Skip to Content

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 2018

ASIAN 536 Traditional Chinese Fiction / David Rolston
The 18th century novel Dream of the Red Chamber (Honglou meng; a.k.a., Story of the Stone [Shitou ji]) is without a doubt the most famous and influential work of traditional Chinese literature, despite the fact that we do not have the ending of the novel as planned by the original author, Cao Xueqin. It is a wonderful vantage point from which to contemplate all of traditional Chinese fiction, and because of its fame as a veritable encyclopedia of traditional Chinese culture, it also represents a wonderful window on a vanished world. In this class, besides reading the original novel, students will be introduced to both traditional commentary and modern scholarship on it, as well as the large number of media adaptations and traditional sequels. [The class is open to native speakers of Chinese and to students of the language who have studied three years of modern Chinese or the equivalent.]

ASIANLANG 433 Classical Japanese I / Reginald Jackson
This course introduces students to the grammar and style of premodern Japanese. Emphasis will be placed on extensive grammatical analysis and translation in order to improve reading fluency. We will also work with original manuscripts as the course progresses. By the end of the course, students will be able to read and translate passages from a variety of literary texts written prior to the Meiji period.

ENGLISH 501 Old English / Thomas Toon

This course is an introduction to Old English, the language spoken by our forebears until the unpleasantness at Hastings — the Norman Conquest. Since Old English is so different from Modern English as to seem like another language, the greatest effort of this class will be to master the rudiments of the structure and vocabulary of the earliest attested form of English. The reward is being able to read an excitingly different corpus of prose and poetry. You will also develop a new appreciation of where our language, culture, and intellectual traditions come from.

ENGLISH 641 Premodern Temporalities / Cathy Sanok, Helmut Puff (see MEMS listing)

ENGLISH 842 .001 Early Modern Sexualities / Valerie Traub

GERMAN 501 Old English / Thomas Toon (see ENGLISH listing)

GERMAN 517 Historical Linguistics / Sarah Thomason
This course is an introduction to the theories and methods that enable linguists to describe and explain processes of linguistic change and historical relationships among languages. The major topics to be covered are the emergence of language families and means of establishing family relationships; sound change; grammatical change, especially analogy; language change caused by culture contacts; the Comparative Method, through which prehistoric language states can be reconstructed with an impressive degree of accuracy; internal reconstruction, a less powerful but still important method for gaining information about linguistic prehistory; and ways in which the study of current dialect variation offers insights into processes of change.

GERMAN 731 Premodern Temporalities / Cathy Sanok, Helmut Puff (see MEMS listing)

HISTORY 450 Japan to 1700: From Origin Myths to Shogun Dynasty / Hitomi Tonomura
What lies behind the image of “Cool Japan,” represented by fuzzy robots, Super Mario, Toto toilets, and everything that is kawaii? The answer is Japan’s long, complex, and intriguing past that stretches from the mythical age of gods and goddesses through our time. This course covers most of that history, from prehistory and the age of aristocrats to the rise of the samurai and their dominance both in total war and total peace (300BCE and 1700CE). We examine patterns of transformation along the twin axes of time and theme: ancient aristocrats’ political power and aesthetic authority; medieval militarism supported by land rights, urban economy and sea power; and the early modern consolidation of the status order and overseas relations. Along the way, we visit issues of environment and disasters, blood and pollution, religious devotion and sexuality, Christianity and trade, family and gender, death and dying, and more.  The course offers samples of translated primary sources, such as tales, chronicles, diaries, and documents, as well as scholarly essays, films and video clips. They will expose students to the diversity of ideas and practices that emerged from the Japanese archipelago, different from our universalistic assumptions, often shaped by the knowledge of the West. These materials and our discussion should also lead students to question the notion of “the Japanese tradition,” much of which was constructed in modern times, and does disservice to Japan’s premodern past through misrepresentation.

HISTORY 557 Colonial Latin America / Rebecca Scott
This course examines Latin America from the initial encounters between Europeans and Native Americans to the early nineteenth century wars of independence. It focuses on interactions among Native Americans, Africans, and Europeans, tracing the evolution of a range of multiethnic, colonial societies in the Americas. Thus we will study the indigenous background to conquest as well as the nature of the settler communities, and the development of plantation slavery as well as village life. We will analyze overlapping structures of class, race, gender, and ethnicity in a colonial context and examine the complex processes by which identities were assigned and assumed. Finally, we will ask what permitted the survival of these colonial structures for over three hundred years, and what factors eventually led to the collapse of the colonial system.

HISTORY 638 Race in Premodern Europe / Hussein Fancy
Beginning with the recent controversies over race and racism in Medieval Studies, in this course, we will take a deep dive in the long history of race as a category of analysis in Medieval Studies.  How did the concept evolve?  Where did it take shelter in the wake of critical race theory?  What does an appreciation of the category add to or detract from contemporary theories of race and racism?  What role should Medievalists take in contemporary discussions?

HISTORY 680 Atlantic World / David Hancock
The readings course intro­duces graduate students to and familiarizes them with different topics currently the subject of intense debate in the burgeoning field of Atlantic World Studies. Topics include subjects of long-standing interest or current debate: nationalist v. internationalist tendencies in scholarship; destruction of the environment; migration; production; labor; social and economic development as viewed through the lens of commodities, merchants, and cities; race relations; the struggle for political power; political identity; and the formation of intellectual community. It focuses primarily on the period between 1607 and 1848.

HISTORY 689 Premodern Temporalities / Cathy Sanok, Helmut Puff (see MEMS listing)

HISTORY 698.002 Problems in Early SEAsia / Victor Lieberman
This course examines select problems in the history of both mainland and island Southeast Asia from the start of the first millennium C.E. to the early 19th century, on the eve of colonial rule. Its focus is simultaneously political, cultural, and economic. It seeks to explain why, particularly on the mainland, localized political and economic systems coalesced with increasing speed and success, chiefly from the 15th century, and why similar integrative trends in the island world were less sustained. But at the same time it seeks to explore in open-ended fashion the relation between international and domestic economic stimuli, cultural importation and cultural creativity, institutional demands and patrimonial norms. Principal thematic topics include: Indianization, the rise of the classical states and their chief features, the collapse of the classical states, reintegration on the mainland, the age of commerce thesis, comparisons between Theravada, Neo-Confucian, the Muslim Southeast Asia, the early role of Europeans, the 18th century crises, Southeast Asia on the eve of colonial intervention.

HART 689 Beautiful Writing: East Asian Calligraphy / Kevin Carr
Why does writing matter in East Asia? What is the place of writing in art history? What is lost when we think of texts only in terms of content, divorced from style, medium, and materials? What can textual historians and those studying non-Asian art gain from a close examination of the written word? This seminar explores practices of brush writing in Japan, with a secondary emphasis on Chinese and Korean calligraphic traditions. We will consider basic linguistic features of East Asian cultures; fundamental art historical ideas including style, abstraction, materiality, connoisseurship, and formal analysis; social and cultural issues such as valuation, and the formation of gender and proto-national identities. We will not necessarily follow a chronological narrative, but we will cover the beginnings of writing in central China up through 21st century calligraphy in Japan and elsewhere. Different themes will necessarily involve comparisons of diverse cultural and historical moments. In addition to providing an overview of East Asian (especially Japanese) calligraphic traditions, this class aims to develop and deepen your understanding of East Asian languages and cultures, while honing your skills of written and oral description, connoisseurship, and historical and visual analysis. Your research papers should challenge you to engage with topics related to the written word across world visual cultures. This course adopts an explicitly unconventional approach to the study of calligraphy, welcoming perspectives from diverse fields including studio practice, font design, art conservation, anthropology, computer engineering, musicology, and Japanese linguistics and pedagogy.

HART 689.004 Iconoclasm and its discontents / Paroma Chatterjee
In the 8th and 9th centuries, Byzantium witnessed a violent conflict over the validity of holy images. This battle led to the re-evaluation of fundamental concepts for the medieval and early modern worlds and included issues such as the powers and limits of icons versus relics, of words vis-à-vis images, and of sight in relation to the other senses. This course explores the conceptual and practical consequences of Byzantine iconoclasm. The modes of punishment meted out to individuals and to images, the debates staged between iconophiles and iconoclasts, and the juridical trials of icons, shall be closely examined. Along with the powerful contestation over holy images, we shall also look at the valence of pagan sculpture, automata, and fountains, all of which played a vital role in the public spaces of Constantinople and were implicated in the conflict. We shall consider the forms that medieval contestation took, and the competing technologies of knowledge employed to legitimize arguments. Finally, we shall consider the ways in which ‘absent’ images (such as those wholly destroyed or partially defaced) play their part in an art historical discourse that usually privileges the whole, and which equates the ‘visual’ with what is literally visible. Primary sources (all translated) shall comprise an integral part of the course. There will be visits to Special Collections and the Kelsey Museum.

PROSEMINAR MEMS 611: Premodern Temporalities / Cathy Sanok,  Helmut Puff
The human experience of time, while a basic condition of our existence, is anything but uniform or homogeneous. As a rule, we live in different times simultaneously – liturgical time, astronomical time, interactional time, to name but a few. Put differently, how we divide, conceptualize or narrate time, and order or measure time varies. This basic insight into the heterogeneity of humans’ relation to time has spawned a spate of new projects in recent years. Many of these have begun the important work of challenging the presumed opposition between the future-oriented, unidirectional time of the modern present and the supposedly cyclical or apocalyptic understanding of time before the advent of modernity. This seminar—addressing both theories of time and the lived experience of different kinds of time—advances this work by tackling the multiform temporalities operative in premodern texts and cultural practices. We will survey imaginative literature, historiography, visual art, social forms, and institutional structures. This interdisciplinary seminar is intended as a forum for the discussion of the literature on times, temporalities, and time regimes before 1800.

MUSICOL 506 / 606 The “Scarlet Thread,” a Scarlatti Project / Louise Stein
Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti were among the most esteemed and prolific composers of the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Their music circulated widely in Italy and across Europe, including to London and Paris, and even into the Americas.  It arguably prompted paradigm shifts and accelerated a developing cult of virtuosity, so the Scarlatti project necessarily asks questions about music and celebrity. The father (Alessandro) was influential primarily in the realm of vocal music, with some 800 chamber cantatas and 120 operas, not to mention oratorios, masses, motets, instrumental music, and important partimenti. Though little-studied to date, his relationships with patrons and collaboration with other musicians (Corelli, Handel) and singers shaped the musical landscape of papal Rome and Spanish Naples. Domenico Scarlatti’s peripatetic career (Naples, Rome, Lisbon, Paris, Madrid) and fecundity (550 keyboard sonatas) have puzzled scholars because few facts are known about his life. The sonatas project a striking modernity but have never needed rediscovery because they have been championed by performers, collected, published, and appreciated from the eighteenth century into our time.

This course focuses on the legacy of the Scarlattis, intent on understanding their cultural work in private and public spheres, and their embeddedness in specific early modern contexts. Students will study both modern editions and primary sources.  Materials for study include unpublished music and archival documents, eighteenth-century musical publications, and readings from pertinent scholarship in music and other fields. Open to scholars, performers, singers, accompanists, composers, music theorists, and early music enthusiasts. MEMS graduate students from outside the SMTD are invited to enroll as well.  Discussion is essential within the format of the seminar.  Collaboration and coordination with Harpsichord and Baroque Ensemble performances will be encouraged.  The work of the course consists of listening to music, reading, and studying scores and images. 

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, opera's arrival in 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 639 / 649 The Silk Road and Beyond / James Borders, Joseph Lam

Description. Sparking this interdisciplinary exploration of medieval music performance in cross-cultural and trans-geographical perspectives is the growing interest in early music on the world stage, from strong initiatives in China to reclaim its past musical traditions, to “historically informed performance,” to encounters between plainchant and different approaches to spirituality. Yet those musicians who would seek to “reconstruct” early music, be it Chinese or European, confront the same serious challenges: namely, how to cope as scholars and musicians with the lack of unambiguous guidance on performance-related issues from the available notated and other primary sources; how to think about the music itself: as notated and objectified compositions from the past or ephemeral and interactive performance in the present; and how they and others might conceive of early music in cultural, political, and even legal contexts, that is, in terms of musical and non-musical justifications and rights for its "reconstruction.” What tools can modern scholars and performers forge to responsibly meet growing demands to reconstitute musics reflecting a people’s intangible cultural heritage and serving their expressive needs?

 This graduate seminar will focus on these questions, drawing on an extraordinarily wide musical repertoire—from secular song to court and sacred ritual music (available in facsimile, digital reproduction, or modern edition)—and a wealth of (translated) primary and secondary literature. In addition to regular reading and listening assignments, to be discussed during seminar meetings, and a written prospectus with annotated bibliography, participants should expect a significant musical performance component culminating in a lecture/recital-style presentation on a selected work/genre of historical music. Students will have individual meetings with instructors to develop their research/performance/presentation projects.

NES 518 Persian Historical Texts / Kathryn Babayan
The broader objective of the seminar is to familiarize students with a variety of “genres” emanating from shared Persianate cultural spheres. More particularly, it is a textual study of four types of sources that can be used for an exploration of social and cultural history. The categorization of genres itself will be questioned, even though they are classified as distinct forms of writings (Ghazal, Tazkira, Hikayat, etc.) by their contemporaries, our sampling reveals porous boundaries between them. Why choose a particular form or mode of writing to convey bodies of knowledge? What do these conventions signify?

Through a close reading of our primary sources in Persian we will participate in the processes of history and the craft of a historian. How can we read and interpret with sensitivity toward the particular contexts of production? These texts do not provide us with direct access to the past, instead, they are glimpses, bits, and pieces that help us begin to make sense of the world in which they were created. Together we will develop ways of reading and seeing through words and images that shape texts emanating from eastern landscapes of early modern Islamdom.

RLL ITAL 533 Dante's Comedy / Karla Mallette
Dante’s Divine Comedy is a poem and more than a poem: an encyclopedia of accumulated human knowledge of this world and the next at the close of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance; the autobiographical story of a single man’s life; a daring and deeply thoughtful meditation on the relationship between human beings and God. Dante’s epic riffs on the Bible and secular literature. It is addressed to medieval Catholics and teaches truths about Christianity. It is also a pioneering work of science fiction, describing a humble pilgrim’s journey to the afterworld, depicted in startling, speculative detail. This course is dedicated to a guided reading of the Divine Comedy. Students will learn about the historical, philosophical and literary context of the poem. We will also study Dante’s influence on modern culture, in particular visual arts and movies. No knowledge of Italian is necessary.

RLL SPANISH 823 Racial Capitalism & Iberian Colonies / Daniel Nemser
In recent years, the concept of racial capitalism, coined by Cedric J. Robinson in his book Black Marxism (1983; 2nd ed. 2000), has been taken up by both theorists and activists committed to a materialist theory of race. For Robinson, capitalism has effected not a complete rationalization or homogenization of social relations but rather the production and consolidation of social distinctions: “The development, organization, and expansion of capitalist society pursued essentially racial directions, so too did social ideology. As a material force, then, it could be expected that racialism would inevitably permeate the social structures emergent from capitalism” (2). The history of capitalism and the formation of the world system is thus deeply entangled with the history of race. Taking this insight as its point of departure, this seminar will examine the emergence, transformation, and consolidation of racial thinking and racialization processes in the context of Iberian colonial expansion, primarily in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We will read primary sources from and about colonial Latin America alongside contemporary theoretical work on race/racialization and the history of capitalism (“old” and “new”). The idea is not only for secondary readings to guide our analysis of primary texts but also for primary texts to underscore the weaknesses of critical approaches that have treated these early colonial projects as marginal to or disconnected from modernity.

WS 698 Early Modern Sexualities / Valerie Traub