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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 2024


Kenneth Mills

HISTORY 487 / 594.  Conversions. Histories of Change. 

Our seminar investigates Change. How human beings have faced and described it in the past, and how we think about and tell of it today. 

We explore change of various kinds. Beginning with cultural and religious transformations that have contributed (imprisoned us within?) certain terms of reference, we expand our vocabulary and our expectations. While one focus will be the proliferations of Christianity in an expanding world between, we counteract the tendency to see certain periods (i.e. late Antiquity; early Latin America) or set of Christianising actions in splendid isolation. We will study how individual identities and group allegiances are formed and remain dynamic, keeping a special eye on the power of interaction and translation, of mixedness and incompletion, of gradual emergence and re-invention. We find "conversions" everywhere. And we will draw from an array of "thinking tools" to inform our interpretations of change, most notably anthropology, literature and art history, but also cognitive science and linguistics. A series of short, creative assignments will encourage students to regard themselves —your own lives and writing, your own memories and surrounding cultures— as conversions in the making, as emergent and changing, and thus entwined with the transformations and tellings we discern in the past.           

 "Conversions. Histories of Change" is first and foremost an upper-level undergraduate course (487), but is also one to which graduate students are welcomed (594). 


Tina Bawden

HISTART 497.002/689.002.  Liminality and Spaces of Transition

Liminality has become a widely influential concept in the Humanities. This seminar will explore the concept and related terms systematically and in depth by looking at the different ways in which it has been employed and theorized, both in the past and presently. The course has two parts: In the first half, we will study texts that delve into the aesthetics, the ritual, and the spatial and material aspects of liminality. Our concrete case studies in this part will allow us to think about how precisely abstract concepts concerning movement and transition can be brought to bear on something supposedly unchanging and tangible in its composition such as art and material culture. They will be from a field within which the term ‘liminality’ has been used widely, the Middle Ages in Europe, and present a range of media as well as taking us to portals, doors, triptychs and harbors. In the second part, we will delve into the case studies that you propose and would like to work with. These may be from any period or geocultural region which you are able to introduce the class to as a basis for methodological discussion. 


Nachiket Chanchani

ASIAN 505/HISTART 583. Himalayas: An Aesthetic Exploration

The Himalayas are the world’s longest and loftiest mountain range. This course will commence with a review of some influential modern and contemporary perceptions of the Himalayas. Thereafter, we will proceed to glean some of the many ways in which the shaping of objects and the crafting of identities are linked in this region today. Subsequently, we shall embark on a series of armchair expeditions to recover interconnections between ‘art’ and ‘life’ in the Himalayas in centuries past. Traveling in arcs stretching from the Brahmaputra valley in  the  east  up  to  the  upper  reaches  of  the  Indus  in  the  west  and  along  axes  extending  from  the  sub-montane  Terai  in  the  south  to  the  frosty  Tibetan  plateau  in  the  north,  we  will  repeatedly  cross  China, Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Resting at sites sought out by explorers, traders, conquerors, and  pilgrims,  we  will  query  the  distinctive  forms,  layouts,  and  functions  of  a  range  of  temples, monasteries, and gardens and the medley of objects found in them. These include steles, manuscript paintings, and water-fountains. Finally, we will return to the present and consider how communities living in  the  Himalayas  are  creating  new  forms  of  material  culture  to  respond  to  new  challenges  such  as climate change, environmental degradation,  and disaster.


Katherine French

HISTORY 642. Readings in pre-modern Europe

To some degree the readings for this class are determined by the interests of the students. But in general this class explores the ways that the recent turn toward global perspectives in historical research and pedagogy have changed the way we think of “pre-modern European” history. The conventional narratives that long served to connect the broader strands of medieval and Early Modern European history—“dark ages,” “feudalism,” “rise of the Western Church” “overseas expansion,” “Renaissance” and “Reformation”—have come under sustained criticism. At the same time, Europe’s place in world history has evolved, and historians no longer think of Europe as the cradle of a universal history, but rather as one global region among others. What do these developments mean for how we study pre-modern European history?  Should we look for new narratives to replace those that no longer seem as relevant?  How does a more nuanced vision of pre-modern of Europe’s past change what we think of Europe and the challenges that it faces in the present?


Christopher Ratte

ArchAM 855. The Cities of Asia Minor in Late Antiquity

The collapse of complex societies is one of the most enduring themes of archaeological research. Well before the publication of Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall” in the late 18th century, a paradigmatic example of such a collapse has been that of the ancient Roman empire. This seminar will focus on one aspect of that collapse, the abandonment of cities throughout Asia Minor (modern Turkey) in the 6th and 7th centuries C.E. (i.e., the other, eastern half of the Roman empire, not studied by J.A. Tainter in his popular monograph). While the seminar is thus not a general course in the collapse of complex societies, it will welcome comparative approaches. What can Classical archaeology contribute to the general study of this subject; how can anthropological perspectives illuminate our understanding of the later Roman empire?

Greek speaking Asia Minor was one of the most prosperous and extensively urbanized regions of the Roman world.  The seminar will focus on  the archaeological evidence for the civic culture of this region from the 3rd through the 7th centuries C.E.  This period is bracketed by invasions by Gothic raiders in the mid-3rd century C.E., and by the near-total disappearance of urban settlements throughout Asia Minor in the early 7th century C.E.  Its central event is the foundation of Constantinople in 324 C.E. (on the European shores of the Bosphorus, so not technically in Asia Minor), and the subsequent growth of Constantine’s city as the new center of the Roman world.   

Special topics of investigation will include: relations between cities and central authorities, as articulated through imperial patronage of urban building projects, especially fortifications, and the concomitant emergence of the church as a major engine of new construction; the role of images in public life, from coins to civic and imperial portrait sculpture; changes in the relationship between private and public space, as seen in domestic architecture and interior decoration; relations between town and countryside, such as the economic effects of the growth of Constantinople; and, especially, the reasons for the collapse of urban life outside Constantinople in the early 7th century C.E.