Fall 2015 Courses

Medieval Studies Program

Courses being offered in Fall 2015

(official listing at Cornell University Registrar’s page available here)

First-Year Writing Seminars:


Section 101 | Icons & Idolatry, from Rome to the Reformation
18330 | TR 1:25 – 2:40 | 3 credits | S. Barber.

How does one depict divinity in art? Searching for a suitable answer to this question produced some of the most exquisite works of art of the Middle Ages but also vehement disagreements and controversies about its appropriateness, debates that still resonate in the modern day. This course will ask students to engage critically with some of the sources surrounding medieval devotional images, ranging from the age of Constantine the Great in the fourth century to that of Martin Luther in the sixteenth, in order to investigate the tensions surrounding their manufacture and veneration. Students will develop their writing and thought through a range of assignments, including short reaction and response pieces, close-readings of medieval sources, and critical essays.

Section 102 | Beowulf & Legendary Sagas:The Art of Heroism
18331 | MW 2:55 – 4:10 | 3 credits | E. Currie.

What is Germanic heroic legend? Images of axe-wielding Viking raiders may spring to mind, but how can studying literature from medieval Europe challenge such stereotypes? By reading Beowulf along with related texts from medieval Scandinavia, such as Grettir’s Saga, The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, and The Saga of the Volsungs, we will explore various representations of heroic legends and assess the literary style and themes in our texts. Special attention will be paid to style, which ranges from sentence structure, point of view, and voice, to the general manner or form in which a work of art is constructed. Class discussions and a series of papers will encourage clear writing, close reading, and analysis of the texts.

Section 103 | Where the World Ends: Foundations of Medieval Geographies
18332 | MWF 10:10-11:00 | 3 credits | J. W. Greenlee.

Some of you still think people in the Middle Ages thought the world was flat. What did medieval writers think about global geography? Many of them had a complex picture of the earth, balancing classical sources with more recent explorations, and they offer a way for us to question our own ideas of our place in the cosmos. This class will examine the elements of medieval European conceptions of global geography, including writings from Plato and Aristotle, the Bible, Macrobius, Isidore of Seville, Bede, and more, while practicing the craft of our own expository prose by investigating the extraordinarily varied and often powerful ideas and styles of these writers. We will also examine maps, and some assignments will involve coordinating written accounts with visual geographies.


Section 104 | The Im-/Material Middle Ages
18333 | TR 11:40 – 12:55 | 3 credits | R. Mullett.

People in the Middle Ages were surrounded by devotional objects, in vast variation, and often staggering beauty: manuscripts guiding daily prayers, relics of dead saints, altarpieces depicting the crucifixion, and more. This is not a class about Christianity, but instead a seminar that uses sacred objects to investigate how “materiality” and “immateriality” are treated in the Middle Ages, by looking at a number of poems, sermons, polemical writings, and other narratives. Our aim will be to explore medieval ideas of the intersection between the physical and the spiritual, such as arma Christi iconography, the Eucharist, and the metaphor of body as book. Discussions will seek to draw out details and major themes to develop the skills for writing informal responses, close readings, and critical essays.

Section 106 | Magic in Arthurian Legends
18335 | MWF 9:05 – 9:55 | 3 credits | A. Sprenkle.

From the earliest courtly romances to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Arthur’s court still captivates our cultural imagination. Magic is integral to the continuing appeal of these tales as a source of explanation, justification, testing, and conflict. In this course, students will write analytically about the role of magical objects, creatures, and people in a variety of Arthurian literature. They will compare value arguments made about magic in these tales. What is magic’s role in upholding or questioning the values of Arthur’s court? What kind of events or policies can magic justify? Which kinds of magic are within bounds and which are transgressive? Assignments will include short responses, critical analyses of these questions as well as others, and a creative writing piece.


Section 101 | Fighting Words: Anglo-Saxon Heroes and their Poetry
18336 | TR 8:40 – 9:55 | 3 credits | D. Wu.

“Where now are the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?” These words, familiar from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, comes from the Old English poem The Wanderer. A personal lament as well as a communal one, the warrior’s longing for better days reflects Christian and secular heroic traditions. This class offers an introduction to Old English poetry in translation and its modern adaptations and inspirations, including Tolkien’s writings and W.H. Auden’s verse. We will consider how poetic language and form can negotiate multiple sources of knowledge and belief as well as other aspects of cultural identity for the individual and community. Through class discussion, writing exercises (including creative), and formal papers, students will strengthen their writing and critical reasoning.



Section 101 | Shapeshifters and Cybermen: The Almost-Human as Allegory
18337 | TR 10:10 – 11:25 | 3 credits | M. Ruether-Wu.

Medieval texts can hold conversation with modern science fiction and fantasy, especially in how both consider creatures that challenge the borders between human and Other. This class will use both to consider the almost-human: beings that expose the weaknesses of categorization, from the self to sex and the cosmos, and conflicts between social imperatives like duty, love, and war. We will also investigate direct uses of the Middle Ages in modern fantasy writing. Readings will include supernatural romance and lovesick werewolves; zombie films and the walking dead of Icelandic sagas; X-Men and King Arthur’s band of super-human warriors; the alien adventures of the Doctor and his companions and the journeys of medieval faerie lovers and their ladies. Assignments will be creative as well as expository.

Section 102 | Superheroes and Semiotics
18498 | MWF 12:20 – 1:10 | 3 credits | D. Reid.

If you think about it, superheroes are ridiculous. Yet comic books have produced some of the most durable and resonant symbols in American culture. Understanding how this works is more difficult than it seems at first sight. In their unique blend of word and picture, comics do something that no other medium does, and to explain this we need tools from a field called semiotics–the study of symbols and how they work. To use its tools, we will read theorists from Plato to the present, including key medieval thinkers in the ‘realist’ and ‘nominalist’ debates and modern theorists like Saussure and Derrida, alongside Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-man, and Wolverine. Assignments will include short response papers, persuasive essays, and one optional creative writing project.

Courses for upper-level undergraduates and graduate students:

MEDVL 2170 | Early Modern Iberian Survey (also SPAN 2170, LATA 2170)
8372 | TR 11:40-12:55 | 4 credits | M. Garcés.
Prerequisite: Spanish 2070 or 2090, or CASE Q+, or permission of instructor.

This course explores major texts and themes of the Hispanic tradition from the 11th to the 17th centuries. We will examine general questions on literary analysis and the relationship between literature and history around certain events, such as medieval multicultural Iberia, the creation of the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century and the expulsion of the Jews in 1492; the encounter between the Old and the New Worlds; the ‘opposition’ of high and low in popular culture, and of the secular and the sacred in poetry and prose. Readings may be drawn from medieval short stories and miracle collections; chivalric romances, Columbus, Lazarillo de Tormes, Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Calderón, and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, among others.


MEDVL 2271 | Family Life in Renaissance Italy (also HIST 2271, ITAL 2270)
17446 | W 2:30-4:25 | 4 credits | J. Najemy.

The seminar explores the structures and sentiments of family life in Renaissance Italy, from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century, through a combination of translated primary sources and modern studies. Chief among the primary sources are the fifteenth-century dialogues On the Family by the humanist Leon Battista Alberti, supplemented by diaries and memoirs, letters, sermons, and prescriptive writings by fathers, humanists, and churchmen. Among the topics to be investigated are the variety of family structures, marriage, sexual relations, wives and husbands, parents and children, families in politics, and family memory and commemoration in art and religious life.

MEDVL 2655 | Introduction to Islamic Civilization (also HIST 2530, NES 2655, RELST 2655)
17315 | MW 11:15-12:05 | 3 credits | D. Powers.
17316 / 17317 / 17318 (discussion sections) | F 11:15-12:05, 12:20-1:10 | Staff

The seventh-century Arab conquests resulted in the creation of a vibrant new civilization that stretched from the Iberian peninsula in the west to Central Asia and the borders of India in the east. We will follow the course of Islamic history from the birth of Muhammad until the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1258, with special attention to the achievements of Muslims in the fields of law, theology, literature, science, philosophy, art and architecture.

MEDVL 2740 | Scottish Literature (also ENGL 2740)
8390 | MWF 11:15-12:05 | 3-4 credits | T. Hill and H. Shaw.

Although Scotland, which was long a separate nation, is now politically united with England, it preserves its distinctiveness. This course provides an introduction to Scottish literature, with special emphasis on the medieval period and the 18th through the 20th centuries. The course should appeal to those who wish to learn about their Scottish heritage, and also those who simply wish to encounter a remarkable national culture and the literature it has produced. Some of the texts will be read in Scots, but no familiarity with Scots or earlier English is presumed. We welcome readers of literature who are not English majors.

Those choosing the 4 credit option will complete an additional writing project.

MEDVL 3110/6110 | Old English (also ENGL 3110/6110)
8390 / 8391 | TR 11:40 – 12:55 | 4 credits | S. Zacher.

In this course, we will read and discuss some of the earliest surviving English poetry and prose. Attention will be paid to (1) learning to read the language in which this literature is written, (2) evaluating the poetry as poetry: its form, structure, style, and varieties of meaning, and (3) seeing what can be learned about the culture of Anglo-Saxon England and about the early Germanic world in general, from an examination of the Old English literary records. We will begin by reading some easy prose and will go on to consider some more challenging heroic, elegiac, and devotional poetry, including an excerpt from the masterpiece Beowulf. The course may also be used as preparation for the sequence MEDVL 3120/MEDVL 6120.

MEDVL 3210 | Medieval Philosophy (also PHIL 3210, RLST 3210)
18064 | TR 10:10-11:25 | 4 credits | N. Bulthuis.

A selective survey of Western philosophical thought from the fourth to the 14th century. Topics include the problem of universals, the theory of knowledge and truth, the nature of free choice and practical reasoning, and philosophical theology. Readings (in translation) include Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Abelard, Aquinas, Scotus, and Ockham. Some attention will be given to the development of ideas across the period and the influence of non-Western traditions on the West.

MEDVL 3308 | Readings in Celtic Languages (also LING 3308)
9408 | TBA | 1 credit | W. Harbert.

Reading/discussion groups in Welsh or Scottish Gaelic.

MEDVL 3315 | Old Norse I (also LING 3315)
9408 | MWF 9:05-9:55 | 4 credits | G. Jonatansdottir.

Old Norse is a collective term for the earliest North Germanic literary languages: Old Icelandic, Old Norwegian, Old Danish, and Old Swedish. The richly documented Old Icelandic is the center of attention, and the purpose is twofold: the students gain knowledge of an ancient North Germanic language, important from a linguistic point of view, and gain access to the medieval Icelandic (and Scandinavian) literature. The structure of Old Norse (Old Icelandic), phonology, and morphology, with reading of selections from the Prose-Edda, a 13th-century narrative based on the Eddaic poetry.

MEDVL 3510 | Machiavelli (also ITAL 3570, RELST 3570)
16393 | TR 2:55 – 4:10 | 4 Credits | J. Najemy.

This course explores the writings of the most famous and controversial political theorist in the Western tradition. We begin with the political and cultural context of Machiavelli’s early life and education, and his work in the government of the Florentine republic from 1498 to 1512 as head of the second chancery, diplomatic envoy, and military reformer. We then examine – in his correspondence, poetry, and especially in The Prince (1513) – the impact on his early political thought of this experience and of the republic’s collapse in 1512, an event with traumatic personal consequences for Machiavelli. Although he is best known for the ideas in The Prince, Machiavelli subsequently engaged in a constant process of rethinking and revising those ideas. In the works of his most prolific and creative period from 1515 to 1525 – the Discourses on Livy, the Art of War, the plays Mandragola and Clizia, the Florentine Histories, and more poetry – Machiavelli challenged prevailing notions of history, of antiquity as a model for imitation, of political agency, and of the relative merits and weaknesses of different political systems. His analysis of politics increasingly focused on how relations among social classes conditioned the possibilities for liberty, law, and the various forms of government. These issues will be explored through close analysis and discussion of the primary texts.

MEDVL 3570 | Saint Francis (also ITAL 3570, RELST 3570)
18102 | TR 1:25 – 2:40 | 4 Credits | C. Howie.

No figure in Christian history, short of Jesus himself, has inspired as much thought, art, and action as Francis of Assisi.  In this course we’ll have the opportunity to trace this thirteenth-century preacher, poet, and visionary from his earliest appearances in print and in painting (e.g. Bonaventure, Giotto, the collection of stories known as the Little Flowers) to more recent engagements with his life and legend (especially in Italian film).  Along the way, we’ll wrestle with the definition of sainthood, the status of creation, the importance of poverty, the imitation of Christ, and (above all) the paradoxes that Francis-that most canonical of all revolutionaries-embodies for Italian culture and for Christianity.

MEDVL 3750 | Introduction to Dendrochronology (also ARKEO 3090, ARKEO 4755, ARTH 3250, CLASS 3750, CLASS 4755)
8380 | W 12:20-1:10 plus lab | 4 credits (letter grades only) | S. Manning.

Introduction and training in dendrochronology and its application to archaeology, art history, and environment through participation in a research project dating ancient to modern tree-ring samples especially from the Mediterranean. Supervised reading and laboratory/project work. A possibility exists for summer fieldwork in the Mediterranean.

Permission of instructor required. Limited to 10 students.

MEDVL 3790 | The Seven Deadly Sins (also LATA 3790, SPAN 3790)
17973 | MWF 10:10 – 11:00 | 4 Credits | S. Pinet.

What place does sin have in contemporary culture, from ethics to aesthetics?  How do we consider sin, as a condition, an act, a choice?  How does a particular community-religious, literary, ethnic-consider and use sin, for itself and against others?  What are the limits that sin establishes between different notions of the divine, of the self, and of the other?  How is sin used in literature or art to emphasize or condition behavior and interpretation?  As a brief historical and philosophical exploration of the concept of sin, we will trace the development of the list of seven deadly sins from Evagrius and Cassian to Gregory.  We will then explore each of the sins in a global Hispanic context through works of art and literature, with emphasis in medieval and early modern works, but with a final section on contemporary expressions.

MEDVL 4002/6020 | Latin Philosophical Texts (also PHIL 4002/6020, LATIN 7262, RELST 4100/6020)
8385/ 8386 | TBA | 1-4 credits | S. MacDonald.

Reading and translation of Latin philosophical texts.

MEDVL 4125/6125 | Literary Biography and Autobiography from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance (also ENGL 4125/6125)
17145/17146 | T 10:10 – 12:05 | 4 Credits | A. Galloway.

This seminar will sample from the works of a series of poets who were major contributors to a “cult of personality” that can be seen developing from the later fourteenth century through the Renaissance: from the origins of “lives” of literary makers to Chaucer, Gower, Hoccleve, Lydgate, Charles d’Orleans, Wyatt, Sidney, and Ben Jonson.  How were these self-portrayals assisted by readers and followers? How did such a focus affect the idea of “literature” in general, and “English literature” in particular? What can current ideas about life writing contribute to our understanding of this pivotal span in literary history? Two small papers and a longer one; ongoing presentations and other inquiries.

MEDVL 4180/6180 | The Imaginary Jew: Roots of Antisemitism in Medieval England (also ENGL 4180/6180, JWST 4180/6180)
16235/ 16661 | TR 2:55-4:10 | 4 credits | S. Zacher.

When did anti-Semitism begin? The medieval period invented shocking fictions about Jews–that they killed and ate Christian babies; that they desecrated the Host; that they were the murderers of Christ. In manuscripts Jews were visually compared to beasts, devils, and perverts. By law, Jews were forced to live in ghettos, wear distinctive dress, abstain from certain professions, and suffer exile. Beginning with Shakespeare’s Shylock, we will work our way back through visual and literary treatments of Jews in the Middle Ages, reading texts by Chaucer, chronicles, miracle stories, crusader romances, and mystery plays. Drawing on recent theories of the other we will also consider how medieval representations of Jews and other minorities were used to construct medieval communal, religious, and political identities.

This course may be used as one of the three pre-1800 courses required of English majors.

MEDVL 6202 | Readings in Medieval Arabic Literature (also NES 6201)
17856 | TBA | 4 Credits | R. Brann.

This seminar engages participants in close readings of selected texts of medieval Arabic literature.

MEDVL 6210 | Seminar in Medieval Philosophy (also PHIL 6210)
18066 | R 2:30 – 4:25 | 4 credits | N. Bulthuis.

Graduate seminar covering a topic in medieval philosophy.

MEDVL 6620 | Paris in the Thirteenth Century (also FREN 6620)
17919 | W 7:30 – 9:25 p.m. | 4 credits | C. Howie.

This course brings together two bodies of writing, very close in the space and time of their production, that nonetheless have come to seem very far from one another in their critical and scholarly afterlives.  It is no secret that thirteenth-century Paris is the professional home of Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) and Bonaventure (d. 1274), two theologians- two Italian theologians- whose work will alter the shape of medieval philosophy, theology, and even (in Bonaventure’s case) literature.  At the same time, thirteenth-century Paris is the home of two of the most difficult and genre-bending writers of the Middle Ages: Jean de Meun (d. ca. 1304), author of the largest part of the Romance of the Rose, and Rutebeuf (d. ca. 1285), whose Miracle de Théophile is but the tip of an enormous and not always holy iceberg.  We’ll spend a few weeks with each of these authors and allow them, through us, to speak to one another.

MEDVL 8010 | Directed Study – Individual
6540 / 8806

MEDVL 8020 | Directed Study – Group

GRAD 9001 | Graduate Dissertation Research
13977 | required for Graduate students not taking other courses