: Medieval Empires Fall as Islam Revives

As the Middle Ages drew to a close, major political shifts changed the power balance in Asia. Take account of the fall of the Mongol Empire and the new empires of Tamerlane, the Russian state, and the Ottoman Turks. Learn how the Ottomans took Constantinople, initiating an empire that would last 600 years. Conclude with a look at how medieval culture left a clear mark on the future world.

32 min