Courses - Fall 2017

To download a PDF of the current course brochure, click here.


ENGL 306.001/551.002 - Arthurian Legend and Romance: Medieval to Modern

Anita Obermeier
TR 3:30‒4:45

The Arthurian Legend has been the single most prolific literary motif in Western literature. This course will investigate the enduring strength and attraction of Arthurian legends from their pan-European beginnings in the medieval period to contemporary literature, popular culture, and film. We will read masterpieces from the Celtic tradition, Chrétien de Troyes, the French Lancelot-Grail Cycle, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Thomas Malory, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Mark Twain, Naomi Mitchison, and others. This way, we can observe how each version serves a new authorial, political, or cultural agenda—whether it is to establish a national foundation myth, to endorse specific religious values, to revive medieval values in an industrial age, or to challenge gender stereotypes in modern times. We will also focus on the evolution of other important Arthurian characters, such as Gawain, Tristan, Perceval, Morgan le Fay, Galahad, Merlin, Lancelot, and Guinevere.

ENGL 350.001 - Medieval Tales of Wonder

Nicholas Schwartz
MWF 9:00‒9:50

This course will offer interested students the opportunity to read, study, and analyze medieval tales of wonder written at various times in various places. The course will take a broad view of the term “wonder”; we will look at descriptions of unknown lands as well as tales of monsters and monstrous beings, dream visions, hagiography, heroes, and antiheroes. Texts will include (in no particular order) Beowulf (in graphic novel form!), The Song of Roland, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, Egil’s Saga, Grettir’s Saga, The Wonders of the East, The Passion of St. Christopher, and Tacitus’s Germania. Shorter works will include select Viking romances, the Old English Dream of the Rood, Chaucer’s House of Fame, selections from the Golden Legend, and Ibn Fadlan’s account of the Rus’, amongst others. Reading these texts and others will reveal what medieval people valued about themselves and others in addition to offering a glimpse into what was frightening, impressive, and perplexing in medieval imagination, religion, and reality. All readings in Old English and other languages will be in translation. Some Middle English texts will be read in the original language, but no prior experience with Middle English is necessary. The course will include a midterm, final, short papers, and a longer term paper.

ENGL 351.001 - Chaucer

Lisa Myers
MWF 12:00‒12:50

This course focuses upon The Canterbury Tales, the final work and masterpiece of Geoffrey Chaucer, one of the greatest writers in the English language. We will consider Chaucer within the historical context of the tumultuous fourteenth century, an era of plague, famine, political uprising, and religious rebellion. Discrediting the myth of the Middle Ages as a time of repression and uniformity, this class will highlight issues of gender, class, and race while examining the themes of equality, justice, and exclusion. Primary texts will be read in Middle English, the language of Chaucer, with an emphasis upon accurate pronunciation; previous experience with the language is not required. In addition to familiarizing the student with the Middle English language, coursework and assignments are designed to develop the student’s knowledge of the conventions of medieval English poetry and to place the work of Chaucer within a historical and critical framework.

ENGL 451.001/551.01 - Medieval Latin: Anglo-Saxon Latin

Jonathan Davis-Secord
TR 12:30‒1:45

Anglo-Saxon England produced some of the most influential and significant authors of Latin in the Middle Ages, including Aldhelm, Bede, and Alcuin. This course will survey important works by these and other Anglo-Saxon authors to allow students to become familiar with the major texts, authors, styles, and genres of “Anglo-Latin” while increasing their facility with Latin generally. Additionally, the course will trace the development of the opus geminatum form, which pairs a prose and a verse version of a text to form a hybrid work. Students will spend most of the semester translating portions of Aldhelm’s prose and verse De virginitate, Bede’s Vitae of Cuthbert, Alcuin’s Vitae of Willibrord, and Lantfred’s and Wulfstan’s Vitae of Swithun. Students will also write a significant research paper. Prerequisite: LATN 102 or equivalent.


HIST 201.001 - The Medieval World

Timothy C. Graham
TR 9:30‒10:45

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 development of the architecture of Gothic cathedrals, and the origins of the university system of education. 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.

HIST 303.001/503.001 - Early Middle Ages, 300‒1050

Sarah Davis-Secord
MWF 11:00‒11:50

In 476 the last Western Roman emperor was deposed, but the transition from the world of the Roman Empire to that of the early Middle Ages had already begun. Between the fourth and the eleventh centuries, Europe and the Mediterranean world were fundamentally transformed by the breakdown of the structures of the Roman Empire and by the rise of new and distinctive cultures in Latin Europe, Byzantium, and the Islamic world. Rather than being a time of darkness or decay, the early medieval period was one of vibrancy and the growth of new institutions, cultures, and religious traditions. This course will follow the birth and development of the three cultures of Europe, Byzantium, and Islam from the late Roman period through the year 1050. Topics will include the spread of institutional Christianity from Constantine to the early medieval papacy, the rise of the Franks and the foundation of the Holy Roman Empire, and the development of characteristically “medieval” forms of social and political organization, religion, art, and architecture in Europe. We will highlightthe transformation of the Eastern Roman Empire at Constantinople into medieval Byzantium and the relationship between the West and the East of Christendom. The course will also cover the birth and spread of Islam and the society and culture of the first two Sunni dynasties, the rise of a rival Sunni caliphate in Iberia, and the foundation of a Shi’ite state based in Cairo. Questions we will consider include those of how to define the “Middle Ages,” the utility of this definition for our understanding of history, continuity versus discontinuity between Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, the relationships between the three “heirs of Rome,” and how medieval European civilization related to the societies on its borders.

HIST 314.001/514.001 - Old Russia

Erika Monahan
TR 9:30‒10:45

This course will survey the history of the emergence of Russia from the ninth to the seventeenth century. Topics will include ancient Kiev, the Christianization of the Rus’, the Mongol conquest, the rise of Muscovy, Muscovy’s place in late medieval and early modern world history, state- and empire-building in the early modern era, the baffling reign of Ivan the Terrible, the Time of Troubles, the establishment of the Romanov dynasty, encounters with foreigners, the society and culture of Muscovy, and the early reign of Peter the Great. No background in Russian history or language is required.

HIST 326.001 - History of Christianity to 1517

Donna Ray
TR 11:00‒12:15

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.

HIST 427.001/627.001 - History of Britain, 1066‒1660

Caleb Richardson
MWF 1:00‒1:50

Typically, the challenge for historians is to convey the often esoteric appeal of their subject to a wider audience: the changing pattern of land ownership in nineteenth-century Ireland, for example, does not exactly sell itself. But the period under study in this course is another matter entirely—if anything, there is almost too much drama here. The years from 1066 to 1660 include enough invasions, wars, political upheavals, great men, greater women, and shockingly naughty kings, queens, and aristocrats to keep BBC America programmers and historical novelists in business for centuries. There are reasons that every one of Shakespeare’s histories is set between these years. As for events of significance, this period witnessed the development of the common law, the origins of the state, and the birth of imperialism, among other things (such as the small affair of the Protestant Reformation). In this course we will try to make sense of one of the most exciting, bewildering, and transformative eras in not just British, but world history.

HIST 663.001 - Introduction to Digital Humanities

Fred Gibbs
T 4:00‒6:30

This course explores new theoretical and methodological possibilities now available to humanists working in the digital age. Combining recent scholarship on digital methods with introductory tutorials that build foundational technical skills, we will explore topics such as digital workflows for accessing or organizing sources, digital mapping and geospatial analysis, text mining (including topic modeling), and network analysis. We will also examine new models for peer review and academic publishing, and develop skills in web typography and design. Throughout, we will explore various strategies for effectively combining qualitative and quantitative research skills in the humanities. Over the course of the semester, students will design, code, and publish their own website that will showcase their research and digital skills. No technical skills are required for this course, but you will need an open mind and a laptop that you can bring to class.

HIST 668.001 - Bede and His World

Timothy C. Graham
W 4:00‒6:30

The Venerable Bede (673–735) is a towering figure in medieval historiography, hagiography, exegesis, and computistics. His massive achievements are the more impressive in that he lived and worked in a part of England that had only recently converted to Christianity and developed a literate culture. In this seminar we will first immerse ourselves in the historical context of the Northumbrian Renaissance, a cultural movement that witnessed the production of such extraordinary artifacts as the Franks Casket, the Ruthwell Cross, the Codex Amiatinus, and the Lindisfarne Gospels, not to mention such landmark literary productions as Cædmon’s Hymn. We will study the specific environment within which Bede worked: the monastic complex of Wearmouth-Jarrow, founded in the late seventh century by Benedict Biscop. Bede has himself left a detailed record of the early history of the twin monasteries in his Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow, a work that is supplemented by the anonymous Life of Ceolfrith, Bede’s first abbot at Jarrow. We will then focus especially on the detailed study and analysis of Bede’s most famous work, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, before moving on to consider his key hagiographical, exegetical, and computistical writings, including (but not limited to) his Life of St. Cuthbert, his On the Temple, and his The Reckoning of Time. During the semester we will read several of Bede’s major worksin translation and will also familiarize ourselves in depth with the rich scholarly literature that has grown up aroundthis most important author and teacher who is justly reckoned the greatest historian of the early Middle Ages.