Medieval and Renaissance Studies First Year Courses

The Medieval and Renaissance studies minor (MARS) enables students to explore the richness and variety of civilization from the late Roman era through the Renaissance and Reformation. Broadly interdisciplinary, it is intended as a supplement to traditional majors. Spanning the humanities and social sciences, MARS covers history, art, literature, music, philosophy, science, and religion from the 4th to the 17th centuries.

Chronological parameters define the Middle Ages as beginning with the rise of Christianity in the 4th-century Roman Empire. The Renaissance encompasses the humanism of 15th-century Italy, the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, and its aftermath in the 17th-century Counter-Reformation. Due to the difficulty of assigning absolute chronological limits to these diverse periods, some courses necessarily include material that crosses these boundaries; moreover, the emphasis in MARS is on creating interdisciplinary bridges across the curriculum, and the program is structured in a way that encourages students to explore a cross section of traditional fields. To this end, MARS courses can center on a topic area proposed by the student and agreed upon in consultation with a faculty adviser. However, courses in the minor should complement each other.

Students may elect to minor in either the medieval or Renaissance period or in a combination of both. In order to declare a minor, prospective students must write a statement of purpose (at least one page), explaining how the choice of courses in their minor will coalesce. This should normally be submitted to the program director by the spring term of the junior year. In order to take full advantage of course offerings and advising, students are urged to enroll in the program as early as possible in their undergraduate career. MARS students also have the opportunity to study at Oxford University for a term.


Works by prominent British writers, from Geoffrey Chaucer in the fourteenth century to Seamus Heaney in the twenty-first. The course emphasizes the development of reading and analytical skills. Required of all majors, normally in their first or sophomore year.

An introduction to literary study focusing on the nature of literary tradition and its relationship to cultural and historical contexts. The rich, varied, and enduring tradition connected with the figure of King Arthur is explored through a consideration of English, French, and Welsh texts written between the early Middle Ages and the 15th century, although some more modern works may also be considered. The course is concerned with (among other topics) how different cultures, historical epochs, and individual authors have adapted Arthurian tradition to meet their own needs and concerns and with what has made Arthurian tradition a compelling source of material for so many different interests right up to the present.

The Middle Ages were a period of enormous transformation and creativity in Europe. This course examines the emergence of medieval civilization from the ruins of the ancient world and the subsequent evolution of that civilization into modern Europe. Themes to be covered include the fall of Rome, the spread of Christianity and the conflicts within the medieval church, the rise and fall of Byzantium, the challenge of Islam and the crusades, the Vikings, the development of the medieval economy, the feudal revolution, the 12th-century Renaissance, the origins of law and government, the effects of the Black Death, and the Italian Renaissance. (EU)

In 1485, Henry Tudor became king of England. A second-rate power in Europe, his kingdom had been torn apart by dynastic struggles and civil war. By 1714, when the last of the Stuart monarchs died, everything had changed. England was now part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, which included Scotland and Wales, and whose king also ruled over the neighboring island of Ireland. The medieval feudal kingship had been replaced by a well-established parliamentary monarchy, with many stops along the way. Britain was now a world power, at the center of a far-flung empire, and competing with France for dominance in Europe and beyond. This course will explore precisely how these monumental changes came about, taking a close look at British history over the long 16th and 17th centuries from a number of different perspectives: political, religious, social, cultural, commercial, and intellectual. (EU)

The first semester of an introductory study of the elements of the Latin language. A thorough and methodical approach to the basics is supplemented, as students progress, by selected readings of works by ancient authors.

In the desert landscape of 7th century Arabia, a middle-aged Arab tribesman and caravan trader named Muhammad began to hear the word of God and declared himself a prophet. Within decades, Muhammad’s message sparked a religious and social revolution that changed the course of human history. Students examine the rise of Islam, its emergence as a diverse global religion, and its multi-faceted encounters with Western-style modernity. Students begin by studying the Qur’an, the life of Muhammad, and the stories of his immediate successors. Who exactly was Muhammad, and what was the nature of his message? What challenges did the early Muslim community face? Following our exploration of the earliest phases of Islamic history, students then delve into the formation of two major streams of Islamic thought: shari’a (Islamic law) and Sufism (Islamic mysticism). The final third of the semester focuses on Muslim responses to European colonialism and Western-style modernity. Specifically, we examine colonial-era changes to shari’a, the Iranian Revolution, the rise of violent Islamists like Al Qaeda and ISIS, and modern Muslims living in the West.

Offers an introduction to Spanish literature from its medieval origins through the 15th century, with emphasis on the relations among literature, culture, and civilization. Works from different genres are studied, including epic poetry, Hispano-Arabic poetry, folk ballads, early theater, historical works, and short stories. Students explore issues of authorship, as well as the cultural, religious, and historical contexts that produced each work. Language Placement Guidelines