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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 2022


Brendan McMahon
HART 689 / MEMS 611.001: The Global Baroque
T 3-6, 130 Tappan Hall

The term “baroque” was first used to describe (and denigrate) the style of art produced in Italy beginning in the late sixteenth century. Now, for a growing number of art historians, the idea of the baroque is inseparable from the imposition of European power across the globe in the early modern period (c. 1500-1800). This process linked the output of artists in Rome, where many suggest the baroque originated, with countless other centers of productionaround the world in the seventeenth century, from Arequipa in Peru to Goa in India.

A longstanding preoccupation with defining the stylistic parameters of the baroque—often linked with formal dynamism, affective stimulation, and fascination with the natural world—has now been reinvigorated by new lines of inquiry directed towards understanding its movement across oceans and cultures. These questions will guide our looking, reading, and writing in this graduate seminar: why and where did baroque style travel in the period, and how was it mobilized? In what ways did imported artistic ideas entangle with local materials and traditions? In addition to investigating the historical factors which facilitated the dissemination of the baroque and the metamorphoses it underwent as it traveled, discussion will simultaneously engage with a series of questions related to the utility of the very terms used to label the class itself: what is the value of using the term “baroque” for historians of art and culture in the twenty-first century, and what does it really mean for something to be “global”?

In addition to preparing for each class meeting, participants will lead seminar discussions andproduce a substantial final research paper.

Erin Brightwell

ASIANLAN 433: Classical Japanese I

Why learn classical? It will, of course, help you to read anything written in Japanese before 1945. But more than that, Classical Japanese is all around you in Japan, even today. It’s not just the language of the warriors in Japan’s medieval heroic epics as they challenge their enemies to combat; or that of the world’s first novel, filled with amorous intrigue in a society where a deftly turned poem can win the object of your affections; or even that of the Kyoto-based chronicler of the end of days. It’s also the language of the new year’s karuta games people still play. It’s in the formal language of phrases of everyday Japan such as “Goenryo sezu ni” or archaisms such as “wa ga kuni.” It’s the reason that the hit song from one Pokémon movie is “Chiisaki mono” rather than “Chiisai mono.” In short, unlocking Classical Japanese will not only help you to open the fascinating and complicated world of Japan’s past, but will also deepen your knowledge of its present.

Michael Schoenfeldt
ENGLISH 635. The Poetry of Sensation

This class will focus on a range of works from early modern England that explore the ethical meanings lavished on various modes of sensation. We will be particularly interested in works that challenge the premium on pain and suffering pervading so much of western Christian culture, and that manage to celebrate corporeal and intellectual pleasure. By interrogating the privileged status of suffering, we will dispute those traditions of Judeo-Christian morality that transform self-renunciation into a spiritual ideal. We will look at the various ways that early modern writers attempt to make sense of their various corporeal, intellectual and emotional sensations. And as we read, we will not ignore the signal pleasures of formal accomplishment.  We will read a wide range of genres, including lyric, epic, drama, and fantasy, focusing on texts dedicated to the frustrated desires, haunted hearts, ephemeral pleasures, and immense pains of corporeal existence. Writers to be studied include Thomas Wyatt, Thomas More, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, John Donne, George Herbert, Mary Wroth, Amelia Lanyer, John Milton, Margaret Cavendish, and Katherine Philips. Those students whose interests are not specifically early modern will be welcome to explore issues related to sensation in earlier or later writers. Attending to the literary record of the glories and afflictions of mortal flesh, we will investigate the motives for rendering the inherently unruly sensations of pleasure and pain in scrupulously patterned language.

Alexander Knysh
MENAS 591.004. Islamic Mysticism (Sufism in History)

This course examines the rise, formation, and subsequent development of Islamic asceticism-mysticism (Sufism). It focuses on Sufism’s practices, doctrines, literatures, and institutions from the eighth century C.E. up to the present. We will also discuss various approaches to Sufism by Western and Muslim academics as well as criticism of Sufi teachings and practices by some influential pre-modern and modern Muslim theologians. We will pay special attention to the various socio-political roles that individuals and institutions associated with Sufism have played in pre-modern, modern, and contemporary Muslim societies. As far as the most recent developments are concerned, we will analyze the conflict between the “fundamentalist” (Salafi) and Sufi interpretations of Islam and the important part that it plays in current debates about Islamic “orthodoxy” and the future of Islam in Muslim societies and Muslim diaspora worldwide. Finally, we will explore the impact of Sufi teachings, practices and literary production on Western societies and cultures.

Louise K. Stein
Musicology 513.  Topics in the History of Opera to 1800

This lecture course is devoted to opera in Europe and the Americas in its first two centuries, from the genre’s invention just before 1600 to nearly the end of the eighteenth century. Here opera is to be studied critically as music, theater, spectacle, performance medium, and cultural expression.  Special topics in F2021 include the first opera of the Americas (Lima,1701), opera and the slave trade, how early opera singers sang, and the travels of opera. Some lectures and listening assignments will be organized around excerpts, while others concern whole operas and their 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, Torrejón de Velasco, A. Scarlatti, Handel, Vivaldi, Hasse, Sarti, and Mozart.  Listening assignments are to be supplemented by score study, readings posted on the Canvas site, and some in-class performances. 

Daniel Nemser
Spanish 823. Primitive Accumulation

In the last few decades and especially since the 2008 financial crisis, critics have taken up Marx’s concept of primitive accumulation in order to think through the neoliberal turn, the rise of finance, and the history of racial capitalism. Marx introduces this concept at the end of the first volume of Capital to explain the historical transition from feudalism to capitalism and to theorize the process by which one system becomes another. Notably, this is one of the few places where European and specifically Spanish and Portuguese colonialism enters into his analysis: “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the indigenous population of that continent . . . and the conversion of Africa into a preserve for the commercial hunting of blackskins, are all things which characterize the dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation” (915). This seminar traces debates about the concept of primitive accumulation and the rise of capitalism with an eye to the historical and theoretical significance of colonial Latin America, and the Iberian empires more broadly, in these processes—as well as their implications for understanding the capitalist present.