Art History 322.001
This course will offer a reading of Eddic poems and prose sagas reflecting traditions of the early Norse divinities and their cults during the Viking Age (ca. 800–1100 AD). These texts are preserved mainly in Icelandic, but also in Latin, Arabic, Old High German, Old Swedish, and Old English manuscripts and runic inscriptions. We will explore the worldview and value system of this unique religion, from the creation of the world by damaged gods of dubious ancestry to their defeat at the end of time. We will examine relations, often violent, but sometimes comic, between groups of highly intelligent, vulnerable beings, both living and dead, animal and human, male and female, god and giant, Æsir and Vanir, plus trolls, elves, witches, dwarfs, valkyries, berserks, shapeshifters, and various social classes of human being. Readings will include the Germania of Tacitus, ibn Fadlan’s Rûsiyyah, Beowulf, the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson, selections from the Poetic Edda, Völsunga Saga, The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, The Saga of Gisli, and Eirik the Red’s Saga. Written work will include a midterm, final examination, and final critical essay or term paper.
The medieval period is rife with literature of wonder, a word that has a number of meanings in Middle English, one of which is “a strange thing, an unusual phenomenon or event,” and another that is “a manifestation of divine greatness or benevolence.” This course will immerse students in the reading of a variety of texts from the Middle Ages that will range in genre from saga, to chivalric romance, to Breton lay, to saints’ lives. We will find heroic knights, explore the worlds of visionaries and their miracles, plunge into the underworld, go on pilgrimages—Christian and otherwise—watch as virginal martyrs humiliate their pagan tormentors, and uncover the monstrous races of the medieval world. The class will include readings in Modern English translations as well as some Middle English reading, but no previous experience with Middle English is necessary. We will go beyond a simple reading of the texts to an analytical study of the wonder produced in and by these texts and progress towards an exploration of how these stories resonate today and allow us to consider contemporary social issues despite our pragmatic world of science and rationalism. This will be achieved through an immersion in the texts and their manuscript history, writing, some individual research, a creative project, and lively and informed class and small-group discussions. Texts will include excerpts from the Poetic Edda, Boccaccio’s Decameron,and medieval Bestiaries. Other works will include Dante’s Inferno, the Old English Wonders of the East (in a Modern English translation), the Saga of the Volsungs, the Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, several plays by Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, Attar’s Conference of the Birds, the Middle English Havelok the Dane, as well as various texts dealing with saints, some in Middle English and some in Modern English.
If you take this course, you will read Chaucer’s first major poem, along with everything else he wrote aside from the Canterbury Tales. Students often think of Chaucer as the poet who brought us the Miller’s Tale and the Wife of Bath in the colorful and earthy idiom of our ancestor language of Middle English. Chaucer is more than the author of the Canterbury Tales—for his medieval audience, he was the “neo-pagan singer of love,” the poet who extensively reworked classical love stories in a medieval mold. This course is designed to offer interested students an opportunity to study critically Chaucer’s best poem, Troilus and Criseyde, his most intriguing female figure, Criseyde, and all his other love visions. Delve into the medieval anatomy of love and find out where many of our modern romantic notions come from!
Chaucer has often been credited with creating the first psychologically viable women characters in English literature: the Wife of Bath and Criseyde, one a contemporary fourteenth-century antifeminist caricature, the other an ancient Juliet. In this course, we will test this scholarly commonplace and examine just how conservative or avant-garde Chaucer really was in relation to gender. Of course, Chaucer’s canon contains numerous women characters aside from Alisoun and Criseyde—among them nuns, lovers, martyrs, wives, virgins, queens, bourgeois merchants, adulteresses, courtly and peasant women—as well as colorful male characters, such as Troilus, Pandarus, the Miller, the Reeve, Harry Bailey, the Friar, the Pardoner, to name a few. We will read a selection of shorter poems, The Book of the Duchess, The Parliament of Fowls, Troilus and Criseyde, The Legend of Good Women, and an assortment of Canterbury Tales. In our inquiries, we will enlist feminist, gender, and queer theory. I posit that the examination of Chaucer’s works with a gendered lens will provide us with new and fresh insights into the characters—both male and female—the works, and the author.
One was a queen, one was a prostitute, two were transvestites, and all suffered in the name of their God. In this course, we will examine the Old English literary accounts of several female saints and explore the concepts of femininity and holiness in the texts. We will analyze how, even while celebrating these women, these texts portray the female body as something that must be controlled, hidden, or somehow de-sexed. The class will also focus on the depiction of virginity as a defining factor in female sanctity and on how purity relates to both body and mind in these texts. Discussion of these themes will figure largely in class, but equal emphasis will be placed on translating the original Old English. For daily work, students will read secondary literature and prepare translations, and we will meticulously analyze the language of each text. Students will write a major research paper for the semester. Prerequisite: English 547, “Introduction to Old English.”
The Middle East constitutes, historically and geographically, a critical bridge connecting the segments of Eurasia. It is the setting for the early evolution of Islam, as the ancient regimes of Persia and Eastern Rome declined. It is also center stage for the Crusades beginning in the late eleventh century, as well as the Mongol destruction of Abbasid Baghdad in 1258. The narrative and analysis will take us as far east as Samarkand and Sind and as far west as Iberia. This course is the first of three that, together, cover the Middle East from the late ancient period to recent history, with divisions at 1260 and 1800. Each course stands alone, without prerequisites, but an introductory reading will be suggested for students who take the second or third courses alone or out of sequence.
This course will offer an overview of the history and culture of England from the arrival of the Angles and Saxons in the fifth century until the Battle of Hastings of 1066. These six centuries form one of the most vibrant and innovative periods of English history, when the foundations of England’s greatness were first established. We will cover such diverse topics as the pagan culture of the early Anglo-Saxons, the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, the Irish and Roman missions to England, the Viking invasions, the military and educational campaigns of King Alfred the Great, Anglo-Saxon manuscript culture, and the Bayeux Tapestry. The course will center upon the interpretive study of such primary source materials as the Beowulf poem, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. There will be two papers, in-class quizzes, and a final examination.
The medieval world is often believed to have been a static world in which there was little long- distance travel or exploration. This class will question that assumption by examining individuals, groups, and ideas that moved across regions and cultures, and the impact of such travel on the societies between which they traveled. During all periods of the Middle Ages, pilgrims, merchants, preachers, warriors, and others left their homes and traveled to places both near and far. Some would return and share their impressions with others by means of geographical treatises, crusade narratives, or pilgrimage handbooks. Others, such as some crusaders, merchants, and refugees, permanently or semi-permanently relocated to a new region. In all of these cases, the act of travel involved the travelers in larger processes of interaction and exchange between cultures. In this course, we will read contemporary works of scholarship on the subjects of travel, exploration, communication, and the diffusion of ideas along with primary sources about medieval individuals who traveled.
Fall Courses of Interest to Medieval Studies Students
The English language can be traced back many centuries to a form nearly unrecognizable to most modern speakers. Nonetheless, present-day English still contains many significant features of its previous incarnations. This course will examine the history of English from its Indo-European roots through its medieval developments to its modern, international forms. In the process, students will learn methods of linguistic analysis and description along with the historical contexts of the developments. No previous knowledge of Old or Middle English is necessary.
University Honors 402.001
J. R. R. Tolkien once wrote that the popular attraction to The Lord of the Rings was “due to the glimpses of a large history in the background: an attraction like that of viewing far off an unvisited island, or seeing the towers of a distant city gleaming in a sunlit mist.” This class is for those who wish to journey through the mist with other like-minded student-scholars to examine those wonders that make the city of J. R. R. Tolkien’s writings shine brightly for so many modern readers. Although academic and fan attention commonly focuses on Tolkien’s most popular works, this course will explore the terrain of his less-familiar fiction, his work in medieval scholarship, his visual art, and some of the sources that influenced his thought. While we will not be reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, students are expected to have read these texts before the course since a prior knowledge of these works provides the essential foundation for this course. Therefore, this is not a course for beginners new to the works of Tolkien or for those who have seen only Peter Jackson’s movie versions. Rather, this course allows students already familiar with the more famous written texts of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth to explore his other works in an academic context and to better understand the immensity of this writer’s impact on contemporary popular culture and the genre of imaginative fiction.