Medieval Archaeology is a primarily lecture-based course on archaeological approaches to the study of Medieval Europe. The course will focus on the end of Late Antiquity and the early medieval period: roughly A.D. 300 to 800. The course will be co-taught by James Boone, an archaeologist specializing in late Roman and medieval archaeology in the Iberian Peninsula, and Osbjorn Pearson, a specialist in human skeletal analysis. 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”? (3) What was the role and extent of influence of these groups in the formation of early medieval Europe? This year’s offering will include considerable material on the analysis of variation in burial patterns and skeletal remains from the early Middle Ages.
This course will introduce students to the concept of medievalism (the post-medieval use of medieval ideas) through the lens of literature for young readers. We will examine what it means to be “medieval” and how modern writers have adapted and manipulated these ideas and traits to suit modern audiences and accomplish specific rhetorical and thematic ends. We will examine social, cultural, and historical ideas like gender roles and class distinction from both the Middle Ages and the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in books written for a young audience. As such, we will read modern works along with the medieval texts that informed and inspired them, including the work of Sir Thomas Malory, Geoffrey Chaucer, and the Beowulf poet. Texts will include Sydney Lanier’s The Boy's King Arthur, Elizabeth Janet Gray’s Newberry Medal-winning Adam of the Road, and Rebecca Barnhouse’s Peaceweaver, as well as several medieval texts in translation to be distributed electronically. Students will submit three short (one- to two-page) analysis papers and two longer (six- to seven-page) argument papers, one of which will be a comparative analysis of a children’s book of their own choosing. Additional in-class assignments and participation in course discussion will also be required.
English culture can be traced back to a “high barbarian” culture centered in Denmark that had occupied adjacent areas of Northern Scandinavia, Holland, and Germany. This ancestral culture, called “Germania” by the Roman historian Tacitus, survives to us in two closely related forms of traditional narrative: epic, represented by the Old English Beowulf; and mythology, represented by Viking sagas and Eddic poems. The Viking materials supply what is missing in Old English literature, which has no mythological narratives and no high-quality prose fiction. Studying the culture of the Norsemen can be remarkably helpful when we seek to determine whether contemporary problems are due to human nature or to the way our society is organized. If we fail to find a problem in Viking narratives, it is probably due to social change in a later era. We begin with pre-Christian mythological texts, considering the interpretations of them offered by the Icelandic poet Snorri Sturluson. Then we turn to the Viking sagas, which interweave mythological themes with heroic adventures and stories closer to ordinary life. Comparative perspective will be provided by Beowulf and by stories from the nearby Celtic realm of Ireland. Requirements: (1) faithful reading of complete assignments; (2) engagement in class discussion, which will make a significant contribution to the final grade; a 5-page midterm paper; (4) a midterm exam; (5) a 10-page final paper; and (6) a final exam. No incompletes will be given for this class. Texts: Seven Viking Romances, trans. Palsson and Edwards; The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, trans. Jesse Byock; The Saga of the Volsungs, trans. Byock; Snorri Sturluson, Edda, trans. Anthony Faulkes; Early Irish Myths and Sagas, trans. Jeffrey Gantz. Students who have never read Beowulf in translation should do so before the first class, which will review aspects of the poem relevant to the class.
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,” while another 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, Breton lays, and saints’ lives. We will come upon heroic knights, explore the worlds of visionaries and their miracles, plunge into the underworld and 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 toward 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 Wonders of the East, 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, The Song of Roland, and Marie de France’s Breton Lais as well as various texts dealing with saints.
Have you seen the movie, A Knight’s Tale? If so, you may remember the scene where scantily clad young Chaucer meets the three squires and tries to impress them as the author of the Book of the Duchess, his first work. 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. But 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!
In this class, we will return to the earliest recorded form of English and read some of the oldest literature ever written in the language. We will read of a queen-turned-abbess, a divinely inspired cowherd, a tale of betrayal, and other texts, all in the original Old English. We will supplement these translations by exploring current scholarly approaches to Old English literature. The first portion of the semester will entail studying grammar in preparation for reading original texts. For daily work during the second half, students will prepare translations and read scholarly articles. No prior knowledge of Old English is required.
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. For daily work, students will prepare translations of the poem; we will meticulously analyze the language of the text and discuss its interpretation in light of the secondary literature. Students will write a critical research paper for the semester. Prerequisite: English 447, “Old English.”
This course is an introductory sampling of medieval literature (and some art) produced in England and the immediate Continent between 1066 and 1500. We start this historical, linguistic, and literary enterprise with the Bayeux Tapestry—art with text—fighting alongside Anglo-Saxon warriors. Then we will pray with English saints, sleuth with historians, learn the art of courtly love from medieval knights and ladies, look at the nature of God with mystics, and watch biblical drama unfold. The original texts are in Latin, Anglo-Norman, and various dialects of Middle English, which we will study in Modern English, in bilingual facing-page translations, and the easier ones in Middle English. The texts cover various secular and religious genres, including epic, debate, saints’ lives, fabliaux, lais, romance, drama, allegory, and lyrics. The goal of the course is to highlight the variety and range of texts of the Middle English period, and to place those writings in their cultural, linguistic, and historical contexts.
This course explores the nature of science and medicine in Western Europe from ca. 400 to ca. 1400. After a brief introduction to the crucial contributions in medicine and natural philosophy from the classical world, we will examine how various social, cultural, institutional, and intellectual influences shaped medieval understandings of the world. In terms of specific topics, we will look at cosmology, astronomy, astrology, natural history, botany, pharmacology, alchemy, and early chemistry. We will also investigate broader themes, such as the theoretical and practical sides of medieval medicine, the contributions of Islamic culture to Western science, interactions between science and religion (especially natural philosophy and theology), and the university’s rise and influence on science and medicine. While surveying the context of medieval frameworks for investigating and explaining the natural world, we will also reflect on the nature and utility of the term “science,” the extent to which the origins of modern science can be located in the medieval period, and the importance of putting the modern scientific enterprise in historical perspective.
This course will survey Jewish history from the Babylonian Exile to the expulsion from Spain in 1492. It will examine major economic, social, political, cultural, and religious developments, showing how Judaism and the Jewish people changed over time. After a brief introduction to the pre-exilic experience, the first part of the course will focus on major aspects during the Second Jewish Commonwealth, both in Palestine and the diaspora. The second part will emphasize the Great Revolt against Rome and the emergence of Classical or Rabbinic Judaism. The final part of the course will be devoted to the Jewish experience under Islam and Christendom. Students will read a textbook and several paperbacks. There will be two hour-long exams; and a two-hour final at the end of the semester. Students may write papers on an optional basis.
This course will offer intensive training in the research and bibliographic skills necessary for the study of the Middle Ages while also introducing students to the history of medieval scholarship from the sixteenth century onwards. A key aspect of the course will be a detailed orientation to the major published resources available to medievalists, including the volumes of the Patrologia Latina, the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, and the Early English Text Society, as well as the important series Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile. Participants in the course will learn about the techniques used by scholarly editors when preparing a medieval text for use by a modern readership; they will also be introduced to the conventions of the modern apparatus criticus. Students will learn how to read and analyze charters and other types of medieval document and will receive instruction in the basics of such important ancillary disciplines as medieval chronology and sigillography. The section of the course devoted to the history of medieval scholarship will include a special focus on the origins and development of Anglo-Saxon studies from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century.