Fall 2023 - HUM 340 B100

Great Cities in Their Time (4)


Class Number: 4606

Delivery Method: Blended


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 6 – Dec 5, 2023: Fri, 9:30 a.m.–12:20 p.m.

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Dec 12, 2023
    Tue, 3:30–6:30 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units.



An exploration of the cultural and intellectual accomplishments of a specific city that achieved prominence in a particular time period, and had substantial impact and influence on human civilization. Examines the political, social, religious, and cultural factors that help to explain a city's significance and investigates the achievements of its citizens. Students may repeat this course for further credit under a different topic. Breadth-Humanities.



Great Cities in Their Time: Constantinople/Istanbul

In the twilight of the ancient world, less than a century before the sack of Rome by the Visigoths (410 CE), the Romans built a New Rome in the East (11 May 330 CE). They named it Constantinople after its founder, Constantine, the first emperor to adopt Christianity. The Queen of Cities, as it came to be known, was to become the capital of two powerful polities: the Roman empire (which we call Byzantium when describing its medieval history) and the Ottoman empire. This course looks at this great world city from the perspective of the emperors but also the sultans that shaped it but also in relation to the people – rich and poor, men and women, clerics and lay, who walked its streets and, to this day, remain in its thrall. 

From the official adoption of Christianity by the Roman state early in the 4th century to 1453, when Mehmet the Conqueror turned Constantinople into the Ottoman capital and adopted the title of Augustus even as he became leader of a vast Muslim world, Constantinople was a wondrous world to itself even as it ruled larger, often diverse worlds. As we study it, we ask: How do “capitals” function within the states they help manage? How do their monuments “speak” to subjects and to posterity? How are urban history and landscapes turned into “texts” that evoke “pasts” out of which new identities are forged? How does one city come to be associated with larger states, which it inexorably marks with its economic and cultural power. As we investigate these questions through discussions and the reading of modern scholarship on the subject matter, we will also learn how to handle the different kinds of sources from the period under examination. Most seminar sessions will therefore bring together literary sources, evidence from archaeology and art history, as well as modern scholarship. We will focus on the development of critical skills for analyzing sources and of informed imagination for what our sources do not tell us. 


  • Students will gain an interdisciplinary insight into the history and culture of late antiquity, the Byzantine and Ottoman empires through examination of sources from this era and the study of modern scholarship on the subject at hand. 
  • Students will learn to analyze art, architecture, and literature from Byzantium and, to a lesser extent, the Ottoman Empire, and the era of the Modern Turkish republic and interpret it in comparison with similar material related to different cities and empires, past and present. 
  • Students will evaluate our ideas about capitals and empires in diverse contexts (political, ideological, economic), and consider how these ideas shape our beliefs about empires today. 


  • Informed seminar participation 20%
  • In-class material presentations 20%
  • Paper proposal 10%
  • Detailed paper outline 15%
  • Final paper 35%


This course counts towards a concentration in Art and Material Culture and Hellenic Studies for students in a Humanities major or minor program. 



We will read selected passages from academic monographs and excerpts from all manner of primary sources written in the period under study. All books and assigned primary source materials will be available online on Canvas or freely accessible on the SFU library website.

You will not need to buy a textbook.

There is no exam in this class. 


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Students with a faith background who may need accommodations during the semester are encouraged to assess their needs as soon as possible and review the Multifaith religious accommodations website. The page outlines ways they begin working toward an accommodation and ensure solutions can be reached in a timely fashion.