Teaching: Upcoming Courses
HIST 105: Henri Pirenne and the End of Antiquity (section of: History Matters)
Professor Bonnie Effros
In this module, our group will engage with Henri Pirenne’s theory (1937) as to how Roman antiquity “fell” and what this meant for the birth of what we call the Middle Ages. We will examine the significance of this distant event for this Belgian historian and former German prisoner of war, and what he felt an understanding of the Roman empire and its successor states meant for the modern history of Europe.
HIST 106: The Grand Tour (section of: Exploring History)
Professor Bonnie Effros
In an era in which John Locke’s idea of humans as a blank slate upon which knowledge might be impressed, travel became a key ingredient in completing the education of the British upper classes from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. The Grand Tour, as conceived in a variety of forms over this period (since values associated with it were not static), was a form of pedagogy in which all of the senses were implicated. Through this experience, it was thought that that young men (and later women) would gain exposure to the cultural riches of the continent (especially those of the classical era), gain a certain worldliness and polish through exposure to different cultures and experiences, and enjoy a last period of freedom before they returned to Britain to take up their professions and accept more staid family responsibilities. The impact of these privileged experiences was enormous, and both personal and cumulative. With regard to the latter, the Grand Tour contributed to the burgeoning genre of travel writing, shaped fictional works of the era like Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, filled British private and public collections with antiquities and art, and lay the foundation for classical studies, archaeology, and modern tourism (in the form of travel guides and companies like those of Thomas Cook and Baedecker’s, that were created to serve these travelers). As Europeans moved beyond Europe, whether to North Africa, the Middle East, Asia, or the Americas, their movement also became entangled in the growing web of European imperialism. Although the latter developments will not be a part of our exploration this term, this first module will focus above all on the implications of travel to Italy informed by the classics and the implications of European views of themselves in relation to others they viewed as “Oriental”, “exotic”, or “primitive”.
Besides sketching the many places they visited, many of the British men and women who embarked on the Grand Tour thankfully also recorded their thoughts and encounters in journals and fictional works; their experiences shaped not just their understanding of the contemporary world but also their ideas about antiquity. Edward Gibbon, for instance, was strongly influenced by the time he spent in Rome and other parts of Italy in 1764. These left an indelible mark on his subsequent composition of the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. In studying British fascination with ancient Rome and the place of the Grand Tour in the British imagination, our sources for module-based group projects will be the travel accounts that were written by contemporary visitors, especially those who traveled to Italy and visited its ancient wonders, as well as the objects that they picked up in the course of their wanderings.
HIST 115: Power, Belief, and Identity: Medieval and Early Modern Worlds, c. 500-1600CE
Professor Bonnie Effros (Module Convenor)
Description is forthcoming.
HIST 206: Christian Bodies 200-800 CE
Professor Bonnie Effros
This second year module bridges the disciplines of European history and archaeology in late antique Christianity and the European early Middle Ages by focusing on the differential representation and treatment of male and female bodies. Its point of departure is the ancient belief that women's reproductive organs were inverse versions of male genitalia. The logical implication of this view was that a woman's body, as opposed to a man's body, was incomplete and thus less than fully human; in order to attain full humanity and the dignity of a soul, a woman had to, in some sense, become a man. Students in the seminar explore some of the ways in which the dominant male standard and the desire to control and transform an inadequately formed body constituted a central intellectual preoccupation in the medieval Mediterranean and later in Western culture.
Some of the themes addressed during the semester include monastic claustration (permanently imprisoning the body), self-mutilation, martyrdom (fragmentation), cross-dressing and gender slippage in late antique and early medieval written sources. Readings include translated selections from the Church fathers, histories of saints, monastic Rules, visionary texts, theological works and ancient and early medieval medical treatises. We also treat where possible archaeological representations of Christian bodies, and supplement the primary sources with modern interpretations of this complex source material. It is hoped that in looking at the ways in which men and women were conceptualized and represented, we can recuperate a body of literary texts and practices that without such contextualization seem incomprehensible and bizarre. The central problems that the readings variously thematize, namely the exercise of power, control and interpretation with regard to human bodies, are highly "modern" and relevant to us today.
HIST 294: Medieval Magic and Witchcraft
Professor Bonnie Effros
This second year module will assess the social, religious, and political functions of the supernatural in late antique, medieval, and early modern European society (400-1700 CE). Through primary and secondary readings, lectures, discussions, and films, students will gain a better understanding of the role played by magic, witchcraft, and the occult in shaping pre-modern European views of the cosmos. We will also study the ways in which the condemnation of demonic power existed side by side with miraculous tales of the deeds of saints, alchemical research, and magical Arthurian romances. Another important aspect of the course will be to address how accusations of magic and witchcraft and resulting persecutions marginalized particularly vulnerable individuals and social groups in Europe from the fourth to seventeenth centuries.
HIST 387: Imagining the Middle Ages from Rapunzel to the Hobbit, and from Notre-Dame to Hearst Castle
Professor Bonnie Effros
Historians have long pointed to the way in which the nineteenth-century industrial revolution stimulated yearning for a simpler and idyllic past. In Germany, for instance, the search began for a German history distinct from that of the Roman Empire. The Romantic movement signaled the desire of many Europeans to learn more about the Germanic peoples of the migration period, and its ideology contributed significantly from the 1820s to the development of antiquarian societies devoted to local history and material culture of the middle ages. In the United States, where conditions were significantly different, increased immigration spurred by the industrialization of the northeastern seaboard nonetheless caused fears among elites as to the changing composition of urban populations. Some of northern European ancestry thus sought a more narrow definition of themselves to distinguish them from newly arrived southern and eastern Europeans. One of the most popular terms they used to describe themselves, and the one that became the most pervasive, was that of Anglo-Saxons. Although the choice reflected an English heritage, the name was rooted in a Catholic, Germanic medieval past, one which was conveniently overlooked by Protestants employing this usage.
The purpose of this third-year module will be to investigate various manifestations of heightened attention in the nineteenth century to the medieval centuries, a period traditionally castigated as backward by progressive Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers. Growing knowledge of the Middle Ages and the corresponding desire to reinvigorate study (and in some cases use) of the history, literature, arts, architecture, and traditions of this period contributed fundamentally to nineteenth- and twentieth-century intellectual and artistic life both in Europe and the United States. The readings for the seminar will therefore address a number of different themes rising out of the study of the middle ages and its transformation at the hands of modern thinkers, artists and architects. Among the topics to be covered in readings and discussions will be the rise of the fields of medieval history, medieval art history, and Anglo-Saxon studies in the United States, the inspirational role played by medieval artifacts, architecture, and nineteenth-century philosophers such as John Ruskin on English and American artists and designers such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, and Louis Sullivan, the “restoration” of Gothic architectural sites by the likes of Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc and William Randolph Hearst, the literary studies of medieval texts and the recreation of the medieval period in nineteenth-century fiction and Worlds Fairs, and the impact of medievalism on emergent national archaeologies in Europe.
HIST585: History and History-Writing in the Middle Ages and Renaissance
Dr Marios Costambeys (Module Convenor)