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Courses

The following information is from the 2017-18 Vassar College Catalogue.

Medieval/Renaissance Studies: I. Introductory

101 Civilization in Question 1

(Same as CLCS 101 and GRST 101) In the past, college curricula in this country were often organized around the idea of the "Great Books" of "Western Civilization." Today though, the very idea of a Western literary canon has been challenged as a vehicle for reinforcing questionable norms and hierarchies and silencing other important perspectives. In this class we read well-known ancient, medieval and Renaissance texts with a view to how they themselves question the civilizations from which they emerge. A unique feature of this class is that it is taught by faculty from three different disciplines who bring a variety of interpretive practices to bear on the texts. This creates a classroom environment in which dialogue is the means to discovery. Students are encouraged to be part of the conversation both during class and in weekly discussion sections. Readings may include such authors as Homer, Aeschylus, Plato, Augustine, Chretien de Troyes, and Machiavelli. Nancy Bisaha, Rachel Friedman, and Christopher Raymond.

Two 75-minute periods plus extra periods.

116 The Dark Ages 1

(Same as HIST 116) Was early medieval Europe really Dark? In reality, this was a period of tremendous vitality and ferment, witnessing the transformation of late classical society, the growth of Germanic kingdoms, the high point of Byzantium, the rise of the papacy and monasticism, and the birth of Islam. This course examines a rich variety of sources that illuminate the first centuries of Christianity, the fall of the Roman Empire, and early medieval culture showing moments of both conflict and synthesis that redefined Europe and the Mediterranean. Nancy Bisaha.

Two 75-minute periods.

117 High Middle Ages, 950-1300 1.0

(Same as HIST 117) This course examines medieval Europe at both its cultural and political height. Topics of study include: the first universities; government from feudal lordships to national monarchies; courtly and popular culture; manorial life and town life; the rise of papal monarchy; new religious orders and spirituality among the laity. Relations with religious outsiders are explored in topics on European Jewry, heretics, and the Crusades. 

Not offered in 2017/18.

Two 75-minute periods.

159 Blood and Faith: The St. Bartholomew's Massacre in Context 0.5

(Same as HIST 159) On August 24, 1572, Catholic troops slaughtered nearly 3,000 Protestant men and women who had arrived in Paris to attend the marriage between the future Henry IV and Marguerite de Valois, sister of Charles IX. It was the most dramatic episode of the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598) during which 2-4 million Catholics and Protestants died.  This course examines the origins of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre coming out of the Protestant Reformation. Like the larger war, the massacre was not simply initiated by kings and nobles but featured ordinary subjects who sought to defend and define their community. We look at how the war was fought not just with weapons but words, featuring a trip to Special Collections. Throughout the course, we examine the relationship between politics and religion, between faith and community, issues that remain relevant today. Sumita Choudhury.

Not offered in 2017/18.

Two 75-minute periods.

175 The Italian Renaissance in English Translation 1

(Same as ITAL 175) In this course we examine the notion of selfhood as it first appears in the writings of early humanists (XIV century), Renaissance authors (XVI century) and works of contemporary visual artists. Cultural, philosophical, aesthetic, and gender issues are investigated through the reading of literary and theatrical masterpieces and their influence on visual artists like Botticelli, Raphael, and others.  We read in English translation excerpts from Petrarch (Canzoniere and Letters), Boccaccio (Decameron), poems and letters by women humanists (Isotta Nogarola, Cassandra Fedele, Laura Cereta), Machiavelli (The Prince), Castiglione (The Book of the Courtier), Gaspara Stampa and Veronica Franco (Poems). In order to foster the student's self-awareness and creativity, journaling, experiential practices, and a creative project, based on the course content, are included. Eugenio Giusti.

May not be counted towards the Italian major. Satisfies college requirement for a Freshman Writing Seminar.

Not offered in 2017/18.

Two 75-minute periods.

Medieval/Renaissance Studies: II. Intermediate

202a. Thesis Preparation 0.5

220 Medieval and Renaissance Culture 1

Topic for 2017/18b: Detectives in the Archive: Reading Medieval and Renaissance Texts. Study of manuscripts of various types, from late antiquity to the early modern period. The course includes guest lectures by Vassar faculty and other experts, a field trip, and direct work with manuscripts from Vassar's collection. The course serves as a de facto survey of medieval and renaissance culture. Marc Epstein and Ronald Patkus.

Two 75-minute periods.

223b. The Founding of English Literature 1

(Same as ENGL 223) These courses, ENGL 222 and 223, offer an introduction to British literary history through an exploration of texts from the eighth through the seventeenth centuries in their literary and cultural contexts. ENGL 222 begins with Old English literature and continues through the death of Queen Elizabeth I (1603). ENGL 223 begins with the establishment of Great Britain and continues through the British Civil War and Puritan Interregnum to the Restoration. Critical issues may include discourses of difference (race, religion, gender, social class); tribal, ethnic, and national identities; exploration and colonization; textual transmission and the rise of print culture; authorship and authority. Both courses address the formation and evolution of the British literary canon, and its significance for contemporary English studies.

Topic for 2017/18b: From the Faerie Queene to The Country Wife: Introduction to Early Modern Literature and Culture. This is a thematically organized "issues and methods" course grafted onto a chronologically structured survey course of early modern literature and culture. Its double goal is to develop skills for understanding early modern texts (both the language and the culture) as well as to familiarize students with a representative selection of works from the mid-1500s through the late 1600s. With this two-pronged approach, we will acquire an informed appreciation of the early modern period that may well serve as the basis for pursuing more specialized courses in this field. We explore a great variety of genres and media, including canonical authors such as Spenser, Sidney, Shakespeare, Donne, and Milton, but we also attend to less well-known authors, many of them women, through whose writings we can achieve a more nuanced and complex understanding of the times. By paying special attention to correlations between literature and other discourses, as well as to issues of cultural identity and difference based on citizenship, class, ethnicity, gender, geography, nationality, race, and religion, we engage early modern literature and culture in ways that are productive to the understanding of our own culture as well. Zoltán Márkus. 

Please note that ENGL 222 is not a prerequisite for this course; it is open to all students, including freshmen.

Two 75-minute periods.

235a. Old English 1

(Same as ENGL 235) Introduction to Old English language and literature. Mark Amodio.

Two 75-minute periods.

236b. Beowulf 1

(Same as ENGL 236) Intensive study of the early English epic in the original language. Mark Amodio.
 

Prerequisite(s):  ENGL 235 or demonstrated knowledge of Old English, or permission of the instructor.

Two 75-minute periods.

246a. Music and Ideas I: Medieval and Early Modern Europe: The Power of Church and Court 1

(Same as MUSI 246) This course introduces major historical and intellectual ideas of music from the Ancient world through 1660. The focus is on essential repertoire as well as the cultures that fostered principal genres of sacred and secular music during the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and early Baroque. Brian Mann.

Includes an additional listening/discussion section.

Prerequisite(s): MUSI 105/MUSI 106 or permission of the instructor.

275a. Roots and Branches: Italian Renaissance Authors and Their Impact on Early Modern Western Culture 1

(Same as ITAL 275) The works of Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) and Giovanni Boccaccio, arguably the greatest authors of Italian Humanism, had a lasting impact on early modern western culture, from the literary, to the philosophical, from the theatrical to the visual. In this course we explore the ways in which Petrarch's poetic style (Canzoniere)  and epistolary writing (Familiar and Seniles Letters) become a canon for sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italian and European poets (including William Shakespeare), and such essayists as Michel de Montaigne.  Boccaccio's invention of the novella genre and the writing of the Decameron  inspired not only contemporary and Renaissance authors like Geoffrey Chaucer and Marguerite of Navarre, but also theatrical production of the period (Bibbiena, Machiavelli, Shakespeare.  Boccaccio's erudite catalogue of famous women (De Mulieribus Claris) can be read as partial subtext to Christine de Pizan's The Book of the City of Ladies,  and the iconography of Renaissance visual artists, like Botticelli and Titian, can be explored as based on Petrarch's and Boccaccio's texts. Conducted in English. 

Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors.  May be counted towards the Italian major.

Not offered in 2017/18.

Two 75-minute periods.

290 Field Work 0.5 to 1

298 Independent Work 0.5 to 1

Medieval/Renaissance Studies: III. Advanced

300a. Senior Thesis 0.5

An interdisciplinary study written over two semesters under the supervision of two advisors from two different disciplines.

Yearlong course 300-MRST 301.

301b. Senior Thesis 0.5

An interdisciplinary study written over two semesters under the supervision of two advisors from two different disciplines.

Yearlong course MRST 300-301.

302a or b. Senior Thesis 1

An interdisciplinary study written during one semester under the supervision of two advisors from two different disciplines.

323 Intersections in Music and Literature 1

(Same as ITAL 323 and MUSI 323) Topic for 2017/18b: The Italian Madrigal, Music and Poetry in the Renaissance. This course examines the history of the sixteenth-and early seventeenth-century Italian madrigal and related secular forms, with close attention to the varieties of Italian poetry that composers set to music throughout the madrigal's lengthy history. In particular, we consider the madrigalists' responses to Petrarch's Canzoniere, Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata, and Guarini's Il Pastor Fido. The course also examines the role of less exalted poetry ("poesia per musica") in the genre's history. Brian Mann.

Prerequisite(s): MUSI 105/MUSI 106; MUSI 205; MUSI 246/MUSI 247, or permission of the instructor.

Two 75-minute periods.

339 . Shakespeare in Production 1

(Same as DRAM 339) Students in the course study the physical circumstances of Elizabethan public and private theaters at the beginning of the semester. The remainder of the semester is spent in critical examination of the plays of Shakespeare and several of his contemporaries using original staging practices of the early modern theater. The course emphasizes the conditions under which the plays were written and performed and uses practice as an experiential tool to critically analyze the texts as performance scripts. Denise Walen.

Enrollment limited to Juniors and Seniors.

Not offered in 2017/18.

One 3-hour period.

341 Studies in the Renaissance 1

(Same as ENGL 341) Intensive study of selected Renaissance texts and the questions they raise about their context and interpretation. 

Topic for 2017/18b: Sex and the City in 1600: Gender, Marriage, Family, and Sexuality in Early Modern London. This course explores everyday life in the rapidly expanding early modern metropolis of London. We pay special attention to religious, social, legal as well as informal control mechanisms that influenced issues of gender, marriage, and sexuality in various layers of London society. We anchor our investigations in a handful of plays (mainly city comedies) by Beaumont, Dekker, Jonson, Marston, Middleton, and Shakespeare, but also discuss ballads, homilies, conduct books, legal and travel narratives, pamphlets and treatises, literary works by female authors, and other literary and non-literary texts. Zoltán Márkus.

One 2-hour period.

399 Senior Independent Work 0.5 to 1