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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 2019

* Please note: Upper-level ndergraduate courses are open to graduate students by permission.

English 407.002: The Other Chaucer / Karla Taylor

Before the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer was already writing poetry that connected the great traditions of classical and continental literature to new readers in English.  From the beginning, his poetry was humorous, experimental, and even avant-garde.  He was interested in dream visions, love lyrics, political critique, allegories, and heroic and romantic stories from ancient Greece and Rome.  We will begin with his short, quirky, imaginative dream poems (the Book of the Duchess, the House of Fame, and the Parliament of Fowls), populated by talking animals, ice palaces, and bereaved knights. The centerpiece of the course will be the incomparable romance Troilus and Criseyde, a love poem set in the doomed city of Troy; by turns funny and heartbreaking, it lays bare the tragic impact of military and political concerns upon the worlds of love and private fulfillment.  We will finish with the Legend of Good Women, an experimental story collection exploring female experience assigned to Chaucer (or so he claims) as penance for the crime of writing Troilus and Criseyde.  No prior knowledge of Chaucer’s Middle English is expected or required, since part of the purpose of the course will be learning the language with enough fluency to appreciate the beauty and depth of Chaucer’s poetry in its original state.

English 540.002: Empire and Its Discontents – The Literature of the British Eighteenth Century / Clement Hawes

We will study the impact of colonial developments on eighteenth-century genres (travelogues, poetry, the novel, the essay, the play) and discourses (political economy, science, religion, abolitionism, satire). We will study literary responses to slavery, including Olaudah Equiano’s autobiographical slave-narrative. We will study the literary impact of internal relations among the four kingdoms, with attention to Catholic Ireland. And we will examine the shift from Britain’s First Empire (Ireland, eastern North America, Jamaica) to the second, centered on India. We will give attention to such institutions as the Royal Society, the Royal African Company, the East India Company, and the Society for Abolishing the Slave Trade. We will attend both to the development of colonial ideology and critiques of that ideology. Our reading process will seek to open a dialogue between past and present. We will attempt to rethink the genealogy of postcolonial critique from the perspective of a more refined understanding of the British Enlightenment. Our texts for the course will come from the following list: Aphra Behn, Oroonoko and Other Writings; English Trader, Indian Maid: Representing Gender, Race, and Slavery in the New World, ed. Frank Felsenstein; Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings, ed. Carretta; Edmund Burke, On Empire, Liberty, and Reform; Matthew “Monk” Lewis, Journal of a West India Proprietor; Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe; Daniel Defoe,A General History of Pyrates; Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees, ed. E.J. Hundert; Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels; and John Gay, The Beggar’s Opera and Polly.

English 641: Chaucer and Gower / Karla Taylor

Chaucer: “Father of English Literature.” Gower: wait, what? A plodding moralist? Chaucer’s brilliant, challenging literary interlocutor? His fame (as one of the finest poets in three languages, Anglo-Latin and Anglo-French as well as English) seems to have melted away, raising questions about canon formation. Well, move over, Chaucer, Gower’s now all the rage.  This course will focus on two prominent London poets of the late fourteenth century:  Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower.  This seminar is intended to introduce both of them, or, for those who know something of them, offer opportunities to think further about them in new ways, and in either case use their known interactions to think about literary communities, literature and its social setting, and literary "debates." They used remarkably similar literary forms (e.g., dream vision, estates satire and framed narrative) to argue about every possible topic—classicism, political engagement, using poetry to promote social reform, heresy, gender and sexuality, and making the English language a medium capable of expressing poetry of the highest ambition.  I assume no prior knowledge of Chaucer, Gower, medieval English literature, or Middle English language, but if there is interest we will arrange an additional weekly hour or so to practice reading and understanding fourteenth-century London English.  Readings will be chosen from among Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, Legend of Good Women, and Canterbury Tales alongside Gower’s Confessio Amantis, lyric and political poetry, and selections from Vox Clamantis.  Poetry in French and Latin will be available in translation.  Special attention will be accorded to stories told by both poets (for instance, those of Constance, Lucretia, and Virginia; and the epic matter of Troy).

French 651: Theory, Criticism, and the Romance of the Rose / Peggy McCracken

This seminar has two primary goals. The first is to read the Romance of the Rose, one of the most influential literary texts of the French Middle Ages, and we’ll take the entire semester to explore this complex work. The second goal of the seminar is to use the Romance of the Rose to explore a wide variety of approaches to medieval literature (and to literature more broadly). We will explore readings of the romance through narratology, psychoanalysis, historicism, ecology, classical reception, translation theory, feminist theory, gender theory, and queer theory, among other approaches.

History 594: Conversions and Christianities in an Early Modern World and Beyond / Kenneth Mills

This seminar welcomes graduate students and upper-level undergraduates. We investigate "change" from a number of angles and employing cross-disciplinary tools and inspirations. We discuss transformations of various kinds, but especially religious transformations, and the ways in which people’s identities and allegiances are dynamic, the products of interactive emergence. We explore different points of view, as interested in those who carried and promoted a religion—and other would-be universal brands—to others, as in the perspectives of those meant to “receive.” Not only are purported converts co-creators and re-makers of systems of belief and practice, but they are also rarely alone in experiencing change. Our predominant focus will be the remarkable proliferation of Christianities across an expanding world, beginning in late antique and medieval circum-Mediterranean, and continuing into “new worlds” between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. The aim is delve into early modern settings and phenomena, but see them in broader contexts. In discussion and a series of precise and creative short writing assignments, students will be challenged to develop their authorial voice, considering their own positions, lives, and surrounding cultures in terms not unlike those used to think over historical persons and subjects: as emergent things, fragmentarily known, and as experiences replete with transformations and possible tellings.

History 673: Readings on Premodern Japan / Tomi Tonomura

This course introduces major English-language works on Japan's premodern history (before 1750). Readings are selected to promote our familiarity and critical appreciation of the key themes and trends which have shaped the history and historiography of Japan. Topics include: aristocracy and emperors, gendered authority and rights. warriors' rise, violence and peace, economic transformations, land and sea, reproduction and lineage, and ritual and spiritual power. We evaluate individual works in terms of their approach, methodology, sources used, and argumentation as well as the actual historical "knowledge" or “content.” We will consider unexplored issues and problems as well as possible alternate approaches and methods which might be employed to conduct historical inquiry in this field. Students of East Asian history are encouraged to consider historical issues comparatively across Korea and China. Students will also have an opportunity to tailor the reading list to suit their particular interests.

History 698: Empire Formation and Early Modernity: The Ottoman Experience / Erdem Cipa

This graduate seminar focuses on the history and historiography of the Ottoman Empire within a context that supersedes Eurocentric as well as local/nationalist perspectives. Whereas the first part of the course will expose students to the contours of Ottoman history throughout the early modern era, the second part will serve as an introduction to some of the major historiographical questions of the field.  While some of these questions—such as the “decline” of the Ottoman Empire—pertain to Ottoman history specifically, others—such as the critique of Orientalism or the question of a global early modernity—concern non-western or world history more generally.

Italian 415. Italy and the Muslim World / Karla Mallette

In this course, we will study the long, entangled history that links Italians and Muslims, in the Italian peninsula and beyond. We’ll start with the history of Sicily as Muslim state and Italian trade with Muslim cities throughout the Mediterranean. The course will cover the Crusades in the eastern Mediterranean – as conflict and as a period of intensified cultural and commercial exchange. And we’ll study contemporary topics like the migration crisis that has brought hundreds of thousands of Muslim migrants to Italian shores; mosques in Italy; films made by Italians about the Muslim Mediterranean, and made by Muslims about Italy; and Italian clothing designers’ collections of hijabs and modest clothes for the modern Muslim woman

Musicology 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. 

Musicology 577: Medieval Music / James Borders

This lecture-discussion course surveys European sacred and secular musical repertories from the advent of Gregorian Chant through polyphonic motets and song settings of the late fourteenth century. It is organized around important sites of medieval musical activity—the monastery, the cathedral, the castle, the urban square, and the palace. Students who enroll in the course will learn about the cultural contexts of medieval music, gain knowledge of the musical styles of representative examples, and develop a basic understanding of medieval music notation, music theory, and compositional techniques. Students should expect regular listening and reading assignments, in-class listening quizzes and three-minute response papers, midterm and final exams, and a term paper. Participation will include singing in the in-class schola cantorum. The ability to read and understand modern Western musical notation is required. Graduate students elect Musicology 577; undergrads enroll under 477.

Musicology 506 / 643: Handel and His Singers: Collaboration and Celebrity Culture / Louise Stein

This seminar focused on vocal music composed or arranged by G. F. Handel explores 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, genres, 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.  Students will engage in collaborative projects with assigned reading, listening, and score study. 

Spanish 450: Inventing Spanish: The Cultural World of King Alfonso X, the Wise / Ryan Szpiech

Castilian is one of the Romance Languages derived from Latin. But how did this local dialect become one of the most-spoken languages in the world? One of the key moments in the growth of Castilian was the reign of one of Iberia’s greatest kings — Alfonso X, “The Wise,” who ruled in Castile from 1252-1284. This course will study the literary, musical, historical, legal, and artistic production in his court that “created” Castilian as a written language of prose expression (in place of Latin). We will learn about Alfonso’s poetry and songs, his translations of scientific and astronomical knowledge, his legal writing, and his historiographical work. Students will also gain experience working with manuscripts of Alfonso’s many works. Readings will include the General Estoria, Setenario, Cantigas de Santa María, Lapidario, Picatrix, and others.

Spanish 459: Cervantes / Enrique García Santo-Tomás

Estudiaremos la obra maestra cervantina desde una perspectiva contemporánea, centrándonos en su contexto socio-político, histórico y literario, e incorporando acercamientos críticos que se adapten a nuestra sensibilidad moderna. Prestaremos particular atención a la imbricación de géneros en el texto, analizando igualmente sus reverberaciones míticas y simbólicas. Nos enfocaremos en la construcción de los personajes más significativos, haciendo parada en temas como el de la ley y la violencia, la vida marginal, los espacios urbanos y rurales, la sexualidad latente o abierta, y los significados de la violencia y el cuerpo. La clase será en español.

Spanish 460: The Spanish Comedia / Enrique García Santo-Tomás

El presente curso ofrece un recorrido por las voces dramáticas más sugerentes de los siglos XVI y XVII. La selección de textos estudiados, que irá desde el teatro breve, pasando por la (tragi)comedia, hasta llegar a la tragedia, cubrirá todo un catálogo de asuntos vitales que preocuparon en su tiempo: el amor imposibilitado por convenciones sociales, el abuso de poder, la libertad de la mujer en la sociedad cortesana, los placeres del sexo y del arte, el juego de la ambigüedad sexual a través de la palabra, la tripleta existencial amor/honor/muerte, la expresión de fe y de placer místico…  El programa irá acompañado de representaciones de teatro de diversa índole. Las lecturas primarias y secundarias, así como la discusión en clase, serán en español.

Spanish 640 / MEMS 611 / CompLit 730: Medieval Iberian Otherness  /  Ryan Szpiech

This seminar will explore cultural production in the Iberian Peninsula dealing with otherness, difference, and foreignness in the Middle Ages. Medieval Iberia is characterized as a land in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims came into regular contact and conflict. How are the different ways in which that history is told part of the history of Spain itself? How are modern vocabularies of “otherness” limited or biased in exploring that history? This seminar will be focused partly on medieval conceptions of difference—how groups in medieval Iberia thought of each other as different and why—and partly on modern responses to and theories of that history. These include debates over tolerance and “convivencia,” the idea of Spain as a “land of three cultures,” and over how to imagine medieval history and literature in the present (Was there a “reconquest” or were there repeated “conquests”? Are Muslims and Jews part of “Spanish” history or are they considered foreigners? Are Arabic and Hebrew “Iberian” languages? Is Spain “different” from other regions?) We will consider how these ideas have changed in recent decades in the context of contemporary cultural and geopolitical trends.

Readings will include primary texts dealing with and characterizing “otherness” (selections from medieval epic, poetry, and chronicles as well as modern Spanish authors such as Ortega y Gasset who wrote about the medieval past) and secondary sources about Spain’s history (from Miguel Asín Palacios to David Nirenberg). We will also read some theoretical texts about “difference,” alterity, and hybridity (Bhabha, Deleuze, Taussig, Levinas).  Discussion will be in English. Readings will be in English and Spanish. For those without Spanish reading ability, alternative readings can be assigned. 

Women's Studies  471: Gender and Sexuality in Pre-Modern Islam  /  Kathryn Babayan

This course explores Muslim constructions of gender and sexuality in the pre-modern era (600-1700 CE). It integrates issues of sexuality and gender, bringing to bear on each other the ways in which masculinity and femininity were intimately constructed within the project of Islam.

  • How do gender and sexuality constitute useful categories to interpret cultures?
  • How have scholars of the Islamic world studied women and gender?

Through a survey of sacred texts (Quran & Hadith) that came to define the female and the male sex in early and medieval Islam we shall investigate the (re) casting of female icons (Eve, Zulaykha, ‘A’isha) through time. We will trace the systems of representation developed by Muslim men to express femininity and masculinity in medieval Islamicate literary texts (poetry, stories, advice literature, satire, political, and medical treatises).

  • How do gendered symbols get translated from the domains of the sacred to those of literature, politics and law?
  • How is the body engendered through Islam?
  • How are sexuality, love, and desire distinguished in these texts?
  • What do these reveal about power, social hierarchies and their related mentalities?
  • What social institutions and regulatory technologies are created to maintain such representations?

Throughout the course we will read theoretical works on gender, sexuality, and the body, which have transformed the disciplines of history, literature and anthropology in recent decades. These studies will inform our discussions in class about the construction of historical narratives, the materiality of experience and social processes in the Islamic world.

Finally, we will end with the social and cultural transformations in nineteenth and twentieth century Iran to explore the ways in which modernity and colonialism affected Muslim gendered attitudes and sexual economies.