You are here
Cornell’s Medieval Studies Program is designed to provide students with expertise and professional success in the fields of particular departments, the members of whom will likely form the majority of the students’ Special Committees. But Medieval Studies also presents graduate students with combinations of scholars in clusters of study that might not be as visible in traditionally defined departmental graduate training. The Program’s faculty are drawn from nearly every humanities department at Cornell; together, they offer expertise in a wide array of disciplines and area studies spanning more than a millennium of languages and cultures—from Old and Middle English literature to Byzantine monuments; from Viking studies to Andalusian architecture; from Chinese intellectual history to Islamic legal history.
Our diversity of faculty attracts exceptional graduate students from all areas of Medieval Studies and guides them to dissertations on a broad range of literatures, disciplines, contexts, and approaches. Work in primary archival materials—including Latin and vernacular paleography, textual criticism, and codicology—is well supported by abundant library resources, as well as by faculty dedicated to these fields. Work in gender studies, medieval and modern literary theory, and the post-medieval reception and construction of the “Middle Ages” is also well supported by Program faculty and by the full array of other Departments and Programs at Cornell. Resources for studying Latin and most medieval vernacular languages (including Germanic, Romance, Celtic, Slavonic, Semitic, and East Asian languages) are a mainstay of the Program. The Program in Medieval Studies encompasses all of these offerings within a flexible curriculum tailored to the needs of individual students.
Medieval Studies students also enjoy the benefits of carefully mentored training in pedagogical techniques and classroom skills, including a summer teaching internship that prepares students to teach in the award-winning Writing in the Disciplines Program. In addition, Medieval Studies students often serve as teaching assistants for the course, “The Cultures of the Middle Ages,” which rotates among Departments and faculty. Advanced Latin students may also teach “Latin Review for Graduate Students,” which is offered annually for entering students in Medieval Studies, Classics, History and other Departments.
Students from many other doctoral programs at Cornell are closely involved in the Program in Medieval Studies, and they contribute to a lively and varied community of medievalists that spans Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences. In turn, students in Medieval Studies may work with any faculty members in Cornell’s Graduate Field and pursue any courses pertinent to their training and research. Traditional coursework and seminars are supplemented by formal and informal reading groups, ad hoc seminars, the annual Medieval Studies Student Colloquium, and outside lectures invited by our student organization, Quodlibet.
Languages covered by the faculty and courses in the Medieval Studies Program include Medieval Latin, Vulgar Latin, Old English, Middle English, Gothic, Old Saxon, Old High German, Middle High German, Old Norse-Icelandic, Old Irish, Middle Welsh, Old Occitan (Provençal), Old French, Medieval Spanish, Medieval Italian, Old Russian, Old Church Slavonic, Classical Arabic, Medieval Hebrew, Classical Chinese, and Classical Japanese.
Application and Admissions Process
Applications for admission and aid should be made through the Graduate School’s website. Completed applications should be filed by December 15. For inquiries about the online application, contact the Graduate School Admissions Office, 143 Caldwell Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-2602 (tel: 607-255-5820).
Beginning in 2020, the Medieval Studies Program no longer requires the GRE test. Applicants should provide three letters of recommendation (one more than required by the Graduate School), all college and graduate school transcripts, and a writing sample of approximately 20 pages on a topic that best reveals the applicant’s scholarly abilities, critical acumen, and suitability for advanced medieval scholarship. International students who are not native speakers of English must pass the TOEFL examination with a score of at least 105 (new online scoring), with the following minimum scores: 20 (Writing), 15 (Listening), 20 (Reading), and 22 (Speaking). The TOEFL internet-based test (iBT) is available for most test-takers and is the preferred version. For applicants in regions where the TOEFL iBT is not available, Cornell will continue to accept scores for the paper-based test (PBT). Exam results are reported to the Graduate School. Recommendation letters can be submitted online or in hard copy. Transcripts, writing sample, and any recommendation letters not submitted online should be sent directly to the Medieval Studies Program at the address listed below.
Offers of admission (with financial aid) are usually made by April 1. The Field of Medieval Studies admits only students pursuing the Ph.D. Please address all inquiries to the Director:
Medieval Studies Program
259 Goldwin Smith Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-3201
Advice for Applicants
The Medieval Studies Program at Cornell offers a comparative and/or interdisciplinary doctorate. Each student chooses one major and two minor fields of study. At least one of the minor fields must be in either a different language or a different discipline from the major field.
A literary comparatist’s program, for example, might look like this: Major field: Old English Literature; Minor fields: Middle High German Literature and Middle English Literature. An interdisciplinary program might take this form: Major Field: Medieval History; Minor Fields: Medieval English History and Medieval Philosophy. Programs that are both comparative and interdisciplinary are also possible, e.g. Major field: Middle English Literature; Minor fields: Medieval Latin Literature and Medieval Philosophy.
When you apply to our Ph.D. program, we need to know that you possess a good preliminary training in your proposed major field of study. A sound basis in the main languages in which you are likely to work is obviously essential. We are also likely to be impressed by any good indications that you have thought about the comparative and interdisciplinary nature of our degree, and are aware that work towards a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies is not quite the same as a Ph.D. in, say, Philosophy or History or Germanic Philology. We will have different expectations about your course of study and the directions in which we will expect you to branch out. To illustrate this, consider the difference between Medieval Studies with an English emphasis and a specialist English degree. Our program emphasizes the contributions to understanding of context and sensibility that history and archaeology or contemporary literary theory can offer, and will certainly encourage you to read in other medieval literatures, Latin and French especially, but quite possibly Icelandic sagas and Dante too, depending on your needs and interests. In contrast, a specialist English Ph.D. may give you a somewhat greater freedom to pursue English literature more or less strictly defined over a longer period of time.
It will help us if your application gives us a clear indication of the nature of your major interests and what minors might attract you. It is not necessary at the application stage to declare major and minor fields in detail, just to indicate the main direction in which you think you wish to move. We are looking in part for minds open to new scholarly experiences and techniques.
Students in the Medieval Studies Program normally take courses for three years before their A-Exams, though it has sometimes proved possible for exceptionally prepared students to attempt the A-Exam as early as the end of the second year. During this time most students prepare for exams in one major and two minor fields. (Further minors are possible, but naturally entail extra exams.) Literary and linguistic students have to work in several medieval languages. Western historians and philosophers, while they may have less need for medieval vernacular languages, do need to be able to read Latin with some ease. All students need to be able to read at least two and usually three (or more) modern research languages. No medievalist can have too much knowledge of any research language. We require all Western medievalists to take a Latin exam. All our students must be aware of the need to be able to read the original manuscripts in their field. A Paleography course is therefore the other general requirement prior to the A-Exam. Time is short; preparation important. The better your preparation, the more time you can devote to branching out to new material and to acquiring deeper knowledge in your major field.
Below are some guidelines to our faculty’s expectations about language (and other) preparation for study in a variety of the major fields that we offer. These are guidelines, desiderata, rather than inflexible rules. But they are significant, e.g. it is not realistic to apply to study western medieval history in our program, if you have studied no Latin, and have only one modern research language, or to apply to do work in Old and Middle English, if you have never read any Middle English or taken any medieval coursework in college.
Last, but not least: we would like to see a writing-sample on a medieval topic, if at all possible, either one 20-page paper, or chapter, or two shorter papers. Choose samples that display you at your best; even better if these demonstrate your control of relevant skills, such as close reading of texts or the deployment of evidence.
Choosing a Special Committee Chair
Before you can start advanced graduate work at Cornell in earnest, you must have a faculty advisor (a Special Committee Chair) who agrees to supervise your work and who will eventually be the primary supervisor of your dissertation. The advisor must be a member of the graduate faculty of the Medieval Studies Program and there must be mutual agreement on the advising arrangement and eventually on the dissertation topic. The advisor-student relationship will be one of the most important for your career. You can change advisors midstream in Graduate School, but doing so after the second year can be difficult, time consuming, and emotionally costly.
If you are a student who is considering applying to the Field of Medieval Studies at Cornell in order to work in an area where there is only one faculty member, you will wish to think seriously now about who your Special Committee Chair would be, since in effect you would be choosing that person as an advisor even before you arrive at Cornell.
In order to make the best possible choice of advisor, we recommend that you meet with the faculty members with whom you might work and that you talk with the students in the Program about the attributes of the various advisors. Assume nothing and ask everything about the faculty. Some things you can ask the faculty member directly; others you should try to ascertain from the senior students. Look up and read some of the publications of your potential advisors. Remember, also, that the faculty members will have their own questions about you, and that this is a two-way street.
You should expect to make trade-offs and compromises in selecting an advisor. For example, many students naturally wish to work with the most famous faculty members, but it is important to remember that these are sometimes also the busiest advisors, who have the least time for their students. It might be wise to work with an advisor who is more demanding of his/her students if that advisor’s students are better prepared and get better jobs than those of another faculty member. The only inviolable rule is that you should always work with an advisor who is expert in the area of research or scholarship that you intend to pursue.
To enable students to accept our offer of admission, the Graduate School and the field of Medieval Studies strive to guarantee five years of full support. At least four semesters of this support come in the form of annual fellowships: one in the first-year and a final one when students are completing the dissertation in their fifth year. While on fellowship, students receive an award of full tuition, given in recognition of their excellent preparation and promise as graduate students. In addition, the field guarantees at least four years of summer support at the going rate.
Support in other years comes from teaching assistantships, which entail working not more than twenty hours a week and provide both a tuition fellowship and a stipend at whatever the current rate may be. The Cornell student health insurance plan provides annual coverage which remains in place even if students should cease to be enrolled as graduates. Individuals who leave the university or are not funded by the university during the spring semester must pay the health insurance premium for that period. The student activity fee (currently $76 per year) is not covered.
All guarantees of support are, of course, contingent upon satisfactory academic performance (as determined by the field of Medieval Studies) and satisfactory performance as a teacher. We also expect our students to apply, as appropriate, for funding from external sources (our students have been quite successful in these endeavors). The Javits Fellowship, for example, is available to first-year graduate students, and provides up to four years of funding. For additional information, see http://www.ed.gov/programs/jacobjavits/index.html.
More information about our program can also be found in the Procedural Guide for the Field of Medieval Studies.