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AHIS GU4520 Gothic Nature. 4 points.

In this seminar, we will ask how medieval literary and visual culture shaped and reflected people’s conception of God’s Creation—animals, plants, rocks, planets—and their place in and with respect to it. At once a hostile environment, a place of temporary exile after humankind’s banishment from Paradise, nature also functioned as a machine, bearing the blueprint of its divine designer, to be decoded and instrumentalized for nourishment, medicine, and amusement. It was also valued for its limitless metaphorical potential, both elevating and foreboding; nature often signified something apart from itself. To elaborate on these themes, we will turn to recent approaches in ecocritical and ecomaterialist studies, and will explore historical texts and images relating to Neo-Platonic cosmology, the wood of the cross, the host mill and wine press (and other agricultural allegories), tree cults, stones and sedimentation, star-gazing, architectural vegetation, herbal medicine, natural theology, among other topics. A leitmotif threading throughout the semester’s discussions will be the extent to which ideas and ideals growing out of the Middle Ages continue to inform the way in which we interact with the natural world. Museum visits to the New York Botanical Library Rare Books/Manuscripts Library and The Cloisters’ gardens are mandatory.