Medieval Multimedia Syllabus

This semester I’m teaching a graduate seminar (the first since I’ve started at RIC). Over the course of the semester, I’ll be posting some reflections on the course and the material we’re covering, partly to sort through some of my own thoughts and also in solidarity with my students, who will also be blogging. So here is the inaugural post about the course, with some general information about it.

While the course on the books is “Topics in British Literature before 1660,” the main theme will be “Medieval Multimedia.” We’ll be starting the course with some introductions to medieval literature and media studies, then delving deeper into some theoretical readings alongside some Old English literature. One of my main focuses will be on how textual and manuscript culture intersected in the medieval period–how literature and manuscripts can be understood together. But we’ll also consider other “old media” artifacts like stone crosses, bells, monastic spaces, the Franks Casket, and (finally) printed books.

Throughout the course, we’ll look at many examples of material culture, ranging from digital facsimiles to actual artifacts. Fortunately, we’ll have access to a few hands-on examples: RIC owns two leaves, one from a chant manuscript and another from a book of hours; and I’ll bring in a page from a chant manuscript that I personally own. We’ll spend an entire class session examining these. But we’ll also spend time almost every class to look at digital representatives. What follows is a general description and an outline of the weekly readings and topics.

Here’s my course description:

We live in a world of rich multimedia—so much so that some argue that we live in an age of information overload. But what of the multimedia of past cultures? This course explores medieval British literature through the lens of media studies, encompassing technologies of verbal, visual, tactile, and other lived, sensory experiences. We will engage with classic works of media theory like Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media as well as more recent approaches in media archaeology, with a special focus on book history. We will use these theories to consider medieval media as a key context for understanding famous literature like Beowulf and William Langland’s Piers Plowman, along with less well known literature like anonymous sermons, saints’ lives, histories, and romances. Requirements include engagement in class discussions, reading responses, field trips to local libraries and museums, and a final multimedia project.

Week 1: No class
[Because our semester starts on a Tuesday, and this class meets on Mondays.]

Week 2 (1/23)

Before class:
Treharne, Medieval Literature: A Very Short Introduction, Introduction & chapters 1-3 (1-54)
Getty Museum, Making Manuscripts (video)
Bischoff, Latin Palaeography, “Introduction” & section on “Codicology” (1-45)
McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Introductions, chapter 1

In class: An introduction to medieval literature and manuscripts
Rouse & Rouse, selections from Bound Fast with Letters:
“From Flax to Parchment: A Monastic Sermon from Twelfth-Century Durham” (translated text, 83-85)
“St. Antoninus of Florence on Manuscript Production” (translated text, 516-17)
Chaucer, “To His Scribe Adam”
Pangur Bán
“My Hand Is Weary with Writing”

Week 3 (1/30)

Before class:
McLuhan, Understanding Media, chapters 8-10
From the following, choose one reading; be prepared to report to the class on it:

Goddard, “Opening up the Black Boxes”
Huhtamo & Parikka, Media Archaeology, “Introduction”
Mitchell & Hansen, Critical Terms for Media Studies, “Introduction”
Parikka, What Is Media Archaeology?, “Introduction”

In class: A crash course in media archaeology
Exeter Book Riddles
Cynewulf’s signatures (section V of Christ II & Epilogue of Juliana)
The Wife’s Lament
The Husband’s Message
The Ruin

Week 4 (2/6)

Before class:
From the following, choose one reading; be prepared to report to the class on it:

Gitelman, Always Already New, “Introduction”
Guillory, “Genesis of the Media Concept”
Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, “Introduction”
Zielinski, Deep Time of the Media, “Introduction”

Foys, “Media”
Old English The Dream of the Rood
Ruthwell Cross video (video; watch to get a material sense of the object)
The Ruthwell Cross (fully view the cross and its content on this 3D site)
The Brussels Cross (fully view the cross and its content on this site)
Explore the Digital Vercelli Book (opens to The Dream of the Rood)

In class: The media ecology network of The Dream of the Rood & the Vercelli Book

Week 5 (2/13)

Before class:
University of Iowa Special Collections, If Books Could Talk, episodes 1-6 (videos)
From the “Manuscript Studies” folder, choose one reading from the “Primer” series and one from the “TextManuscripts” series; be prepared to report to the class on both of them.

In class: Meet in RIC Adams Library, Special Collections for a hands-on lab about manuscripts

Week 6 (2/20)

Before class:
Theisen, The Rule of Saint Benedict: Introduction
Monasteriales Indicia (Anglo-Saxon Monastic Sign Language)
Batuman, “The Bells”
Poe, “The Bells”
Amalarius of Metz, “On the Significance of Bells”
Exeter Book “Riddle 4” & Commentary

In class: Monastic media
Watch part of Into Great Silence

Week 7 (2/27)

Before class:
“Franks Casket” on Wikipedia (read this first)
Franks Casket item record at the British Museum (click “More views” for all photographs)
Old English The Whale
“Whale” in the Medieval Bestiary
Old Norse Lay of Volund (Wayland the Smith)
Adoration of the Magi in Matthew 2 & the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew 16

Choose one of the following to read; be prepared to report to the class on it:

Abels, “The Franks Casket and the Acculturation of Christianity in Early Anglo-Saxon England”
Klein, “The Non-Coherence of the Franks Casket: Reading Text, Image, and Design on an Early Anglo-Saxon Artifact”
Vegvar, “Reading the Franks Casket: Contexts and Audiences”

In class: Piecing together the puzzle of the Franks Casket

Week 8 (3/6) No class, spring recess

Week 9 (3/13)

Before class:
“Introduction” to The Beowulf Manuscript (ed. and trans. Fulk)
Beowulf & Judith in The Beowulf Manuscript (ed. and trans. Fulk)

In class: Heroes and their media

Week 10 (3/20)

Before class:
From The Beowulf Manuscript (ed. and trans. Fulk):

The Passion of Saint Christopher
The Wonders of the East
The Letter of Alexander the Great

Rust, “The Page in Comics and Medieval Manuscripts”
Optional: Treharne, Medieval Literature, chapter 5

In class: What binds the Nowell Codex together?

Week 11 (3/27)

Before class:
Scase, “Editorial Introduction” to the Vernon Manuscript
Peruse the contents of the Vernon Manuscript
Gast of Gy
Joseph of Arimathea
Saint Kenelm from the South English Legendary

In class: Cracking open the Vernon Manuscript

Week 12 (4/3)

Before class:
Treharne, Medieval Literature, chapters 6-7
Selections from The Minor Poems of the Vernon Manuscript (Part I ed. Horstmann; Part II ed. Furnivall)

In class: Navigating the Vernon Manuscript

Week 13 (4/10)

Before class:
“Introduction” in the Norton Critical Edition of Piers Plowman
Explore visualizations for the Piers Plowman tradition by Angie Bennett Segler
Langland, Piers Plowman, Prologue & passus 1-4

In class: Piers Plowman Part I

Week 14 (4/17)

Before class:
Langland, Piers Plowman, passus 5-7
Choose one piece from the “Criticism” section of the Norton Critical Edition; be prepared to report to the class on it.
Optional: Weiskott, “Prophetic Piers Plowman: New Sixteenth-Century Excerpts”

In class: Piers Plowman Part II

Week 15 (4/24)

Before class:
Kennedy, Medieval Hackers

In class: Transgressing boundaries & resisting the print revolution


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