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Current Courses

Here be the current term's graduate-level MEMS courses with descriptions. Additional 400-level courses may be found via the undergrad/current courses links.

MEMS Graduate Courses, Fall 2021

MEMS Proseminar
Ellen Poteet, Bryan Miller
MEMS 611 / History 698.004 / Art History 689.006. Medieval Compasses: Perspectives on Nomadic Histories of Central Africa and Eurasia

The movement of peoples and of goods, as well as epidemics, distinguished the first half of the second millennium CE. Yet discussions of these mobilities rarely consider nomadic societies as prominent players in these dynamics, marginalizing the regions in which they lived. In this seminar, we aim to re-orient our conceptual compasses to point in all directions—north, south, east, and west—for a more robust understanding of the medieval world. We will engage models of mobility and globalization to reassess conventional perspectives on the roles played by nomadic societies, and, in doing so, resituate nomadic peoples in historical narratives. Using case studies of nomads in Africa and Eurasia during the 13th to 15th centuries, we will consider a wide range of sources: poetry and epics, travelers’ accounts, and historical writings; illustrated manuscripts, maps, and art depicting nomads; and archaeological remains of the landscapes and art of nomadic societies. By weaving together these diverse sources and the perspectives we bring to them, we may see nomads in a new light—as contributors to the cross-fertilization of cultures and as agents of dynamic change in the medieval world.

Karla Taylor
English 641. Intertextuality and Translation: Chaucer and Boccaccio

Boccaccio and Chaucer are two of the great writers of the Western European Middle Ages, with exceptional geographical range, social inclusiveness, and attentiveness to gender. Chaucer took more from Boccaccio than from any other writer, but mysteriously never acknowledged him by name—and the more mysteriously since both shared so much: disciples of Dante, admirers of Petrarch, scions of the international mercantile class attempting to come to terms—socially, politically, and poetically--with French-based, courtly society. The two writers provide a master course in how to tell a story in the fourteenth century (or maybe any century), and how to write a poetic line.

This course will focus on Boccaccio’s early Trojan love story Il Filostrato and Chaucer’s magnificent English adaptation Troilus and Criseyde, and Boccaccio’s framed story collection set in time of plague and social dissolution, the Decameron, and Chaucer’s framed story collection, the Canterbury Tales—likewise set in a time of social dissolution, but differently conceived, and sharing many stories and topics with Boccaccio. Both include the widest range of contemporary issues, including Judaism, Islam, and their relations with Christianity; rural poverty and peasant cunning; urban trickery and nobility; female agency and oppression; exoticism and romance; alchemy and sodomy; saintliness and superstition; relic worship and relic forgery; the magnificence and brutality of powerful rulers.

Since the relationship between these two writers is the subject of great debate, it will also give us the chance to explore the methodological resources involved in intertextuality and translation studies—linguistic, cultural and formal. But I have to confess that one of the greatest pleasures will simply be the opportunity to read them side by side.  The sheer variousness of these works means that the interests, backgrounds, and expertise of class members will influence our collective choice of focus.  You will have the opportunity to shape the course with two oral presentations to the class, several short exploratory papers, and a 12-ish pp. essay at the end of the term (longer for anyone opting to take this course as a seminar).  Texts will be available digitally as well as in print; in translation as well as in the original language.  I do not assume any prior knowledge of the language or literature of fourteenth-century England or Italy—only the curiosity to find out.


Hitomi Tonomura
History 592 / Asian 590. Japan to 1700: From Origin Myths to Shogun Dynasty

What lies behind the image of “Cool Japan,” represented by fuzzy robots, Super Mario, Toto toilets and everything that is kawaii ? The answer is Japan’s long, complex and intriguing past that stretches from the mythical age of gods and goddesses through our time. This course covers most of that history, from prehistory and the age of aristocrats to the rise of the samurai and their dominance both in total war and total peace (300BCE and 1700CE). We examine patterns of transformation along the twin axes of time and theme: ancient aristocrats’ political power and aesthetic authority; medieval militarism supported by land rights, urban economy and sea power; and the early modern consolidation of the status order and overseas relations. Along the way, we visit issues of environment and disasters, blood and pollution, religious devotion and sexuality, Christianity and trade, family and gender, death and dying, and more. 

The course offers samples of translated primary sources, such as tales, chronicles, diaries, and documents, as well as scholarly essays, films and video clips. They will expose students to the diversity of ideas and practices that emerged from the Japanese archipelago, different from our universalistic assumptions, often shaped by the knowledge of the West. These materials and our discussion should also lead students to question the notion of “the Japanese tradition,” much of which was constructed in modern times, and does disservice to Japan’s premodern past through misrepresentation.  


Achim Timmermann
HART 646. Problems in Medieval Art: The Body of Christ in Late Medieval Visual Culture

Pictorialized in a variety of images, some striking, others subtle, as well as being dramatically staged during the audio-visual spectacle of the Mass, the body of Christ was at the very heart of late medieval spirituality and devotion. This seminar explores a broad spectrum of images, objects, texts and rituals associated with the cult of Corpus Christi in the later Middle Ages. We will thus look at lurid evocations of Christ’s suffering humanity, such as the Man of Sorrows, extensive Passion narratives, found, for instance, in Books of Hours, and complex allegorical representations, for example the ‘Mystic Winepress’ or the ‘Host Fountain.’ We will also examine a plethora of liturgical objects designed to house, display and elevate Christ’s real-present body within the late medieval church building, such as

eucharistic monstrances or tabernacles. Our analysis of the visual material will be complemented by a discussion of contemporary texts, drawn for instance from the context of sacramental theology or homiletic writing. We will also benefit from the existence of a rich body of secondary literature, touching on aspects as diverse as medieval notions of the human body, female spirituality, and scholastic theories of real presence and transubstantiation. This seminar should attract students with different backgrounds, especially art history (medieval, Renaissance, but also modern/contemporary), theology, medieval/early modern history, anthropology, as well as Germanic, Romance, and English languages.


Alexander Knysh
Mideast 424.001/Religion 461.001. Islamic Intellectual History

After examining Islam as a concept (or, rather, an array of different conceptualizations), a subject of academic inquiry, and an intellectual challenge (in terms of defining what is included into and excluded from this elastic category), we will undertake a comparative exploration of Islamic discursive theology (kalam), legal theory (fiqh), philosophy (falsafa), and modern-day Islamic reformism (islah) and “fundamentalism” (Salafism; salafiyya). We will pay special attention to the question of how these diverse fields of intellectual endeavor – varying in methodology and purpose – have conceived of God and his relationship with the world he created, especially the world of human beings.

Islamic doctrines and practices have always evolved within concrete socio-political circumstances that decisively, if indirectly, shaped their evolution across time and space. Recent and current debates inside and outside the Muslim world over current and future directions of Islamic thought and practice, as well as the burning geopolitical issues faced by the global Muslim community (umma), will be discussed in detail. Last, but not least, we will evaluate the usefulness and suitability of recent Western sociological, hermeneutic, and anthropological methodologies in explaining in the intellectual, ritual, and spiritual aspects of the life of the umma. We will also attempt to formulate and propose new, original ways of approaching the complex and multi-faceted phenomenon that we call “Islam.”

Louise K. Stein 
Musicol 513. Topics in the History of Opera, Europe and the Americas to 1800

This lecture course is devoted to opera in Europe and the Americas in its first two centuries, from the genre’s invention just before 1600 to nearly the end of the eighteenth century. Here opera is to be studied critically as music, theater, spectacle, performance medium, and cultural expression.  Special topics in F2021 include the first opera of the Americas (Lima,1701), opera and the slave trade, how early opera singers sang, and the travels of opera. Some lectures and listening assignments will be organized around excerpts, while others concern whole operas and their musical dramaturgy, historical significance, economics, modes of production, and reception in performance. Composers to be studied may include Peri, Da Gagliano, Monteverdi, Cavalli, Lully, Purcell, Hidalgo, Torrejón de Velasco, A. Scarlatti, Handel, Vivaldi, Hasse, Sarti, and Mozart.  Listening assignments are to be supplemented by score study, readings from an online course-pack, and some in-class performances. Grades will be based on written work and class participation. Open to singers, musicians, and all scholars interested in opera and early-modern musical culture, whether they are based in the SMTD, in LSA, or in other units.

MUSICOL 606. Going for Baroque: Early Modern Music and Global Encounter

This seminar about seventeenth- and eighteenth-century music embarks on an inclusive investigation of the place and function of music (secular and sacred, vocal and instrumental, for court, chamber, church, and theater) and the musical profession in an age of passionate musical expression, extravagant musical patronage, expanding musical commerce, and increasing connectedness among cultures. We will learn how music and musical practices emerged and were heard or exploited within processes of sociability, diplomacy, discovery, conquest, confrontation, devotion, and religious instruction. Through intensive case studies focused on musical centers and encounters, on the one hand, and musical repertories, on the other (likely music of J. S. Bach, Corelli, Handel, Hidalgo, Lully, Monteverdi, Purcell, Scarlatti, Sumaya, Torrejón, Vivaldi) we will study musical forms, conventions, and expression while engaging with lesser-known perspectives, voices, and communities in Europe, Asia, Mexico, and Latin America. Students will learn to work with primary musical sources of several kinds and understand some issues of performing practice. To some extent, our focus will depend on the interests of the students enrolled in the course. Assignments involve listening, score study, guided research, critical thinking, and readings from a course bibliography. Class attendance is required. Grades will be based on class participation, short presentations, and written work. Open to all SMTD and LSA students with an interest in music, art, theater, dance, languages, and cultures.