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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 2020

MEMS Proseminar (aka CompLit 790, English 641.002)
Ovid's Metamorphoses in Medieval and Early Modern Translation
Instructors: Peggy McCracken, Medieval French;  Valerie Traub, Early Modern English

This course uses translations and adaptations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses to explore the ways medieval and early modern authors imagine the possibilities and precarity of human embodiment through representations of change. We will focus on sex and gender transformations, erotic desires and sexual transgressions, along with imbrications of the human and the environment in episodes of humans becoming animal or becoming plant. Each session will focus on a single Ovidian story, reading English and French translations and adaptations (including poetry and drama) alongside modern theoretical and/or critical texts. Among other orientations, we will explore the utility of queer, feminist, critical race, posthumanist, and ecocritical theories for analyzing the forms of change imagined in Ovid’s text and its afterlives.  We will also pay some attention to medieval and early modern visual materials.

Course assignments will include thorough preparation for each class discussion, an in-class presentation, and an individual research paper that offers a theoretically informed investigation of an adaptation of an Ovidian story from any historical period or national tradition.  All reading for the course will be in English.

AsianLan 433: Classical Japanese 1 / Erin Brightwell

What are the brilliant wordplay, subtle allusions, vows for revenge, or even the haunting idea of “impermanence” that runs through much of Japan’s classical literature like in the original? This course offers a hands-on introduction to the classical written language, using primary sources from the 9th through 16th centuries. Moving from print to handwriting and across a variety of media, we will work towards an increased understanding of both the language and literature of classical & medieval Japan. To that end, in addition to an emphasis on grammar, syntax, and various classical written styles, the course will also focus on understanding texts within a larger social & historical context. By the end of the semester, you will be equipped with the vocabulary, grammar, and knowledge of reference works to begin engaging with texts written in Classical Japanese, one of the written languages of Japan from the Heian period through the early twentieth century. You will also have basic skills in reading calligraphy, an essential tool for work in the pre-modern period. Students who successfully complete this course will be eligible to participate in Advanced Classical Japanese, where we will focus on reading primary sources related to their research interests.

English/German 501: Old English / Thomas Toon

This class explores how people like us spoke and wrote our language 1000 years ago. It was so different it almost appears to be a foreign language. But as we learn the sound pattern, the words and sentences we used then, it begins to feel familiar. In addition to that, there will regular “aha!” moments when we understand something about our language which previously feel strange. At a time when most of western Europeans were forced to read and write in Latin, our Anglo-Saxon forebears experimented in reading and writing English, in varieties we call “Old English.” We will read original texts that give accounts of the settlement of England, the history of the people and their language, as well as descriptions of the daily lives of ordinary people. Old English poetry is a particular delight and includes heroic descriptions (like Beowulf), a love of nature and the sea, charms, spells and even recipes.

English 641.001: Topics Medieval Period: New English Readers and Writers / Karla Taylor

The second half of the fourteenth century witnessed a slow revolution:  the creation of a literary public for writings in English.  As English (rather than French or Latin) increasingly became a language in which culture could be conducted, the number and variety of works in the English vernacular burgeoned.  New professional, legal, and religious discourses vastly extended the functional range of the English language, so that the most important or influential activities of contemporary life were newly conducted or experienced in English. This seminar will investigate the new writings that emerged from these social and linguistic transformations, as well as the new audiences that prompted and read them. Starting around 1350 with Mandeville's Travels (a book about the world, and long the most influential travel narrative in Europe), we will look at materials from a variety of origins, from court, cloister, anchorhold, and city, including selections from classicizing poets like Chaucer and Gower; the outpouring of mystical and devotional works in English, including Julian of Norwich’s extraordinary Shewings; soon-to-be heretical Wycliffite works and their effect on the English literary system; the Vernon Manuscript, the first comprehensive anthology of religious writings in English; and the extraordinary social and individual journey to truth of Piers Plowman. Topics will include the development of vernacular authority, the quarrel about images and representation, and the elusive evidence for readership.  I bring two broad questions to this course, both concerning the social purposes and effects of literary texts:  first, how imagined textual audiences in works like the Canterbury Tales or Piers Plowman sought to shape their flesh-and-blood first readers; and second, how vernacular texts, by changing the emerging English discourses (on legal evidence, spiritual experience, exotic anthropology, natural history, commerce, or civic deliberation, e.g.), also aimed for (and sometimes even achieved) broader social change.  There will be plenty of scope for your questions, both in class discussions and in your own written work.

Anyone who is interested in the dynamics of massive shifts in literary systems—readers, writers, kinds of discourse—as well as in the prehistory of the English reformation should feel welcome.  It is designed to be flexible and responsive to the interests of its members. It may be modified to receive seminar credit in English for those who need or want it.

English 642: Sensational Renaissance / Michael Schoenfeldt

The seventeenth century in England is a period of immense political, social, theological, and intellectual upheaval. It begins with a bold statement of the Divine Right of Kings by James I, and concludes with the beginnings of parliamentary monarchy under William III (a “British” king born and raised in the Netherlands). In between, of course, the country is riven by that oxymoron known as “Civil War,” a divide ultimately that permeated all aspects of culture.

What happens to poetry in such moments of cultural crisis? In seventeenth-century England, poetic styles change radically over the course of the century. Tender love sonnets and ardent devotional lyrics are supplanted by caustic satire and libertine swagger. Metrical variety surrenders to the formal détente of the heroic couplet. Considering the century in its entirety allows us to ask how political rupture disturbs the forms and subjects of poetry. We will attempt to read both widely and deeply in the period. Writers to be studied include Ben Jonson, Mary Wroth, John Donne, George Herbert, Amelia Lanyer, Thomas Carew, Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, John Suckling, Lucy Hutchinson, John Milton, Andrew Marvell, Margaret Cavendish, Katherine Philips, Aphra Behn, John Dryden, and the earl of Rochester. We will also explore a wide range of lesser-known writers.

History 673: Gender in Japan and East Asia / Hitomi Tonomura

The dramatic transformation in gender relations is a key feature of Japan’s premodern history. In this course, we will examine how men and women in the Japanese archipelago have constructed norms of male and female behavior in different historical periodings, how gender differences were institutionalized in social structures and practices, and how these norms and institutions changed over time. Our goal is to understand the relationship between the changing structure of dominant institutions and the gendered experiences of women and men from different classes from approximately the seventh through the eighteenth centuries. While the primary target of examination is changing gender relations in Japan, we integrate materials from China and Korea, in order to understand Japan’s case comparatively.  The three countries shared, for example, the fundamental bureaucratic system of ancient China, yet the value of Confucianism in social practices differed vastly. Particularities of Japan’s deity-worship and militarism also command comparative analysis.   We will explore crucial variables such as sexuality, class, religion, household relations, and political context which have affected women’s and men’s lives. Students will read materials written or translated into English, but those who are able are welcomed to read, in addition, primary sources in Japanese. Korean or Chinese.

History 698: Religion and the Economy before Modernity / Hussein Fancy

Speaking of the market, Voltaire proclaimed, “[T]here, the Jew, the Mohammedan and the Christian behave towards each other as if they were of the same religion and reserve the word ‘infidel’ for those who go bankrupt.”  Placing medieval and early modern texts against modern ideas of the economy, this course enquires into the relationship between religion and trade and questions the presumed agonism between them.  Readings include classic texts such as Marx, Weber, Polanyi, and Geertz as well as more recent works by Peter Brown, Kenneth Pomeranz, Francesca Trivellato, and Jessica Goldberg

History of Art 646: Medieval Urbanism, 350-500 / Achim Timmermann

This seminar offers a multi-faceted investigation of the medieval and early modern city, actual and ideal. We will not only study given cities in Europe and the Levant as functioning social spaces but also consider the city as a concept that fed the popular and literary imagination. In part the course will be historical and archaeological. The expansion of urban centers in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries will be situated within larger trajectories, and we will study both new foundations and sites with deep and remembered pasts, all the while making an effort to reconstruct the character and quality of urban life. Another aspect of the course will involve analysis of texts and images: descriptions and depictions of cities (past and present), cartographic representations, and literary evocations of real and fictional urban environments.  Cities under discussion will be many, including Constantinople, Rome, Jerusalem, Paris, London, Prague, Florence, Lübeck, and Nuremberg. Students from the widest possible range of fields are encouraged to participate. It is expected that research projects will be diverse in terms of chronology, geography, theme, and approach.

MidEast 421/ Religion 465/ MENAS 591.004: Islamic Mysticism / Alexander Knysh

This course examines the rise, formation and subsequent development of Islamic asceticism-mysticism (Sufism). It focuses on Sufism’s practices, doctrines, literatures and institutions from the eighth century C.E. up to the present. We will also discuss various approaches to Sufism by Western and Muslim academics as well as criticism of Sufi teachings and practices by some influential pre-modern Muslim theologians. We will pay special attention to the variegated socio-political roles that individuals and institutions associated with Sufism have played in pre-modern, modern, and contemporary Muslim societies. As far as the most recent developments are concerned, we will analyze the conflict between the “fundamentalist” (Salafi) and Sufi interpretations of Islam and the important part that it plays in current debates about Islamic “orthodoxy” and the future of Islam in Muslim societies and Muslim diaspora worldwide. Finally, we will explore the impact of Sufi teachings, practices and literary production on Western societies and cultures.

Musicol 513: Topics in the Early History of Opera to 1800 / Louise Stein

This course is a lecture course with a small enrollment.  It is devoted to the study of opera in the first two centuries of its existence, from its beginnings just before 1600 to nearly the end of the eighteenth century. Opera is to be studied critically as music, theater, spectacle, performance medium, and cultural expression. Special aspects of this course include a focus on the singers of baroque opera, the travels of opera, the first opera of the Americas, and the financing and staging of opera. While some of the lectures and listening assignments will be organized around excerpts, others will be designed to focus on whole operas, their music and 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, A. Scarlatti, Handel, Vivaldi, Hasse, Rameau, Gluck, Salieri, Sarti, Piccinni, and Mozart. The assignments in this course will be primarily listening assignments, supplemented by score study, readings from the online course-pack and materials on reserve, and some in-class performances. Grades will be based on written work and class participation.  Open to singers, musicians, and scholars interested in opera or early modern musical culture, whether they are based in the SMTD, in LSA, or in other units.

Musicol 506, sec. 1 and Musicol 643: Early Modern Hispanic Music: la música de dos orbes / Louise Stein

This seminar concerns the place of music in Hispanic culture of the early modern period, the interaction of music and text, the conventions of musical-theatrical performance in seventeenth-century Spanish and colonial American theaters, the institutions supporting music in the early modern period, and the historiography of early Hispanic music as framed in the Americas.  We will study music, musical genres (romances, villancicos, theatrical songs, instrumental music for keyboard, harp, and plucked and strummed instruments), writings about music and theater, musical and poetic sources, visual resources, and individual songs, plays, zarzuelas, and operas whose music is extant.  The work of the course will involve reading, listening, and analysis of texts and musical scores, as well as individual or team research projects with primary sources. This seminar is open to scholars, students of early modern Hispanic cultures, musicians, performers, singers, accompanists, composers, music theorists, and early music enthusiasts. Students from outside the SMTD, especially those with an interest in early modern culture, are encouraged to enroll.  Attendance is required.  Class participation is important within the format of the seminar.  The work of the course consists of listening to music, studying scores, and reading. For students registering through RLL/Spanish and LACS, prior musical study is not a prerequisite.  This seminar will meet several times during the term with Musicol 406-506, Special Course, “Remapping Western Art Music: Latin American Art Music After 1800,” taught by Prof. Juan Velásquez

Spanish 823: Primitive Accumulation / Daniel Nemser

In the last few decades and especially since the 2008 financial crisis, critics have taken up Marx’s concept of primitive accumulation in order to think through the turn to neoliberalism, the rise of finance, and the logic of racial capitalism. Marx introduced this concept at the end of the first volume of Capital to explain the historical transition from feudalism to capitalism and to theorize the process by which one system becomes another. Notably, this is one of the few places where European and specifically Spanish and Portuguese colonialism enters into his analysis: “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the indigenous population of that continent . . . and the conversion of Africa into a preserve for the commercial hunting of blackskins, are all things which characterize the dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation” (915). This seminar proposes to pull these threads together, reading theoretical work on primitive accumulation alongside primary sources from the early modern/colonial period, in order to map out both sets of debates and allow each set of texts to illuminate and deepen our analysis of the other