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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 898, the Writing Colloquium will be offered this winter term, led by MEMS Director Erin Brightwell.  Please contact Prof. Brightwell for permission to enroll.

MEMS Graduate Courses Winter 2024

Joyce Marcus
ANTHARC 683 Aztec, Maya, Inca

This course focuses on the rise and fall of the ancient civilizations of Latin America.  Much of the material is drawn from eyewitness accounts written by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century (AD 1519-1599).

            Two major goals of the course are to expose graduate students to an anthropological perspective and to a comparative perspective.   The geographic focus is on two key regions ---

     (1) the ancient civilizations of South America (Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador) and

     (2) the ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica (Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras). 

            The South American civilizations to be studied include Chavín, Moche, Chimu, Wari, Tiwanaku, and Inca. The Mesoamerican civilizations to be studied include the Olmec, Zapotec, Maya, Mixtec, and Aztec.  

 Since many students have a general interest in ancient Mexico and Peru, these two nuclear areas of major civilizations will be used as two case studies to show

     (1) how we learn about the past (through archaeological survey and excavation, by using ancient texts and modern forensic methods like those used on CSI);

     (2) how we use artifacts and archaeological evidence to infer how ancient people lived; and

     (3) how knowing about mankind’s past from these two regions generates new insights into how modern cultures live in many parts of the world today.  

            The broad theme of how past civilizations succeeded, adapted, failed, and recovered is of relevance today, as we try to understand modern political systems in any part of the world.  Ancient and modern political regimes come and go and states expand and contract their territories.  We will draw attention to some of the striking parallels between the past and the present, and also note some striking contrasts. 

SE Kile
ASIAN 472 Journey to the West: Adventure of the Monkey King

This course focuses on the sixteenth-century Chinese vernacular novel Journey to the West, known for its monkey protagonist who leads a motley band of pilgrims from China to India in search of Buddhist scriptures. The novel is based on the true story of a monk named Xuanzang who traveled to India during the Tang dynasty. Its jokes, magic, and rebellious spirit have entertained readers for  centuries, but its central themes also tackle deeply philosophical questions centering on what it means to be human. In the novel, the “self” is frequently revealed only through the most monstrous “others”; travels through foreign lands test the limits of Confucian hospitality; notions of non-dualism from Mahayana Buddhism are personified in the form of shapeshifting monsters who appear to reveal some truth about the world only to vanish. We will focus primarily on the novel, but we will also look at its precursors, as well as a range of illustrations, comics, sequels, and films that it inspired. 

**We will be engaging with the original Chinese text, but students are welcome to use the translation as much as needed, and knowledge of Chinese is not expected.

SE Kile
ASIAN 585 Gender and Sexuality in Early Modern China

This graduate seminar explores the relationship between language and flesh in Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) China by drawing on methods of literary theory, cultural history, and gender and sexuality studies to. We will engage a variety of writings that sought to render bodies legible, focusing on the representation of bodies in novels and plays and examining the broader culture in which they were inscribed. How were bodies – female, male, or otherwise – defined and understood by the state, the law, and society? What relationship did literary representations and depictions in visual art of the body have to received understandings? We will engage in close analysis of a range of primary sources across literary genres, from the high literary to the historical to the pornographic. Those primary source readings will be paired with relevant secondary and theoretical readings that will allow us to consider the broader implications of our findings in the primary sources. As we read, we will ask what cultural phenomena and technologies of power gendered people, how individuals understood and practiced their subjectivities, and what kinds of worlds they created as readers, writers, and artists. 

**This seminar is appropriate for graduate students with an interest in Chinese culture. A reading knowledge of Chinese is required.

Thomas Toon
ENGLISH / GERMAN 503  Middle English

An introduction to the varieties of English spoken in England during the period in which English became a language spoken around the world. We will survey a very wide range of texts (including Chaucer's Cantebury Tales and Langland's Piers Plowman) which will focus on literary texts as they inform our attitudes of self identity in terms of literacy, gender, sexual orientation, age and social status. Regular quizzes and a term project (often a group effort) Text: F. Mosse, Handbook of Middle English.

Cathy Sanok
ENGLISH 641.001 Poetry before Print: Formal and Material Approaches

This class introduces two current methods, formal analysis and book history, through the distinctive case study of short-form English poetry prior to and including the first printed collection of verse, Tottel’s Songes and Sonettes, printed in 1557. The course will begin with recent contributions to and debates around the category of “form” in literary study, which we will approach through some questions opened by the distinctive features of poetry in pre-print culture. How might current conceptualizations of form account for, or fail to account for, oral traditions? How well do such conceptualizations account for intentional and inadvertent changes as poems are copied and recopied by readers and scribes into manuscripts? How might the anonymity of most pre-print poetry highlight some of the implicit assumptions about how form is related to scholarly “explanation”?

            The course then turns to an introduction to book history and related approaches to medium and material form, again using the case of pre-print poetry to explore and expand some of the assumptions, guiding questions, and analytical modes of book history as a method. How does the manuscript as medium influence the formal and thematic concerns of premodern poetry? How does it influence the social life of poetry, and the social value accorded to it? How might other media of pre-print verse—graffiti, jewelry, wall painting, stained glass—require us to refine or expand the conceptual framework of current approaches to literary media? Along the way, we will read widely in medieval poetry from a range of registers: love poetry and lullabies, ballads and popular political poetry, comic traditions and serious meditations on mortality, religion, and nature, as well as some occasional and instrumental verse that challenges modern critical definitions of poetry (including the medieval poem you perhaps have already memorized: “Thirti dayes hath novembre”). Our survey will end with Tottel’s Songes and Sonettes, the first substantial volume of lyric verse to be printed in England: here, we will begin to ask how the technology of print changes poetic tradition by reshaping ideas about the poet, the reader and the reading of poetry, and poetry’s “literary” status.

            Although most primary readings are from the premodern period, we will also look at (and look for) post-medieval texts that can be put into conversation with pre-print poetry, e.g., the Broadside Press presentation of Robert Hayden’s “Gabriel” in a visual form that echoes the page of a medieval manuscript; Donnika Kelly’s invocation of a medieval manuscript genre in Bestiary; or the forms enabled by the invented medieval English lexicon in Jos Charles’ feeld.French 113- Accelerated Reading in FrenchFrench 113- Accelerated Reading in French

Eric Beuerlein
FRENCH 113 Accelerated Reading in French

This class aims to develop French reading proficiency and is intended primarily for graduate students who will use French in their research. Throughout the course, we will practice and review important aspects of French grammar through reading and translation exercises, as well as hone our reading comprehension in French by reading texts of various genres. Although grammar lessons will constitute an important element of the course, reading comprehension and translation constitute the primary focus of this class. Finally, the students’ academic and personal interests with regard to readings will be taken into account with the selection of their final project.

Yanay Israeli
HISTORY 642  / MEMS 611  Legal Cultures: People, Courts, and Power in Medieval and Early Modern European Polities 

Over the past several decades, historians of medieval and early modern Europe have become increasingly interested in analyzing law in action. Extensive research in the judicial archives of various royal, municipal, seignorial and ecclesiastical institutions has yielded a wealth of studies that advanced our understanding not only of how such courts operated, but also of how people used legal forums and judicial practices to navigate social relations. Classical questions associated with social and cultural history have reopened, as historians shed new light on topics such as processes of state building, documentary practices, conflict resolution mechanisms, women’s history, and the experience of ethnic and religious minorities in Christian polities.

This seminar explores these recent developments in the study of European legal history, focusing on the period between the 13th and the 17th centuries. Each week will be dedicated to reading a series of articles that model different approaches to judicial sources and archives. We will examine concrete case studies from Italy, England, France, the German territories, the Low Countries, and the broader Hispanic world. Additionally, we will explore sociological and anthropological works and primary sources in translation. This approach will provide us with a firm grasp of the main questions and debates that inform the field and allow us to reflect on distinct sources, methods, and forms of organizing and presenting data and research.

Nachiket Chanchani
HISTART 577 Bodies and Buildings: Studies in the Temple Architecture of South Asia

As right-leaning actors and decolonization projects take center stage in contemporary India, temples –– built by Buddhists, Jains, and Hindus across South Asia since the early centuries CE –– have become a sensitive mass political issue and merit renewed scholarly scrutiny. This seminar introduces students to issues, themes, and methods in the study of temples. The seminar commences with an interrogation of the archaeological and textual record to query the social, symbolic, and formal origins of traditions of temple architecture. Thereafter, it maps their vibrant relationships to physical landscapes and charts the development and dispersion of regional modes. Innovative ways in which humans and temples have shaped and reflected one another are considered: encounters have ranged from a patron's limb providing the unit of measure for a shrine to the temple built as the dwelling and body of a gendered, juridical, and permeable being. The seminar concludes with representations of temples in colonial and postcolonial periods. The seminar includes visits to temples and museums in the Ann Arbor area to understand how sacred space is experienced and critically appreciate the enduring force of temples as monuments, symbols, political grounds, and ritual theatres.        

Donka Markus
LATIN 435/ MEMS 440 Postclassical Latin: Legends and history in the Pre-modern era

The course will explore the blurred line between legend and history in the Premodern era through various authors from the 6th to the 14th century. Included are the legends of Brandan, King Arthur, Barlaam and Josaphat and many others. We will study the various features of Postclassical Latin in contrast to Classical Latin. Alongside prepared assignments, there will be ample sight-reading practice. The focus will be on developing vocabulary, grammar, and sight-reading skills.

Grading will be based on class attendance and participation (30 %), on 4 sight-reading quizzes with the use of dictionary (40%), and on an independent project (30%).

    The course is approved by Rackham for graduate credit and welcomes both graduate and undergraduate students. The pre-requisite for the course is two years of college Latin or the equivalent. Please, contact Donka D. Markus ( for more information.

Donka Markus
LATIN 233/LATIN 507 Late Latin: Latin of Science

In this slow-paced course, you will learn the peculiar features of Late Latin by reading texts that illustrate the state of scientific knowledge in the Premodern period. We will sail with St Brendan whose exploratory journey influenced Columbus’ voyage to the Americas. We will also explore the 6-7 century encyclopedia of the Spanish scholar Isidore of Seville as well as other Latin texts about science and philosophy. Grading in the course is based upon class attendance and participation, bi-weekly short quizzes, two hourly exams and a final project. For more information, contact Donka D. Markus at

    The class is as an alternative to LAT 232 (Vergil, Aeneid) and fulfills the final semester of the language requirement in Latin. A pre-requisite for the class is the successful completion of LATIN 231 or the equivalent. The class has a graduate number (LAT 507) and graduate students are welcome. With its prerequisite of three semesters of college Latin the class is a lower-level class than LAT 436/MEMS 441 for which the prerequisite is 2 years (4 semesters) of college Latin or the equivalent.

Cameron Cross
MIDEAST 427 Rumi: A Guide to Mystical Islam Through the Ages

One of the most influential and inspirational religious teachers and spiritual guides in the Islamic tradition and beyond—even a best-selling author in the contemporary US—is Jalal al-Din Rumi (d. 1273), a Persian-speaking scholar who emigrated from Central Asia to Turkey and established the Mevlevi Sufi order, popularly known in the West as "the whirling dervishes." Famous for the intense power of his language and his philosophy of experiential or "practical" mysticism, Rumi offers students a hands-on discovery of the Islamic tradition of tasawwuf, or Sufism, a systematic course of training by which one learns the art of self-submersion in the ocean of Divine Love.  This regimen engages mind and body alike: in addition to reading and discussing Rumi's written works, we will listen to recitations and musical renditions of mystical poetry, watch videos of Sufi ritual practice from West Africa to China, and hear from a variety of interlocutors to better situate these teachings in their historical genealogy. These interlocutors include thinkers and poets from Islamic, Jewish, Christian, and non-denominational backgrounds, writing in languages like Arabic, Hebrew, Armenian, Turkish, Urdu, and English.

    Out of respect for its subject matter, this class reaches beyond dry "intellectual" modes of engagement (e.g., the analytical essay) and offers ample opportunities for creative work (writing, music, art, performance, meditation, etc.) as well. And although this course highlights the distinctly Islamic framework of Rumi's thinking and provides an introduction to Sufism from the inside out, as it were, students involved or interested in spiritual practices outside of Islam are most welcome to join; no prior knowledge is necessary. Students of translation, multimedia, and multilingualism will also find this course of interest.

    As a supplement to this class, students who have had at least one year of Persian or its equivalent may sign up for an additional credit (PERSIAN 409) to learn to read the texts in the original Persian. This extra class presumes no prior experience with classical Persian and will begin with the basics; each session, we will read sections of the Persian text that correspond with our English readings and use it as a basis to develop a vocabulary list and reference grammar. We will determine the day and time for our weekly sessions in the first week of the semester.

Cameron Cross
MIDEAST / MEMS 434 Shahnameh: Iranian Myth, Epic, and History

This course is an introduction to Iranian myth, epic, and history through a close reading of the Shahnameh, the foundational text of Persian classical poetry and a major achievement in world literature. Written over a thousand years ago, the Shahnameh, or “Book of Kings,” is a repository of the historical and cultural memory of the Iranian people, weaving myth, epic, folklore, allegory, chronicle, romance, and tragedy into a grand narrative of Iran’s ancient past. Over fifteen weeks, we will read the entirety of the text in translation and discuss a wide range of topics, themes, and questions pertinent to it, such as the integration of Indo-Iranian mythology and Zoroastrian religious beliefs into an Islamic framework; competing notions of Iran as land, people, and nation; crises of justice both human and divine; intersections of animality, femininity, the demonic, and the foreign; the complex relations of kinship and kingship; story-telling and oral performance; and the interaction between individual episodes and the work’s overarching structure. Through their engagement with these topics, students can expect rigorous training in the skills of critical thinking and analytical writing, and to gain cultural fluency in a body of stories that continue to be told and retold to this day.

    As a supplement to this class, students who have had at least one year of Persian or its equivalent may sign up for an additional credit (PERSIAN 409) to learn to read the texts in the original Persian. This extra class presumes no prior experience with classical Persian and will begin with the basics; each session, we will read sections of the Persian text that correspond with our English readings and use it as a basis to develop a vocabulary list and reference grammar. We will determine the day and time for our weekly sessions in the first week of the semester.

Kathry Babayan
MIDEAST 518  Persianate History Through Political and Cultural Texts

The field of Islamic history was founded on philology and historical texts were mined for facts, understood as transparent truths, and reflective of social practices and historical realities. Today, alternative visions of history are practiced, where the material and affective lives and experiences of ordinary men and women have come into intimate focus. Throughout the semester, we will work on developing your philological skills in Persian to read the granular through the frames of cultural and social history. We will draw on new methods of critical reading of texts to learn how to read closely and enter the social logic of texts. These are the tools of the historian’s craft with which I will train you to think critically and creatively as we collectively imagine the Persianate past through the medium of Persian texts.

   Course Requirements:All selections from primary texts should be read and translated before class. Translating entails going beyond a word-by-word translation to enter into the field of cultural translations. Preparation will involve creating a context for the text; looking up in reference works concepts, people, places, or institutions referred to in our readings; and thinking about the sources critically. Intended Audience: Advanced level students studying Persian.

Ryan Szpiech
SPANISH 443  1492--History and Legend

1492 is the most consequential year in the history of Spain, and one of world-historical importance even today. It was the year that the Christian armies conquered Granada, the last Muslim stronghold in the Iberian Peninsula. It was the year the first grammar of the Spanish language was published. It was also the year that the Catholic Monarchs, Fernando and Isabel, expelled all of the Jews from the Peninsula. When Columbus arrived in the Americas, the medieval world was already undergoing radical changes that would transform it forever, giving way to Early Modern Spanish culture and the beginnings of the Spanish empire and the Spanish language. This course will explore the meaning of 1492 for Spanish literature, art, film, and culture, including the foundation of Spanish grammar and the foundations of Spain as a global power. It will look at the legend of Boabdil, the last Muslim ruler who surrendered the Alhambra in Granada. It will read early writing about the voyage of Columbus to the Americas. And it will explore the importance of 1492 for Jewish culture, as the Jews relocated to other Mediterranean and Atlantic lands but preserved many aspects of Spanish culture and language. This course will explore how in 1492, entire worlds were made and unmade, and Spain itself was born. Readings, writing, and discussion will be in Spanish.