Location: Bowdoin / Enhancing The Humanities At Bowdoin / Medieval & Early Modern Studies

Enhancing The Humanities At Bowdoin

Medieval and Early Modern Studies (MEMS)


Bowdoin’s interdisciplinary Medieval and Early Modern Studies program bridges courses that range over 1400 years of European history, from the Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in 337 to the French Revolution in 1789.  Europe transformed during this time from a forgettable backwater of the Roman Empire to a global power. With participating faculty from more than a dozen majors and programs, including Art History, English, Asian Studies, History, Italian, French, Spanish, and Classics, MEMS enhances students’ intellectual lives by highlighting related courses.  In the process, we offer students valuable opportunities to explore the history, religion, art and literature of a period that continues to influence contemporary culture.

Cluster Program:

Science before Science

Beginning in the spring of 2014, MEMS has offered interested students a three-semester cluster of courses on the theme of the history of science entitled “Science before Science.”  Classes in this cluster explore the ways that people thought about the natural and supernatural world before the emergence of modern disciplines of scientific inquiry.  Participating faculty examine relations between magic, science and religion from the first Greek philosophers to the enlightenment thinkers of the eighteenth century.  Over the duration of the cluster, students will have the opportunity to take at least one course each semester that shares the theme of “Science before Science” with at least two other courses.  Enrolled students will create new connections between disciplines and fields of study by sharing readings, lectures, and special events in common.  

 Course Offerings

Medieval and Early Modern Studies Courses offered for upcoming academic year:

Course Description by Discipline

Art History

Art History 213 The Art of Three Faiths: Christian, Jewish, and Islamic Art and Architecture, From the 3rd to the 12th Century
Fall 2013 (Prof. Morris)
2015-16 (Prof. Perkinson)
This course examines ways images, objects, and buildings shaped the experiences and expressed the beliefs of members of three major religious traditions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) in Europe and the Mediterranean region.  It deals with artworks spanning the 3rd century through the 12th century from Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and the Byzantine Empire.  Many of the sessions will be thematic, dealing with issues that cut across geographic and chronological boundaries.  Topics examined include: the embrace or rejection of a classical artistic heritage; the sponsorship of religious art by powerful political figures; the use of images and architecture to define community, and to reject those defined as outsiders; forms of iconoclasm and criticism of the use of images among the three religions; theological justifications for the use of images; and the role of images in efforts to convert or conquer members of another faith.

Art History 214 The Gothic World
2014-15 (Prof. Perkinson)
This course examines art produced in Europe from the twelfth through the early fifteenth centuries.  We will investigate the key artistic monuments of this period in a variety of media, including architecture, painting, manuscript illumination, stained glass, sculpture, and the decorative arts.  The first half of the class is organized as a chronological and geographic survey, while the second half addresses issues that arise throughout the period.  While this class will be a mixture of lecture and discussion throughout the semester, our meetings in the second half will be particularly “seminar-like,” allowing us to discuss broad issues and themes drawn from readings and apply them to particular works of art.

Art History 226 Northern European Art
of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries
2014-15 (Prof. Perkinson)
This class offers students an in-depth introduction to works by the most important artists active in northern Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, including Jan van Eyck, Hieronymus Bosch, Albrecht Dürer, Tilman Riemenschneider, Hans Holbein, and Pieter Bruegel. Many of the class meetings will include lectures on particular artists, cities, or issues that are crucial to an understanding of this field.  Several of our meetings will be largely devoted to group discussions, in which we will analyze a single work of art or discrete issue. For those discussion meetings, we will read several (often conflicting) scholarly interpretations of these works. This will provide us with useful overviews of these important objects and issues as well as many of the art historical methods that have been used in studying them (including formal analysis, iconography, and various “contextual” approaches, e.g. feminist scholarship, reception theory, etc.).

Art History 315: Art at the Late Medieval Courts
Prof. Steve Perkinson
In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the aristocratic courts of Europe commissioned some of the most spectacular works of art ever created. Many of the artists who worked for those courts are well known: they include Jan Van Eyck, Andrea Mantegna, Hans Holbein, and Albrecht Dürer. Others are less familiar to us today, largely because they worked in media that don’t fit neatly into modern ideas about “high art” – media such as tapestry and metalwork, for instance. Those media were, however, among the most valued by their courtly patrons for their costly materials and for their for their dazzling appearance; the spectacular impression created by these objects was a crucial component of the courtly social system. Rulers built massive palaces whose walls were hung with tapestries, they commissioned sculptures and paintings to decorate their castles and chapels, they displayed their wealth with fashions and jewelry, and they purchased manuscripts whose illuminations projected a mythic vision of noble culture. We will explore the connections between art and political power in this period, tracing objects as they moved from the studios of their creators and passed through the hands of the individuals who exchanged them as gifts or amassed them in collections. We will also discuss how art defined social roles, dividing society into groups according to gender and class. In addition to reading a number of important art historical studies, we will also examine a handful of literary texts that can help us reconstruct the visual culture of the courts.  While we will cover a great deal of European geography in this class, we will focus our attention on the fifteenth-century court of Burgundy – arguably the “gold standard” for late medieval court culture. Each student will produce a final project that brings together a number of works produced in Burgundy, analyzing them according to the concerns and enthusiasms that we identify as characteristic of court culture.

Art History 316 Memory, Mourning, and the Macabre:
Visualizing Death in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe
(Prof. Perkinson)
In pre-modern Europe, people lived in the shadow of death. This was true in literal terms – mortality rates were high – but also in terms of art: the imagery of the period was saturated with images of death, dying, and the afterlife. This course examines how images helped people confront profound questions about death: What happens to the “self” at death? What is the relationship between the body and the soul? What responsibilities do the living have to the dead? We will address these issues through tomb sculptures, monumental paintings of the Last Judgment, mural paintings depicting the encounter between “the Three Living and the Three Dead,” manuscripts containing accounts of journeys to the afterlife, printed manuals describing how to prepare for one’s death, public depictions of the “Dance of Death,” prayer beads featuring macabre imagery, and other related items.

Art History 224 {2240} Mannerism.
Fall 2013 (Prof. Wegner)
Mannerism in art and literature. Artists include Michelangelo, Pontormo, Rosso, Bronzino, El Greco. Themes include fantasy and imagination, ideal beauty (male and female), the erotic and grotesque, and the challenging of High Renaissance values. Readings include artists’ biographies, scientific writings on the senses, formulas for ideal beauty, and description o court life and manners. Uses the Bowdoin College Museum of Art’s collection of sixteenth-century drawings, prints and medals.

Art History 332c. Painting and Society in Spain: El Greco to Goya
(Prof. Wegner)
Focuses on painting in Spain from the fifteenth century to the early nineteenth century, with special emphasis on the works of El Greco, Velázquez, and Goya. Examines art in the light of Spanish society, particularly the institutions of the church and Spanish court. Considers Spanish mysticism, popular custom, and Enlightenment ideals as expressed in or critiqued by art. Readings in the Bible, Spanish folklore, artistic theory, and artists’ biographies.
Prerequisite: Art History 100 or 101, or permission of the instructor.

Art History 223 {2230} The Arts of Venice.
Spring 2014 (Prof. Wegner)
Venice is distinctive among Italian cities for its political structures, its geographical location, and its artistic production. This overview of Venetian art and architecture considers Venice’s relationships to Byzantium and the Turkish east; Venetian colorism in dialogue with Tuscan-Roman disegno; and the role of women as artists, as patrons, and as subjects of art. Includes art by the Bellini family, Giorgione, Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, Tiepolo, Canaletto, and Rosalba Carriera, and the architecture of Palladio.


English 1047 Early European Representations of Islam
Fall 2013 (Prof. Solberg)
Introduces students to Islam in the medieval and early modern European imagination, covering a wide array of interdisciplinary sources: bitter religious polemic, eyewitness accounts of the Crusades, and fantastical travel narratives—written from both Christian and Muslim perspectives—as well as medieval and Renaissance European romances about Saracen knights and plays about Turkish tyrants. Texts include The Qur’an, Dante’s Inferno, The Song of Roland, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, and William Percy’s Mahomet and His Heaven. 

English 2107 Introduction to Medieval British Literature
Fall 2013 / 200-level Lecture, Prof. Solberg
Introduces students to the literature of medieval Britain, excluding Chaucer. The course begins with the first poem ever written in English (or rather Old English), continues through tribal sagas (Beowulf, the Welsh Mabinogian, the Irish Tain) and Arthurian romances (the Lais of Marie de France, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), and concludes with extensive coverage of the literature of the fifteenth century: mystical theology (The Showings of Julian of Norwich, The Cloud of Unknowing), gory martyrdoms (Christina the Astonishing, the York Passion Play), lyric poetry ranging from the numinous to the obscene (anonymous and by poets including Dunbar and Skelton), the global travel narrative of Sir John Mandeville, and tales of Robin Hood. Students will gain a very rudimentary ability to translate Old English as well as reading proficiency in Middle English.

English 2108  Medieval Drama
Spring 2014 (Prof. Solberg)
Knowledge of theater history tends to skip from the tragedies of Ancient Greece to Shakespeare’s Renaissance, the rebirth of the Classics, leaving the Middle Ages in dark obscurity. This course aims to illuminate the underappreciated treasure trove of medieval drama, a genre that flourished across Europe for more than five centuries. We will cover texts ranging from the tenth-century work of the female playwright Hrotswitha (“Strong-Voice”) to the sixteenth century English plays banned by the Protestant Reformation. Our reading will also span a wide variety of genres: bloody martyrdoms, dirty farces, Robin Hood plays, romances of knights and ladies, moralities, and mysteries. Texts include: Hrotswitha of Gandersheim’s Dulcitius; “Robyn Hod and the Shryff of Notyngham”; Farce nouvelle et fort joyeuse du Pect (The Farce of the Fart); The York Cycle; Mankind; and Fulgens and Lucrece. Students will gain reading proficiency in Middle English; no previous experience with Middle English necessary.

English 2008 Chaucer’s Dreams (200-level seminar)
Spring 2014 (Prof. Solberg)
Introduces students to the work of Geoffrey Chaucer (“the father of English poetry,” as Dryden called him) by way of his dream visions, poems in which the poet-dreamer drifts off to sleep and explores, via astral projection, fantastical mental landscapes. In his dreams, Chaucer visits magical gardens full of talking birds, outer space (“the Galaxie, / which men clepeth [call] the Milky Wey”), and the virtual realities of his favorite books, like Virgil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In order to fully comprehend Chaucer’s allusions, we will read his dream visions in the contexts of their sources and analogues; in other words, we will follow Chaucer’s guide to medieval learning. Texts include: Chaucer’s The Book of the Duchess, The Parliament of Fowls, The House of Fame, and The Legend of Good Women; Cicero’s Dream of Scipio, Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, and Le Roman de la rose (The Romance of the Rose). Students will gain reading proficiency in Middle English; no previous experience with Middle English necessary. In the spirit of Chaucer’s dream visions, which creatively reimagine and adapt older literature, students can opt to substitute creative projects for their final independent research paper.

English 010. Shakespeare's Afterlives
Fall 2013 (Prof. Kitch)
Richard III as Adolf Hitler, Hamlet in the suburbs of post-war America, Prince Hal as a street hustler in Seattle—Shakespeare’s plots and characters have been adapted and revised almost continuously over the centuries. How do we understand these afterlives in relation to Shakespeare’s originals? How do adaptations serve particular cultural desires over time while reshaping Shakespeare’s status as a global author? Examines some sonnets and several plays from different genres in conjunction with adaptations by Oscar Wile, Jane Smiley, and Arthur Phillips, among others.  Films include John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love and Trevor Nunn’s Twelfth Night.

English 223 English Renaissance Drama
Fall 2013 (Prof. Kitch)
Traces the explosion of popular drama in London following the construction of the first permanent theaters in the 1560s. Gives special attention to the stories that Renaissance audiences liked best—those featuring revenge, adultery, and middle-class ascendancy. Topics include the cultural space of the Renaissance stage, the development of the double plot, and the cultivation of blank verse as a vehicle for drama.  Students are encouraged to try out several different staging techniques by engaging in short scene studies. Authors include Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Thomas Middleton. Note: This course fulfills the pre-1800 literature requirement for English majors.

English 342 The Arts of Science in the English Renaissance
Spring 2014 (Prof. Kitch)
Examines the convergence of new modes of scientific knowledge and new genres of fiction in the period between 1500 and 1650, when writers such as Philip Sidney, William Shakespeare, and Margaret Cavendish redefined imaginative literature as a tool of scientific inquiry.  Topics include utopian technologies, alchemy and sexuality, natural philosophy, and the science of humanism.  Authors (in addition to those mentioned above) include Thomas More, Christopher Marlowe, John Donne, and Ben Jonson.  Secondary readings feature Francis Bacon, Bruno Latour, Steven Shapin, Bruce Moran, and Elizabeth Spiller, among others. Note: This course fulfills the pre-1800 literature requirement for English majors.

English 2150 Shakespeare's Comedies and Romances
Fall 2013 (Prof. Watterson)

English 2151 Shakespeare's Tragedies and Roman Plays
Spring 2014 (Prof. Watterson)

English 2152 Shakespeare's History Plays ("This/That England)
Spring 2015 (Prof. Watterson)

English 3000 Shakespeare at Sonnets
Spring 2015 (Prof. Watterson)

English 2290 Milton
Fall 2013 (Prof. Kibbie)
A critical study of Milton's major works in poetry and prose, with special emphasis on Paradise Lost.  Prerequisite:  One first-year seminar or 100-level course in English.  [Therefore, not open to first-semester first-year students.]

English 2304 The Age of Satire
Spring 2014 (Prof. Kibbie)
Explores various forms of satire and parody in the prose, poetry, drama and visual art of the Restoration and the Eighteenth Century, as well as the various attempts to censor or otherwise control satire.  Works will include Alexander Pope's Rape of the Lock, John Gay's Beggar's Opera, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, and the paintings and prints of William Hogarth.
One first-year seminar or 100-level course in English.


History 10c: Monsters, Marvels, and Messiahs: Europe during the Age of Discovery
Fall 2014 (Prof. Denery)
.Examines how Europeans have sought to understand themselves and the world around
them through travel and travel literature. Particular attention paid to the fascinating ways
in which Europeans have used travel narratives to define and distinguish themselves from
their “others.”

History 110 {1140} Medieval, Renaissance, and Reformation Europe
Fall 2013 (Prof. Denery)
Introductory-level lecture. A wide-ranging introduction to pre-modern European history beginning with the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine (c. 272–337) and concluding with the Council of Trent (1545–1563). Particular attention is paid to the varying relations between church and state, the birth of urban culture and economy, institutional and popular religious movements, and the early formation of nation states.

History 204 Science, Magic, and Religion
Fall 2014 (Prof. Denery)
Traces the origins of the scientific revolution through the interplay between late-antique and medieval religion, magic, and natural philosophy. Particular attention is paid to the conflict between paganism and Christianity, the meaning and function of religious miracles, the rise and persecution of witchcraft, and Renaissance hermeticism. (Same as Religion 204.)

History 208 The History of History
(Prof. Denery.
Seminar. What is history and how do we come to know it? Does history follow a plan and, if so, what sort of plan? Examines the practice of historical inquiry from the ancient world to Marx, with particular emphasis on the way in which religious thought has shaped conceptions of history. Topics include apocalyptic history, conspiracy theory, and bad history. Prerequisite: One course in history.

307c. Topics in Medieval and Early Modern European History
Fall 2013 (Prof. Denery)
A research seminar for majors and interested non-majors focusing on Medieval and Early Modern Europe. After an overview of recent trends in the historical analysis of this period, students pursue research topics of their own choice, culminating in a significant piece of original historical writing (approximately twenty-five pages in length).
Prerequisite: One course in history.

History 2062 European States and Empires, 1492-1815
Fall 2013 (Prof. Roberts)
Lecture. The practice of European politics changed dramatically over the course of the early modern period, the age that stretched from Columbus to Napoleon. National governments became more centralized and began the process of forming their subjects into modern citizens who spoke the same language, worshipped according to the same confession, and believed in certain principles of government. At the same time, Europe transformed itself from a relatively weak region to a dominant world power with colonies all over the globe. Analyzes the development of modern politics, nationalism, and imperialism, and takes the nations of Spain, the Dutch Republic, Britain, and France as its main case studies.

History 2540 The Politics of Private Life
Fall 2013 (Prof. Roberts)
Intermediate seminar. Examines how and why “the personal was political” in Europe and the Atlantic World from 1400 to 1800 by analyzing the politics (broadly defined) of marriage, love, and sex. Investigates in particular the effects of religious reform, colonial exchange, philosophy, and political revolution on private life. Readings include correspondence, novels, and memoirs as well as scholarly analyses of divorce, homosexuality, romantic love, and marriage. Students write a research paper based on research in primary sources.

History 2060 Old Regime and Revolutionary France
Spring 2014 (Prof. Roberts)
Lecture. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, many heralded King Louis XIV as the most powerful monarch to ever rule in Europe. At the end of the century, however, the French people overthrew the vaunted monarchy he had helped build. Considers what social, cultural, and intellectual conflicts helped shape politics and society in eighteenth-century France; why France had a revolution; and why the Revolution became radical and — all too often — violent.

History 2541 Crime and Punishment
Spring 2014 (Prof. Roberts)
Intermediate seminar. Crime provides a useful lens through which historians can understand the past because defining and punishing transgressions forced people to articulate their values and ideals. Considers criminal figures such as miscreant nuns, unfaithful wives, impostors, and murderers by examining celebrated court cases in Europe from 1500 to 1800. Also examines historical methods. Students write a research paper based on primary sources. Prerequisite: One course in history.

Romance Languages

French 2409 {209} Introduction to the Study and Criticism of Medieval and Early Modern French Literature
Every fall. (Prof. Daniels or Prof. Dauge-Roth
An introduction to the literary tradition of France from the Middle Ages to the French Revolution. Students are introduced to major authors and literary movements in their cultural and historical contexts. Conducted in French.
Prerequisite: French 205 or higher, or permission of the instructor.

French 3210 {325} Witches, Monsters, and Demons: Representing the Occult in Early Modern France
Fall 2013 (Prof. Dauge-Roth)
The occult is, by definition, that which is hidden or unknown, yet popular and scholarly fascination with the shadowy and uncertain worlds of witches, monsters, demons, the devil, and the mysteries of nature and the cosmos has fueled attempts by various authorities, writers, and artists to represent and thus to know, control, or exploit the spectacular potential of the occult. Explores early modern and modern representations of occult figures, events, practitioners, and practices in France through historical, literary, and journalistic readings, art, film, television, and the web. Emphasis is placed on the early modern period, but analysis of modern inheritances and interest in the occult parallel investigation of earlier periods throughout the course. Conducted in French.

French 326 {3206} Body Language: Writing Corporeality in France
(Prof. Dauge-Roth)
Analysis of texts and images from early modern literary, philosophical, medical, ecclesiastical, and artistic sources from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries, as well as of modern film, web, and textual media, allows students to explore the conflicting roles of early modern bodies through several themes: birth and death, medicine and hygiene, gender and sexuality, social class, race, monstrosity, Catholic and Protestant visions of the body, the royal body, the body politic. Thoughtful comparison and examination of the meanings of the body today encouraged throughout. Conducted in French.
Prerequisite: Two of the following: French 207 or 208, French 209 or 210, one 300-level course in French; or permission of the instructor.

French 3203 {323} Murder, Monsters, and Mayhem: The fait divers in French Literature and Film.
(Prof. Dauge-Roth)
Examines the fait divers, a news item recounting an event of a criminal, strange, or licentious nature, as a source for literary and cinematographic production. Traces the development of the fait divers from its beginnings in the 16th-century popular press and its relationship to the rise of the short story. Explores how literary authors and filmmakers past and present find inspiration in the news and render “true stories” in their artistic work. Readings may include selections from Rosset, J-P. Camus, Le Clézio, Cendrars, Beauvoir, Duras, Genet, Modiano, Bon, newspapers, and tabloids. Conducted in French.
Prerequisite: Two of the following: French 207 or 208, French 209 or 210, one 300-level course in French; or permission of the instructor.

Italian 3020 Dante’s Divine Comedy
(Prof. Saiber)
One of the greatest works of literature of all times, Dante’s Divine Comedy leads us through the torture-pits of Hell, up the steep mountain of Purgatory, to the virtual, white-on-white zone of Paradise, and then back to where we began: our own earthly lives. We accompany Dante on his allegorical journey, armed with knowledge of Italian culture, philosophy, politics, religion, and art history. We piece together a mosaic of medieval Italy, while developing and refining abilities to read, analyze, interpret, discuss, and write about both literary texts and critical essays.  Some years in English, 200-level; some years in Italian, 300-level.

Italian How to Eat with Utensils and Not Get Pregnant: A User’s Guide to the Italian Renaissance
(Prof. Saiber)
How can I obtain power and keep it?  What are “the rules” for a young person in search of a spouse?  What should I do to be truly educated?  How can I appear to be of a social class higher than I am?  How can I stop being depressed?  What are the qualities of “real” art or literature?  Such timeless questions were answered in innumerable advice and “how-to” manuals in the Italian Renaissance, a pre-modern period in which thoughts of self-fashioning and self-inquiry proliferated like never before.  This course will explore a large selection of serious and satirical advice manuals on health, marriage, sex, family, religion, education, money-making, diplomacy, the art of battle, etiquette, the arts, and patronage, and draw parallels to the advice we seek and the advice we give in the name of “self-help” today.  Included are works such as Machiavelli’s Prince, Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier, Della Porta’s Natural Magic, Della Casa’s Galateo of Manners, Ficino’s Book of Life, and Rudolph Bell’s How To Do It: Guides to Good Living for Renaissance Italians. In English, 200-level.

Italian 300 Renaissance Theater
(Prof. Saiber)
During the first half of the semester, students study seven Italian Renaissance plays and are introduced to the history of Italian theater.  During the second part of the semester, students produce, direct, and perform a Renaissance play or scenes from a variety of plays. Authors include Poliziano, Machiavelli, Aretino, Trissino, Tasso, and Bruno. Conducted in Italian.

Fall 2013
Spanish 346/GWS 316 Dressing & Undressing in Early Modern Spain
Fall 2013 (Prof. Boyle)
Focuses on the literal and metaphorical practices of “dressing” and “undressing” as depicted in the literature of Early Modern Spain. Considers how these practices relate to the (de)construction of Gender and Empire throughout the period. What does dress have to do with identity and power? What might nakedness reveal about ideal and defective bodies? These questions will be enriched through exploration of a series of images in collaboration with the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Authors considered during the semester include Fernando de Rojas, Miguel de Cervantes, María de Zayas, Teresa de Jesús, Tirso de Molina, and Ana Caro.


Spring 2013 Prof. Boyle
Spanish 344 / GWS 344 -  Bad Girls on Stage in Early Modern Spain and Spanish America
(Prof. Boyle)
In both Early Modern Spain and Spanish America, the figure of the “bad girl” takes a variety of forms, some familiar and others surprising, including witches, criminals, prostitutes, adulterers, single women, orphans, lesbians, abused wives, brainy women and back-stabbing girlfriends. Against the backdrop of the Spanish Inquisition, colonization and the early decline of the Spanish empire, this course aims to rethink the category of the “bad girl” in these two territories by examining her shifting representation in a series of early modern plays, chronicles and institutional manuals. We will also consider how representations of the early modern “bad girl” has been adapted by popular films in order to promote a larger discussion about the relationships between gender, deviance, spectacle and rehabilitation.

Medieval & Early Modern Studies

Participating Faculty

Denys Calvaert