The precursors to the Reformation

This article is the twenty-second of an ongoing series from EuroClio providing teachers with ideas and practical resources for teaching a range of topics in their classrooms. You can find a wealth of additional resources including units, source collections and eLearning activities on the Historiana website and you can read the other articles in the series here.

Five centuries of reformist dissent within the Roman Catholic Church

Although Western European countries seem to experience a increasing secularisation, globally religion is still a significant part of human societies and culture. Western Europe itself experienced devastating religious wars in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. To understand why religion was deemed important enough to wage war for, what was at stake for contemporary actors, one could study the dissent and the reforms with the Late Medieval Church. This might help students also to understand (though not condone!) religious violence in our own times.

Historiana has recently developed a new source collection entitled ‘The precursors to the Reformation: Five centuries of reformist dissent within the Roman Catholic Church’. This collection discusses the major reforms as well as a number of dissenters in the Medieval church. The collection begins with an examination of the background of these reforms and the reforms themselves. It then continues with describing the aforementioned reformists, both people usually considered to be precursors to the Reformation and people who are still regarded as ‘Catholic’, like Francis of Assisi for example. The collection explores their ideas and their relationship with the medieval ecclesiastic authorities.

Francis of Assisi
Source: St Francis blesses the birds, one of 25 scenes painted by
Giotto in a fresco at the Upper Church of St Francis in Assisi.
University of Bologna via Europeana, #64486.

Ideas for Teaching Historical Thinking with this Source Collection

There are several ways in which this source collection might be used to promote students’ historical thinking:

  • Continuity and Change: Examine the ideas of all the reformists in the source collection and describe which criticisms to the medieval church developed towards of the Middle Ages (and how they changed) and which points of critique were repeated by several reformists.
  • Cause and Consequence: Investigate the social en political developments from 1100 CE onward and how they might have created different religious needs, thereby causing a need for church reform.
  • Perspective-taking: Investigate the perspectives of various reformist on the true Christian life and church and why a significant number of medieval people took great interests in this subject.
  • Significance: Draw conclusions about the relative significance of
    reformists and their ideas.
John Hus
Illustration in Gerardus Outhof, Philosophy of Life, Netherlands 1731. VU University
Amsterdam Library via Europeana.

The precursors to the Reformation: Who was the first true Medieval Reformator?

The example eLearning Activity provided on Historiana entitled: ‘The precursors to the Reformation: Who was the first true Medieval Reformator?’ presents a lesson idea which uses an online mode of teaching and learning. The lesson aims to develop students’ skills in drawing justified conclusions about historical change and continuity as well as significance.

After a brief introduction, students are provided with a number of factsheets on several reformers, combining historical images with
background knowledge. First, they are asked to study the factsheets
and place the reformists in the correct chronological order on a time line. Then they are instructed to compare the ideas in order to describe which points of criticism did they have in common and on which issues do their ideas seem to differ. They could move the reformist up and down vertically relative to the horizontal time line, to indicate their relative significance. The ideas of which reformist are understood to be the most significant development. Finally they are asked to review their analysis to ascertain which of these reformers had the greatest impact on the Reformation.

Of course, the results of this elearning activity could be used as a starting point for a real-life discussion, either in groups or with the entire class. Relevant points of discussion might be: ‘What criteria did students use to decide the relative significance of every reformist?’,
‘Why did the reformist deemed most significant best meet these criteria?’ and ‘Why do you think lay people in Late Medieval times were engaged in these reforms?’

As with all Historiana eLearning Activities, this activity can be saved to ‘My Historiana’ and then edited and adapted for use in your specific classroom context.

Acknowledgements

Historiana would not be possible without the efforts and generous contributions of historians and educators from Europe and beyondand the support of the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union.

In what ways did Greek inventions affect later development in European life?

This article is the twentifirst of an ongoing series from EuroClio providing teachers with ideas and practical resources for teaching a range of topics in their classrooms. You can find a wealth of additional resources including units, source collections and eLearning activities on the Historiana website and you can read the other articles in the series here.

What have the Greeks ever done for us?
Classical Greece is often regarded as the cradle of European culture and civilisation. Its architecture and art has been emulated throughout European history. Greek philosophy is considered to be the basis not only of critical thought and empirical research, but in a different way also of a lot of Christian thinking, the lens through which a Jewish belief became Europeanised.

At the same time, one of classical Greece’s most enduring inventions
– or rather: the invention of classical Athens –, democracy, is being fiercely debated all over Europe. Although most Europeans would consider themselves at least moderately democratic, they differ on how that democracy should be organised. How free should freedom of speech, a core principle of the Athenian Assembly, be? Can the government of a strong man, even if he is elected through fair elections, be considered truly democratic? Are demagogues and populist true democrats or a threat to the survival of the democratic principles.

These questions plagued ancient Greeks as much as modern Europeans. Studying the organisation of the ancient Athenian democracy and its ancient critics, may help students to develop a more informed and positive critical view on democracy. It may also stimulate him or her to think about the future of European democracies and the ways in which they might contribute to that future. Historiana has recently developed a new source collection entitled ‘In what ways did Greek inventions affect later development in European life?’. This collection discusses the contribution of classical Greek culture on later European culture, not only democracy, but subjects like theatre and inventions as well. The collection begins with an examination of the background of these reforms and the reforms themselves. These contributions are illustrated by using images from different European collections.

Athenian ostraka
Source: Όστρακα 8ου και 7ου π.Χ. αι. από την τομή Γ’, 4 quarter of
the 20th century, Άγνωστος δημιουργός, Εν Αθήναις Αρχαιολογική
Εταιρεία via European

Ideas for Teaching Historical Thinking with this Source Collection

There are several ways in which this source collection might be used to promote students’ historical thinking:

  • Significance: Examine the different contributions to decide how significant they are to modern European culture.
  • Continuity and Change: Examine the contributions to ascertain how these have been adapted throughout the centuries. What did Europeans conserve and what did they alter?
  • Perspective-taking: Investigate the difference and similarities in values behind democratic ideas and institutions of ancient Greeks on the one hand and modern Europeans on the other.

What can we learn from the Ancient Greeks for democracy today?
The example eLearning Activity provided on Historiana entitled: ‘What
can we learn from the Ancient Greeks for democracy today?
’ presents
a lesson idea which uses an online mode of teaching and learning.
The lesson aims to develop students’ skills in drawing justified conclusions about the development of democracy from ancient times until the present.

After a brief introduction, students are provided with a number of
sources on characteristics of ancient Athenian democracy. They are
asked to sort them according to the level of similarity with the
democracy in which they live. This activity helps students not only to
think about change and continuity, but also gives meaning to the
subject, by connecting the ancient democracy to the world in which
they themselves live.

After this activity they are presented with a number of ancient
philosophers and their critique on the Athenian democracy. Using a
highlighting tool they are asked to mark those passages that in their
opinion provide lessons for today. They are also asked to explain
those lessons. When this task is completed, the students are presented with a final question: ‘How far did democracy progress since the Ancient Greeks?’

Using their early analyses and their answers students need to
formulate their own opinion in writing. This last task makes them
apply the knowledge to their own situation and therefore supports
the development of a critical but engaged democratic citizenship.
Of course, the results of this eLearning activity could be used as a
starting point for a real-life discussion, either in groups or with the
entire class. Relevant points of discussion might be: ‘Which elements
of ancient democracy are less relevant for today and why?’, ‘Which
elements might be reintroduced?’ and ‘What is the chance that modern democracy might disappear as the ancient one did? Should
we prevent that, and if so: how?’

As with all Historiana eLearning Activities, this activity can be saved to
‘My Historiana’ and then edited and adapted for use in your specific
classroom context.

Acknowledgements

Historiana would not be possible without the efforts and generous contributions of historians and educators from Europe and beyondand the support of the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union.