Courses

A professor sits with students at a large round table

The Mandel Center for the Humanities sponsors several team-taught interdisciplinary courses each year. For 2020-2021, our course offerings include two rigorous first-year humanities seminars which bridge multiple disciplines within the humanities and examine classical texts from fresh perspectives. We will also be sponsoring a special one-time course cross-listed in English and Classics. 

For more information, visit the Admissions website.

Fall 2020

Humanities Fellowship Seminar: Epic Literature

Professor Laura Quinney

This course zeroes in on the most foundational of “foundational” texts. It will study the evolution of the epic, beginning with its solemn ancient origins, in Gilgamesh and the Bible, following through with the panoramic martial epics of Greece and Rome, and then investigating how Dante, a Christian Medieval poet, adapts his “pagan” predecessors to tell the story of his voyage through Hell, in The Inferno. At the end we will turn to Milton’s engagement with the entire tradition - in his epic treatment of the story of the Fall - and then to the 18th-century “mock-heroics” that parodied them all. The course will necessarily touch on wide-ranging interdisciplinary aspects of history, anthropology, comparative religion, philosophy and myth. But it will focus on intertextuality: it will scrutinize the ways in which later authors reframed, reshaped, honored and challenged the work of their predecessors.

Humanities Fellowship Seminar: Tragedy: Love and Death in the Creative Imagination

Professors John Burt and Stephen Dowden

How do you turn catastrophe into art - and why? This first-year seminar in the humanities addresses such elemental questions, especially those centering on love and death. How does literature catch hold of catastrophic experiences and make them intelligible or even beautiful? Should misery even be beautiful? By exploring the tragic tradition in literature across many eras, cultures, genres, and languages, this course looks for basic patterns.

Race Before Race: Premodern Critical Race Studies

Professors Caitlin Gillespie and Dorothy Kim

This course provides an introduction to ancient and medieval attitudes towards race and ethnicity through the theoretical lens of premodern critical race studies.

For several decades, medieval scholars have argued over race’s definition and its use for geographies, contexts, and group dynamics in premodern Europe. Classical and Medieval studies face a similar range of issues: both have been implicated in colonialism and ethnonationalism. Neo-nazi and white supremacist organizations such as Identity Evropa have touted the Classical and the Medieval world as the ideal, misaligning pure white marble sculptures and monuments (which used to be brightly colored) with a similarly pure white race or early Scandinavian tribes as white ethnonational societal ideals. Classical and medieval scholars have failed to stem the misuse of the ancient and medieval world by modern hate groups, and are only now addressing issues of racism in scholarly methodologies as well as the lack of diversity in the field on the whole.