During the 1965-1966 academic year, several professors in the College of Arts and Sciences – led by Freccero, Kaske, and Marchand — lobbied vigorously for the creation of a medieval studies program that would train not only undergraduates but also graduate students.
On January 7, 1966, John Freccero wrote the following letter to Stephen M. Parrish, Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, in which he deplored “careerism,” argued for the importance of medieval studies, and proposed that undergraduates who want to pursue a career in this field should be allowed to design a special curriculum:
“[…] In medieval studies, it is generally agreed that no widely-accepted departmental “major” constitutes adequate preparation for graduate studies in the Middle Ages. Typically then, a prospective medievalist must spend much of his time during the first two years of graduate school preparing himself in more or less elementary subjects (e.g., two or three more languages, literature course outside the main field of interest, palaeography, classics, etc.) This could be corrected by tailoring an undergraduate curriculum to the needs of a prospective specialist (at the expense of science requirements, etc. of course), were it not for the fact that, by the nature of our society, students do not have a clear idea of a medieval “vocation” until they learn something about the Middle Ages, which is usually not before their Junior year. […] [It is important] to subvert puerile notions of “career” as early as possible, with the hope of finding among good potential physicists (for example), some who might equally well become truly great medievalists […] If students could be made to see the importance of the synchronic [sic] study of eight centuries of the world’s culture early in their careers, they might well decide to prepare themselves for that, rather than for a more traditional course of study. […] What I said for medieval studies might equally well be said of Renaissance studies, American studies (as opposed to American literature), Italian studies and so on, with every field, in short, that does not correspond to a traditional departmental division in the humanities. […]”
image: The Adoration of the Magi: the wise men from the East worship the infant Savior. The Epiphany narrative was recalled at the canonical hour of Sext (hora sexta), that is, the “sixth” hour after sunrise, or about noon.
Gift of Mrs. Pauline M. Rubens.
Book of Hours. France, ca. 1500.
[Cornell Library, Rare Manuscript Collection]