Archive of past Med-Ren courses at Columbia

Spring 2014

Art History

AHIS G4385: Renaissance Architecture History and Theory, W: 2:10-4:00pm
Points: 3    Instructor: Francesco Benelli

A survey of Renaissance Architecture in Italy through its buildings and its theory, from Brunelleschi to Palladio and the influence to other European country.

AHIS G8012: Vitruvius and His Legacy, W: 10:10-12:00pm
Points: 3   Instructor: Francesco Benelli

This seminar focuses on the origin of early modern theory of architecture and its first development during the Renaissance, from the work of Leon Battista Alberti (c. mid fifteenth century) to Vincenzo Scamozzi (Venice 1615). The goal of the seminar is to provide knowledge of Renaissance theory of architecture through an upclose reading of the treatises. The first part of every session will be devoted to the analysis of the book intended as an object, the second part will focus on its contents and the way they have influenced the theory and the actual built architecture of their time. A field trip to Beineke Library at Yale University is planned during the semester in order to analyze directly an original XVI century copy of Francesco di Giorgio Martini’s Treatise.

AHIS G8156: From Greek Antiquity to Byzantium, M: 4:10-6:00pm
Points: 3   Instructor: Holger Klein and Ioannis Mylonopoulos

In ancient Egypt, temples and rituals were often addressed as the symbolic point of conjunction between sacred space and sacred time. Egyptian temple architecture and its sculptural decoration offer a visually enhanced reflection of ritual reality. On the contrary, Greek and Roman sacred architecture cannot be described as some kind of built theology or allegory in stone. Although temples appear to be one of the most important signifiers of ancient Greek and Roman cultures, cult practices were never truly dependent on the presence of a built temple. Thus, if architecture were to be understood as a secondary parameter for the definition of sacred space, the question arises as to how exactly a religiously used spatial frame was demarcated in Greco-Roman antiquity. The advent and subsequent spread of Christianity from humble beginnings in Syria-Palestine to omnipresence and dominance in the Late Antique and Medieval Mediterranean brought with it significant changes not only in the attitudes towards the divine but also in the conceptualization of sacred space. The establishment of the Christian basilica as a standard building type for religious ceremonies resulted in new strategies for the display and experience of the divine presence on earth. The rise of the cult of relics during the fourth century prompted patrons and architects to work out the relationship between holy matter and its presentation within the church proper. Amongst others, the seminar will address questions regarding the architecturally and ritually defined space, the dynamic relations between image, architecture, and space, the interconnections between imaginary and physically experienced space, the religiously motivated transformations of space, and finally the political as well as social uses and abuses of sacred space.

AHIS G8194: Islamic Figurative Sculpture: Intro, T: 4:10-6:00pm
Points: 3   Instructors: Avinoam Shalem and Barry F. Flood (NYU)

The idea that the arts of the Islamic world are predominantly aniconic in nature has attracted sustained criticism in modern scholarship. In addition to addressing the existence of figurative imagery on ceramics, glass, metalwork, and textiles, scholarship on the arts of the book has produced a wealth of new material indicating that attitudes to figuration in the pre- and early modern Islamic world were more complex and varied than sometimes acknowledged. The arts of the Islamic world were, in fact, remarkably rich in examples of both relief and free-standing sculpture, ranging in scale from the miniature to the monumental, and produced in media ranging from stucco or stone to ceramics, metal, rock crystal and even ephemeral materials such as ambergris, ice and sugar. This seminar will survey the evidence for the production, reception and reuse of three-dimensional and relief figurative sculpture in the Islamic Mediterranean and Near East in the medieval and early modern periods.

AHIS G8474: 15th C. Art in the Netherlands, R: 2:10-4:00pm
Points: 3   Instructor: David Freedberg

This course, often taught under the rubrics of “Early Netherlandish Painting” or even “Northern Renaissance Painting” might also be described as “Art in the Age of Van Eyck” or “Painting from Van Eyck to Bosch”.   It will begin with manuscripts, and deal with the contribution of great sculptors like Sluter as well.    The claim implicit in the title is that the techniques pioneered and perfected by the Van Eycks affected all the other arts too –  even though the most original and compelling achievements of the century are probably those of painting, which will form the chief focus of this class.  Attention will also be paid to the social and historical contexts of the main works discussed.    Several museum visits will be included.

AHIS G8709: The Time of Art’s History, T: 2:10-4:00pm
Points: 3   Instructor: Patricio Keith Moxey

Time lies at the heart of art history, yet is rarely subject to scrutiny. Recent developments—an awareness that non-western cultures abide by forms of time that fail to coincide with those with which we are familiar and the widespread difficulty of defining “the contemporary”—suggest that art history’s temporal structure has never been stable. We will consider ideas of historical time offered by leading art historians as well as the paradoxes and contradictions of current approaches to the issue of temporality.


LATN W4125: The Bible and the Fathers, TR: 2:40-3:55pm
Points: 3   Instructor: Carmela Franklin

Prerequisites: Permission of the instructor.  The Fathers and the Bible. A survey of early medieval biblical hermeneutics from the patristic age to Bede. The course will include  both the theory of biblical interpretation (and especially its relation to classical grammar and rhetoric and to the debate about translation), as well as its literary practice. Readings from the works of Augustine, Jerome, Bede, Avitus, Proba, and others.

English & Comp. Lit

ENCS W4009: Ancient Narrative, TR 11:40-12:55pm
Points: 3    Instructor: Richard Sacks (seminar)

A close-reading-based examination of five of the foundational ancient narratives of the western tradition: the Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, Genesis and Gospel of John, with a focus both on the narrative artistry of these works and also on the ways in which these texts interact with — and fundamentally challenge — their traditions. Tentative syllabus available at: or via Professor Sacks’ homepage (

CLENW4021: Medieval Romance, TR: 10:10am-11:25am
Points: 3     Instructor: Susan Crane (Lecture)

Romances are long fictions, among the ancestors of novels, in which young protagonists strive to win love and marry, to display the noble virtues of chivalry and courtliness, and to master other lands while defending their own. From its appearance in the later twelfth century through the end of the Middle Ages, romance was the dominant long narrative genre in western vernaculars. As such, it was an important imaginative space for developing and reconsidering ideologies of identity, justice, conquest, sexuality, faith, history, and more. This course will only begin to introduce the genre’s capacious reach. We will place English romances in their Anglo-Norman and continental French context, emphasizing just a few of their many preoccupations. The texts to be read in the first few weeks concentrate, though not exclusively, on courtship, homoeroticism, and gender definition; those of the next few weeks on chivalric identity, honor, and performance; and those of the last weeks on conquest, the exotic, and the nation.

ENGL W4791: Mysticism and Medieval Drama, TR: 2:40-3:55
Points: 3   Instructor: Eleanor Johnson

This class is designed to interrogate the genre-boundary that has traditionally separated visionary writings from dramatic ones in the study of English medieval literature. Although this separation has long existed in scholarship, it is deeply problematic, and produces an understanding of the relationship between private devotion and publically performed religious ritual that is untenable, and does considerable violence to our understanding of the medieval imagination. As we will see, notionally “private” visionary writings and notionally “public” dramatic writings have a great deal in common, not just in terms of their overt content, but also in terms of their formal construction, their poetic devices, their favorite rhetorical maneuvers, and their articulated relationship with history and English literature. The works we will read this term are all phenomenally strange, many of them extremely difficult because of their unfamiliarity. For this reason, we will divide the semester into three sections: the first will deal with the famous medieval cycle dramas, which narrate events from the New Testament. The second section will transition to examine three important visionary texts that were written between 1370 and 1430, contemporaneous with the efflorescence of dramatic composition and performance in England, and two late Antique visionary texts that inspired them. The final section of class will turn to examine the so-called “morality plays,” which emerge just slightly after the cycle dramas and after the visionary works we will have read. Since all of these works are linguistically challenging, we will work with translations in certain instances (Piers Plowman, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe). For all of the other works, we will be reading in Middle English, but you are welcome to consult translations, online summaries, or anything else that helps you get up to speed on what´s going on in the plays. Bear in mind, however, that your midterm and final will be based on the Middle English texts, so you do need to make a serious effort to read them (except in the case of Piers Plowman, which will be in modern English).

ENGL G6002: Middle English Texts Seminar, M: 10:10-12:00pm
Points: 3    Instructor: Christopher Baswell

Prerequisites: Permission of the instructor.  (Seminar). Spring course taught by Prof. Baswell. The medieval British Isles encountered and reimagined multiple versions of antiquity: the Trojan past of the ancient Mediterranean, the Roman past of a colonized England, a Germanic past of Anglo-Saxon occupation, a Viking settlement and kingdom in the north, fantasies of Christian conversion in the generation after Christ, other fantasies of colonial resistance under King Arthur. Along with these, historians and poets developed legends of foundation ranging from Trojan descendants to female Syrian husband-slayers to Celtic heroines. This seminar will explore medieval English versions of these antique pasts, as well as their broader setting in ancient and continental medieval stories of disaster and refoundation. While the bulk of texts we read will be in Middle English, at each stage students can explore instead (or in addition) relevant works in the other languages of medieval Britain: Latin, French, or the Celtic tongues. The foundation of nations and dynasties involves movement and transgression: a border crossed, a sea traversed, a territory occupied, a new social order instated, a tyrant deposed by revolution, an enemy conquered, a dynasty or lineage disrupted or generated – the latter, most often, by exogamous marriage. Myths and legends of foundation, often deeply embedded within later historiography, typically encode even more extreme and unnerving versions of transgression. Indeed, narratives of foundation often begin with, but then leave at their beginnings, a whole range of practices that threaten to undo the very culture or empire to which they give rise. The human race, in a dominant Western myth, begins with disobedience to a lord, followed by fratricide. Rome is founded by an Aeneas who fled his burning city and who – according to many versions – also betrayed it, only to be exiled by the victors; in some medieval versions, further, Aeneas is accused of homosexual practices. Especially in England, the models of Troy and Rome were at once points of genealogical origin and yet threatening models of pride and downfall. The most famous of England’s founders, Brutus, has killed his own father, however accidentally; he is nonetheless sent (in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s influential version) into a wandering exile across Greece, then France and Normandy, before reaching his eponymous island, Britain. Geoffrey also connects later Briton kings, Arthur’s ancestors, to the Roman imperial line through marriages during th

CLEN G6032: The Intelligence of Affect, W 2:10-4:00pm
Points: 3   Instructor: Patricia Dailey (seminar)

This course explores how different kinds of feeling or affective response — like wonder, mourning, longing or boredom — are identified in the Middle Ages as a means for shaping and remedying individual or collective engagement with the world.  Studies of medieval education have often focused on rote responses involved in the learning of grammar, liturgy, or music; this course will look at how literature functions as a central means for educating individuals in the sensory world through less tangible forms of affective, linguistic, and cognitive response.  Drawing on contemporary theories of the political and social nature of aesthetics, and affect, and literature, we will explore how medieval literature speaks to these contemporary terms, shaping diverse communities of readers. Starting with late antique treatments of the relation between pride (Augustine), humility (Gregory), boredom and wonder (Boethius), and philosophical and meditations on affect (Aristotle), we will then turn to medieval literature to examine how each work models specific verbal, cognitive, moral, affective, bodily, and interpretive responses to more than just the text itself, extending the effects of a work to a specific way of envisioning and engaging with the surrounding world.

ENGL G6128: Comparative Renaissance Texts, Erasmus and Humanism, W: 11:00-12:50pm
Points: 3   Instructor: Kathy Eden (seminar)

ENGL G 6229: Literary Artifacts: The Book in History, T 12:10-2pm
Points: 3   Instructor: Karla Nielsen (seminar)

Prerequisites: Permission of the instructor  (Seminar) This course will introduce students to methods for interpreting literature through artifacts, including archival materials such as correspondence and typescripts, as well as manuscript codices, broadsides, and printed editions. By examining these materials, and looking at some of arguments that scholars have made using them, we will consider the requirements, challenges, and benefits of artifact-specific analyses. Doing so will demonstrate many of the methodologies used to interpret literary artifacts: paleography, descriptive bibliography, book history, provenance studies, and digital forensics. Imagined as historically wide-ranging course that will move from Hellenistic papyri to electronic literature, the areas of focus can be shifted according to student interest, and to most advantageously draw on the holdings of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library where the class sessions will be held. By the end of the course, students will have a broadly-sketched understanding of important cultural and technological developments and will have read key essays in book history, bibliography, and the sociology of texts. Topics to be considered include classification, copyright, authorship, technological determinism, annotation, spatiality, materiality, genre and format, typography, bookbinding, paratext, artist books, publishing, and censorship. We will read essays from among the following authors: Roger Chartier, Elizabeth Eisenstein, Marshall McLuhan, Matthew Kirschenbaum, Walter Mignolo, Leah Price, William Sherman, G. Thomas Tanselle, Ann Blair, Janice Radway, N. Katherine Hayles, Jerome McGann, Fredson Bowers, D. F. McKenzie, Robert Darnton, Paul Saenger, Gerard Genette, and Johanna Drucker.

Please note: This course fulfills the MA manuscript studies requirement.

ENTA G6725: Past, Present, Future: The History Play from Shakespeare to Tony Kushner,  W 4:10-6:00pm
Points: 3    Instructor: Jean Howard

This course begins with the premise that “the history play” is an incoherent but persistent way to categorize certain kinds of writing for the stage. In the class we will think critically about the term and also about some of the plays that have been or might be included within its scope. Shakespeare’s English history plays are well known exemplars, but do they form the template by which other plays deal with historical matter? What do we do with plays sometimes labeled tragedies and sometimes histories? Can we have tragic and comic history plays? Are histories defined solely by historical content or by persistent formal features? Can something be a history play if it self-consciously engages, not with historical events outside itself, but with the history of theater, as might be the case with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead?  Perhaps more important than these questions of definition and properties is my intent to explore what happens when “history” receives dramatic embodiment. What relations between past, present, and future are set in motion through the performance of historical drama? Are all history plays in some sense about temporality, and how does performance deepen that engagement? And are there particular affects that adhere to the performance of history? Is history drama a site for nostalgia and mourning, for utopian longing, for something else? The plays we will study will be drawn about equally from the early modern and the modern periods. We will certainly take up works by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, both obvious works like Henry V and The Famous Victories of Henry V, and less obvious choices like King Lear, in its time labeled both a tragedy and a history; also plays by Ben Jonson, Thomas Heywood, John Dryden; and, in the 20th century, Howard Barker (The Castle), Tom Stoppard (Rock ‘n Roll, The Coast of Utopia, Rosencrantz), Caryl Churchill (Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, Seven Jewish Children), and Tony Kushner (Angels in America, Caroline or Change, iHo). Critical and theoretical reading will include Robert Weimann, Walter Benjamin, George Steiner, Elin Diamond, and others. I am going to keep the syllabus in a provisional state until the first class so that I can hear your preferences for what to include beyond a barebones list of about ten plays that will anchor us. This class is not about “coverage” but about the problems of thinking about the history play as a term and as a site for certain kinds of performance possibilities and philosophical engagements.


HIST W4103: Empires & Cultures of the Atlantic World, R: 11:00-12:50pm
Points: 4    Instructor: Bronwen McShea

This course follows historical developments in the Atlantic World-across Western Europe, the Americas, West Africa, and-from the late fifteenth through early nineteenth century. It highlights both the comparative, structural evolutions of European colonial empires and the cultural experiences and perspectives of Atlantic World inhabitants-including soldiers, merchants, slaves, missionaries, and revolutionaries.

HIST W4171: Canon Law and Medieval Christianity, T: 4:10-6:00pm
Points: 4   Instructor: Robert Somerville

Prerequisites: Instructor’s permission.  An introduction to the importance of Church law for the study of medieval Christianity through readings in both primary and secondary sources (all in English or English translations). Topics will be selected, as the sources permit, to illustrate the evolution of Western canon law and its impact both as a structural and as an ideological force, in medieval Christianity and in medieval society in general.

HIST W4404: Native American History, R: 9:00-10:50am
Points: 4    Instructor: Evan Haefeli

This course introduces students to the forces that transformed the aboriginal inhabitants of the Americas into “Indians.” The class takes a very broad approach, moving chronologically and thematically from the dawn of time to the present. The course aims to expose students to the diversity of the Native American experience by including all the inhabitants of the Americas, from Greenland to Tierra del Fuego, within its purview. Group(s): A, D Field(s): *US

HIST W4176: European Merchants in the East, M: 4:10-6:00pm
Points: 4    Instructor: Martha Howell

An examination of medieval and early modern European merchants’ entry into the global commercials economy then centered in various Asian markets.  The course begins in the late Middle Ages, when Europe was a minor outposts of the world economy, and ends about 1800, when european merchants, in alliance with national states, were competing to control Asian markets. Field(s): EME

HIST W4645: Jews and Early Modern Europe, Spinoza-Sabbati, M: 11:00-12:50pm
Points: 4    Instructor: Elisheva Carlebach (seminar)

A seminar on the historical, political, and cultural developments in the Jewish communities of early-modern Western Europe (1492-1789) with particular emphasis on the transition from medieval to modern patterns. We will study the resettlement of Jews in Western Europe, Jews in the Reformation-era German lands, Italian Jews during the late Renaissance, the rise of Kabbalah, and the beginnings of the quest for civil Emancipation. Field(s): JWS/EME

HIST G6999, SEC 002: Laws of War in the Middle Ages, MW 2:40-3:55
Points: 4   Instructor: Adam Kosto

The perception and regulation of war and wartime practices in Europe and the Mediterranean World in the period 300-1500, from the standpoint of legal and institutional history rather than of military history. Topics include: the Just War tradition, Holy War and Crusade, the Peace and Truce of God, prisoners and ransom, the law of siege, non-combatants, chivalry, and ambassadors and diplomacy. Readings are principally primary sources in translation. Group(s): A Field(s): MED

HIST G6999, SEC 023: The Worlds of Mughal India, TR 4:10-5:25
Points: 4   Instructor: Manan Ahmed

This course provides a political and social history of India from the 16th-19th century, focusing on the Mughal empire. Two central concerns: first, the Mughal regnal politics towards their rival imperial concerns within India and West Asia (the Maratha, the Rajput, the Safavid, the Ottoman); and second, the foreign gaze onto the Mughals (via the presence of Portuguese, English, and French travelers, merchants, and diplomats in India). These interlocked practices (how Mughals saw the world and how the world saw the Mughals) will allow us develop a nuanced knowledge of universally acknowledged power of the early modern world.


ITAL G4089: Petrarch’s Canzonire, T 4:10pm-6:00pm
Points: 3   Instructor: Teodolinda Barolini

This course elaborates a hermeneutics of Petrarch’s Canzoniere—also called Rime or Rime sparse but properly titled Rerum vulgarium fragmenta (Rvf). Our reading will be grounded in a thorough knowledge of the philology of the Rvf’s composition, with particular attention to the autograph (Vat. Lat. 3195) in which Petrarch transcribed his poems from his draft notebook (Vat. Lat. 3196), and to the reception and editorial history: this most imitated of texts was forced through editorial manipulation to accommodate the desires of its readers for narrative and story-line that Petrarch rigorously rejects. In the context of Ricoeur’s Time and Narrative, we will consider the making of the lyric sequence: Petrarch’s genial invention is a collection of lyrics in which sequential order, and therefore time, is deployed to generate significance. We will bring to bear on our reading other Petrarchan texts (primarily Petrarch’s Secretum, a selection of his letters and his Trionfi) and an intertextual focus relating in particular to Augustine and Dante.

ITAL G4086: Castiglione & the Italian Renaissance, M 2:10pm-4:00pm
Points: 3  Instructor: Jo Ann Cavallo

Latin American and Iberian Cultures

SPAN G6465: Cultures of Discipline, T 1:10pm-3:55pm
Points: 4   Instructor: Seth Kimmel

The word “discipline” designates both a branch of knowledge and the practices that demarcate and duplicate the scholarly and religious communities that produce such knowledge. As myriad early modern educators appreciated, a disciple adopts the conventions of his or her intellectual community by participating in exercises of interpretation and instruction. He or she internalizes those conventions through repetition. Treatises on pedagogy serve as this class’s point of departure for examining other sorts of pastoral, inquisitorial, and aesthetic practices. We will focus on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, paying particular attention to the relationship between culture and control in early modern Spain. But by examining early modern peninsular materials alongside late modern essays on subjectivity and aesthetics, we will also historicize our current constellation of the disciplines and consider the future of interdisciplinary scholarship.


MUSI G4122: Songs of the Troubadours, W 10:10am-12:00pm
Points: 4   Instructor: Susan Boynton

Prerequisites: Music Humanities W1123, Music V3128  This interdisciplinary seminar approaches the songs of the troubadours as poetic and musical traditions. Together we will develop methods for analysis and interpretation, situate the songs within literary and social history, and address broad issues such as the nature of performance, the interplay between orality and writing, the origins of troubadour poetry, fin’amor, and gender. Students will learn to analyze the poetic and musical structure of the songs and to transcribe and edit them from medieval manuscripts. Weekly assignments in Paden’s Introduction to Old Occitan will familiarize students with the language of the texts; one hour a week will be devoted to going over texts in the original language using Paden’s book. Individually designed paper assignments will take students’ backgrounds into account;; students from all departments are welcome.