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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 2017

MEMS Proseminar!  MEMS 611.001 / HART 689   Knowledge and Visuality in Early Modern Europe
Celeste Brusati

The critical importance of visual technologies to scientific inquiry has long been recognized, but in the past few decades, historians of art and of science have put visuality at the heart of a major rethinking of the foundations of modern scientific knowledge in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Recent science studies have shifted focus from theory and idea-driven narratives of scientific “firsts” to accounts of the collaborative exchanges and material practices in which changing understandings of the natural world took shape. This work has underscored how pictorial and visual technologies functioned not simply as mimetic aids to communicating existing knowledge, but also as transformative and translational processes that actively participated in the production of knowledge itself. This course looks at the early modern study of nature through the lens of its visual forms—from painting, prints, drawings, and book illustrations to diagrams, maps, globes, charts, measuring instruments, and optical devices. How did the making and use of these artifacts uniquely integrate technical know-how, artisanal knowledge, and text-based learning in natural philosophy, medicine, cosmology, geography, and other (proto)scientific fields? How can we compare the ways people visualized knowledge in the overlapping worlds of the workshop, the collection, and scholar’s study? Drawing on university collections, we will especially attend to the role of print media in enabling a greater degree of standardization and sharing of visual information, prompting new forms of visual argument, and generating debates on the authority and evidentiary status of images. In conjunction with our shared survey of canonical case studies, each participant will contribute new scholarship concerning what visual knowledge looked like and how it functioned during the strange and exciting emergence of so-called modern science in Europe.

English 501   Old English

Thomas Toon
T-Th 11:30-1

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.

History 557   Colonial Latin America
Kenneth Mills
T-Th 11:30-1

This course introduces the early period of Latin American history. We begin by exploring Amerindian civilizations on the eve of European arrival in the Americas, before turning to the Iberian Peninsula in the years leading up and through Spanish and Portuguese expansion. We study interactions among Native Americans, Africans, and Europeans, and the emergence of multi-ethnic societies, political and religious cultures in what might most accurately be called a New World for all. Primary sources – both texts and images – are our principal points of entry for understanding colonial systems, work regimes, tensions and conflicts, and evolving identities within “colonial Latin America.” Our focus extends into late eighteenth-century when a variety of struggles and rebellions across the region anticipated independence movements in the early nineteenth century.

MEMS 611.002 / History 698   Text and Space in Imperial China
Christian de Pee
Tu 3-6

This course inquires how historians may gain access to historical space through texts and through reading, and how historians have read texts in order to understand historical space. The premise is that literary genres are defined not only by their formal characteristics, by their subject matter, and by their linguistic register, but also by their orientation in space. Texts thus preserve historical spaces, and historical senses of space, not only by description, but also by semiotic means of indexicality, iconicity, and metaphor, in other words, not only by their words but also by their form. The first half of the course offers general methodological readings and concrete examples of literary genres in relationship to space, from different eras of the imperial period (221 BCE-1912 CE), such as stone inscriptions, ritual manuals, local gazetteers, and travel accounts. This first half of the course concludes with an analysis paper of a primary source, read either in the original or in translation. The second half of the course concentrates on particular kinds of spaces (such as cities, gardens, temples, gendered space, and places of exile), to analyze how historians have reconstructed and analyzed them, and how they might have approached them differently. The final paper for the course may be a research paper based on primary sources or a literature review based on secondary sources, focused on a particular kind of space.

HISTART 646   Medieval Makers and Theories of Making
Elizabeth Sears
Monday 4-7

The goal of this seminar is to think in broad terms about notions of artistic creation and the status of the artist in the long Middle Ages (late antiquity to the early modern era). Using crafted works and images of artisanal activity as resonant documents and reading a wide range of primary sources – from technical and contractual documents to religious and secular literary works that evince attitudes towards artisans, their materials, processes, and products, we will examine conceptions of artistic labor as they evolved over time and across artistic cultures. Together we will come to terms with recent secondary literature on issues including medieval aesthetics, imagination and invention, materiality, technology, makers in myth and legend, artistic self-representation, and gender and craft. While the focus will be on the visual arts (painting, the sculpted image, metalwork), many of the issues to be treated are applicable to the fields of architecture, literature, and music.  An interdisciplinary and intercultural approach will be fostered and participants from other fields are welcome. 

Musicol 513    Topics in the Early History of Opera
Louise Stein
T-Th 11:30-1

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 18th 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, Caccini, 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.

Musicol 641   The Cult of the Virgin mary in 15th-Century Europe: Texts, Images, Music, and Ritual
Stefano Mengozzi
Tu-Th 2:30-4:00 

The growth of Marian devotion in the 15th century led to the creation of new modes of visual and musical representation of religious subjects. The course concentrates on these visual and musical artifacts in their close connection with contemporaneous devotional practices in European cities and courts. We will track the emergence and coming of age of a new model of sacred sound in conjunction with similar developments in the visual arts and devotional literature of the time, and by concentrating primarily on a selection of Italian laude, English carols, and motets. The course material and the assignments will be tailored to the particular interests and skills of participants (graduate students in other programs are welcome to take the course). Previous exposure to Renaissance music is recommended, but not required.

Musicol 642 and 643   Listening to Early Music
Louise Stein
T-Th 2:30-4:00

This experimental course is not a survey course in music history. Rather, it is a graduate seminar designed to enhance understanding and appreciation of early modern European and Latin American music. Through close listening, comparative listening, score study, analysis, and the study of primary sources, students will learn to recognize a selection of early modern genres and the conventions or codes understood by composers, performers, and audiences in selected times and places c.1500-- c.1750. We will learn something about performance practices while addressing such topics as the sacred and the profane, relationships between text and music, musical eroticism, music in culture, music for the stage, musical virtuosity, the patronage of music, and music as a vehicle for political discourse. We will engage with primary sources as often as possible to learn about the variety of sources and notational issues associated with each repertory we study. Depending on the enrollment, students may be offered projects focused on music or musical genres relevant to their own instruments or vocal types. The work of the course will involve assigned listening and musical study, as well as reading from material provided via library reserve or a course website. 

Spanish 453: Ramon Llull and the Dream of Conversion
Ryan Szpiech
T-Th 10-11:30

This course (taught in Spanish) will provide an introduction to the life and works of one of the prolific and influential writers from the turn of the fourteenth century: Mallorcan polymath Ramon Llull. With over 250 works to his name in Catalan and Latin, including autobiography, fiction, philosophy, and polemic, Llull’s works offer a vast sea of ideas from the medieval Mediterranean. Born in Mallorca, Llull spent his adult life traveling the Mediterranean, moving between France, Iberia, North Africa, Italy, and beyond. This course will read a selection of his most famous works in Spanish translation (or, for those who prefer, the original Catalan or Latin), including the Book of the Gentile and the Three Wise Men, Felix or the Book of Wonder, Blaquerna, Ars Brevis, The Disputation of Omar the Saracen and Ramon, and Contemporary Life (his autobiography). We will consider his philosophical ideas (which would become very influential in renaissance circles), his sources, and relation with other writers of the period. We will pay particular attention to his representation of relations between Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the medieval Mediterranean.

Spanish 470.001   Spanish Colonialism and Race
Daniel Nemser

When we say that race is a “social construction,” we mean not only that the concept has no basis in biological reality but also that it has a history—a history that we can study and that sheds light on the past as well as the present. This course traces the history of race and racism back to the rise of Spanish colonialism in Latin America during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Organized around several key racial categories (e.g. “Jew,” “Indian,” “Black”), we will examine the commonalities and divergences across these differential processes of racialization, all of which are linked by the Spanish colonial project. Questions include: What are race and racism and what kinds of ideological “work” do they do? What is the relationship between colonialism and racism? How have race and racism changed from the colonial past to the present day? Why do they persist so successfully over time? Readings will include both primary sources written during the colonial period as well as recent critical and theoretical work on race, racism, and racialization.

Spanish 822   Narrative and Metamorphosis in the Premodern Mediterranean
Ryan Szpiech
Th 1-4

How can one thing become another? Metamorphosis was of great interest in classical Greek and Roman culture, and that cultural interest persisted throughout the medieval and early modern period. Yet later authors debated the problems raised by transformations (conversion, translation, mutation) by posing two notions of change—metamorphosis and hybridity. In the former, one things turns into another, leaving no trace of its original identity behind. In the latter, one thing merges with another, making a third thing that was new but also recognizably made up of its parts. This course (taught in English) will examine how various Jewish, Christian, and Muslim authors of the premodern Mediterranean wrote about transformation. We will look at narratives of conversion, discussions of translation and interpretation, and discussion of mutation and metamorphosis (humans becoming animals, devils taking human shape, etc). We will ask in particular how narrative form is important for the representation of change. This course will be of interest to students in animal studies, medieval and early modern studies, religious studies, translation studies, and theories of hybridity, identity, and narrative. Students from any department are welcome. This class will be given in English and students may work with material in original languages according to their abilities and research.