Director
Rachel Eisendrath (Tow Associate Professor of English)

Professors
Christopher Baswell (Ann Whitney Olin Professor of English at Barnard College and Columbia University)
Elizabeth Castelli (Professor of Religion)
Achsah Guibbory (Professor of English)
Najam Haider (Professor of Religion)
Kim Hall (Lucyle Hook Professor of English and Africana Studies)
Joel Kaye (Ann Whitney Olin Professor of History)
Keith Moxey (Professor of Art History)
Peter Platt (Ann Whitney Olin Professor of English)
Deborah Valenze (Professor of History)

Associate Professor
Orlando Bentancor (Associate Professor of Spanish and Latin American Cultures)

Assistant Professors
Gregory Bryda (Assistant Professor of Art History)
Matthew L. Keegan (Moinian Assistant Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures)

Senior Lecturers
Laurie Postlewate (Senior Lecturer in French)
Timea Szell (Senior Lecturer in English)

Senior Scholar
Anne Lake Prescott (Emerita)

For Columbia University Medieval and Renaissance faculty, see their website.

Requirements for the Major

Major programs are established individually with a concentration in one of these disciplines: art history, history, literature, philosophy, romance philology, music, or religion. Each student, after consultation with the chair, chooses an adviser in her area of concentration who guides her in developing a sequence of courses to be taken in the field.

A minimum of 11 courses that are at least 41 credits in total are required for the major in Medieval and Renaissance Studies:

  • Five courses in the area of concentration;
  • Two history courses for students who are not concentrating in history;
  • Two courses in the other disciplines mentioned above for those who are;
  • Two electives in areas outside the concentration, to be chosen in consultation with the adviser; and
  • MEDR BC3998 Directed Research for the Senior Project and MEDR BC3999 Directed Research for the Senior Project, a two-semester program of interdisciplinary research leading to the writing of the senior essay.

(In some cases, a senior seminar in one of the departments may be substituted for MEDR BC3998 Directed Research for the Senior Project or MEDR BC3999 Directed Research for the Senior Project.)

Students are required to write an interdisciplinary senior essay based on two semesters of research in their field of concentration and in another discipline, carried out under the supervision of their area adviser and another from the second discipline. The choice of topic for this senior project and the appointment of a second adviser are determined in consultation with the area adviser and the chair of the program.

In addition to the language used to fulfill the general four-semester requirement for graduation, the student must have completed two semesters of a second language (or the equivalent) relevant to her area of concentration.

The following courses represent only a sample of those that can be taken to satisfy the program requirement. Other relevant courses may be taken with the permission of the chair.

No minor is offered in Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Jump to a Category

Medieval and Renaissance Program Courses

Cross-Listed Courses:

Art History and Archaeology
Classics
English and Comparative Literature
English (Barnard)
French (Barnard)
History
History (Barnard)
Italian
Music
Philosophy
Religion

Medieval and Renaissance Program Courses

MEDR BC3099 INDEPENDENT STUDY. 1.00-4.00 points.

MEDR BC3998 Directed Research for the Senior Project. 4 points.

Two semesters of supervised interdisciplinary research in Medieval or Renaissance Studies terminating in the writing of a senior essay. The program of research is determined in consultation with the chair and under the guidance of the area adviser. It is supervised by the latter and an adviser from the second discipline involved in the project.

MEDR BC3999 Directed Research for the Senior Project. 4 points.

Two semesters of supervised interdisciplinary research in Medieval or Renaissance Studies terminating in the writing of a senior essay. The program of research is determined in consultation with the chair and under the guidance of the area adviser. It is supervised by the latter and an adviser from the second discipline involved in the project.

Cross-Listed Courses:

Art History and Archaeology

AHIS W3230 Medieval Architecture. 3 points.

Not offered during 2022-23 academic year.

Developed collaboratively and taught digitally spanning one thousand years of architecture.

AHIS W3407 Early Italian Art. 3 points.

Discussion Section Required
Not offered during 2022-23 academic year.

An introduction to the origins and early development of Italian Renaissance painting as a mode of symbolic communication between 1300-1600. Artists include Giotto, Fra Angelico, Masaccio, Mantegna, and Leonardo da Vinci. Emphasis on centers of painting in Florence, Siena, Assisi, Venice and Rome.

AHIS GU4027 Architecture and Associated Arts in Western Europe from 1066 until 1399: Building with Blood, Sweat, and Tears. 3.00 points.

This course will study building practice, sculpture, and architectural ornamentation in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. The monuments selected belong to a period that starts when architecture moved away from Roman antique models and ends just before the re-adoption of Classical standards in the Renaissance. In this course the originality of medieval architecture, its relationship with earlier and later monuments, and the dramatic effort involved in its creation will be discussed. Major themes of medieval society such as pilgrimages, crusades, piety, the cult of relics, and the social and intellectual context of the Middle Ages are also part of this lecture. The course will also introduce students on how to harness digital technologies such as laser scanning or photogrammetry for the study of medieval art. No preliminary knowledge of medieval history or architectural history is needed and no knowledge of digital technologies or specific computer skills is expected. (Virtual) Museum visits will complement the regular lectures

AHIS GU4031 Art of Italy: 1300-1520. 3.00 points.

This course is a survey of the art of Italy from the early fourteenth century until the onset of the Reformation. It will cover the major artists and cultural centers of the peninsula, examining them in the context of broader artistic currents and conventions of the period. Special attention will be paid to the social, political, and historical factors that led to changes in the visual arts as well as the impact of cultures beyond classical antiquity on the form and iconography of paintings and sculptures in the Early Renaissance. The lectures will provide students with a deeper understanding of the canonical works of Italian artists from Cimabue and Giotto to Leonardo da Vinci and Giovanni Bellini, of the development of new criteria for assessing the visual arts, of the relationship between artists, patrons, and audiences in the period. The readings, in turn, will familiarize them with key primary sources of the fourteenth and fifteenth century, as well as the writings of distinguished Renaissance scholars from the nineteenth century until the present

Classics

LATN UN3033 MEDIEVAL LANGUAGE & LITERATURE. 3.00 points.

Prerequisites: four semesters of college Latin or the instructor's permission.
Prerequisites: four semesters of college Latin or the instructors permission. This course offers an introduction to medieval Latin literature in conversation with its two most important traditions, classical literature and early Christian culture. Illustrative passages from the principal authors and genres of the Latin Middle Ages will be read, including Augustine and biblical exegesis; Ambrose and poetry; Bede and history and hagiography; Abelard and Heloise and the 12th century Renaissance. The course is suitable both for students of Latin and of the Middle Ages

LATN GU4152 MEDIEVAL LATIN LITERATURE. 3.00 points.

Prerequisites: the instructor's permission.
Prerequisites: the instructors permission. This course covers various topics in Medieval Latin Literature

English & Comparative Literature

ENGL UN3336 Shakespeare II. 3 points.

(Lecture). Shakespeare II examines plays from the second half of Shakespeare’s dramatic career, primarily a selection of his major tragedies and his later comedies (or “romances”).

English (Barnard)

ENGL BC3136 Renaissance Epic. 3 points.

The epic tradition raises crucial questions about the interrelationship of literature and power. In telling the story of war and empire building, how does epic both promote and also challenge the cause of the winner? How does epic preserve a space for more lyrical forms of subjectivity? What does this literary form tell about the role of women, the nameless majority and the global ‘other' in the West? In this course, we will trace the European epic tradition, studying Homer's Iliad, Virgil's Aeneid, Spenser's The Faerie Queene and Milton's Paradise Lost. Finally, we will read a contemporary poet's reflection on this tradition, Alice Oswald's Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad.

ENGL BC3246 WRITING THE MEDIEVAL SELF. 3.00 points.

The late Middle Ages and early Renaissance saw an explosion in the use of the first-person singular "I" by European writers of narrative texts. Although these narratives – among them dream visions, philosophical allegories, spiritual autobiographies, and straight-up novels – do not always correspond to modern ideas about autobiography, they nonetheless demonstrate a growing interest in such "autobiographical" topics as personal identity, sexual difference, mental illness, and disability, even as they experiment with a variety of literary forms and raise fundamental questions about the relationship between truth and writing. Writers will include Augustine, Dante, Boccaccio, Chaucer, Christine de Pisan, Thomas Hoccleve, Julian of Norwich and Teresa de Cartagena, among others. No foreign language experience is required for this course, but knowledge of Latin or Romance languages may be useful

ENGL BC3154 Chaucer Before Canterbury. 3 points.

Not offered during 2022-23 academic year.

Chaucer's innovations with major medieval forms: lyric, the extraordinary dream visions, and the culmination of medieval romance, Troilus and Criseyde. Approaches through close analysis, and feminist and historicist interpretation. Background readings in medieval life and culture.

ENGL BC3155 Canterbury Tales. 3 points.

Not offered during 2022-23 academic year.

Chaucer as inheritor of late-antique and medieval conventions and founder of early modern literature and the fiction of character.  Selections from related medieval texts.

ENGL BC3158 Medieval Literature: Literatures of Medieval Britain. 3 points.

BC: Fulfillment of General Education Requirement: Reason and Value (REA)., BC: Fulfillment of General Education Requirement: Literature (LIT).
Not offered during 2022-23 academic year.

It's easy to forget that medieval literature wasn't always old and "quaint" as it seems to many of us today. For writers and artists of that era, they were modern, too. But they also imagined their own past and (like many of us) they often had a nostalgic yearning for that lost time. This course will explore a number of forms of medieval literature, mostly British but also some continental, as it explores versions of its past, and especially the ultimately tragic story of King Arthur. We will read across many medieval genres, including some little known today, like lives of saints. But the course will focus on narratives of quest: heroic, psychological, and erotic. We will also explore some of the often beautiful medieval manuscripts in which these texts were often copied. We will read most Middle English texts in the original language; we'll study French and Latin texts in translation.

ENGL BC3163 Shakespeare I. 3 points.

A critical and historical introduction to Shakespeare's comedies, histories, tragedies, and romances. Please note that you do not need to take ENGL BC3163: Shakespeare I and ENGL BC3164: Shakespeare II in sequence; you may take them in any order.

ENGL BC3164 Shakespeare II. 3 points.

Prerequisites: Enrollment limited to 60 students.

Critical and historical introduction to selected comedies, histories, tragedies, and romances by Shakespeare. Please note that you do not need to take ENGL BC3163: Shakespeare I and ENGL BC3164: Shakespeare II in sequence; you may take them in any order.

ENGL BC3165 The Elizabethan Renaissance: The Complete Nondramatic Poetry of Marlowe and Shakespeare. 3 points.

Not offered during 2022-23 academic year.

In this course, we will read the complete nondramatic poetry of Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare, working closely through sonnets, epyllia (mini epics), and translations. How do Marlowe and Shakespeare put into play inherited and new ideas about history, gender, sexuality, politics, law, God, race, matter, print, and literary form (especially the sonnet)?

ENGL BC3166 17TH-CENTURY PROSE & POETRY. 3 points.

Not offered during 2022-23 academic year.

The seventeenth century was a century of revolution, giving birth to modern ways of thinking, and calling into question many of the old ways. In the early years, many were affected by melancholy, some believing the world was approaching the endtimes. England experienced plagues, particularly in London, and other catastrophes. So we might find some affinity with our own current situation, facing new challenges, our world turned upside down, which is what many people felt during that time. Out of all of this turmoil, however, came great literature including lyric poems by John Donne and others exploring love and desire, doubt and faith, sex and God. Donne also wrote a series of Devotions grappling with mortality over a course of 23 days when he was suffering from typhus or relapsing fever and almost died. Others turned to find solace in the natural world and friendship (Amelia Lanyer, Katherine Philips, Henry Vaughan). Robert Burton wrote a book on melancholy, which he kept adding to. Francis Bacon thought a revolution in science could redeem the world. Thomas Browne, a physician as well as writer, tackled the problem of intolerance and religious conflict. Thomas Hobbes thought only a firm (authoritarian?) government could reestablish peace and security, while Gerard Winstanley (a “Leveller”) thought that owning land (and money) was the source of all war and misery. Transgressive women had their own ideas. The Quaker leader Margaret Fell defended women's right to preach. We will read selections from these and other writers, understanding them in their historical context and with a sense of their current resonance.The seventeenth century was a century of revolution, giving birth to modern ways of thinking, and calling into question many of the old ways. In the early years, many were affected by melancholy, some believing the world was approaching the endtimes. England experienced plagues, particularly in London, and other catastrophes. So we might find some affinity with our own current situation, facing new challenges, our world turned upside down, which is what many people felt during that time. Out of all of this turmoil, however, came great literature including lyric poems by John Donne and others exploring love and desire, doubt and faith, sex and God. Donne also wrote a series of Devotions grappling with mortality over a course of 23 days when he was suffering from typhus or relapsing fever and almost died. Others turned to find solace in the natural world and friendship (Amelia Lanyer, Katherine Philips, Henry Vaughan). Robert Burton wrote a book on melancholy, which he kept adding to. Francis Bacon thought a revolution in science could redeem the world. Thomas Browne, a physician as well as writer, tackled the problem of intolerance and religious conflict. Thomas Hobbes thought only a firm (authoritarian?) government could reestablish peace and security, while Gerard Winstanley (a “Leveller”) thought that owning land (and money) was the source of all war and misery. Transgressive women had their own ideas. The Quaker leader Margaret Fell defended women's right to preach. We will read selections from these and other writers, understanding them in their historical context and with a sense of their current resonance.

ENGL BC3167 MILTON. 3.00 points.

How and why might we read Milton now? And how do his writings and thinking intersect with issues in our present moment? We will read his influential epic Paradise Lost after reading selections of Milton's earlier poetry and prose (attack against censorship, defenses of divorce, individual conscience, toleration, complicated issues of political and religious liberty). He wrote about these matters as he was involved in the English Civil war, an advocate of liberty (we will consider what kind, for whom?) and revolution, which Americans would embrace as inspiration and to justify the American Revolution. We will critically read Milton’s literary and political texts within the contexts of religious, political, and cultural history of early modern England and Europe but also colonial and revolutionary America—asking difficult questions, and with a sense of how Milton’s writing connects to present issues of our time

ENGL BC3169 Renaissance Drama. 3 points.

Not offered during 2022-23 academic year.

Prerequisites: Enrollment limited to 25 students.

This class will examine English drama at the moment when it arose as a major art form. In Renaissance London, astonishingly complex plays emerged that reflected the diverse urban life of the city, as well as the layered and often contradictory inner life of the individual. This poetically rich theater was less concerned with presenting answers, and more with staging questions—about gender, race, religion, literary tradition, love, sex, authority, and class. In this course, we will try to tap into this theater’s cosmopolitan, enlivened poetics by studying not only Shakespeare, but also the various other major authors who constituted this literary world: Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, Thomas Dekker, Thomas Middleton, John Webster, and the female playwright Aphra Behn.

French (Barnard)

FREN BC3021 MAJOR FRENCH TEXTS I. 3.00 points.

An exploration of the early periods of French literary creation (Medieval-17th century) through works of fiction, poetry, and theatre. Special attention is given to texts that use tradition to bring about change, to provoke, to contest social norms, and to test the expected parameters of literary expression

FREN BC3023 The Culture of France I. 3 points.

Not offered during 2022-23 academic year.

Historical analysis of mentalites from the Middle Ages to the reign of Louis XIV through symbol, structure, and self-presentation. FREN BC1204: French Intermediate II or the equivalent level is required. 

FREN BC3029 Laughter in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. 3 points.

Not offered during 2022-23 academic year.

Explores both the traditional comic forms of early French literature (farce, sottie, fabliau, burlesque, grotesque) and comedic elements of serious genres such as chanson de geste, saint's lives, and romance. An investigation into the mentalites of the Middle Ages and Renaissance through an understanding of what made people laugh. FREN BC1204: French Intermediate II or the equivalent level is required.

FREN BC3032 Women and Writing in Early Modern France. 3 points.

Examination of cultural and literary phenomena in 15th through 17th century France, focusing on writings by and about women. FREN BC1204: French Intermediate II or the equivalent level is required.

FREN BC3033 Literature of the French Renaissance and the Baroque. 3 points.

Not offered during 2022-23 academic year.

Prerequisites: FREN BC1204: French Intermediate II or the equivalent level is required.

Experimentation and discovery in the arts, in science and technology, and in the understanding of the human experience. Explores how the works of French poets, prosateurs, and playwrights reflect both the vibrancy and splendor of the time, as well as the struggle of an era preoccupied with death and rebirth.

FREN BC3034 French Baroque and Classical Literature. 3 points.

Not offered during 2022-23 academic year.

Prerequisites: FREN BC1204: French Intermediate II or the equivalent level is required.

Interdisciplinary exploration of the literature and culture of the Grand Siecle.

History

HIST W4083 Crime and Punishment in the Middle Ages. 4 points.

Priority given to majors and concentrators, seniors, and juniors.

Prerequisites: the instructor's permission.

How a society defines crime, and how it deals with the criminals tells us a lot about the moral values, and the political and economic structure of that society, as well as its internal conflicts, superstitions, and fears. Often supposed to be a barbaric community of ignorant unruly men governed by greedy kings and popes, the medieval society in the popular culture is often an inspiration to the grotesque representations of violence and torture. Even an intellectual like Michel Foucault did not hesitate to advance a theory of medieval punishment, albeit a terribly wrong one, as one that focuses on the body and spectacle.  This course is designed to trace the origins of the modern criminal legislation and practices to the Middle Ages, some of which were jury trial, public persecution, and prisons. How did these practices come about, and under which social conditions? The focus of the course will be on violent crimes, such as murder, robbery, assault and suicide, and some particularly medieval crimes like sorcery, blasphemy and sodomy. The geographical scope will be limited to England, Italy and France. The class discussions are expected to take the form of collective brainstorming on how the political powers, social classes, cultural values, and religious beliefs affect the development of criminal legislation and institutions. Whenever possible the weekly readings will feature a fair share of medieval texts, including trial records, criminal laws, a manual for trying witches, and prison poetry. Field(s): *MED

History (Barnard)

HIST BC1062 Introduction to Later Middle Ages: 1050-1450. 4 points.

BC: Fulfillment of General Education Requirement: Historical Studies (HIS).

Social environment, political, and religious institutions, and the main intellectual currents of the Latin West studied through primary sources and modern historical writings.

HIST BC3062 Medieval Economic Life and Thought ca 1000 to 1500. 4 points.

BC: Fulfillment of General Education Requirement: Historical Studies (HIS).

Prerequisites: Permission of the instructor. Enrollment limited to 15. Preregistration required.

Traces the development of economic enterprises and techniques in their cultural context: agricultural markets, industry, commercial partnerships, credit, large-scale banking, insurance, and merchant culture. Examines usury and just price theory, the scholastic analysis of price and value, and the recognition of the market as a self-regulating system, centuries before Adam Smith.

HIST BC3062 Medieval Economic Life and Thought ca 1000 to 1500. 4 points.

BC: Fulfillment of General Education Requirement: Historical Studies (HIS).

Prerequisites: Permission of the instructor. Enrollment limited to 15. Preregistration required.

Traces the development of economic enterprises and techniques in their cultural context: agricultural markets, industry, commercial partnerships, credit, large-scale banking, insurance, and merchant culture. Examines usury and just price theory, the scholastic analysis of price and value, and the recognition of the market as a self-regulating system, centuries before Adam Smith.

HIST BC3064 Medieval Science and Society. 4 points.

Prerequisites: Permission of the instructor. Enrollment limited to 15. Preregistration required.

                The evolution of scientific thinking from the 12th to the 16th centuries, considering subjects such as cosmology, natural history, quantification, experimentation, the physics of motion, and Renaissance perspective.  At every point we link proto-scientific developments to social and technological developments in the society beyond the schools.

HIST BC3360 London: From Great Wen to World City. 4 points.

Prerequisites: Permission of the instructor. Enrollment limited to 15. Preregistration required.

Social and cultural history of London from the Great Fire of 1666 to the 1960s. An examination of the changing experience of urban identity through the commercial life, public spaces, and diverse inhabitants of London. Topics include 17th-century rebuilding, immigrants and emigrants, suburbs, literary culture, war, and redevelopment.

Italian

ITAL W4092 Dante's <i>Divina Commedia</I> II. 4 points.

ITALIAN MAJORS AND ITALIAN DEPT GRADUATE STUDENTS MUST REGISTER FOR SECTION 001.Not offered during 2022-23 academic year.

Prerequisites: SECTION 001: reading knowledge of Italian. SECTION 002: none.

A year-long course in which the "Commedia" is read over two consecutive semesters; students can register for the first, the second, or both semesters. This course offers a thorough grounding in the entire text and an introduction to the complexities of its exegetical history. Attention not only to historical and theological issues, but also to Dante's mimesis, his construction of an authorial voice that generations of readers have perceived as "true," and the critical problems that emerge when the virtual reality created in language has religious and theological pretensions. SECTION 001: Lectures in English, text in Italian; examinations require the ability to translate Italian. SECTION 002: Lectures in English, examinations in English; students who can follow lectures with the help of translations but who cannot manage the Italian should register for this section.

Music

MUSI GU4060 MEDIEVAL MUSIC DRAMA. 3.00 points.

In this seminar we will study examples of music drama from the tenth century to the fourteenth, taking into account both the manuscript sources and methodological questions raised by performative works at the intersection of literature, music, and ritual

Philosophy (Barnard)

PHIL UN2201 History of Philosophy II: Aquinas to Kant. 4 points.

Prerequisites: PHIL UN2211 Required Discussion Section (0 points).

PHIL UN2101 is not a prerequisite for this course. Exposition and analysis of the metaphysics, epistemology, and natural philosophy of the major philosophers from Aquinas through Kant. Authors include Aquinas, Galileo, Gassendi, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant.  This course has unrestricted enrollment.

PHIL V3237 Late Medieval and Modern Philosophy. 3 points.

BC: Fulfillment of General Education Requirement: Reason and Value (REA).

Prerequisites: One philosophy course or permission of the instructor. \nCourse not offered in Fall 2016, will be offered in Spring 2017

Study of one or more of the major philosophers from the Renaissance through the 18th century. Sample topics: substance and matter; bodies, minds, and spirits; identity and individuation; ideas of God; causation; liberty and necessity; skepticism; philosophy and science; ethical and political issues. Sample philosophers: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Conway, Locke, Berkely, Hume, Kant.

Religion

RELI V3140 Early Christianity. 3 points.

Examination of different currents in early Christianity. Discussion of gnosticism, monasticism, conflicts of gender and class, and the work of writers such as Origen and Augustine.

RELI W4170 History of Christianity: Topics in Pre-Modern Papal History. 4 points.

Prerequisites: the instructor's permission.

An examination of a series of episodes that are of special consequence for papal history in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Readings in both primary and secondary sources in English translation.

RELI W4171 Law and Medieval Christianity. 4 points.

Prerequisites: the 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.