Please check the Yale Course Search  site for the most up to date information, as well as the course descriptions and locations.

Fall 2021 Medieval Studies courses

MDVL 502/ENG 545/CPLT 582/FREN 802          Chaucer and Translation         Ardis Butterfield       W 3:30pm-5:20pm

 An exploration of the works of Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1340–1400), brilliant writer and translator. Using modern postcolonial as well as medieval theories of translation, memory, and bilingualism, we investigate how texts in French, Latin, and Italian are transformed, cited, and reinvented in his writings. Some key questions include: What happens to language under the pressure of crosslingual reading practices? What happens to the notion of translation in a multilingual culture? How are ideas of literary history affected by understanding Chaucer’s English in relation to the other more prestigious language worlds in which his poetry was enmeshed? Texts include material in French, Middle English, Latin, and Italian. Proficiency in any one or more of these languages is welcome, but every effort is made to use texts available in modern English translation, so as to include as wide a participation as possible in the course.

MDVL 545/HIST 545          Medieval Towns          Paul Freedman          M 1:30pm-3:20pm

European towns from their transformations of the late Roman Empire to 1500. The political, religious, and commercial functions of towns, their government, and the degree of autonomy they possessed are the main topics covered. Comparisons among geographic regions with special attention to regions of precocious developmental and political autonomy such as northern Italy and Flanders.

MDVL 565/ENGL 503/HIST 800   Circa 1000          Valerie Hansen, Emily Thornbury          M 3:30pm-5:20pm                          

The world in the year 1000, when the different regions of the world participated in complex networks. Archaeological excavations reveal that the Vikings reached L’Anse aux Meadows, Canada, at roughly the same time that the Kitan people defeated China’s Song dynasty and established a powerful empire stretching across the grasslands of Eurasia. Europeans tried to figure out whether the Vikings were a sign of Doomsday, and if so, whether a series of cultural experiments might stave off the end-time, even as the Icelanders tried to decide whether they wanted to be European. In this seminar, students read interpretative texts based on archaeology and primary sources, prepare projects in teams, work with material culture, and develop skills of cross-cultural analysis. Mandatory field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on the second Saturday of the fall term.

MDVL 571/CLSS 601         Intro to Latin Paleography                 Ray Clemens                  M 1:30-3:20

Latin paleography from the fourth century CE to ca. 1500. Topics include the history and development of national hands; the introduction and evolution of Caroline minuscule, pre-gothic, gothic, and humanist scripts (both cursive and book hands); the production, circulation, and transmission of texts (primarily Latin, with reference to Greek and Middle English); advances in the technical analysis and digital manipulation of manuscripts. Seminars are based on the examination of codices and fragments in the Beinecke Library; students select a manuscript for class presentation and final paper.

MDVL 593/HSAR 593  The Body as Medium in Medieval Art and Culture          Jacqueline Jung           Th 1:30pm-3:20pm

Since the publication of pioneering studies by Caroline Walker Bynum in the late 1980s, the European Middle Ages has come to be recognized not as an “age of spirituality” but as an emphatically body-oriented culture. The paradoxical bodies of Christ (at once wholly divine and wholly human) and his Virgin Mother were the subject of extensive speculation, scrutiny, and loving devotion in literature, theology, and art; the fragmented remains of the saints were housed in glittering containers for the faithful to venerate; and the living bodies of charismatic men and women became both the vehicles for their own communion with the divine and objects themselves for the devotional (or skeptical) gazes of others. It is the latter facet of medieval visual culture to which this seminar is dedicated. Although we look closely at works of art in various media (especially manuscript painting and sculpture), in which bodies function as representational signs, our main objective is to understand the variety of ways in which active, living bodies could serve as communicative media in spheres both public and private, religious and secular. Topics include the physical and sensory apparatus of the body in medieval science and medicine; the body as vehicle for the individual’s communication with God; the stigmatic body; the rapturous or possessed body as site of discernment; the tortured body as teaching tool; the self-punished body as mimetic spectacle; the courtly body as aesthetic object; and the dissected body as revelation of both personal virtues and cosmic forces.

Reading knowledge of French and German are highly recommended but not required.

MDVL 596/HIST 596/JDST 761/RLST 773       Jewish History and Thought to Early Modern Times           Ivan Marcus     TTh 11:35am-12:50pm

A broad introduction to the history of the Jews from biblical beginnings until the European Reformation and the Ottoman Empire. Focus on the formative period of classical rabbinic Judaism and on the symbiotic relationships among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Jewish society and culture in its biblical, rabbinic, and medieval settings.

MDVL 603/HIST 603/RLST 616/JDST 806      Jews and Christians in the Formation of Europe, 500–1500       Ivan Marcus     T 1:30pm-3:20pm 

 This seminar explores how medieval Jews and Christians interacted as religious societies between 500 and 1500.

MDVL 613/REL 3613         Medieval Latin: Medieval Mystics    John Dillon         TTh 10:00am-11:20pm

This reading course in Medieval Latin is intended to help students improve their command of Latin through working directly with medieval texts. We read selections from major mystics of the Middle Ages, including works by Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153), Hildegard of Bingen’s Scivias (ca. 1151/1152), the thirteenth-century Latin translation of Mechthild of Magdeburg’s Das fließende Licht der Gottheit (Lux divinitatis fluens, ca. 1250–80), and Thomas à Kempis’s Imitatio Christi (Imitation of Christ, ca. 1418–27).  

Prerequisite: one year of formal study of Latin, equivalent to LATN 110 and LATN 120 or LATN 125.

MDVL 663/REL 945      From House Churches to Medieval Cathedrals: Christian Art and Architecture to the End of Gothic     Vasileios Marinis           M 1:30pm-3:20pm                   

This course examines the art associated with, or related to, Christianity from its origins to the end of Gothic. It analyzes major artistic monuments and movements in a variety of regions, paying particular attention to how art shapes and is shaped by the social and historical circumstances of the period and culture. The class considers art in diverse media, focusing on painting, sculpture, architecture, and decorative arts. Trips to the Yale Art Gallery and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library are included. The course aims to familiarize students with key monuments of Christian architecture, sculpture, painting, and related arts, analyzing each within its particular sociocultural and theological perspective. The course stresses the importance of looking at works of art closely and in context and encourages students to develop skills of close observation and critical visual analysis. Additionally, students are encouraged to examine the ways parallel developments in Christian theology, dogma, and liturgy are influenced by art.

Prerequisites: basic knowledge of Christian history and familiarity with the Bible.

MDVL 665/ENGL 500/LING 500   Old English I           Emily Thornbury       MW 11:35am-12:50pm

The essentials of the language, some prose readings, and close study of several celebrated Old English poems.

MDVL 731/REL 731              Origins of Christian Art in Late Antiquity                     Felicity Harley                       W 1:30pm-3:20pm

This course examines the origins and development of Christian art in the visual culture of Roman late antiquity, ca. 200–ca. 500 CE. Its aim is to introduce students to key developments in the history of Christian art through the close study of images preserved on a range of objects in different media (including frescoes, glassware, sculpture, coins, textiles, mosaic) made for a variety of purposes. The course involves visits to the Yale Art Gallery and focuses on the importance of situating objects within their larger social and cultural context through the analysis of primary source evidence, which may include archaeological, iconographic, epigraphic, and textual sources (Jewish, early Christian, and other contemporary Roman texts). Topics include the literary and archaeological evidence for early Christian attitudes to visual representation; contexts of manufacture; the social and economic basis of patronage; Roman political influence on Christian iconography; development of new genres of imagery; and the role of imperial patronage in the transformation of civic spaces.

MDVL 758/REL 758          Constantinople/Istanbul                      Orgu Dalgic                       Th 1:30pm-3:20pm

This seminar explores issues related to the urban development, monuments, and built environment of the city of Constantinople/Istanbul from Late Antiquity to modern times. The course focuses on three periods: Byzantine Constantinople (fourth to fifteenth century), when the city, famed for its riches and beauty, became the stage for Christian imperial and religious ritual; Ottoman Istanbul (fifteenth century to 1923), during which it constituted the center of a multiethnic and multireligious empire with Islam as the dominant religion; and “secular” Istanbul from the establishment of the Turkish nation-state in 1923 until today. Through a series of case studies, we examine the continuity and change of the city’s history through demographics, religious practices, architectural patronage, and the use of urban spaces for social and commercial activities, as well as for ceremonies and political mobilization.

MDVL 772/REL 772     Medieval Christian Theater: Doctrine, Devotion, and Drama    Carla Neuss   M 1:30-3:20

This course traces the development and performance of biblical, hagiographic, and allegorical theater aimed at communicating the Gospel and orthodox doctrine during the Middle Ages in Western Europe. Students read dramatic texts spanning the tenth to sixteenth century, supplemented by secondary sources on the cultural, social, and theological aspects of medieval drama. Students examine the development and scope of medieval Christian theater from a literary and historiographic perspective; learn about the role of ritual, theology, and devotional practice in premodern Western theater; and explore the theological principles behind dramatic representations of Christian doctrine and scripture.  

MDVL 773/REL 773         Core Texts of Thomas Aquinas and William of Ockham     Volker Leppin              T 1:30pm-3:20pm

Scholasticism is somewhat like hard-core training for the brain: scholars of the High Middle Ages used Aristotelian philosophy to express Christian belief. Despite later generations mocking the allegedly widespread inflexibility of scholasticism, a closer examination of the doctrines reveals the diversity of theological approaches. In this course, we follow the works of two extraordinary thinkers: Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican in the thirteenth century, and William of Ockham, a Franciscan of the fourteenth century. While Aquinas trusted in the possibilities of reason to resolve most theological problems, the latter questioned whether reason was able to grasp faith. Together, we closely read texts from both authors, seeking to explore their presuppositions, arguments, and conflicts. This approach both helps us to understand a foreign world and presents challenges for our contemporary thought. 

Prerequisites: one of REL 712, REL 713, REL 714, or REL 715, and a course in theology; or sufficient background from previous studies; or permission of the instructor.

MDVL 776/REL 776             Mysticism in the West 1100-1700           Bruce Gordon, Volker Leppin                     Th 3:30pm-5:20pm

As in Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, mystical experiences—intellective and bodily—are integral to Christianity, beginning with accounts of divine encounters and visions in the Bible. Mysticism, however, is by no means a uniform set of beliefs or practices. It has always occupied a contested place in the western churches, ranging from sanctity worthy of canonization to heresy, censure, and persecution. Indeed, the nature of mysticism within the realm of religious experiences remains hotly debated, especially in the recent work of historians, theologians, anthropologists, and scholars of gender and sexualities. Mystical experiences knew no institutional, doctrinal, societal, or gender boundaries. Those who have left accounts of their experiences—textual, visual, or musical—include theologians and laity, women and men, elites and common folk. We examine a broad range of textual sources, including tracts, devotional works, sermons, and vernacular literature, as well as art and music. Authors and movements are studied in their historical and social contexts, focusing on themes such as sacraments, hierarchies of knowing and sensing, the role of the symbolic, gender, and narratives of the body. The course draws on a wide range of disciplinary perspectives to broaden the range of questions investigated. 

Prerequisites: REL 712, REL 713, REL 714, or REL 715, and an introductory course in theology; or permission of the instructors.