Undergraduate Program

Undergraduate Courses 2021-2022


The Medieval Studies Program modifies this course list with updates from the courses' home departments whenever new information is provided. Students with questions about what courses will be accepted for credit should contact the program director, Benjamin Saltzman, at saltzman@uchicago.edu. Please also consult departmental listings.

Featured Winter Medieval Studies Course:

Witchcraft and the Cultural Imagination

Taught by Tamara Golan and Noel Blanco Mourelle

This seminar takes as its focal point the vast range of conceptual, material, and visual artifacts that are produced by, and indeed help to construct, this enduring fascination with the figure of the witch, from the medieval past to the present. We will examine case studies from premodern Europe to Colonial North America to Indonesia, scrutinizing texts, films, and works of art. Rather than offering a standard history of witchcraft, we will explore the intersections of gender, labor, and representation that the figure of the witch makes specially available for study. Witchcraft constitutes a multifaceted phenomenon that aims to alter reality and the self through the use of various techniques, transmitted both orally and in writing. These techniques have often appeared culturally marked in terms of gender and belief. Witchcraft has for centuries been the business of women in societies where very few avenues existed for women to develop any sort of business.

    Course Number Course Instructor Description
    ARCH 23304 The Stage and the City: Performance and Daily Life in Renaissance London S. Lesley

    Between the years 1500 and 1660, London developed into an urban superpower. By 1660, London was boasting a population of 350,000, which was nearly six times its population in the early sixteenth century (~60,000). This course asks what it was like to live in London as it evolved into something equal parts new, exciting, and frightening. We will be considering this question through three city comedies set in London and written between 1609 and 1640. City comedies are particularly good at detailing the perils, thrills, and novel sensoria of an expanding metropolis. We will use these plays as a testing ground to articulate for ourselves what central issues have been raised by London-living over the centuries. What was it like to go to an early iteration of a shopping mall? How were categories of disability, race, gender, and sexuality negotiated through this dense and diverse population? How have city dwellers dealt with plague or famine? Students will be asked to use the issues drawn from this historical context to formulate their own research project about any period of London's history. Throughout the course, the class will take field trips to London neighborhoods, an archive, a theatre performance, and several museums. By engaging with the resources and experiences available in 21st-century London, students will use their imagination and research skills to travel back in time and discover the various "Londons" that have emerged over this city's history.

    *This course is a part of the 2021 London: British Literature and Culture study abroad program.*

    Equivalent Course: ENGL 23304

    ARTH 14700 Building Renaissance Italy: A Survey of the Built Environment N. Atkinson

    This introductory course surveys the major patrons, architects, and building programs that defined the spatial contexts of the Renaissance in Italy. Between the 15th and 16th centuries, the political aspirations of governments, popes, princes, and merchants demanded a more articulated architectural environment that would facilitate increasingly complex modes of public and private life. They were aided in this endeavor by the emergence of a newly professionalized class of architects, who turned their eyes towards both a systematic study of the classical past and a critical assessment of their contemporary world. Renaissance urban palaces—both civic and private—and rural villas provided the stages upon which a new art of living could be performed. New inventions in military engineering responded to rapidly advancing technologies of warfare. Urban planning techniques created new topographies of spiritual and political triumph and reform, while treatises on ideal cities laid the foundations for the modern integrated multi-functional city. Between Venice, Florence, Rome, and their rural surroundings, this course will focus on a range of important patrons such as Roman popes, Venetian doges, princely courts, and private merchants, and will explore what made the works of such architects as Filippo Brunelleschi, and Andrea Palladio so creative, innovative, and influential well into our own contemporary architectural landscape.

    ARTH 17121 The Art of Leonardo da Vinci C. Cohen

    The central focus of this course will be on the small, damaged and disputed body of paintings that Leonardo has left to us, the wealth of his drawings that help us make sense of that problematic heritage and provide the most direct route into his creative thinking, and the hundreds of pages of text in the form of notes that comment on art and many other subjects. Our structure will be roughly chronological, including his late fifteenth-century Florentine artistic and social context, his two long periods in Milan as a court artist, his triumphant return to Florence and rivalry with Michelangelo, and the little known, mythic final years in France. Among the themes that will be critically examined are: Leonardo's role in the creation of what is still grandiosely called the High Renaissance; the value and problematic aspects of thinking of him as the quintessential artist-scientist; the significance of the fact that he has been a figure of such obsessive art-historical and broader cultural significance for over 500 years; the ways in which recent scientific and digital imaging have shed new light on his art. Through the concentrated art-historical material studied, the course will attempt to introduce students with little or no background in art history to some of the major avenues for interpretation in this field, including formal, stylistic, iconographical, psychological, social, feminist, theoretical and reception. Readings are chosen with that diversity in mind.

    Equivalent Course: FNDL 21414

    BIBL 33900 Introductory Biblical Hebrew I Staff This course is the first of a two-quarter sequence designed to introduce students to the language of biblical Hebrew, with special emphasis on the fundamentals of its morphology, syntax, and vocabulary. The course follows a standard textbook supplemented by lectures, exercises, and oral drills aimed at refining the student’s grasp of grammatically sound interpretation and translation. At the conclusion of the two-quarter sequence students will be prepared to take a biblical Hebrew reading course in the spring quarter
    BIBL 35100 Introductory Koine Greek I Staff

    In this two-course sequence, students will learn the basic mechanics of Koine Greek and begin reading texts from the Greek New Testament and Septuagint. The autumn course and the first three-fourths or so of the winter course will introduce the vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and style of the Greek New Testament, and to a limited degree those of the Septuagint, after which point we will focus on reading and interpreting a New Testament document in Greek at length. Upon the conclusion of the sequence, students will be able to read and comprehend entire passages of Koine Greek text with the aid of a dictionary. This sequence aims to prepare students to successfully participate in a Greek exegesis course

    HIPS 18300 Science, Culture, and Society in Western Civilization I: Greek and Roman Science J. Wee

    This undergraduate core course represents the first quarter of the Science, Culture, and Society in Western Civilization sequence. Taking these courses in sequence is recommended but not required. This quarter will focus on aspects of ancient Greek and Roman intellectual history, their perceived continuities or discontinuities with modern definitions and practices of science, and how they were shaped by the cultures, politics, and aesthetics of their day. Topics surveyed include history writing and ancient science, the cosmos, medicine and biology, meteorology, ethnography and physiognomics, arithmetic and geometry, mechanics, taxonomy, optics, astronomy, and mechanical computing.

    Equivalent Course: HIST 17310

    HIST 13001 History of European Civilization I Staff The first part of the sequence examines the period from approximately 500 to 1700 in European history. It challenges students to question two-dimensional, rigid narratives about the fall of Rome, the Dark Ages, the Renaissance and Reformation, and the early Enlightenment by reading historical sources with empathy and attention to their authors' own perspectives. For example, we explore the entanglement of the political, economic, and religious by reading a chronicle written by a monk; we examine gender relations and daily life by reading men's and women's personal letters; and we investigate the earliest contacts between Europeans and the peoples of the Americas by reading eyewitness accounts of their interactions. In the process of recovering the lived experiences of medieval and early modern Europeans, the course engages with the sophisticated societies and cultures of premodern Europe, which many subsequent generations post-1700 would come to label backwards and uncivilized.
    HIST 13900 Introduction to Russian Civilization I W. Nickells & Staff 

    The first quarter covers the ninth century to the 1870s; the second quarter continues on through the post-Soviet period. Working closely with a variety of primary sources-from oral legends to film and music, from political treatises to literary masterpieces-we will track the evolution of Russian civilization over the centuries and through radically different political regimes. Topics to be discussed include the influence of Byzantine, Mongol-Tataric, and Western culture in Russian civilization; forces of change and continuity in political, intellectual and cultural life; the relationship between center and periphery; systems of social and political legitimization; and symbols and practices of collective identity.

    Equivalent Course(s): REES 26011, SOSC 24000

    HIST 22122 Writing Christian Poetry R. Fulton Brown

    Christianity begins with God's creative Word: "In the beginning was the Word." This course approaches the study of Christian poetry as an exercise in creativity, encouraging students to explore the history of Christianity as an expression of the poetic imagination. Readings will be taken from across the ancient, medieval, and modern Christian tradition, focusing particularly on works originally written in Old, Middle or modern English as models for writing our own poems, but drawing on a wide range of exegetical, liturgical, and visionary works to support appreciation of the symbolism and narrative embedded in these models. Is there such a thing as a distinctively Christian perspective on history, morality, beauty, and art? What role does irony play? Is Christian poetry fundamentally tragic or comic? What is the relationship between Christianity and culture?

    Equivalent Courses: HCHR 32122, RLST 27517

    LATN 26000 Latin Paleography M. Allen The course will emphasize the development of Latin handwriting, primarily as book scripts, from its origins to the waning of the Carolingian minuscule, ca. AD 1100. By mastering the foundational types of writing, the students will develop skills for reading all Latin-based scripts, including those used for vernacular languages and the subsequent Gothics and their derivatives down to the sixteenth century.
    MDVL 10101 Introduction to African Civilization I K. Hickerson

    African Civilization introduces students to African history in a three-quarter sequence. Part one considers literary, oral, and archeological sources to investigate African societies and states from the early Iron Age through the emergence of the Atlantic World. We will study the empires of Ghana and Mali, the Swahili Coast, Great Zimbabwe, and medieval Ethiopia. We will also explore the expansion of Islam, the origins and effects of European contact, and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

    Equivalent Courses: ANTH 20701, HIST 10101, CRES 20701

    MDVL 20601 Islamic Thought and Literature I A.  El Shamsy  

    This sequence explores the thought and literature of the Islamic world from the coming of Islam in the seventh century C.E. through the development and spread of its civilization in the medieval period and into the modern world. Including historical framework to establish chronology and geography, the course focuses on key aspects of Islamic intellectual history: scripture, law, theology, philosophy, literature, mysticism, political thought, historical writing, and archaeology. In addition to lectures and secondary background readings, students read and discuss samples of key primary texts, with a view to exploring Islamic civilization in the direct voices of the people who participated in creating it. All readings are in English translation. No prior background in the subject is required. This course sequence meets the general education requirement in civilization studies.

    Equivalent Courses: HIST 25610, SOSC 22000, NEHC 20601, RLST 20401

    MDVL 24592 Jewish and Islamic Ethics in al-Andalus J. Robinson and Y. Casewit

    This course will include readings in Jewish and Islamic ethics from al-Andalus and the Maghrib with a focus on the writings of Maimonides (d. 1204) -- especially his "Eight Chapters" and Commentary on Avot (completed in the 1160s) and Ibn al-Mar'a of Malaga (d. 1214) -- especially his commentary on Ibn al-'Arif.

    Equivalent Courses: HIJD 34592, ISLM 34592, RETH 34592, RLST 24592

    MDVL 26102 Ecstasy K. Trujillo

    The concept of ecstasy is often associated with an extraordinary experience of the philosophical, sexual, and religious varieties, but in what way is ecstasy also bound to rituals of the ordinary? In this course we will explore numerous ways that ecstasy and synonymous terms like “orgasm,” “bliss,” and “jouissance” have been conceptualized in philosophical, theological, and literary texts from late antiquity to the present. What does the figural relationship between ecstasy and orgasm suggest about the broader relationship between philosophy, theology, sexuality, and desire? What role do pleasure and pain play in philosophical and theological reflection? How has ecstasy been deployed both as a form of political resistance and as complicit in the perpetuation of histories of violence? Focusing on the Christian tradition and its impact on queer theory, our readings may include, but are not limited to, texts by Plotinus, Pseudo-Dionysius, Margaret Ebner, Hadewijch, Margery Kempe, Teresa of Ávila, Lacan, Glück, Edelman, and Muñoz.

    Equivalent Courses: CMLT 26102/36102

    MDVL 26250 Buddhist Poetry in India M. Kapstein

    The substantial Buddhist contribution to Indian poetry is of interest for what it teaches us of both Buddhism and the broad development of Indian literature. The present course will focus upon three phases in this history, with attention to what changes of language and literary genre tell us of the transformations of Indian religious culture from the last centuries B.C.E. to about the year 1000. Readings (all in translation) will include the Therīgāthā, a collection of verses written in Pali and the most ancient Indian example of womens’ literature, selections from the work of the great Sanskrit poets Aśvaghoṣa, Āryaśūra, and Mātṛceta, and the mystical songs, in the Apabhraṃśa language, of the Buddhist tantric saints.

    Prerequisite: General knowledge of Buddhism is desirable

    Equivalent Courses: DVPR 34300, SALC 34300, HREL 34300, RLST 26250, RLVC 34300

    MDVL 26260 Padavali: Vernacular Poetics in Eastern South Asia (ca. 14th-18th AD) T. d’Hubert

    Padavali (vernacular lyric poetry) is one of the threads that tied together the cultural region of eastern India from Tripura to Bihar, and from Assam to Odisha. In this course, we will study the making of this tradition rooted in the courtly poems of Vidyapati (ca. 1370-1460, Mithila) and follow its spread in Nepal, Assam, Bengal, and Odisha. We will discuss the very close relation between form and content in this poetic tradition that was closely connected with music. We will also study the expressive use of a complex prosodic system that was never described in the form of treatises and the many debates around the trans-regional aspects of Brajabuli as an artificial vernacular poetic idiom. Moreover, we will compare padavali literature with other premodern traditions from Medieval Europe, especially Old Occitan troubadour poetry and lyric poetry in Andalusian Arabic. This comparative approach is motivated by the many parallels one can observe between Medieval southern Europe and eastern South Asia, starting with the conscious crafting of lyric vernacular traditions in multilingual contexts against the background of classical literary cultures.

    Prerequisite: Two years of Bengali, or Hindi, or Sanskrit (with some basic knowledge of Middle Indic [Prakrit/Apabhramsha])

    Equivalent Course: SALC 26250/46250


    PHIL 25102 Aquinas on Justice S. Brock

    We will work through as much as we can of Aquinas’s so-called Treatise on Justice — Summa theologiae II-II, qq. 57-79 — with the help of other passages from him and from his sources, especially Aristotle

    Equivalent Course: FNDL 24304

    RLST 11004 Introduction to the Hebrew Bible S. Chavel

    Critical introduction to the genres, ideas, styles, and formation of the Hebrew Bible (the ancient Jewish treasury of literature from Israel, Judea, and Babylonia), framed by ancient comparative material and modern literary theory.

    Equivalent Courses: NEHC 30504, HIJD 31004, BIBL 31000, NEHC 20504, JWSC 20120

    RLST 20201 Islamicate Civilization I: 600-950 A. El Shamsy

    This course covers the rise and spread of Islam, the Islamic empire under the Umayyad and early Abbasid caliphs, and the emergence of regional Islamic states from Afghanistan and eastern Iran to North Africa and Spain. The main focus will be on political, economic and social history.

    Equivalent Course: ISLM 30201

    RLST 21505 The Apostolic Fathers D. Martinez

    This course focuses on the general body of works whose authors are collectively known as the Apostolic Fathers, a remarkable group of theologians who lived and wrote during the late first and second centuries AD, immediately after the New Testament. Among the works and writers whom we will consider are the Didache, Clement of Rome (1 Clement), Ignatius of Antioch, and, as time permits, Diognetus or 2 Clement. We will carefully read the Greek text, with careful attention to the style of the Greek, how it compares to that of the New Testament, and its relationship to other important materials such as the Septuagint and the Greco-Egyptian papyri. This was a period of amazing ferment and intellectual diversity. Since no rigid standard of orthodoxy had yet been set, a wide array of ideas were put forth and examined on the theological market place. We will focus on the exegetical methods of Biblical interpretation used by the Fathers, their reflections on the person and work of Jesus, and their ideas on the structure and mission of the emerging Church as the body of Christ.

    Prerequisite: Two years of Greek required.

    Equivalent Courses: BIBL 47500, GREK 25700, GREK 35700

    RLST 25301 History, Religion, and Politics in Augustine's City of God M. Allen and W. Otten Augustine's City of God is a major work of history, politics, and religion. Written after Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410, the work begins as an apologia (justification) of the empire's turn to Christianity and expands to offer a sweeping and deeply theological account of human history and society in terms of earth-bound versus heaven-centered community. Augustine's citizenship and politics entails living out membership in either fellowship while commingled on earth with the other. Augustine analyzes Roman history and politics as well as the new religion first encouraged and eventually imposed in the wake of Constantine's conversion. We shall read the entire work in translation, attending to historical observations, political stances, and religious views. Augustine made arguments of his own but saved huge swaths of Varro and other otherwise lost sources to fashion his historical critique of Rome, social analysis, and many ultimately fresh views on matters like human sexuality in paradise and in heaven.
    SPAN 25605 Inquisiciones N. Blanco Mourelle

    The Inquisition was, if not the most important juridical and religious institution of premodern Iberia, certainly the most emblematic. In truth, there was not one Inquisition, but many. Without them, terms such as heresy, conversion, or auto-da-fé would not have the currency they do today. These terms are best understood as tools for the disciplining of religious communities and the controlling of the circulation of ideas. This is a class designed to help students understand the Inquisition as a complex historical phenomenon that left a rich archive where anthropological research and theological debate were made to coexist.

    Note: Taught in Spanish

    Equivalent course: SPAN 35605

    Course Number Course Instructor Description
    ARTH 22266 Witchcraft and the Cultural Imagination T. Golan and N. Blanco Mourelle

    This seminar takes as its focal point the vast range of conceptual, material, and visual artifacts that are produced by, and indeed help to construct, this enduring fascination with the figure of the witch, from the medieval past to the present. We will examine case studies from premodern Europe to Colonial North America to Indonesia, scrutinizing texts, films, and works of art. Rather than offering a standard history of witchcraft, we will explore the intersections of gender, labor, and representation that the figure of the witch makes specially available for study. Witchcraft constitutes a multifaceted phenomenon that aims to alter reality and the self through the use of various techniques, transmitted both orally and in writing. These techniques have often appeared culturally marked in terms of gender and belief. Witchcraft has for centuries been the business of women in societies where very few avenues existed for women to develop any sort of business.

    Equivalent Course: ARTH 32266, SPAN 22266/32266

    ARTH 22815

    Medici Florence L. Markey

    This course examines the artistic and cultural patronage of the Medici of Florence from Cosimo il Vecchio in the late fifteenth century to Grand Duke Cosimo II in the early seventeenth century. Organized roughly chronologically, the course considers the changes and continuities in the artistic interests of this eminent family in relation to cultural, economic, political and religious transformations in Florence. More broadly, we will explore the value of patronage studies in art history, considering issues such as the agency of the artist, political propaganda, corporate identity, female patronage and religious sponsorship. Class readings combine the study of documentary sources such as Medici letters and inventories with primary sources by Machiavelli and Vasari, and secondary sources on specific Medici patrons, artists, works of art and architectural structures. Several classes will take place at the Newberry Library and students will contribute to a Newberry online resource.

    Equivalent Course: ARTH 32815

    FREN 23422 Mourning and Commemoration in Pre-Modern French Literature K. Lopez

    This is an introductory-level course that will interrogate how experiences of death and mortality were understood and described by literary works in the pre-modern era. Be they environmental, political, or medical, the crises we face today are by no means unique to the 21st century. As distanced as we may feel from plague, crusades, and unceasing warfare, a closer look forces us to rethink what has really changed in 500 years, while offering us a deeper understanding of practices and representations from the past. The shared human anxieties related to temporal and corporeal finality and the unknown will inform a critical reading of French literary works that take on death and mortality, including texts by Eustache Deschamps, François Villon, Michel de Montaigne, and Christine de Pizan. Prerequisite: FREN 20500 or 20503.

    Notes: Introductory-level course. Taught in English with readings in French.

    HIST 13001 History of European Civilization I Staff

    The first part of the sequence examines the period from approximately 500 to 1700 in European history. It challenges students to question two-dimensional, rigid narratives about the fall of Rome, the Dark Ages, the Renaissance and Reformation, and the early Enlightenment by reading historical sources with empathy and attention to their authors' own perspectives. For example, we explore the entanglement of the political, economic, and religious by reading a chronicle written by a monk; we examine gender relations and daily life by reading men's and women's personal letters; and we investigate the earliest contacts between Europeans and the peoples of the Americas by reading eyewitness accounts of their interactions. In the process of recovering the lived experiences of medieval and early modern Europeans, the course engages with the sophisticated societies and cultures of premodern Europe, which many subsequent generations post-1700 would come to label backwards and uncivilized.

    HIST 13200 History of Western Civilization II K. Weintraub

    This second course of the History of Western Civilization sequence explores major themes in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Reformation. Key topics explored through discussions of texts include the development of monasticism; the structures of manorialism and feudalism; the consolidation of the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire; and the challenges to these structures seen in the ideas of the humanists and reformers.

    Prerequisite: These courses must be taken in sequence.

    ITAL 22722 Magic, Madness, and Marvels: Renaissance Epic Literature from the Page to the Stage D. Kusar

    Italian Renaissance epics present us with kaleidoscope worlds of complex plots, torrid romances, frenzied madness, and marvelous enchantments. Under the vestments of wonder and imagination, they give us a deeper understanding of and appreciation for Italian Renaissance culture. In this course, we will closely examine the intertextual nature of these works (e.g., Ariosto's "Orlando furioso," Tasso's "Gerusalemme liberata") along with their various renditions in musical spectacles (e.g., Handel, Vivaldi, Purcell) and in other artistic media. Using these diverse sources as a foundation, we will examine the roles of the magician, necromancer, and enchantress; demons and the possessed; the madman; and others. Engaging with an array of source materials, you will leave this course with a deeper understanding of why the Renaissance was called the "age of the marvelous" (Kenseth) and will have the tools to decipher the rich and diverse artistic mediations of Italian epics that continue to be relevant even today. 

    Note: Taught in Italian, with texts read in Italian.

    MDVL 10030

    Introduction to the Qur'an Y. Casewit

    The Qur'an's historical setting, thematic and literary features, major biblical figures, and foundational narratives of the Quran. Explorations of medieval exegetical literature on the Quran and its reception in the early (8th-10th century CE) and medieval periods (11th - 15th century CE) will feature heavily in this course. Readings consist primarily of English translations of the Quran alongside a running commentary, as well as secondary articles.

    Equivalent Courses: ISLM 30030, NEHC 30030, RLST 11030

    MDVL 10201

    Introduction to Coptic J. Johnson

    This course introduces the last native language of Egypt, which was in common use during the late Roman, Byzantine, and early Islamic periods (fourth to tenth centuries CE). Grammar and vocabulary of the standard Sahidic dialect are presented in preparation for reading biblical, monastic, and Gnostic literature, as well as a variety of historical and social documents.

    Equivalent Courses: EGPT 10201, HCHR 30601

    MDVL 12500 Introduction to the New Testament: Texts and Contexts M. Mitchell

    An immersion in the texts of the New Testament with the following goals: 1. through careful reading to come to know well some representative pieces of this literature; 2. to gain useful knowledge of the historical, geographical, social, religious, cultural and political contexts of these texts and the events they relate; 3. to learn the major literary genres represented in the canon ("gospels," "acts," "letters," and "apocalypses") and strategies for reading them; 4. to comprehend the various theological visions and cultural worldviews to which these texts give expression; 5. to situate oneself and one's prevailing questions about this material in the history of research, and to reflect on the goals and methods of interpretation; 6. to become intelligent and critical "consumers" of biblical scholarship as it appears in academic and popular media.; 7. to raise questions for further study. Prerequisite(s): Interest in this literature, and willingness to enter into conversation with like-minded and non-like-minded others on the texts and the issues involved in their interpretation.

    Equivalent Courses: RLST 12000, BIBL 32500, FNDL 28202

    MDVL 14006 Introduction to Byzantine Art K. Krause

    In this course we will explore works of art and architecture as primary sources on the civilization of Byzantium. Through the close investigation of artifacts of different media and techniques, students will gain insight into the artistic production of the Byzantine Empire from its beginnings in the fourth century C.E. to the Ottoman conquest in 1453. We will employ different methodological approaches and scholarly resources that are relevant for the fruitful investigation of artifacts in their respective cultural setting. In order to fully assess the pivotal importance of the visual arts in Byzantine culture, we will address a wide array of topics, including art and ritual, patronage, the interrelation of art and text, the classical heritage, art and theology, Iconoclasm, etc. For nonmajors, this course meets the arts, music, drama general education requirements.

    Equivalent Courses: RLST 28308, ARTH 14006

    MDVL 15320 Witnessing Medieval Evil: Literature, Art, and the Politics of Observation B. Saltzman

    Seeing hell for oneself, watching the torture of a saint, looking at illustrations of violence: these profoundly terrible experiences, narrated and drawn, shaped the way medieval readers took in the world around them, its violence, its suffering, its preponderance of evils. But how exactly does literature allow readers to witness and process such horrors? How is the observation of violence transformed by art? What is unique about the medieval experience of these artistic and literary forms of mediation? What can they teach us about our own contemporary cultural encounters with the sights and stories of atrocity? By exploring questions like these, this course will consider the didactic, religious, and epistemological functions of witnessing in a variety of early medieval texts such as illustrated copies of Prudentius’s Psychomachia (in which the Virtues engage in a gruesome battle against the Vices), the Apocalypse of Paul (in which Paul sees hell and lives to tell about it), early medieval law codes, the Life of St. Margaret, the Old English Genesis, and the heroic poem Judith. These medieval texts will be read alongside thinkers like Giorgio Agamben, W.J.T. Mitchell, and Susan Sontag, whose work on images of atrocity in the modern world will both inform our critical examination of the Middle Ages while opening up the possibility for rethinking literature and art in relation to contemporary experiences of violence.

    Equivalent Courses: ENGL 15320, LLSO 25320, SIGN 26057

    MDVL 20100 Introduction to the Civilizations of South Asia I M. Alam 

    The first quarter focuses on Islam in South Asia, Hindu-Muslim interaction, Mughal political and literary traditions, and South Asia's early encounters with Europe.

    Equivalent Courses: HIST 10800, SOSC 23000, ANTH 24101, SALC 20100/30100

    MDVL 20202

    Islamicate Civilization II: 950-1750 C. Fleischer

    This course, a continuation of Islamicate Civilization I, surveys intellectual, cultural, religious and political developments in the Islamic world from Andalusia to the South Asian sub-continent during the periods from ca. 950 to 1750. We trace the arrival and incorporation of the Steppe Peoples (Turks and Mongols) into the central Islamic lands; the splintering of the Abbasid Caliphate and the impact on political theory; the flowering of literature of Arabic, Turkic and Persian expression; the evolution of religious and legal scholarship and devotional life; transformations in the intellectual and philosophical traditions; the emergence of Shi`i states (Buyids and Fatimids); the Crusades and Mongol conquests; the Mamluks and Timurids, and the "gunpowder empires" of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Moghuls; the dynamics of gender and class relations; etc. This class partially fulfills the requirement for MA students in CMES, as well as for NELC majors and PhD students.

    Equivalent Courses: NEHC 20202, NEHC 30202, ISLM 30202, RLST 20202, HIST 15612, HIST 35622

    MDVL 20505

    Pagans and Christians: Greek Background to Early Christianity D. Martinez

    This course will examine some of the ancient Greek roots of early Christianity. We will focus on affinities between Christianity and the classical tradition as well as ways in which the Christian faith may be considered radically different from it. Some of the more important issues that we will analyze are: "The spell of Homer." How the Homeric poems exerted immeasurable influence on the religious attitudes and practices of the Greeks. The theme of creation in Greek and Roman authors such as Hesiod and Ovid. The Orphic account of human origins. The early Christian theme of Christ as Creator/Savior. Greek, specifically Homeric conceptions of the afterlife. The response to the Homeric orientation in the form of the great mystery cults of Demeter, Dionysus, and Orpheus. The views of the philosophers (esp. Plato) of the immortality of the soul compared with the New Testament conception of resurrection of the body. Ancient Greek conceptions of sacrifice and the crucifixion of Christ as archetypal sacrifice. The attempted synthesis of Jewish and Greek philosophic thought by Philo of Alexandria and its importance for early Christianity.

    Equivalent Courses: CLCV 26216, RLST 20505

    MDVL 21705 Iberian Literatures and Cultures: Medieval and Early Modern N. Blanco Mourelle

    This class explores Spanish language, literature, and culture focusing on premodern Iberian texts and artifacts. We will start by anonymous Cantar de Mio Cid, the first great vernacular epic in the Middle Ages, and we will end in Maria de Zayas's Novelas ejemplares, one of the finest expressions of European early modern short story. Between these two literary works we will talk about music, painting, witchcraft, conversion, and the Inquisition as milestones of a five-century span. In this time Spanish consolidates as a written language, while numerous political and religious conflicts mark the struggle for hegemony in the Iberian Peninsula. The class will function like a seminar and be discussion-based. In addition to enhancing your knowledge of Iberian cultural history and improving your close reading and critical thinking skills, this course is designed to continue building on your linguistic competence in Spanish. (Taught in Spanish)

    Equivalent Course: SPAN 21705

    MDVL 23823

    Melancholy: Readings in Medieval Christian Literature M. Vanderpoel

    The idea of melancholy, a persistent affective orientation toward sadness and/or despair, is ubiquitous in Christian writings from the Middle Ages. This course considers the nature and function of melancholy and possible remedies in Christian discourses, and in so doing it provides a survey of medieval Christian literature. Readings may be drawn from authors such as Boethius, Alan of Lille, Jean de Meun, Marguerite Porete, Dante, and Christine de Pizan. Special attention will be given to the role of literary form in Christian writing, competing accounts of despair and hope, and the relationship of Christianity to non-Christian discourses. There are no language prerequisites, though reading groups may be formed if sufficient students posses relevant language skills.

    Equivalent courses: RLST 23823, CMLT 23823

    MDVL 26000 History of Philosophy II: Medieval and Early Modern Philosophy

    D. Moerner

    A survey of the thought of some of the most important figures of the period from the fall of Rome to the Scottish Enlightenment. The course will begin with an examination of the medieval hylomorphism of Aquinas and Ockham and then consider its rejection and transformation in the early modern period. Three distinct early modern approaches to philosophy will be discussed in relation to their medieval antecedents: the method of doubt, the principle of sufficient reason, and empiricism. Figures covered may include Ockham, Aquinas, Descartes, Avicenna, Princess Elizabeth, Émilie du Châtelet, Spinoza, Leibniz, Abelard, Berkeley, Hume, and al-Ghazali.

    Equivalent Courses: PHIL 26000, HIPS 26000

    MDVL 28013 Love, Desire, and Sexuality in Islamic Texts and Contexts A. Kanner-Botan

    This class examines key texts in Islamic societies that together comprise a set of cultural narratives through which ideas about love, desire, and sexuality circulated. Throughout the course, we will engage with these broad themes by exploring the subjects of erotic and familial love; gender, sexuality, and the body; Orientalism and the politics of reading desire cross-culturally; and the enduring tensions between the particular and the universal in discourses of and about love, the passions and their vicissitudes in the histories of religion. Islam provides the historical framework through which we can assess shared and differentiated ideas about this important human phenomenon, from the Hellenism of late antiquity to contemporary media of South Asia. We will encounter various ways of understanding love in primary sources that range from the Qur’ān and pre-Islamic poetry; to mystics and philosophers such as Ibn al-‘Arabī and Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna); to the narratives of Rūmī’s Masnāvī and Niẓāmī’s Laylī o Majnūn; to the popular tales of the A Thousand and One Nights and the framing of Islamic cultural narratives in Bollywood cinema and American popular culture. This course draws on the perspectives of Religious Studies, Medieval Studies, Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Comparative Literature, and students will have the opportunity over the course of the class to develop a project that relates our content to their own interests.

    Equivalent Course: RLST 28013

    RLST 27213

    Between Polemics and Encounter: "Jews" and "Christians" in Rome and Sasanian Persia E. Walsh

    In recent decades, scholars of biblical and early Christian literature have examined the various ways literary sources constructed the relationship between “Jews” and “Christians” in Late Antiquity. These resources prove challenging for reconstructing the situation on the ground. This course will introduce students to the various models that scholars have advanced for making sense of the evidence and debated categories such as “Jewish-Christianity.” Against this backdrop, students will undertake a close reading of a select, representative examples to examine the development of adversus Iudaeos (“against the Jews”) literature. The readings will focus our attention on evidence from Greek- and Syriac-speaking Christians living within the multilingual and religiously diverse regions at the boundary of the Roman and Sassanian Persian Empires. Familiar sources such as the Pauline epistles, Apostolic Fathers, and John Chysostom will be accompanied by readings from the pseudo-Clementine literature, the Didascalia Apostolorum, poetry, and Persian Martyr Acts. We will explore how new discoveries within Syriac studies are currently reshaping our approaches to traditional questions.




    Course Number Course Instructor Description
    ARTH 14810 Devotion – Dissent – Disenchantment? Art in the Age of the Protestant Reformation T. Golan

    In the years leading up to Martin Luther’s radical transformation of the political-religious landscape, late medieval and early modern Europeans were inundated with a flood of “alternative facts” that called into question the intellectual, ethical, and religious values governing their lives. With the advent of new media technologies, images became important vehicles of commentary and disputation for Reformers, leading to the formation of a public sphere of discourse to which the image was central; yet, at the same time, the image itself and its role in daily life came increasingly under attack. This course provides an introduction to artistic production in northern Europe from the late fourteenth century through the sixteenth century through the lens of the productive, if tumultuous, relationship between art and the epistemological challenges of the Reformation. Particular attention will be paid to the shifting status of the artist, focusing on the historical and cultural circumstances that led to the elevation of artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Hans Baldung, and Pieter Bruegel the Elder, as well as their relationship to the world outside the Alps, including Italy, Spain, and the New World. This course will also examine topics such as the relationship between word and image, iconoclasm and iconophilia, public and private spheres of patronage, and strategies of visual polemics. Readings will include primary sources in translation and selected works of modern scholarship.

    ARTH 17530 The Art of Raphael and the Idea of the Renaissance C. Cohen

    This course concentrates on Raphael, perhaps historically the most influential figure of the outsized trio (including Leonardo and Michelangelo), who embody the "culminating moment" of the Renaissance in central Italy (ducal Urbino, Medicean Florence and papal Rome). Some attention will be given to the history of the idea and to the style-concept "High Renaissance" and its contested usefulness as a vehicle for understanding three such diverse personalities. While we will try to do justice to the enormously diverse, if short, career of Raphael, who died at age 37, context and interactions will lead us to also selectively examine the mature works of Leonardo and Michelangelo through 1520 (including the Last Supper and the Sistine Ceiling), which is the part of their careers that overlap with Raphael. Considerable attention will be given to the writings and especially the drawings of the major artists as a means of understanding their creative methods and interpreting their works. Through the concentrated art-historical material studied, the course will take seriously the attempt to introduce students with little or no background in art history to some of the major avenues for interpretation in this field, including formal, stylistic, iconographical, psychological, social, feminist, theoretical and reception. Readings are chosen with this diversity of approach in mind.

    ARTH 17550 Renaissance Facades: Architecture in the Age of Representation D. Donetti

    The art of the Italian Renaissance is one that engaged at large with questions of representation, in both practice and theory, with long-lasting consequences for the visual culture of the Western world. If such an assumption might be especially evident in the figural arts, it is nevertheless valid for the more abstract language of architecture. Indeed, the Italian architecture of the fifteenth and sixteenth century formulated the vocabulary and rules of a new idiom, that of classicism, which would have soon become predominant in all Europe, and subsequently migrated to the New World. How to decipher such a popular albeit cryptic language? What are the principles that regulate this method of composition? And what are the cultural conflicts and political messages that lie behind the apparent normativity of this style? This course will answer such questions by examining a careful selection of buildings of Renaissance Italy and driving attention to their façades, analyzed in the relationship with the city and the beholder. Classes will focus on phenomena of innovation and resistance, identity and universality, transition and conservation, relying on the architectural theory of the time, as well as on critical interpretations by the most influential historians of early modern architecture. Ultimately, the course will refine a sense of visual literacy: students will learn to discern classical architecture's underlying grammar and to understand it in all its cultural implications.

    ARTH  24014 The Veneration of Icons in Byzantium K. Krause

    In order to appreciate the pivotal religious significance icons had in Byzantium for private devotion, in the liturgy, in civic ritual, and in military campaigns, we will survey the visual evidence along with a vast array of written sources. We will explore the origins of the Christian cult of icons in the Early Byzantine period and its roots in the Greco-Roman world of paganism. Through the close analysis of icons executed over the centuries in different artistic techniques, we will examine matters of iconography, style and aesthetics. We will also have a close look at image theory, as developed by Byzantine theologians and codified in the era of Iconoclasm. PQ: This is a graduate course but advanced undergraduate students may enroll in exceptional cases (instructor's consent required). The course is not recommended for students without an at least basic familiarity with Christian culture and the major protagonists of the New Testament. Course Notes: Typically, meetings will consist of both lecture and interactive discussion sections. Students are expected to prepare the mandatory readings for each week, which serve as a basis for an informed, and thus productive, classroom discussion.

    Equivalent Courses: ARTH 40414, RLVC 44004, HCHR 44004, RLST 28704

    HIST 23519 The Arts of Number in the Middle Ages: The Quadrivium R. Fulton Brown Alongside the arts of language (grammar, rhetoric, and logic), medieval students would encounter the arts of number: arithmetic, the study of pure number; geometry, number in space; music, number in time; and astronomy, number in space and time (in Stratford Caldecott's formulation). In this course, we will be following this medieval curriculum insofar as we are able through some of its primary texts, many only recently translated, so as to come to a better appreciation of the way in which the study of these arts affected the development of the medieval European intellectual, scientific, and artistic tradition. This is a companion course to "The Arts of Language in the Middle Ages: The Trivium," but the two courses may be taken in either order.
    HIST 25901 Radical Islamic Pieties, 1200-1600 C. Fleischer

    This course examines responses to the Mongol destruction of the Abbasid caliphate in 1258 and the background to formation of regional Muslim empires. Topics include the opening of confessional boundaries; Ibn Arabi, Ibn Taymiyya, and Ibn Khaldun; the development of alternative spiritualities, mysticism, and messianism in the fifteenth century; transconfessionalism, antinomianism, and the articulation of sacral sovereignties in the sixteenth century. Readings will be in English, though some acquaintance with primary languages (Arabic, French, German, Greek, Latin, Spanish, or Turkish) is desirable.

    Equivalent courses: HIST 35901, NEHC 20840 / 30840,

    ITAL 23502 Boccaccio's Decameron J. Steinberg

    One of the most important and influential works of the Middle Ages - and a lot funnier than the "Divine Comedy." Written in the midst of the social disruption caused by the Black Death (1348), the "Decameron" may have held readers attention for centuries because of its bawdiness, but it is also a profound exploration into the basis of faith and the meaning of death, the status of language, the construction of social hierarchy and social order, and the nature of crisis and historical change. Framed by a storytelling contest between seven young ladies and three young men who have left the city to avoid the plague, the one hundred stories of Boccaccio's "Decameron" form a structural masterpiece that anticipates the Renaissance epics, Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," and the modern short story. Students will be encouraged to further explore in individual projects the many topics raised by the text, including (and in addition to the themes mentioned above) magic, the visual arts, mercantile culture, travel and discovery, and new religious practices.

    Note: Taught in English.

    Equivalent course: FNDL 21714

    MDVL 12203 Italian Renaissance: Petrarch, Machiavelli, and the Wars of Popes and Kings A. Palmer

    Florence, Rome, and the Italian city-states in the age of plagues and cathedrals, Petrarch and Machiavelli, Medici and Borgia (1250-1600), with a focus on literature, philosophy, primary sources, the revival of antiquity, and the papacy's entanglement with pan-European politics. We will examine humanism, patronage, politics, corruption, assassination, feuds, art, music, magic, censorship, education, science, heresy, and the roots of the Reformation. Writing assignments focus on higher level writing skills, with a creative writing component linked to our in-class role-played reenactment of a Renaissance papal election (LARP). This is a History Department Gateway course. First-year students and non-History majors welcome.

    Equivalent Courses: HIST 12203, FNDL 22204, ITAL 16000, KNOW 12203, RLST 2203, SIGN 26034, CLCV 22914

    MDVL 16900 Ancient Mediterranean World III: Late Antiquity R. Payne

    Part III examines late antiquity, a period of paradox. The later Roman emperors established the most intensive, pervasive state structures of the ancient Mediterranean, yet yielded their northern and western territories to Goths, Huns, Vandals, and, ultimately, their Middle Eastern core to the Arab Muslims. Imperial Christianity united the populations of the Roman Mediterranean in the service of one God, but simultaneously divided them into competing sectarian factions. A novel culture of Christian asceticism coexisted with the consolidation of an aristocratic ruling class notable for its insatiable appetite for gold. The course will address these apparent contradictions while charting the profound transformations of the cultures, societies, economies, and political orders of the Mediterranean from the conversion of Constantine to the rise of Islam.

    Equivalent Courses: HIST 16900, CLCV 20900

    MDVL 22123

    Natural Law in the History of Scholastic Political Thought: Aquinas, Vitoria, Suárez, Hooker, and Grotius

    S. Waldorf

    The concept of natural law has played a central role in the history of Western political thought, and it has often been deployed in political argumentation at pivotal moments in human history, from the discovery of the New World and the American founding to the Nuremberg trials and the civil rights movement.  Though the doctrine has antecedents in Greek and Roman philosophers including Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics, it received its classic articulation in the writings of the Scholastic thinkers of the Middle Ages and early modern period.  In this seminar, we will read key primary source texts in the development of natural law theory in the Scholastic age from five of the Scholastic tradition’s seminal thinkers: Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Francisco de Vitoria (1483-1546), Francisco Suárez (1548-1617), Richard Hooker (1554-1600), and Hugo Grotius (1583-1645).  In reading their works, we will consider the theories of natural law they construct as well as the implications of their respective theories for political debates concerning such questions as Spanish treatment of the Native Americans, religious toleration, the foundations of international law, and the origins of political authority.  We will also consider questions of continuity and discontinuity between the authors and the ways in which their works reflect the historical contexts in which they were written.  Throughout, we will focus on close reading and careful exegesis of the primary source texts.

    Equivalent Course: HIST 22123

    MDVL 23100 Introduction to Christian Thought W. Otten

    This course is designed to give an introduction to Christian thought by means of a historical overview. It will focus on what it is that establishes thinkers as Christian thinkers, what that does to the profile of their thought, how we ought to situate them vis-a-vis established academic disciplines (theology, philosophy and beyond), and how we can best assess their overall contribution in evaluative terms (academic, ecclesial, social, foundational). The course will deliberately reach across confessional and cultural divides. The thinkers on whom we focus are Augustine, Maximus the Confessor, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Kierkegaard, John Henry Newman, William James, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

    Equivalent Course: RLST 23100

    MDVL 25622 Narratives of Travel and Conquest, 12th-16th centuries J. Victor

    In this course we will read a variety of French travel and conquest narratives ranging from medieval stories of Alexander the Great to early accounts of Atlantic colonial endeavors and travel in the Americas. Employing both literary and historical approaches, as well as studies of manuscripts and maps, we will consider how travel and conquest relate to one another; how these narratives changed over time to both reflect and produce new ideologies, circumstances, and literary forms; the influence that literary cultures and conventions had on the depiction and treatment of foreign peoples and places; and in turn the impact of travel and conquest/colonialism on ideas of France and Frenchness.For three weeks during the quarter, we will focus on an early 15th-century account of a French colonial expedition to the Canary Islands, Le Livre nommé le Canarien. This focus will include a hands-on approach to the text, as our class will learn about the process of turning a medieval manuscript into a modern edition; work with the Newberry Library’s extensive collections of maps and documents related to the history of travel; and have the opportunity to contribute to a public and digital humanities project. (Taught primarily in French.)

    Equivalent Course: FREN 25622

    PHIL 25101 Aristotle’s De Anima with Aquinas’s Commentary S. Brock

    There is perhaps no better introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas's philosophy of human nature than his commentary on Aristotle's classic treatment of the fundamental principles of earthly life, the De anima. Of course Aquinas also had other sources, as well as some ideas of his own, but the De anima provides him with the basic philosophical terms and framework. His interpretations continue to engage readers of Aristotle; and without some grasp of them, his theological writings on man are hardly intelligible. This course will be a close reading and discussion of the commentary, with occasional references to other works and other thinkers.

    Equivalent Courses: PHIL 35101, FNDL 24309


Medieval Studies in the College Catalog