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Medieval Archaeology is a primarily lecture-based course on archaeological approaches to the study of medieval Europe. This year’s course will focus on the end of Late Antiquity and the early medieval period: roughly A.D. 300 to 800. We will focus on the following kinds of topics: (1) What is the nature of the transition from Antiquity to the medieval period? (2) What is the nature of ethnic and tribal identity among the Germanic, Slavic, and other groups of the “Migration Period” and what role did they play in the formation of early medieval Europe? The course will include considerable material on the analysis of variation in burial patterns and skeletal remains from the early medieval period.
This course is designed as an introductory survey to the literary works produced in England in the Middle Ages, ca. 700‒1500. While most texts will be read in Modern English translations, class lectures will provide some background on the development of the English language. The class will focus on both the specialized terminology and the literary devices particular to medieval English texts as well as the cultural, social, and political factors that influenced the development of English literature. Readings will introduce students to a wide variety of medieval genres and will include epic, lyric poetry, romance, mystical revelation, and outlaw tale as illustrated in such works as Beowulf, The Dream of the Rood, Sir Orfeo, the Showings of Julian of Norwich, and the Rhymes of Robin Hood.
This course will focus on The Canterbury Tales, the final work and masterpiece of Geoffrey Chaucer, one of the greatest and most important writers in English. A mix of the bawdy and the chaste, the sacred and the profane, the high- and the low-class, amongst other dichotomies, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is a work that provides its readers with a host of personalities, literary conventions, styles, and much, much more. All primary texts will be read in Chaucer’s Middle English, though students do not need to have any experience with the language in order to take this course. Chaucer wrote during the fourteenth century—a time of great tumult, including famine, plague, political uprising, and religious rebellion. We will consider the Canterbury Tales in light of this complicated historical context while also paying attention to the long and rich history of scholarly criticism on the Tales. Coursework and assignments will be designed to develop knowledge of the conventions of medieval English poetry, a competence in Middle English, and a recognition of Chaucer’s contributions to English language and literature.
Beowulf is the most celebrated and studied Old English poem, yet it remains ambiguous and contested. Modern scholars continue to scrutinize difficult points in the text and wrestle over approaches to the poem. This course will be devoted to a close reading of Beowulf in the original Old English, coupled with pertinent scholarship on specific points in the poem along the way. We will explore the roles of women in the text, the meanings of the monsters, the patterns of gift-giving, the linguistic intricacies of the text, and many other topics. Students will prepare translations of the poem, read secondary literature, and write a critical research paper for the semester. Prerequisite: ENGL 447 or the equivalent.
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, and 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. The course will 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.
This course offers a broad orientation to Western culture during the Middle Ages by surveying the history, literature, art, and spirituality of the West during the thousand-year period from the fall of the Roman Empire to the eve of the Renaissance. This was an especially fertile epoch during which there evolved ideas, institutions, and forms of cultural expression of enduring importance, many of them still influential today. Far from being a long interlude of darkness and stagnation separating Antiquity from the Renaissance, the Middle Ages were a time of vibrant transformation, of innovative developments in many areas of human endeavor. Yet, while medieval men and women sowed the seeds for changes whose impact can still be detected today, medieval habits of thought and action differed in fundamental ways from those of our contemporary world. This course will highlight, investigate, and seek to explain what is most typical and most significant in the culture of the Middle Ages through a multi-faceted approach focusing on a broad range of texts and artifacts. The course will introduce students to several of the great vernacular works of the Middle Ages, including Beowulf, The Song of Roland, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales; will cover such key topics as the evolution of rulership and the beginnings of parliamentary democracy; and will provide an orientation to major cultural breakthroughs, including the evolution of the manuscript book, the origins of the university system of education, and the development of the architecture of Gothic cathedrals. The overall aim of the course is to provide a well-rounded assessment and evaluation of the most significant developments during this rich historical period.
In the premodern period of European history, roughly stretching from Antiquity through the seventeenth century, the worlds of religion and science overlapped to such a degree that they were nigh indistinguishable. In the space where science and faith blended, there existed another discipline, that of magic. Today many people view science, religion, and magic as three separate and distinct spheres, never to intersect. But the historical reality of magic, science, and religion in premodern Europe cannot be farther from the truth. Put differently, to think of magic, science, and religion as separate disciplines is to impose a false construct on the past, one that ancient, medieval, and early modern people simply would not have thought about or done. Moreover magic, including the occult disciplines of alchemy, astrology, and divination, among other practices, permeated all aspects of premodern existence, impacting the worlds of political governance and statecraft, trade and economic endeavors, popular and elite culture, and how individuals engaged with their contemporaries and negotiated their larger society. The purpose of this class is to give students a basic, but by no means all-encompassing, understanding of the history of magic in premodern Europe and its overlap with the realms of science and religion. The study of ancient, medieval, and early modern magic is recognized as an important field of historical inquiry and is currently undergoing something akin to a scholarly Renaissance. Students will be exposed to a variety of primary and secondary sources that negotiate this scholarly terrain. Utilizing both primary and secondary sources, students will be required to write a research paper that focuses on some aspect of ancient, medieval, and/or early modern magic and which will comprise a significant percentage of the final overall grade.
This course covers the history of Christianity from its beginnings in Palestine to the eve of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century. This was a period of major growth and development for Christianity, but also a time in which the Church faced significant crises and underwent fundamental changes. We will see Christianity emerge from early challenges to become the official religion of the Roman Empire and then define many aspects of life during the Middle Ages. Primary focus will be on the rich variety of forms—doctrinal, liturgical, artistic, intellectual, and institutional–—that Christianity assumed throughout this period. Also of concern will be Christianity’s contributions to Western culture and its significance as a “civilizing” force.
This course will address relations between Christians and Muslims during the Middle Ages, ranging from political and military conflicts to commercial and cultural exchanges. In addition to general theological and cultural differences between the two civilizations, we will focus on four major geographical areas of contact: the Mediterranean Sea, Spain, Sicily and Southern Italy, and the Middle East during the time of the Crusades. Topics running throughout the course will include the following: the creation, maintenance, and crossing of borders, boundaries, and frontiers; the balance between violence and cooperation; relationships between religious minorities and their dominant society; and commercial and cultural exchanges between societies. The course materials and assignments will ask students to grapple with the larger questions of how we should view the interactions of medieval Muslims and Christians and how this is related to our understanding of the Middle Ages as a whole.