Medieval Studies

Medieval Studies Medieval Studies

In addition to the various graduate seminars on medieval topics offered each semester by our participating departments, Medieval Studies has two special interdisciplinary topical seminars, MDVL 500 (the "Spring Seminar"), a full-semester, 4-credit hour course taught by Illinois faculty with participation by invited outside scholars, and MDVL 501 (the "September Seminar"), an intensive month-long, 2-credit hour seminar taught by a distinguished visiting professor.

MDVL 500: Seminar in Medieval Studies

Interdisciplinary seminar on varying topics in Medieval Studies drawing on faculty from UIUC and invited scholars from other universities. May be repeated to a maximum of 12 hours. Approved for both letter and S/U grading.

MDVL 500 (the "Spring Seminar") is a requirement for the Graduate Concentration in Medieval Studies.

Spring Seminar 2016:

Critical Plant Studies and Medieval Literature

Instructor: Prof. Robert W. Barrett

Taking its cues from the emergent field of critical plant studies, this course explores the literary productions of those arbores inversae or inverted trees known as medieval men and women. The seminar rejects the all-too-common assumption that vegetable life serves primarily as a green backdrop for the deeds of humans and animals; it focuses instead on plants as active agents in the production of textual meaning, as participants in multi-species assemblages (and even, in some case, multi-kingdom assemblages involving earth and stone). The course will be divided into three genre-based units. One unit will concentrate on plants in medieval narratives, verse and prose: texts here may include Marie de France’s Lais and the anonymous Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Another unit will look at plants and medieval lyrics: e.g., Marian lilies in Middle English verse anthologies, Petrarch’s laurel/Laura in the Rime sparse, and Arabic and Hebrew garden poems from al-Andalus. The final unit will examine embodied plants on medieval stages: the green crosses and wheaten Eucharists of York and Chester and Croxton on the one hand, and the personified pines and cherry trees of Ashikaga-era noh drama. The course reading list is multilingual and multinational, traversing not only medieval Europe but the medieval globe as well.

Past Spring Seminars and Instructors

MDVL 501: Topics in Medieval Studies

September Seminar 2013:

From Script to Print:  The Transformation of Medieval Culture, c.1350-c. 1550

Instructor: Distinguished Visiting Professor James Clark (Exeter Univ.)

Between the Black Death and the Break with Rome the cultural life of Western Europe was transformed. Even before moveable metal type came out of the Rhineland, old orthodoxies had been unsettled by novel scholarship, fervent classicism and vigorous, vernacular polemic carried in manuscript to a widening constituency of consumers. Print cemented these novelties and created a responsive reading public. It was this engaged, social community of readers that ensured renewed calls for reform around 1517 were not to be stifled and which became the focus of princely and pontifical efforts to confessionalize the continent. These remarkable changes might be studied by means of particular authors, texts or indeed the more dominant ideas but this course will focus on arguably the most powerful agents, the books themselves. In each seminar, an original book from the period will act as a point-of-entry into the key developments, and their effects for the people of Europe.

The course begins by exploring cultural life in Europe in the mid-fourteenth century, and the transformations occurring in three, connecting contexts: the challenge within the universities to conventional philosophical, exegetical and theological method, led in England by John Wyclif; the effort to recover the texts and teachings of classical antiquity, arising especially in northern Italy and among the international community at Avignon; and the development of a lively vernacular discourse which found an audience beyond the clerical establishment. Also examined is the place of learning, reading and the consumption of books in different social strata. The course then turns to address the advent of printing in the second half of the fifteenth century and its effects not only on elite learning but also on the cultural and social patterns of the populace as a whole; it also confronts the continuing historical debate over the contribution of print culture to the making of Renaissance and Reformation.


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