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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 Winter 2019

MEMS 898: Interdisciplinary Dissertation Colloquium in MEMS / Christian de Pee

This workshop provides advanced graduate students in medieval and early modern periods with the opportunity to present work in an interdisciplinary context, bringing together participants from all disciplines that engage with medieval and early modern materials. The colloquium supports students in commitments that they are already undertaking, and adds to this the instructive pleasure of responding to the work of peers. The colloquium thus addresses three needs: 1) It helps participants to frame their research and to convey the significance of that research, with the help of a supportive group drawn from a wide range of methodological perspectives and scholarly experience--a range that matches or exceeds the diversity of methodological and theoretical orientations of a dissertation committee. 2) It provides participants with an opportunity to practice articulating ideas in speech, whether from a written statement, from notes, or from spontaneous formulation. 3) It offers an extended occasion for exploring how interdisciplinary dialogue enriches research in the humanities. The MEMS colloquium is an integral part of the Graduate Certificate Program in MEMS, but students do not need to be admitted to the Certificate Program to take the course. The course will meet regularly on a schedule to be determined by the needs of the group. You may register for 1-3 credit by permission of the instructor.

Types of writing welcomed:

– Dissertation chapters
– Conference presentations
– Article manuscripts in draft
– Prospectuses
– Job talks
– Methodological statements
– Research statements
– Project narratives
– Book reviews
– Grant proposals

Arabic 530  Arabic Poetry and Discourses of Empire / Samer Ali 

The Arabic ode (Qasida) began as a folk art-form in pre-Islamic Arabia, but with the rise of empire in the 7th century, it morphed into a courtly genre for making and unmaking authority. It began at the dawn of the Arabic language and ran parallel to the history of Arabo-Islamic empire building into the twentieth century. The Qasida evolved for more than a millennium and a half on three continents, and inspired parallel genres in Hebrew, Persian, Turkish, Kurdish, as well as Swahili, Fulfulde, Hausa, Urdu, Pashto, Punjabi, Sindhi, and Malay. The impact of the Qasida on world history and culture is far-reaching, yet it remains an understudied art-form in the West.

This seminar will focus in particular on how Qasidas make and unmake Arabo-Islamic power in a system of clientage-patronage, and how poets as well as the public use poetry to construct collective memory, community, and identity. Most notably, the heroic sub-genre of praise poetry (madih) often set the standards for leadership and patronage, and was therefore used to apply pressure on the patron to rise to the occasion by coaxing, blandishing, and even entrapping. Conversely, lampoon poetry (hija') served as a form of political satire for the poet's public. The artists that students will study include leading poets, both men and women, from pagan tribal Arabia (Hujajya, Imru al-Qays), the court of the Prophet Muhammad (Hassan b. Thabit, al-Khansa'), Umayyad Syria (Majnun, Layla, Dhul Rumma, Layla al-Akhyaliyya), and Abbasid Iraq (Abu Tammam, Mutanabbi, Buhturi, Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya).

This seminar explores how classical Arabic poetry constructed gender, mind, and world view while drawing on comparative literary genres and cultures (Icelandic and Homeric), as well as interdisciplinary methods from literary and anthropological studies. Students will develop their skills with classical Arabic language, while providing a historical and cultural background to contemporary questions of patriarchy, authoritarianism, and democracy.

Intended for advanced students of Arabic.

Asian 485: Religion in China / Benjamin Brose

Xuanzang (600–664), the Buddhist monk, pilgrim, and scholar, is one of the most important figures in the long history of Buddhism in China. His epic seventeen-year pilgrimage from China through Central Asia to India, his close relationship with two Chinese emperors after his return, his subsequent translation of hundreds of volumes of Sanskrit texts into Chinese, and the influence of those translations and commentaries on Buddhist traditions throughout East Asia have taken on mythic proportions in the literature, liturgy, theater, and popular culture of China and neighboring countries. In this seminar we will read key original works by and about Xuanzang as we consider his life and legacy in China and greater East Asia.

Proficiency in reading classical and modern Chinese is required.

English 503: Middle English / Thomas Toon

English 641: The Reformation of Medieval Drama / Theresa Tinkle

Whether performed or read, fifteenth- and sixteenth-century drama offers unequalled perspectives on English culture, for plays of this era are filled with edgy commentaries about religious controversies, scriptural interpretation, social and gender relations, political (dis)order, education, history, poverty, labor, and sexuality. This dramatic corpus encompasses tremendous aesthetic and poetic variety, and witnesses to continual innovation and the creation of new genres. From the late fourteenth century, cities put on spectacular Corpus Christi plays, which purport to narrate Christian history from Creation to Last Judgment. The genre relies loosely on the bible and depends for its vigor on apocryphal and legendary narratives. Corpus Christi performances endure through the Reformation, albeit with some revisions, before ending in the late sixteenth century. At the same time, Protestant reformers re-invent biblical drama, devising plays that are closer to the plain text of scripture. These are not always successful experiments: for instance, a play meant to illustrate Calvinist predestination lacks dramatic tension. Another popular medieval genre is the morality play, a genre greatly enlivened when Protestants adapt it to carry polemical messages about the corruption of the Catholic Church and virtue of reformation ideals. Other genres also emerge across these centuries: mummings, saints’ plays, secular interludes and comedies, school plays, history plays, and tragedy. In this course, we will examine a large part of the dramatic corpus; analyze the life of props and study staging conventions; and, above, all, cultivate seminar participants’ interests. Texts will likely include the York Corpus Christi cycle, samples of other cycles and individual biblical plays (Jacob and Esau, selections from John Bale’s works), the Digby Mary Magdalene, Lewis Wager’s Life and Repentaunce of Mary Magdalene, Everyman, Nice Wanton, Johan Johan, King John, and Gorboduc. Selected scholarship will demonstrate existing approaches and suggest new directions for research.

English 642: Poetic Form and Cultural Crisis in 17th C England / Mike 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.

French 680: Object Theory (in English) / George Hoffmann

What are objects before they become consumer products? How can we think our way back to their previous status and imagine other kinds of relationships to them? Questions entertained will include: from where comes the concept of value--as something seemingly freestanding, enduring, and independent of desire? Do fetishism and objectification perform useful functions? What special features do paired, serial, and decorated objects possess? (How) can we make objects speak?  Each participant will try to do so by selecting one object to research and present in a workshop setting with the aim of producing a essay informed by the course’s critical readings.

History 592: Japanese Emperors from 660 BCE to May 2019 / Hitomi Tonomura

Big News! Japan’s reigning emperor is resigning on April 30, 2019! One might dismiss this event with “So what!?” This course explains all the reasons why not. The Japanese imperial family is the world’s longest reigning single royal family. Over the two millennia of its history, it has evolved enormously and, good or bad, has had a huge impact on the course of Japanese and world history. Today, it remains one of the few active royal families in the world. The event in 2019 marks the first voluntary resignation of an active emperor since 1868. We capture this moment and explore the family’s long history from the birth of the ancestral deity, the Sun Goddess, in mythical times through ancient, medieval, early modern and modern times. Topics include intra-familial conflicts, challenges from the samurai, flexible sexual and marital practices, major transformations in the face of Western imperialism, aggressive engagement in the Pacific War, and changing concept of the emperors’ humanity after WWII. We also examine recent controversies, such as marriage of royal members to a commoner husband or wife, recognition of the family’s Korean ancestry, and the debate over the enthronement of female emperors.

History 657: Russia Under the Tsars / Valerie Kivelson & Ronald Suny

A powerful, multi-ethnic, multi-religious state and imposing international military force, topples under the pressures of terrorism, political extremism, and fiscal irresponsibility, exacerbated by the pressures of unending war.  This may sound like the US today, but it refers here to the historical experience of Russia, 1917.  In this unusual team-taught course, we will study the currents of Russian and Western thought that clashed and combined to form a uniquely Russian cultural mix in the centuries between 1700 and 1917.

Beginning with the reign of Peter the Great (1682-1725), the Russian Empire began a long and difficult process of economic, social, and cultural development within the framework of tsarist autocracy. Russian elites came to set the standards for the European world with their cultural production -- great music, ballet, literature, art, philosophy, and science -- but they built their glittering world on the back of oppressed peasants. At the same time, imperial forces swept across the Eurasian continent, building a vast, religiously and ethnically diverse empire. For two centuries the emperors and empresses held together their many lands and peoples through a combination of force and favor, repression and reform. By the early 20th century tsarism proved to be unable to resist any longer the social forces it had done so much to create.

HISTART 395: Mini-Seminar: Bruegel Close-Up / Celeste Brusati
(Can be taken as an Independent Study course – please contact Celeste)

In 2013 Pieter Bruegel’s Wedding Dance made headlines. As one of very few Bruegel paintings in the US and the work with the highest market value of any in the Detroit Institute of Art collections, it was front and center in efforts to save the museum’s collections from sale during the city of Detroit’s efforts to emerge from bankruptcy. In 2019-20, the DIA will put Bruegel back in the spotlight by hosting an exhibition on this spectacular painting to celebrate its importance and honor the 450th anniversary of the artist’s death. In preparation, the DIA's conservation team is closely studying the materials, technique and history of the painting. This seminar will take students into the conservation lab to get to know Bruegel’s picture close-up and in depth. Students will learn about the making and material history of the painting, its historical context, historical painting techniques, modern technologies of imaging and analyzing works of art, and the many historical and ethical dimensions of conservation science.

HISTART 689: Disfiguration, Defacement, and the Unmaking of Visual Art / Megan Holmes

This course will explore intentional damage and transformative acts directed at works of visual art, material culture, and heritage sites, across historical cultures and geographies.  The conventional terminology used to characterize such destruction (vandalism, iconoclasm, censorship, graffiti) will be interrogated and historicized.  We will be interested in the so-called “power of art” and visual/material culture to elicit strong responses from viewers and explore understandings about the agency of images and figuration. Visual art and cultural heritage will be studied as sites of contestation, where competing belief systems, regimes of knowledge, aesthetic values, and political ideals come into conflict and are given charged expression.

Intentional breakage will be shown to operate in a dialectical relationship between destruction and construction, as defacement calls attention to that which has been damaged or removed.  Significant changes of meaning occur when works of art are damaged, and many works continue to have active afterlives in their modified states.  Rich contexts for interpretation, too, open up when the complex conditions, motivations, and power relations involved are explored—and not just during moments of conquest, during the heightened antagonism between proponents of opposing religions, or during regime changes. 

Sessions will touch on the defacement of sacred images, damnatio memoriae and politically motivated erasure, the “punishment” of representational figuration, historic preservation and conservation issues, graffiti, artist’s acts of “unmaking,” and repurposing and collecting.  Students from outside the discipline of art history are welcome and may conduct research in their areas of specialization and interest.

Italian 486: Petrarch’s Canzoniere / Karla Mallette

Petrarch’s Canzoniere transformed the experience of romantic love – as public performance and private obsession, as emotional event and artistic statement. In this course we read the Canzoniere to understand its beauty, its radical experimentalism, and its profound influence in Europe and beyond. Topics include the nonlinear time of Petrarchan lyric; the elusive beloved and the omnipresent poet-lover; the sonnet, the canzone, the sestina, and how the sound of the poem contributes to (or undermines) its meaning; musical performance of Petrarch’s poetry in early modern Europe; Petrarch’s autograph manuscript of the Canzoniere – how he himself saw his poetry; Petrarch’s treatment of ancient myths, in particular the figure of Orpheus; Petrarchism through the ages, from early modern poetry to the lyrics of contemporary pop music.

No knowledge of Italian necessary; the course will be taught in English, though we will use a bilingual edition and will discuss the structure of the poetry in the original.

MidEast 421 / Religion 465: Islamic Mysticism / Alexander Knysh

The course examines the rise, formation and subsequent development of Islamic mysticism, its doctrines, literary productions and institutions from the eighth century C.E. up to the present. Issues pertinent to the study of Sufism by Western and Muslim scholars as well as opposition to its tenets and practices on the part of some Islamic movements and powers-that-be will also be addressed. Special attention will be given to the variegated roles of Sufism and Sufi institutions in pre-modern, modern, and post-modern Muslim societies. The course will also explore the conflict between the Salafi and Sufi interpretations of Islam in the recent decades and its centrality to the current intellectual debates in Islam. The impact of Sufi teachings, practices and literary production on contemporary Western societies and cultures will also be addressed.

MidEast 517: Classical Persian Texts / Cameron Cross

This course is an introduction to classical Persian poetry and prose through the works of Sa'di of Shiraz. Writing in a fluid and flexible idiom, Sa'di brought together lofty verse, bawdy jokes, sage advice, and blistering satire with a savvy grace famously known as his "inimitable simplicity." His Golestan, a collection of stories, poetry, and aphorisms, is probably the single most admired and influential work of literature in the Persian language, and has for over eight centuries served as the gateway to not only mastering the Persian language, but entering the world of Persianate culture, a complex of literary, social, and aesthetic values that extended from Bosnia to Bengal.

Students must have at least two years of Persian or its equivalent to enroll; if you are not sure, you can email the instructor for consultation.

Musicol 520: Topics in Baroque Music  / Louise Stein

This course will provide an opportunity to engage with selected musical repertories and genres of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries (roughly 1570-1750). It will not offer a complete chronological survey. Particular emphasis will be given to the invention and definition of musical genres, the development of an expressive musical language and conventions, and the place and function of music (secular and sacred, vocal and instrumental, for court, chamber, church, and theater) in early modern society. In addition to music by such composers as Monteverdi, Lully, Corelli, Vivaldi, Handel, and J. S. Bach, the course will also include two special units: one will focus on the Roman baroque (“Corelli and Friends”) with music by Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti, while the other will bring in music from Spain and its Latin American colonies. To some extent, our focus will depend on the interests of the students in the class.  The course will also introduce students to writings about music, primary musical sources, aesthetic theories of the period, and some issues of performing practice. The work of this course consists of listening, reading, and score study. Music will be discussed in class, in some detail. Class attendance is required. Grades will be based on written work and class participation.  Students from outside the SMTD with an interest in early modern cultures are encouraged to enroll.  MUSICOL 420 may be used as an upper-level writing course, with permission of the instructor.

Musicol 505, sect 1 / 643: Handel and his Singers: Collaboration and Celebrity Culture / Louise Stein

This seminar focuses on eighteenth-century vocal music (primarily opera, cantata, and oratorio) composed or arranged by G. F. Handel in order to explore an important intersection between the history of singing and the history of musical composition. Collaboration was a prominent feature of musical creation and performance in Handel’s time, manifest most obviously in the collaborative improvisation required by the performance practice of the era, and demonstrated, for example, in the many "pasticci" staged with arias by more than one composer. Handel composed for professional singers, some of whom worked with him across geographical boundaries and distinct moments of his career. We will listen to and study arias, operas, and cantatas, aware that singers were not expected to have the same vocal characteristics, histrionic ability, or sound, even when they shared the same range. We will investigate the degree to which singers contributed to collaboration within a "star" system that also shaped operatic productions. Students will learn from primary sources (scores, libretti, aria collections, documents, images/portraiture) as well as modern editions and readings from scholarly literature. Our research traces Handel’s travels and relationships, so we will necessarily also learn about patrons, audiences, public and private contexts, and competitors.  The course will involve collaborative projects, assigned readings, listening, and score study, and a term project and/or series of shorter research papers (length and character to be determined in class).  Attendance and class participation are required.  The seminar is open to scholars, singers, performers, and composers, including students pursuing MEMS concentration or certificates.