Graduate Courses Offered 2020-21

Faculty across departments offer a range of courses on the early modern period. For the academic year 2020-21, graduate seminars include (but are not limited to):


FR2225: Nation/Transnation: France and Frenchness in the Renaissance

INSTRUCTOR: Todd W. Reeser

In French studies, the sixteenth century is often taken as a key moment in the birth and development of the French nation. Under François I, French becomes the official language of the state, and writers of fiction increasingly depict a French community and make a proto-nationalism an element of their work. In the introduction to her collection of short stories L’Heptameron (1558), Marguerite de Navarre, François I’s sister, differentiates her work from her Italian model Boccaccio and attempts to delineate a distinctly French narrative tradition, with gender as a key component of that tradition. Also in 1558, Joachim Du Bellay publishes his famous La défence et illustration de la langue françoyse, which lays the linguistic basis for a French nation, and his literary corpus “illustrates” poetically many of the ideas about the nation that he imagines. In this century of emerging national definitions, numerous other writers and thinkers create a certain idea of France, often by differentiating the French from groups such as Italians, Turks, Amerindians, and Spanish. At the same time, however, Humanist writers tend to position their national origins as ancient in nature so that France can be taken as a continuation of, and heir to, Greek or Roman culture.

But France is also a very slippery construct, never fully present and in constant danger of coming into non-existence. In this course, we will examine what “France” and “Frenchness” mean in a Renaissance context. What constructs are used to create a nation when there isn’t much of one to begin with? What is the role of the other in this process? What is a national border in context? How does the new world factor in to these questions? The environment? To what extent can key aspects of 21st century French culture be located in an early modern context? How do literature and narrative form construct or deconstruct the nation? What about Humanism? How and why is the nation gendered? How do French texts project national fantasies of sexuality onto other cultures? What is the role of race and ethnicity in all this? Can we even talk about race in this context? What does the king signify, and why can’t France let there be queens? How are kingship and masculinity connected? Queerness? In short, what is the French nation in the Renaissance, if it’s anything at all?

To move toward answering these questions, we will examine a variety of texts, including political treatises (Bodin, Seyssel), literary texts (Montaigne, Du Bellay, Ronsard, Marguerite de Navarre, a bit of Rabelais), new world theatre (Lescarbot), travel narratives (Léry, Champlain, Thevet, Cholières), and various cultural texts such as costume manuals, travel guides, and maps and atlases (including France’s first). Theoretical texts will include Anderson, de Certeau, and Balibar. While the primary texts taken will focus on early modern France, the techniques of analysis are applicable to other cultural contexts and time periods, and are thus meant to provide students analytic tools to think about the concept of the nation in other linguistic and temporal contexts. Course taught entirely in French.




HIST 2737: How to write History from below


“History from Below” – also called Peoples’ History and Radical History – has been an important part of the appearance and spectacular growth of social history over the past half century and one of the most important developments in the discipline and profession of history. This course is designed to introduce graduate students in a broad variety of disciplines, departments, and programs to the key theories, methods, and issues in history from below, from its origin in the 1930s, through the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s, to the present.  The course will concentrate on four major themes: race, class, gender, and capitalism.  We will read classic and newer works to demonstrate how historical practice has changed over time.  Special emphasis will also be given to sources, especially archival research, and to writing.


ITAL 2315: Renaissance Humanism

TUESDAY: 2:30-4:55


In this course we will study representative works by the major figures of Renaissance Humanism, considering the significance of this literary and cultural movement and the many currents that scholars have identified within it. Topics we will explore include civic humanism, the birth of philology, vernacular humanism and the relationship between humanistic studies and Christian religion. We will examine the rise of humanism in Italy in the fourteenth century (Petrarch, Boccaccio), and trace the spread of the movement in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. We will consider the ways in which contacts and exchange between Italy and territories beyond Europe shaped Renaissance Humanism. The course will also introduce students to new digital network analysis tools and how they can be used to study pathways of intellectual exchange in the early modern period.
Students from other departments and programs are welcome. Readings and assignments can be adapted to meet the research agendas of students working in other European cultural traditions and having little or no knowledge of the Italian language.


HIST 2710: Global Capitalism

INSTRUCTOR: NIklas Frykman

This course will explore the history of capitalism in explicitly global context. Engaging with the work mostly of historians, but alongside that of historically-minded sociologists, critical geographers, anthropologists, theorists, and economists, the aim will be to understand historical capitalism in relation to other economic systems, to analyze the forces that produced and propelled it to global dominance, and the ways in which it has reorganized on a global scale the relationships between people and peoples, and between humans and nature, over the past 500 years. 


TUESDAY, 2:30 PM-4:55 PM

FR 2225: Renaissance Prose


Questions of gender and sexuality were central to the development of the French Renaissance in the sixteenth century. “La querelle des femmes”—the debate over the nature and status of women—became a major focus in literary and cultural texts of the period, both for men and for women who argued at length about whether men and women were “equal.” While women could not be queens in France because of a curious institution called “Salic Law,” female regents nonetheless asserted political power in the kingdom. Because the development of Renaissance Humanism had major implications for constructs of masculinity and femininity, the seminal question Joan Kelly asked in the 70’s “Did Women have a Renaissance?” can still be asked, though perhaps in different terms. The study of the ancients, while at the basis of the Renaissance, provoked great anxiety as writers and thinkers reworked the less attractive aspects of Greek and Latin texts in a Christian world. Non-normative or queer morphologies of gender and sexuality also became popular in literary, visual, and cultural texts as hermaphrodites and other monsters appeared with surprising frequency. Stories of sex change circulated in literary and medical texts of the period, and male poets wrote “lesbian” poems. Ancient and Italian texts afforded new definitions of masculine and feminine identity, as well as love and desire, in a post-medieval world defined by fragmentation and fluidity. In this seminar, we will examine and interrogate key cultural constructs of gender and sexuality conveyed in texts of early modern France. This central issue will lead us to consider many of the main cultural and literary currents of the period—such as Humanism, Neoplatonism, Aristotelianism, marriage, medicine, friendship, kingship, politics—and thus provide students with little or no background in Renaissance studies an understanding of the century’s context. We will read both canonical and non-canonical writers (Rabelais, Montaigne, Labé, Paré, Artus), but we will also use various cultural discourses to organize our thinking (e.g. the body in medical texts, masculinity in tracts on friendship, regents in satirical texts). At the same time, we will examine relations between the early modern period and select recent approaches in gender studies—including theoretical issues around masculinity, the sex/gender distinction, gender fluidity, transgenderism, the body, and same-sex sexualities. The course thus aims to give students the opportunity to think about how to go about studying questions of gender and sexuality when such questions are at the fore in the Humanities, and it aims to help students think about how to contextualize theoretical questions around gender within a specific socio-historical context. Course taught in French.


WEDNESDAY, 3:00 P.M. - 5:25 P.M.

FR 2409 (18C Theater): Early Modern Sensations: Theater, Affect, Politics


Rousseau famously condemned French theater as nothing but talk; Saint-Preux, in Rousseau’s novel Julie ou la Nouvelle Héloïse, dismisses Racine and Corneille as “only talkers.” In this way, Rousseau anticipates the 20th-century reception of early modern theater as a theater of words—classical French theater is about language, discourse; it is without materiality; its ideal, in the words of Racine, is “a play about nothing.” So Racine’s theater has passions, but no bodies; and Corneille’s theater (sorry, Corneille) is eclipsed by Racine’s: transparent, empty, the “zero degree” of French classicism. But what do we do with this notion of early modern French theater in the wake of the affective and the material turns, or the history of emotions or the senses? 

This seminar proposes a new look at these early modern “talkies”—plays from the 17th and 18th centuries by Racine, Corneille, and Molière, yes, but also Rotrou, Villedieu, Graffigny, De Gouges, Pigault-Le Brun, and possibly a few others. We will attend to the ways in which theater animates people and objects, produces (and defines) emotion, shares (and demarcates) sensation. We will ask questions about the modernity of props, about staging obscenity, about opening theater out to comprehend states of feeling more nebulous, ambivalent, and tenuous that those purged by Aristotelian catharsis. Granting that emotions, senses and feelings have a history, what is the role of early modern theater in forging this history? What are the politics of feeling in early modern theater? Finally, we might take up the linguistic turn I use to frame this course description—what, indeed, are the feelings and sensations of Racine’s “nothing”? 

Our approach to the “feeling technologies” of theater (Hurley) is two-fold; we will engage with recent critical work on affect, emotions, and senses even as we explore research and resources in the history of theater and media (recently digitized registers of the Comédie française; records on staging and décor; theater architecture; theater and remediation). Students will research, write, workshop, and revise one “article ready” piece in this class. Course taught in French.


MONDAYS, 10:00 A.M. - 12:20 P.M. 

MUSIC 2611: Lament in Western Music

INSTRUCTOR: Olivia Bloechl

Course Description: 

This seminar explores laments in Western music and theater traditions, from the ancient Greeks through early modern opera through modern jazz, performance art, and concert music. In addition to thinking about the stylization of lamenting in these traditions, we will reflect on what musical lament can tell us about the cultures that produced it. We will focus especially on lamenting as a historically feminized act and one that gender-oppressed, queer, racialized, and colonized groups have often repurposed in the interest of justice and flourishing. In the last unit, we will also consider the value of lament in contemporary arts, as a response to modern life and recent crises. The seminar is open to all graduate students in Music and related disciplines. For a full syllabus, click here. 



HIST 2729: Seas, Peoples, and Empires.

INSTRUCTOR: Pernille Røge

This course focuses on interactions between seas, peoples, and empires in historical and comparative contexts. Using maritime history as its point of departure, the course explores the multiple ways in which contact with the sea shaped the lives of peoples and empires across the world. Beginning with Braudel’s pioneering regional study of the Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World, the course moves into the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. In each of these contexts, students will consider how the lives of people across social hierarchies were mediated through the interpenetration of empires and maritime regions. The course also considers the extent to which enclosed maritime worlds make sense historically – as the voluminous literature on specific basins suggest that they do – and if so, what distinguished one such world from that of another? Students will explore these lines of inquiry through readings that concentrate predominantly, though not exclusively, on the early modern and modern periods.