Show The Graduate Center Menu

Fall 2011



Feast, Famine, & Fast


Professor Francesca Canadé Sautman


Wednesday,  6:30-8:30p.m. Room TBA, 3 credits [15661] Cross listed with FREN 87200


This interdisciplinary course draws on the materials, methods and issues of anthropology, literary analysis, cultural and social history, and the study of visual cultures.

It addresses the many ways food--its production, exchange, ritualization and preparation--interfaced with other defining aspects of medieval cultures, such as political power, religious practices, and the articulation of identities.

It focuses on the later Middle Ages (13th to early 15th centuries) but also covers some problems of the early modern period (15th to early 17th).

The themes studied thus include, but are not limited to, asceticism, rejecting animal flesh, carnival mythologies, the politics of banquets, the cult of hunting, wine in ritual and commodity exchange, food, medicine and health regimens, all the way to the colonization of the "New World" and the effects of transatlantic slavery and plantation economies on food practices and identities.

While this not a literature course, there will be discussion of the uses of food as literary device and symbol in major works of medieval literature such as Juan Ruiz de Hita's Libro de Buen Amor, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales or Villon's Testaments. As well, contemporary theoretical approaches to visual cultures will be applied to the iconography of food, while the use of historical documents such as account books or regimens of health will be given careful attention.

Some of the readings, both in medieval and early modern studies and in modern theory, include, but are not limited to, work by Arjun Appadurai, Ann Astell, Carolyn Bynum, Joan Cadden, Piero Camporesi, Carole Counihan, Carlo Ginzburg, Allen Grieco, Terence Scully, Timothy Tomasik, and Allen Weiss.

Course taught in English



Byzantine Art, 600-1453


Professor Jennifer Ball


Tuesday, 4:15-6:15pm, Room 3421, 3 credits [16068 Course open to Art History students, permission required for all others


This class will explore the art and architecture of the Byzantine Empire after the initial transition from the Late Roman world (around 600) until the demise of the empire by the Ottomans in 1453.

The Byzantines, while studied less than the kingdoms of the Medieval West, made contributions that cannot be overlooked in a study of Medieval Europe, such as perfecting the art of wall mosaics and developing the use of icons, to create some of the most spectacular medieval art in existence today.

Furthermore, Byzantine engineers accomplished many feats, such as the great dome of Hagia Sophia, which for years was only truly understood by the Ottomans who inherited the great church.

The fundamental debates of the field will be examined, while surveying the major monuments and art of the Byzantine Empire, with a view into Byzantine society.

Byzantine image theory, the nature of iconoclasm and the use of icons, defining secularism in an Orthodox society, the construction of sacred space, the categories of Western/non-Western in relation to Islam and the Medieval West, and gender roles will be among the topics discussed.

Requirements: Students will be required to do a series of brief response papers and a final exam. 2 auditors allowed.

Preliminary Reading:
The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies, Elizabeth Jeffreys, John and Robin Cormack eds. Oxford, 2009, pp. 3-22, 59-76 and 232-294.

If you have no background in Byzantine Art, please also read John Lowden, Early Christian and Byzantine Art, Phaidon, 1997.



 Early English Drama


Professor Michael Sargent


Tuesday, 4:15-6:15pm, Room TBA, 2/4 credits [15565]


Recent work in the psychology and history of affect has begun to focus critical attention on the public spectacle of "medieval English drama".

Recent documentary work, on other hand, has brought to the fore the observation that none of the surviving manuscripts of this "medieval" drama, in fact, dates from before the end of the fifteenth century (in what sense is it, then, "medieval"?), in copies whose relation to actual performance is often quite tenuous (is it, then "drama"?).

In this course we will read a number of mystery, miracle and morality plays with an eye to the shifting construction of just what was "medieval English drama", and to the social and ethical "reading" of these works – sometimes in the city streets, sometimes in a constructed playing-space (indoors or outdoors), and sometimes from books in the cells of hermit-monks vowed to perpetual silence.

We will read a selection of these texts in Middle and Early-Modern English (although we will start off with an edition in modern spelling): the York Corpus Christi cycle; the Towneley plays; selections (at least the "Mary Play") from N-Town; selections from the Chester cycle; probably the e Museo "Burial" and "Resurrection"; the Digby "Conversion of St Paul", "Mary Magdalen" and "Killing of the Children"; the Croxton "Sacrament"; the moralities "The Castle of Perseverance", "Mankind" and "Wisdom"; and we will end with "Everyman".

There will also be free candy.


Medieval Conversions


 Professor Steven Kruger


Thursday, 4:15-6:17 p.m., Rm. TBA, 2/4 credits [15560]


This course examines the significance of religious conversion for medieval literature and culture.

We will read a wide range of medieval work in which conversion experience is at the center, drawing from such genres as autobiography, saint's life, dream vision, miracle of the Virgin, drama, lyric, romance, and from such authors as Hermann/Judah, Hildegard of Bingen, Dante, Chaucer, Langland, Gower, Margery Kempe, Julian of Norwich, Lydgate, and Hoccleve.

Though the main line of readings in the course will be medieval, we will work comparatively, considering how medieval texts reshape their predecessors (Acts of the Apostles, Augustine) and prepare for their successors (Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby, Kushner's Angels in America).

We will also consider how a religious self is shaped by and shapes other categories of identity (gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity, class, age), and what happens to these other "parts" of one's identity when a religious conversion occurs.

Alongside primary texts, we will read a variety of theoretical and critical work that takes up conversionary experience, including scholarship that treats non-religious experiences that might nonetheless be useful for thinking about religious conversion (e.g., transgender theory).

Here, we will also consider how the New Testament writings of the convert Paul have recently become central to a complex line of thought represented by Agamben, Badiou, Boyarin, Taubes, and others.

Students will complete semester-long projects that include both oral and written components; non-medievalists are encouraged to work comparatively, bringing material from their primary fields of interest into conversation with the course material.



Late Medieval & Renaissance Philosophy


Professor Douglas Lackey


Tuesday, 6:30-8:30p.m., Rm. TBA, 4 credits [15856]


In 1775 Edward Gibbon wrote that the decline and fall of the Roman Empire presented "the greatest, and perhaps the most awful, scene in the history of mankind."

In the history of philosophy the greatest and perhaps most awful scene is the decline and fall of the Aristotelian synthesis, which reached its pinnacle in the two magisterial summae of Thomas Aquinas in the third quarter of the thirteenth century.

This course will begin with a summary of Aquinas and what he and his Aristotelian predecessors achieved, and then charts the various forces that, like wolves surrounding a stag, brought Aquinas's great system of interlocking natural kinds crashing down by the middle of the 17th century.

These forces included (a) Scotus's rejection of matter as the principle of individuation (b) Ockham's exultation of divine omnipotence, and the Ockhamist doctrine that God can violate the basic laws of Aristotelian logic and undermine relations among formal causes, (c) Ockham's nominalism, and his rejection of universals that brought with it a rejection of natural kinds, (d) the rise of numerous 14th century mystical movements, for whom the difference between a man and a dog is less important than the fact that both of parts of God, (e) the rise of Platonism and Neoplatonism in 15th century Italy and its attendant anti-Aristotelian supernaturalism, (f) the rise of Lutheranism in the early 16th century and the Deus abscondit doctrine, which deprives the created world of any natural goodness, (g) the corresponding Italian rejection of natural law that brings forth the "murd'rous Machiavel," (h) the rise of vitalist materialism in southern Italy towards the end of the 16th century in Telesio and Campanella and other anti-Aristotelians, (i) last and perhaps least, the discoveries of modern astronomy and physics, those Jovian satellites, those new stars, that cast doubt on particular empirical theses of Aristotle, and produced corresponding metaphysical counterparts in Cusanus and Bruno.

The course will also consider various rearguard actions on the part of Aristotelians, Suarez versus the Platonists, Bellarmine versus Galileo, and so forth.

Some attention will be given to 17th century anti-modernists, like the Cambridge "Platonists" (Aristotelians, actually) who thought that the New Science was hopeless as a foundation for either biology or psychology.

Finally, some attention will be given to relations between philosophical movements and artistic currents, for example, the relation between Nominalism and the development of 15th century Flemish painting, between Neoplatonism and the doctrine of ideal form in Italian Renaissance art, and between 16th c. Augustinianism and the sense of the sublime in Lutheran chorales.