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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 898, the Writing Colloquium will be offered this winter term, led by MEMS Director Enrique Garcia Santo Tomas.

MEMS Graduate Courses, Fall 2023

MEMS Proseminar!!

Ryan Szpiech
MEMS 611.001 / SPANISH 640.  Conversion and Retrospection in the Medieval Mediterranean

This seminar will consider the theoretical and historical foundations for the concept of “conversion,” reading primary sources drawn from the Middle Ages in the context of ancient models and early modern influences. It will propose “conversion” as a late-antique fusion of Greek philosophical vocabulary and Hebrew religious ideals, elaborated in a Christian context as a conceptual model employed to support discourses such as faith/infidelity, identity/difference, and community/foreignness. It will also compare narratives of religious conversion in Christian, Muslim, and Jewish traditions, and paying particular attention to two elements: the function of narrative structure as a representation of relative concepts of history and belief; and the role of expertise and authenticity in constructing the authoritative (and authorial) voice of the narrator. Readings will include a combination of primary texts (narratives, accounts, treatises, and chronicles) and secondary syntheses (religious history, social history, textual history), as well as theoretical discussions of narratology, autobiography, memory, and related themes.

This course will be of interest to anyone working in medieval religious writing, those concerned with the comparison of sources (archival, devotional, polemical, etc.), those who study intercultural contact and religious conflict in the Western Mediterranean (and Medieval Europe), and/or those interested in the history of life writing and confession. Students are expected to attend and participate in seminar discussions, do response writing, and craft a 20–25 page research paper on a topic of their choice related to the class. 

Catherine Sanok
ENG 641: Poetry before Print: Formal and Material Approaches

This class introduces two current methods, formal analysis and book history, through the distinctive case study of short-form English poetry prior to and including the first printed collection of verse, Tottel’s Songes and Sonettes, printed in 1557.

The course will begin with recent contributions to and debates around the category of “form” in literary study, which we will approach through some questions opened by the distinctive features of poetry in pre-print culture. How might current conceptualizations of form account for, or fail to account for, oral traditions? How well do such conceptualizations account for intentional and inadvertent changes as poems are copied and recopied by readers and scribes into manuscripts? How might the anonymity of most pre-print poetry highlight some of the implicit assumptions about how form is related to scholarly “explanation”? We will then turn to an introduction to book history and related approaches to medium and material form, again using the case of pre-print poetry to explore and expand some of the assumptions, guiding questions, and analytical modes of book history as a method. How does the manuscript as medium influence the formal and thematic concerns of premodern poetry? How does it influence the social life of poetry, and the social value accorded to it? How might other media of pre-print verse—graffiti, jewelry, wall painting, stained glass—require us to refine or expand the conceptual framework of current approaches to literary media?

Along the way, we will read widely in medieval poetry from a range of registers: love poetry and lullabies, ballads and popular political poetry, comic traditions and serious meditations on mortality, religion, and nature, as well as some occasional and instrumental verse that challenges modern critical definitions of poetry (including the medieval poem you perhaps have already memorized: “Thirti dayes hath novembre”). Our survey will end with Tottel’s Songes and Sonettes, the first substantial volume of lyric verse to be printed in England: here, we will begin to ask how the technology of print changes poetic tradition by reshaping ideas about the poet, the reader and the reading of poetry, and poetry’s “literary” status.

Although most primary readings are from the premodern period, we will also look at (and look for) post-medieval texts that can be put into conversation with pre-print poetry, e.g., the Broadside Press presentation of Robert Hayden’s “Gabriel” in a visual form that echoes the page of a medieval manuscript; Donnika Kelly’s invocation of a medieval manuscript genre in Bestiary; or the forms enabled by the invented medieval English lexicon in Jos Charles’ feeld.

Valerie Kivelson
HISTORY 432. Medieval and Early Modern Russia

In February 2022, Russia invaded the independent country of Ukraine and began a long, bloody, destructive war. Part of the pretext for the invasion was that Ukraine ‘had always been part of Russia, had never had an independent history, and should rightfully be part of an Orthodox Christian Russia.’ The stories people tell about history make a difference, in this case a deadly difference.

The history of medieval Rus (a term for the principalities that made up the territories we now call Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus) and of early modern Russia is fascinating and strange. In light of current events, understanding that history takes on new urgency. Should we even include Ukraine and Belarus in a course on Russian history, or is that an act of imperial appropriation?

The course begins in the ninth century, when written records begin, and ends with Peter the Great at the beginning of the eighteenth century. We will touch on the major debates in the early history of the region: the Vikings in Russia, Kyivan Rus, conversion to Orthodoxy, the Mongol invasions, the influence of the Orthodox Church, the bloody reign of Ivan the Terrible, imperial expansion in Siberia and Ukraine, and radical changes under Peter the Great. We will read works of literature, examine art and architecture, consider the significance of Russia’s Eurasian expansion, and explore the unique ideas about gender that structured all aspects of life. The class will be run primarily as a discussion seminar, allowing time to grapple with issues. Brief lectures will provide context as needed.

Hitomi Tonomura
HISTORY 590 / ASIAN 592. Japan to 1700

This course covers the complex and intriguing history of the Japanese archipelago from about 300 BCE to 1700 CE.  You might have wondered how the Sun Goddess became the ancestral deity of today’s imperial family; if the samurai really flaunted bushido and committed seppuku; or if today’s manga dates back in style to a 12th century scroll of wrestling animals; and, finally, if there is any truth to Ghost of Tsushima. We consider these and other questions by examining patterns of transformation along the twin axes of time and theme. (1) prehistoric creation of land and deities; (2) ancient state-making with tools from the continent; (3) aristocrats’ aesthetic power and prestige; (4) political rise of the samurai; (5) medieval militarism supported by land rights, urban economy, and piracy; (6) growing gendered inequity in times of violence; (7) rising autonomy of the commoners; (8) coming of the Portuguese and Spanish trader-missionaries; (9) the country-at-war (sengoku), final peace settlement, and invasion of Korea; (10) the early modern consolidation of the realm with heavy use of Confucianism. Along the way, we consider the issues of environment and climate, blood and pollution, sexuality and religion, family and gender, death and dying, and cultural power and prestige.

We read translated primary sources, such as tales, chronicles, diaries, and documents, and a scroll intimately narrated by a samurai who fought against the Mongols. Films and video clips will help expand our visual understanding of the intricacies of the history. Scholarly essays encourage the reader to think analytically and evaluate our own perception of how history can be written and presented. These materials should show the diversity of ideas and practices, different from the universalistic assumptions about the “Japanese traditions,” many of which were invented in the 19th century partly to meet the challenge from the West. Students will come to appreciate Japanese history beneath the veneer of fuzzy robots, ramen, and Toto toilets.