Spring 2022: Vikings in the West

Course Description: The first half of this course will introduce students to medieval Icelandic literature, with special attention dedicated to texts with an interest in the discovery and settlement of Iceland, and subsequent (temporary) colonies of Norse explorers and Vikings in Greenland and North America. Archaeological evidence has confirmed that Viking settlers came to Iceland during the ninth century, reached Greenland just before the year 1000, and explored the North-Eastern coast of the American continent shortly afterwards. This class segment will include a look at archaeological finds documenting contacts between Scandinavian settlers and explorers and the indigenous peoples of Greenland and Artic America. The second half of the course will then focus on the modern reception of the Westward expansion of Medieval Scandinavians in the North Atlantic area. We will consider works of art from the United States and Northern Europe from the nineteenth century onwards and analyze how these works have participated in discourses about national identity and self-perception of Nordic Americans, Scandinavians, and Germans. We will lastly consider the role of artworks influenced by or adapting content from Medieval Norse culture in contemporary times, for instance in public discussions about race and gender, or the radical alternative drafts to globalized culture advocated by Neo-pagan movements. Readings will be assigned in English translation, but may include smaller segments in Old Norse, Icelandic, German or Swedish, depending on students' individual interests.

Spring 2020: The Global Middle Ages

Course Description: The “Middle Ages” is a designation drawn from the periodization of Western history, but the medieval world extended far beyond the borders of Europe. This seminar will explore comparative and cross-disciplinary analysis of cultural production across the globe during the premodern period, roughly 100-1500 CE. We will study the individual cultures of Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas as well as the trade and travel that enabled contact and cultural exchange from China to West Africa to Newfoundland. We will welcome a series of guest speakers from the University of Illinois and elsewhere throughout the semester.

Spring 2019: Medieval Animals 

Course Description: This seminar explores the boundaries between humans and animals. The categories we will use to investigate the distinctions between animals and humans include metamorphosis, contagion, education, taxonomy, subjugation, hunting, representation, anthropomorphism and zoomorphism, wilderness, misogyny, and promiscuity. To probe these categories and distinctions, we will make use of a series of critical approaches, from critical animal studies to posthumanism. A series of guest speakers, from Illinois and other Universities, will participate in the seminar.

Spring 2018: Apocrypha in the Middle Ages

Course Description: In the Middle Ages the Bible was complemented by a wide range of apocryphal and pseudepigraphical narratives that purported to supply information and back-stories that the Bible left out, such as the fall of Lucifer; the life of Adam and Eve after the Fall; the childhood of Jesus; the Harrowing of Hell; the visions and missions of the apostles; the life and Assumption of Mary; and the fate of souls after death. Despite their non-canonical status, these narratives were widely popular and widely read. Many were translated or adapted in medieval vernacular languages, and they profoundly influenced medieval beliefs, literature, and art. We will read (in modern English translation) some of the most important and influential Jewish and Christian apocrypha, focusing on their medieval transmission and influence as well as on some of their medieval vernacular avatars. Special attention will be paid to the apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England and Ireland, but we will also be concerned with the apocrypha as a broader global medieval phenomenon in which texts originally written in (or now surviving only in) Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, Ethiopic, and Coptic were translated into Latin and migrated across Europe. There will also be some cross-cultural comparison with the relation of apocrypha to scriptural canon in other medieval religions, notably in Islamic and Buddhist. Reading knowledge of Latin (or any other medieval language) is not required or expected (though it would obviously be an advantage in enabling access to the original texts, opening up research possibilities, and following the secondary scholarship). Seminar papers can deal with any aspect of the original apocryphal writings, with their medieval transmission, translation, adaptation, or influence, or with apocryphal writings in other medieval world religions.

Spring 2017: Medieval Medicine and the Arts

Course Description: This course explores the ways that connections between the body, medicine, and the visual and performing arts were negotiated in the chronological period coinciding with the European Middle Ages (roughly 400-1500 CE). The root of this study is the humoral theory of the body, which in various forms dominated medical across Europe and the Middle East for millennia and which in both Christian and Islamic contexts interacted with conceptions of the senses to influence artworks of many different media. From there, we will also explore the similarities and differences between the artful medicine or healing art produced within the humoral framework to that produced under other paradigms such as those operating in the same period within India and east Asia.

Spring 2016: Premodern Plants

Course Description: Taking its cues from the emerging field of critical plant studies, this course in ecocriticism explores the literary productions of those arbores inversae or 'inverted trees' known as medieval men and women. The seminar rejects plant blindness (the zoocentric treatment of vegetal life as backdrop) to focus instead on plants as active agents in the multispecies assemblages of the global Middle Ages. We'll look at medieval plants from a variety of authors, genres, and cultural traditions: the ash in Marie de France's Le Fresne, the cherry of Zeami's Saigyozakura, the holly of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the laurel of Petrarch's Canzoniere, and the mugwort of the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm are just a few of the species we may consider in the course. We'll also discuss more fantastic plants: e.g., the three-in-one-tree species of the Cross of Christian apocrypha, the vegetable lamb of Mandeville's Travels, and the barnacle tree of Gerald of Wales. Because this class is aimed at graduate students across the entirety of the Illinois medieval studies program, all texts, including Old and Middle English, will be taught in Modern English translation. (Since we'll also be reading some key theoretical texts from ecocriticism and critical plant studies, non-medievalists interested in the environmental humanities will also find much of relevance in the seminar.) Students will work with me to develop research paper projects relevant to their academic disciplines and fields of origin.

Spring 2014: The Medieval Lyric: Form/Function/Context

Course Description: The number and variety of the poems that could fit under the rubric 'medieval lyric' challenge efforts at definition or comprehensive taxonomy. This seminar will encourage students to explore that diversity through research projects that view the lyric from the perspective of their various disciplines. Before we turn to those individual projects we will model some of the issues and approaches that define recent study of medieval lyrics by looking closely at a famous manuscript that contains some of the finest lyrics that survive in Middle English, along with a great deal more: British Library MS Harley 2253 (s. xiv1; Ludlow/Hereford area). With its mixture of texts in English, French, and Latin, on topics both sacred and secular, in a wide range of forms and subgenres, the Harley MS is an ideal laboratory for studying the diverse forms and functions of medieval lyrics in a specific social and historical context. Disciplines on which we are likely to draw include literary studies, history, musicology, palaeography, and codicology. The latter part of the semester will be devoted to presentations by the individual seminar members on the research projects that will culminate in original seminar papers (20-25 pages). Some of these projects may concern the lyrics of the Harley MS, but I will encourage as many seminar members as possible to explore other lyric traditions. My hope is that collectively the research presentations will expose the seminar as a whole to a wider range of the medieval poetry that can be classified as lyric, as well as to the various methodologies that can be applied productively to the study of medieval lyrics. The interdisciplinary aims of the seminar also will be enhanced by the participation of several guest speakers. These will include members of the Illinois faculty, as well as visiting scholars from other universities.