Teaching: Past Courses
EUH 3180: Medieval Magic and Witchcraft syllabus (PDF)
Prof. Bonnie Effros
This course will assess the social, religious, and political functions of the supernatural in late antique, medieval, and early modern European society (400-1700 CE). Through primary and secondary readings, lectures, discussions, and films, students will gain a better understanding of the role played by magic, witchcraft, and the occult in shaping pre-modern European views of the cosmos. We will also study the ways in which the condemnation of demonic power existed side by side with miraculous tales of the deeds of saints, alchemical research, and magical Arthurian romances. Another important aspect of the course will be to address how accusations of magic and witchcraft and resulting persecutions marginalized particularly vulnerable individuals and social groups in Europe from the fourth to seventeenth centuries.
EUH 5934: Late Antique and Early Medieval Economy syllabus (PDF)
Prof. Bonnie Effros
During the interwar period, European historians began to look to numismatic evidence to explore the origins of European nations and the reasons for the Roman Empire’s decline. Arguing that the key to the health of the economic vitality of the Empire and their successor Germanic kingdoms was the minting of coinage, the Belgian historian Henri Pirenne denied that the collapse of Roman authority owed to the Germanic invasions and instead attributed the breakdown of century-old trade networks in the Mediterranean basin to the arrival of Islam. In the ground-breaking Mohammed et Charlemagne, published posthumously in 1935, Pirenne, a former prisoner-of-war, proposed that the growing insecurity of the Mediterranean in the seventh century resulted from Muslim victories on its eastern and southern shores, which caused a fundamental shift of the balance of power from the Mediterranean to the former backwater of northwestern Europe where the powerful Carolingian dynasty emerged in the eighth century.
In the decades since this landmark work, the equivalent of Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontier thesis in American history, scholars have consistently returned to Pirenne, despite their ability, especially with the rise of settlement archaeology since the 1960s, to demonstrate some of the weaknesses of this incredibly influential explanation. In an era marked by the ISIS conflict, the Pirenne thesis has continuing resonance. Starting with the Pirenne thesis and the writings of the economic historian Alfons Dopsch, students will work their way through responses to the hypothesis from historians, archaeologists, and social theorists. In the second half of the course, students will look at specific case studies and address the primary sources, both written and archaeological, by which they will be able to ask for themselves how economies, power relations, and surplus wealth changed in the post-Roman period. Some of the topics for discussion in the seminar will include adaptations made by late antique cities to shrinking populations and increasingly dangerous domestic conditions, changes in agricultural technology and land distribution in post-Roman Western Europe, the impact of archaeological theory that focuses on the production and agency of objects, and the emergence in the eighth and ninth centuries of ports and emporia crucial to artisanal production, the conduct of trade, and the eventual revival of cosmopolitan centers in the West.
EUH 4930: Christianity and the Body, 200-800 syllabus (PDF)
Prof. Bonnie Effros
This course will bridge the disciplines of the history and archaeology of late antique Christianity and the European early Middle Ages by focusing on the differential representation and treatment of male and female bodies. Its point of departure will be the ancient belief that women’s reproductive organs were inverse versions of male genitalia. The logical implication of this view was that a woman’s body, as opposed to a man’s body, was incomplete and thus less than fully human; in order to attain full humanity and the dignity of a soul, a woman had to, in some sense, become a man. We will explore some of the ways in which the dominant male standard and the desire to control and transform an inadequately formed body constituted a central intellectual preoccupation in the medieval Mediterranean and later in Western culture.
Some of the themes we will address in this seminar include monastic claustration (permanently imprisoning the body), self-mutilation, martyrdom (fragmentation), cross-dressing and gender slippage in late antique and early medieval written sources. Readings will include selections from the Church fathers, histories of saints, monastic Rules, visionary texts, theological works and ancient and early medieval medical treatises. We will also treat where possible archaeological representations of Christian bodies. To supplement the primary sources, we will read modern interpretations of this material. It is hoped that in looking at the ways in which men and women were conceptualized and represented, we will recuperate a body of literary texts and practices that without such contextualization seem incomprehensible and bizarre. The central problems that the readings variously thematize, namely the exercise of power, control and interpretation with regard to human bodies, are highly “modern” and relevant to us today.
EUH 4930: Barbarian Histories in an Age of Miracles syllabus (PDF)
Prof. Bonnie Effros
In this course we will focus on the composition of history and saints’ lives in the early Middle Ages in Western Europe. More specifically, we will identify some of the objectives of the rare medieval authors who took on the task of studying and recording the events in their own time and the centuries preceding. Some of the main questions that will concern us in the course of the term include: Why was there a concern with describing the past, especially the Christian past, in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages? How did the attitudes of clerics who wrote history shape the identity of literate and illiterate Christian populations in late antiquity and the early middle ages? What is the significance of the distinctions between the written and the archaeological record for this period? How did the perceived audiences of such texts affect the way in which their authors composed them? How did the content and propaganda of such texts vary when written about women or for female audiences? Moreover, how are modern historians to use such records of the past which, by our standards, are far from "objective"? For instance, how should miracles and dreams, which form a part of the historical evidence used in these texts, be applied to our interpretation of early medieval society? Finally, we will use these texts to ask questions regarding life in the early Middle Ages, particularly with respect to issues that concerned clerical authors such as the meaning of Christian conversion.
EUH 5934.1137: Medievalisms syllabus (PDF)
Prof. Bonnie Effros
Historians have long pointed to the way in which the nineteenth-century industrial revolution stimulated yearning for a simpler and idyllic past. In Germany, for instance, the search began for a German history distinct from that of the Roman Empire. The Romantic movement signaled the desire of many Europeans to learn more about the Germanic peoples of the migration period, and its ideology contributed significantly from the 1820s to the development of antiquarian societies devoted to local history and material culture of the middle ages. In the United States, where conditions were significantly different, increased immigration spurred by the industrialization of the northeastern seaboard nonetheless caused fears among elites as to the changing composition of urban populations. Some of northern European ancestry thus sought a more narrow definition of themselves to distinguish them from newly arrived southern and eastern Europeans. One of the most popular terms they used to describe themselves, and the one that became the most pervasive, was that of Anglo-Saxons. Although the choice reflected an English heritage, the name was rooted in a Catholic, Germanic medieval past, one which was conveniently overlooked by Protestants employing this usage.
The purpose of this seminar will thus be to explore various manifestations of heightened attention in the nineteenth century to the medieval centuries, a period traditionally castigated as backward by progressive Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers. Growing knowledge of the Middle Ages and the corresponding desire to reinvigorate study (and in some cases use) of the history, literature, arts, architecture, and traditions of this period contributed fundamentally to nineteenth- and twentieth-century intellectual and artistic life both in Europe and the United States. The readings for the seminar will therefore address a number of different themes rising out of the study of the middle ages and its transformation at the hands of modern thinkers, artists and architects. Among the topics to be covered in readings and discussions will be the rise of the fields of medieval history, medieval art history, and Anglo-Saxon studies in the United States, the inspirational role played by medieval artifacts, architecture, and nineteenth-century philosophers such as John Ruskin on English and American artists and designers such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, and Louis Sullivan, the “restoration” of Gothic architectural sites by the likes of Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc and William Randolph Hearst, the literary studies of medieval texts and the recreation of the medieval period in nineteenth-century fiction and Worlds Fairs, and the impact of medievalism on emergent national archaeologies in Europe.
EUH 3931: Medieval Magic and Witchcraft (Section 4082) syllabus (PDF)
Prof. Bonnie Effros
This senior seminar will assess the social, religious, and political functions of the supernatural in late antique, medieval, and early modern European society (400-1700 CE). Through primary and secondary readings, lectures, discussions, and films, students will gain a firmer understanding of the role played by magic, witchcraft, and the occult in shaping pre-modern European views of the cosmos. We will also study the ways in which the condemnation of demonic power existed side by side with miraculous tales of the deeds of saints, alchemical research, and Arthurian romances filled magic. Another important aspect of the course will be to address how accusations of magic and witchcraft and resulting persecutions marginalized particularly vulnerable individuals and social groups in Europe from the fourth to seventeenth centuries.