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Spring 2009



Introduction to Medieval Studies


Wednesday,  4:15-6:15 p.m. Room TBA, 3 credits [95043]


Professor Thomas Head


The semester will be divided into four units of three or four weeks each.  In each unit, we will pay attention to literary, historical, and art historical evidence and analysis.  Provisionally these will be as follows.
(1) The scope of medieval studies.  We will begin by examining disciplines outside the “holy trinity” of literature, history, and art history.  We will then consider the impact of various theoretical models on those three fields.  We will end the unit discussing The Past and Future of Medieval Studies, ed. John Van Engen (1994).
(2) The book. We will examine the development of the physical book (and secondarily of literacy) during the middle ages.
(3) The survival and appropriation of the classical tradition.<
(4) Cloisters and courts as centers of cultural production. Thomas Head, Hunter College,









Thursday, 2:00-4:00 p.m.,  Room TBA, 3 credits [95928]


Professor David Greetham
Cross listed with ENGL 80500


As the “-isms” suggests, this is not a course in medieval culture, but an examination of how that culture was co-opted, used and abused, in subsequent periods.

“Medievalism” has now become a very productive area of current research, from art history to politics to video games, and the range of the course, both chronological and disciplinary, is thus potentially very wide. While the specific focus in individual sessions will to a large extent depend on the interests and background of those taking the course, among the most likely topics are the “construction” of a “Middle Age” during the “Renaissance” (which is itself a nineteenth-century term); the changing fortunes and significance of certain medieval authors (e.g., Chaucer, Langland, Dante); the re-imagination of the medieval as a point of cultural departure and replication (e.g., Victorian medievalism in literature, painting, and architecture); the philological identification of the period as a part of a national heritage (e.g., in the concept of “Middle English”) and the influence of such philological studies in the university attitude to vernacular literatures; the co-option of medieval iconography for political purposes (e.g., Nazism); the romanticization of medieval in the Wagner operas; and the seeming ubiquitousness of medieval narratives and stereotypes in popular culture (from video games to movies, Broadways shows, theme parks and festivals, ironic or otherwise).

Inevitably, we will have to confront both the seductiveness of the medieval (as a “return to Camelot”) and the still-pervasive image of the medieval as alien and primitive (e.g., the moment in Pulp Fiction when “to get medieval” means to become very violent, a usage taken up recently in the Andy Borowitz satirical post on Sarah Palin).

Reflecting the wide disciplinary range, as in its previous outing the success of the course will in part depend upon the contributions of a roster of visiting experts from a number of programs at the Graduate Center (e.g., art/architecture, music, history), and I have already had generous commitments from a number of faculty members.

There are no required texts as yet, though it is likely that we will make use of various issues of the journal Medievalism, and such standard references as Mark Girouard’s Return to Camelot, Howard Bloch and Stephen Nichols’s Medievalism and the Modernist Temper, Umberto Eco’s “Return to the Middle Ages” in Travels in Hyperreality, Richard Utz and Tom Shippey’s collection Medievalism in the Modern World; and Allen J. Frantzen’s The Desire for Origins: New Language, Old English, and Teaching the Tradition.

We will, of course, conclude with that ur-text Monty Python and the Holy Grail.







Medieval Portraiture & Identity


Wednesday, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Room  3421, 3 credits [95391]


Professor Jennifer Ball
Open to Art History students only.  Permission of EO required for all others.


Portraiture has long been considered a phenomenon of the modern world, springing from the rise in the concept of individuality, and whose origins are typically situated in the fourteenth century. 

This seminar will explore the burgeoning body of scholarship that rethinks “portrait” along with related concepts, such as “likeness,” to include medieval theories of portraiture.  The understanding of identity in the medieval era is articulated in often highly complex ways in images, despite the fact that there is often little attention paid to physiognomic likeness, so crucial for the selfhood expressed in modern portraits. 

Nonveristic works, as well as holy portraits that push the category of portraiture to its limits, and works in non-traditional media, such as wax, will be addressed. 

Two (2) auditors permitted.

Preliminary Reading
Richard Brilliant. Portraiture. NY: Reaktion, 2004.







Medieval Reliquaries


Wednesday,  9:30-11:30 a.m., Room 3421, 3 credits [95395] 


Professor Cynthia Hahn
Open to Art History students only.  Permission of EO required for all others.



Although reliquaries represented perhaps the most highly valued category of art of the Middle Ages and were certainly considered by medieval viewers to be aesthetically sophisticated, many modern viewers find them disturbing. 

Furthermore, because of their involvement in belief (or perhaps superstition), they were traditionally an ill fit for art historical studies.  Given that modern artists are beginning to be passionately interested in this material, and that art history now considers reception to be a central issue of study, reliquaries are overdue for reevaluation.

This course will examine various perspectives from which to understand the ways in which reliquaries worked for the medieval viewer, including: considerations of semiotic or rhetorical meaning, somatic reference, materiality, meaning generated by an object's position in a collection and as the subject of legends, and, of course, activation of reliquaries in ritual and liturgy. 

The course will focus on reliquaries from the early Christian period to 1204 but discussion and student topics will range beyond this period.

Auditors accepted if there are fewer than 10 students enrolled.

Preliminary Reading
Henk van Os, Way to Heaven
Annabel Wharton, Selling Jerusalem






Medieval Politics, Poetics & Imagination in 13-Century Poetry


Tuesday, 3:30-6:15 p.m., NYU Room TBA,  4 credits [95407]


Professor Ardizzone









Medieval English Drama: Affect, Imagination, Piety & Performativity


Thursday, 4:15-6:15  p.m., Room TBA, 2/4 credits [95073]


Professor Michael Sargent



In this course, we will be looking at the complex role of visual imagination and dramatic enactment in the material culture of spirituality in the later middle ages in England.

Using theoretical/critical approaches drawing upon gender and film theory and the social sciences, we will talk about the cultural work done by various dramatic texts, both as written texts and as performances.

We will examine and discuss the role of imagery and iconography in works of “guided meditation”, in which the reader is instructed in placing him- or herself (often specifically the latter) affectively within the frame of the imagined holy scene – as well as the contemporary reaction against the worship of images in churches (statues, paintings, stained-glass windows) and “miracles playing”.

We will look at the role of public religious drama (e.g. the York cycle of mystery plays) as constructive and performative of civic and religious identity – while also looking at who and what is displaced, marginalized or overwritten.

The texts that we will read will include the mystery cycles (York, Wakefield, Chester and N-Town), and a variety of non-cycle dramas, including, e.g. the Museo “Burial” and “Resurrection”, the Digby “Paul”, “Mary Magdalene” and “Killing of the Children”, the Croxton “Play of the Sacrament”, the Macro manuscript moralities (“The Castle of Perseverence”, “Wisdom” and “Mankind”), Thomas Chaundler’s fifteenth-century humanist “Liber apologeticus de omni statu humanae naturae” and “Everyman”.

Our coverage of the subject will range from the manuscript context in which the play texts are preserved through present-day stage presentation.







Old Music, New Approaches


Tuesday, 2:00-5:00  p.m. Room 3491, 3 credits [95278]


Professors Allan Atlas and Anne Stone



This course will focus on the recent work of six youngish scholars of Medieval and Renaissance music in order to offer a snapshot of current trends in the field of Early Music.

Aimed at an interdisciplinary audience, the course will both consider methodological and historiographical aspects of early music scholarship as well as serving as a graduate-level introduction to the major genres and styles of music before 1650. 

Students outside the field of music will be particularly welcome; reading knowledge of music will be helpful but not a prerequisite for the course.

The logistics of the course will work as follows:  after a general, introductory session, speakers are scheduled to appear at the seminar every other week. 

During the “off-week,” Professors Stone and Atlas will lead an advance discussion of their papers and related readings; note that the speakers will have submitted their papers, together with a supplementary reading list, well in advance.

The six speakers:  Bruce Holsinger (Professor of English and Music, U. of Virginia: Music and Liturgy;), Emma Dillon (Associate Professor, University of Pennsylvania: Thirteenth-century France), Anne Stone (Associate Professor, Queens College and Graduate Center: Fourteenth-Century France and Italy), Jennifer Bloxam, (Associate Professor, Williams College: Fifteenth-Century Mass), Rob Wegman (Associate Professor, Princeton: Renaissance Low Countries), and Mauro Calcagno (Associate Professor, SUNY Stonybrook: Early Modern Italy).

Students will write a short term paper on a topic of interest that in one way or another relates to the repertory and/or methodologies of one of the speakers.






Seminar: Studies in Medieval Literature


Tuesday, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Room TBA 4 credits [95621]


Professor Ottavio Di Camillo