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The early medieval period often evokes images of mist and magic, barbarian tribes and Roman decline. The art of this period has often been understood in terms of revivals and rejections of the Classical past. This course will privilege neither classicizing works nor those objects produced with strong indigenous pagan motifs. We will consider early medieval art as a product of social players such as kings, emperors, bishops, monks, and artists. Topics will include the relationship of word and image in illuminated manuscripts; the development and construction of relic worship; and the transformation of the basilica church. This course will explore the superior craftsmanship and expressive creativity of the art and architecture from Western Europe between 600 and 1050. The course should be understood as writing-intensive and will include several writing assignments, some in response to readings, and at least one longer paper that requires research. Regular attendance and participation are also required.
This course provides an introductory survey of early and later British medieval literature (including the works of several Anglo-Norman authors writing on the Continent) between 700 and 1450. The texts, originally in Old and Middle English, Welsh, Latin, and Anglo-Norman, will be read in Modern English translations, though some time will be spent on specific terms in the vernacular and the difficulties of accurate translation. The course aims to give students a basic knowledge of the variety and range of the genres of the period, including epic, romance, drama, lyrics, history, myth, saints’ lives, and inscriptions, as well as to impress upon the student the continuity and cultural complexity of medieval literature. The course will be augmented by art-historical presentations, manuscript studies and paleography exercises, and discussions about historiography and feminist critique. The class will go beyond a simple reading of the texts to an analytical study of their themes and characteristics and how they endure and change through time and across cultures. We will discuss how politics, religion, economics, art, and other shifts in cultural perceptions affect the writer’s view of the world and how it is portrayed. This will be achieved through an immersion in the texts, frequent writing in and out of class, extra-curricular research, student presentations, and lively and informed class discussions.
In this course, we will explore Chaucer’s most famous work, the Canterbury Tales. Chaucer’s collection of pilgrimage tales is one of the greatest, most imaginative, and varied pieces of all English literature. Consider its fascinating historical backdrop in late fourteenth-century England: a generation before, the plague had swept through Europe, decimating the population; there was political unrest and religious turmoil; a child king had taken the throne; peasants rose up in rebellion; the Bible was translated into English; and heretics were burned at the stake—a world of both decay and renewal, of catastrophic violence and decline for some, but of dazzling possibility for others. Through the voices of colorful storytellers, Chaucer’s last great poem tests the boundaries of social possibility in a “disenchanted” age, weighing the competing claims of allegory and realism, chivalry and commerce, men and women, traditional authority and individual experience. And it does so in our ancestor language of Middle English, simultaneously a colorful, earthy, and lofty idiom. We will, in essence, ride along with the pilgrims on our own journey to Canterbury and through the Middle Ages.
Read the juicy parts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, stories of martyrdom by Ælfric, and the heroic poem Exodus (now with more battles!). In this class, we will return to the earliest recorded form of English and immerse ourselves in some of the oldest literature ever written in the language. We will read accounts of the founding of England and later Viking invasions, the lives of holy Anglo-Saxons martyred for their faith, and the poetic reworking of the book of Exodus into an epic with the traditional, heroic style of Old English poetry such as Beowulf. All readings will be done in the original Old English, and the course will focus on mastering Old English grammar and style while also learning the historical context informing these texts. Prerequisite: knowledge of Old English.
The theme of this course will be women’s defiance—of authority, of the patriarchal system, of nature and the elements, of hunger and disease. The society captures the time of settlement of Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland, and the stories exemplify the rugged life in the wilderness. The women are “defiant”—of their men, of traditional notions of femininity and love—and seize the right to individual action and to avenge personal outrage. The course will be loosely organized in the following segments: Concubines and Matriarchs; Eroticism and Commerce; Explorers and Warriors. The historical period covered will be that of the settlement from the ninth century through early the early eleventh century. The sagas themselves were written largely in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Why should there be this disparity of time between the events and their codification? Class readings of primary materials: Egil’s Saga, Eyrbyggja Saga, Laxdæla Saga, Njal’s Saga, The Vinland Sagas (Grœnlendinga Saga and Eirik’s Saga), The Saga of the Volsungs. Readings from secondary sources will be found on e-reserves. Although the sagas will be read in translation, students who have taken one semester of the language course in Old Norse are welcome; special projects will be designed for them. Requirements: Quizzes, midterm, final, and paper.
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.
The Middle East (or Western Asia) constitutes, historically and geographically, a critical bridge connecting Europe and Asia. 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 introductory reading will be suggested for students who take the second or third courses alone or out of sequence.
“Spain is different” was the slogan used by the caudillo Francisco Franco to encourage tourism to Spain in the 1970s, as the country had been effectively isolated by the international community due to Franco’s Fascist rule. The slogan was designed to evoke the “exotic” qualities of Spain and its history. Of course, this elided the historical nuances of centuries of encounter and exchange among the many peoples—particularly Christians, Jews, and Muslims—who called the peninsula home in the pre-modern past. In this class, we will study the history of Spain and Portugal until roughly the end of the seventeenth century. Some of the themes investigated will include the waves of settlers of the peninsula, the formation of the Iberian kingdoms, social and cultural exchanges among Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and cultural and intellectual innovations.
This course will provide a history of the crusading movement of Western Europe (ca. 1095‒1291) and its impact on the civilizations of the medieval West and Middle East. Course material will address both the events and the long-term legacies of the Crusades and counter-crusades (jihad) as well as the histories of the peoples and ideas involved. Students will be asked to reflect on the following questions, as presented in lectures, readings, discussions, and writing assignments: What were the motivations of the Christian crusaders? How did the Muslims and Jews of the Middle East view the Crusades, and how did they respond to them? In what ways did the prolonged contact between these two major civilizations affect the societies, religions, and economies of each?
The status of minority populations is a very important topic in the modern globalized world, and modern perceptions of this issue often inform our thinking about how minority groups have been treated in the past. But how does our assessment change if we consider medieval people on their own terms? This course will provide a forum for discussion and debate concerning Muslims, Jews, heretical Christians, and other minority groups living within medieval Europe and at its borders. We will explore and contrast concepts including group identity, toleration, conversion, co-existence, and persecution. We will ask: How did certain groups get selected as “outsiders” within medieval European society? Is there one paradigm with which we should explain the status and conditions of minority groups in medieval Europe, or should each group or location be considered individually? And, should medieval Christendom be understood as a “persecuting society,” or are there alternative ways to explain the negotiations between majority and minority populations during the Middle Ages? These and other questions will be explored by reading and analyzing works of modern scholarship on the topic as well as primary sources from various medieval perspectives.