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Unit 2: How Trade and Travel Changed the World

Lesson F: Renaissance and Reformation

Opening: The European "Rebirth"

The Medieval Period or "Middle Ages" was a term created by historians to describe the centuries between the Classical Period and Modern Period. It is also sometimes referred to as the "Dark Ages" for people living in Western Europe. This name was due to the warfare, general instability, and lack of centralized governments that followed the accomplishments of the Classical Period.

However, recent scholars have debated the term "Dark." Instead, they refer to the Medieval Period as a time of transition between the Classical civilizations of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, and the renewed exchange of ideas that followed during the "rebirth" of the Renaissance Era. The question remains, was the Renaissance truly a "rebirth" of cultural expression that followed the "Dark Ages," or simply a new period of centralized rule and exchange along avenues of travel and trade?

The following activity asks you to decide the degree to which the Medieval Period was truly "dark", and the extent of "rebirth" that occurred during the Renaissance. The events in the timeline are a sample of the significant developments of the Medieval Period.

image of classroom blackboard with world history written on it

Classroom Activity - The European Rebirth


Directions: As you read the developments, adjust the tone thermometer to reflect the degree that the Medieval Period should be considered a "Dark" age. Judge each event according to your own opinion—there is no wrong answer, but you should use your best historical judgment. Move the level of the thermometer from left to right for more or less "dark" as you read the timeline. After reviewing all the events, select the "next" button once you have decided on the best measure of darkness.

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Discussion Icon Discussion

Directions: Prepare a response to the discussion question below. Follow your teacher's directions to participate in your class discussion.

  • To what extent were the Dark Ages really dark?
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Select the link to review the Discussion Scoring Tool (pdf).


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Once you have completed the discussion, go on to the next activity to learn about more specific events during the Renaissance.