Courses can be filtered by region, period, core languages, technical skills and object of study. Our listings are current and reflect the last three years of course offerings. If a course has been offered more than once, our listings reflect only the current iteration.
The course explores how art worked in politics and religion from ca. 300-1200 CE in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Students encounter the arts of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, Judaism and Islam; great courts and migratory societies; dynamics of word and image, multilingualism, inter-cultural connection, and local identity. We consider how art can represent and shape notions of sacred and secular power, and examine how the work of 'art' in this period is itself powerful and, sometimes, dangerous. Course format combines lecture on various cultural contexts with workshop discussion focused on specific media and materials. Via Zoom in 2020.
This course explores the technology and function of books in historical perspective, asking how illuminated manuscripts were designed to meet (and shape) cultural and intellectual demands in the medieval period. Surveying the major genres of European book arts between the 7th-15th centuries, we study varying approaches to pictorial space, page design, and information organization; relationships between text and image; and technical aspects of book production. We work primarily from Princeton's collection of original manuscripts and manuscript facsimiles. Assignments include the option to create an original artist's book for the final project.
In this course, we will examine archaeological evidence for and art historical depictions of plagues and pandemics, beginning in antiquity and ending with the COVID-19 Pandemic. The course will explore bioarchaeological investigations of the Black Death, the Justinianic Plague, and other examples of infectious diseases with extremely high mortalities, and students will complete six "Pandemic Simulation" exercises throughout the semester. We will also consider the differing impact of plagues during the medieval, early modern, and modern periods: themes in art; the development of hospitals; and the changing ideas of disease and medicine.
With a highly developed system of aesthetics, Chinese art is not what meets the eye. In China, artworks have represented and also shaped sociocultural values, religious practices and political authority throughout the ages. With an emphasis on the persuasive, and even subversive, power of art related to imperial and modern Chinese politics, this course reflects upon how art has worked in changing historical contexts and for serving political, religious and social agents in Chinese history. It covers a wide range of artifacts and artworks.
This course surveys the art and architecture of the Islamic world from the 7th to the 16th centuries. It examines the form and function of architecture and works of art as well as the social, historical and cultural contexts, patterns of use, and evolving meanings attributed to art by the users. Themes include the creation of a distinctive visual culture in the emerging Islamic polity; urban contexts; archaeological sites; key architectural types such as the mosque, madrasa, caravanserai, and mausoleum; portable objects and the arts of the book; self-representation; cultural exchange along trade and pilgrimage routes.
Antioch was unique among the great cities of the classical world for its position at the crossroads between the Mediterranean Sea and the Asian continent and for being a new foundation of the Hellenistic age that shrunk almost to insignificance in the modern era. Students in this course will get exclusive access to the archives and artifacts of the Princeton Antioch excavations of the 1930s. In the 2019 course, the focus will be on the Bath F Complex, the site of the greatest concentration of materials datable to the transition from the classical and late antique periods to the Islamic era.
Advanced research in the history of architecture from 1400 to 1750. Topics vary, with the focus each year on important European centers and architects, and on issues related to architectural theory and practice. In fall 2018, this course considers the forms of early modern architectural theory, with particular attention on the history of the architectural book. We explore a set of key genres-including the treatise, the model book, the biography, the construction manual, and the travel narrative-through a close reading of primary sources and direct study of original objects.
This course offers a survey of the book in the Latin West, its cultural history and its functions as both object and text. It discusses production, readership and censorship, from antiquity up until the printing revolution.
The history of ancient Greek literature in the middle ages has long been reduced to "transmission", relegating the period to curator instead of co-creator of the classical canon. We study the medieval reception of antiquity's literary legacy in institutional and intellectual practices which underwrote the copying, reading, and commenting of classical Greek texts, including the manuscript traditions of Homeric epic, the Pindaric odes, Greek historiography, and the works of Plato, among others. Palaeography and codicology are paired with medieval and Byzantine studies more generally in a bid to rewrite this chapter of classicism.
The graduate seminar provides a chronological survey of the development of Latin handwriting from its origins, the Roman scripts, through to humanistic scripts, in all their diversity of forms and styles. A particular emphasis is put on the book-based scripts of the western European Middle Ages and the Renaissance from c. 500 - 1500 AD, including scribal conventions and text typologies.
Texts that survive on stone, bronze, or terracotta provide one of the best and most direct sources for Roman history and culture. Such texts survive in large quantities and new discoveries are made every year. This course offers an introduction to Roman epigraphy, the study of non-literary ancient texts, by familiarizing students with a wide variety of writing preserved from Antiquity.
A half-century after Marshall McLuhan's minting of the phrase "The medium is the message," media theory has made few inroads in the study of ancient Mediterranean literatures and cultures, with some fields making more use of it than others. This seminar approaches the study of the ancient world as a discipline of mixed media, examining the potentials of both its textual and non-textual "things" in shaping past and present modes of knowledge production. Modern media studies and its kindred disciplines (semiotics, communication theory, mediology, the New Materialism, etc.) guide our theoretical approaches to ancient materials.
A seminar covering the basic methodology of numismatics, including die, hoard and archaeological analysis as well as a survey of pre-modern coinages. The Western coinage tradition is covered, from its origins in the Greco-Persian world through classical and Hellenistic Greek coinage, Roman imperial and provincial issues, Parthian and Sasanian issues, the coinage of Byzantium, the Islamic world, and medieval and renaissance Europe. Students research and report on problems involving coinages related to their own areas of specialization. Open to undergraduates by permission of the instructor.
An introduction to Greek palaeography and its potential for research on ancient and medieval texts, medieval book culture, and pre-modern literacy. Students will learn medieval Greek scripts, the rudiments of critical editions, and how to study manuscripts as material objects. Projects will be tailored to the research interests of the participants. We will simultaneously examine how "remote" research is consonant with online palaeography and the possibilities for what used to be privileged access to otherwise rarefied historical sources. This course is aimed at both graduate and select undergraduate students with the requisite level of Greek.
A first course for students in reading ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Serious work in ancient Egyptian grammar, vocabulary building, etc. (the staples of a classical language course) plus work on the relation between hieroglyphs and Egyptian visual arts.
Many assume that pre-twentieth-century Africa has no history. Rather, it has so much history that communicating all its richness can be a challenge. In this class, therefore, we focus on particular instances that speak to the tremendous diversity of the period from 300 to 1500 in Africa - its political systems, religious communities, and dynamics of cultural and economic conversation. We also address Africa's interconnectedness within and to the rest of the world as a vital part of the global middle ages. Primary sources include letters, treatises, and chronicles but also maps, archeological layouts, frescos, inscriptions, and rock art.
From the inception of writing in ancient times to the present, the intersection of images with texts has created subtle and ingenious systems of signs as well as philosophical, aesthetic and psychological discourses about how such signs relate to cognition and semiotics. This course studies several of these systems and discourses. Objects of study derive from ancient Egypt and Meso-America, Early Modern Europe, Modernism and Post-Structuralism, from competing theses on speech, writing, and gesture to attempts to develop new taxonomies of images. The class makes use of materials in our Rare Books Collection and objects in the Museum.
The seminar examines the gradual evolution of early Chinese textuality from the pre-imperial through the early imperial period, with particular emphasis on questions of materiality and sociology of text; authorship, compilation, and circulation; canon formation and the rise of commentary; and classification and bibliography. Readings are in classical Chinese and in various languages of modern scholarship. Languages of instruction: English and Chinese.
In this seminar, we read selected poems from the Anhui University Shijing bamboo manuscript from ca. 300 BCE that was published in 2019 and includes 57 poems known from the ancient Classic of Poetry. In closely comparing these poems to those in the received Shijing as well as to other manuscript evidence, we analyze the manuscript text in detail from the perspectives of paleography, historical phonology, and codicology. Thus, the seminar introduces students to the principal technical disciplines in reading an ancient Chinese manuscript while at the same time exploring the formation of early Chinese poetry and of the Shijing anthology.
This course introduces texts of different genres carved into stones in China from the Han to the Qing dynasty. Compared to printed texts and manuscripts, stone inscriptions are a group of sources that remain underutilized and are often read only in transcriptions. Combining close reading of the texts with perspectives from art history and archaeology, this course places these texts back onto the stones and in the social and cultural contexts of their production. The exploration of these inscriptions will help students open up possibilities of their research in various disciplines from history and literature to religion and art history.
This research seminar introduces graduate students to the history and bibliography of archival documents produced during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), with chronological extensions also into the pre-Conquest period and transition to the early Republican era. Emphasis is on government papers, and students gain essential knowledge of the Qing state from a survey of what primary sources have survived from this period. The second half of this course focuses on the craft of close reading, annotation and translation of original documents, and offers in-class instructions on research, writing and presentation skills.
This course provides an introduction to the written sources of Japanese history from 750- 1600. Instruction focuses on reading and translating a variety of documentary genres, and court chronicles, although visual sources (e.g. maps, scrolls, and screens) are introduced in class as well. Each week entails a translation of five or six short documents and a library research assignment. Research resources and methods are also emphasized. A substantial research assignment, involving primary source research, is due at the end of the semester. The final week of class is devoted to presentations about the research project.
This course examines the practices of collecting and anthologizing literary texts in a wide variety of forms during the Tang and Song dynasties. We begin by looking at a range of pre-Tang models for collecting literary material in different forms and consider their different approaches to compilation, including selection criteria, and organization, and then examine the impact of their choices on canonization and transmission. We study collection practices in state-sponsored anthologies; in primers and literary composition guides in individual literary collections; and finally in large collectanea.
Reading of poetic works from pre-Meiji Japan together with an introduction to relevant topics including: commentaries and reception, book history and manuscript transmission, historical and social background, and the use of modern reference tools.
With a walled city of thirty square miles and a population of more than one million, Chang'an, capital of the Tang dynasty, was the largest city in the world at the time. Through reading texts in different genres including official history, governmental documents, literary collections, anecdotes, legal codes, and stone inscriptions along with secondary scholarship, this course introduces the political, ritual, and economic structures of the city, and explores the lives of its citizens that in different ways either maintained or challenged these structures.
This course introduces manuscripts of medieval China preserved in different forms from caves in Dunhuang and tombs in South China to calligraphic works and manuscripts found on the back sides of printed texts. It helps students to independently approach medieval manuscripts by introducing knowledge about the paper, formal and cursive writing, non-standard characters, and methods of punctuation on medieval manuscripts. It also introduces types of texts found only in manuscript forms, and offers ways of thinking about the culture of writing and reading in medieval China.
The course offers a comprehensive history of books in China, with reference to relevant developments in Korea and Japan and to parallels in the West, from the advent of actual books in East Asia during the first millennium BCE until the introduction of virtual books at the end of the 20th century. It covers the physical evolution of traditional Chinese books as well as their crucial role in the transmission of text and knowledge throughout China's long and complex history, especially for the period of 9th to 19th century. Visual images and actual specimens are used to reinforce presentations and stimulate discussion.
This course will offer an intensive introduction to the history of the making, distribution and reading of books in the West, from ancient Greece to modern America. By examining a series of case studies, we will see how writers, producers, and readers of books have interacted, and how the conditions of production and consumption have changed over time.
Over the course of the semester, we will examine how historians and other scholars can use archaeological methods to interpret the lives of the people we study, especially the people who are not mentioned in texts. How is archaeology related to history, and vice versa?
Introduction to Middle High German language and literature 1100-1300. Selections from Arthurian romance (Parzival, Tristan), epic (Nibelungenlied), lyric poetry (Minnesang), and mysticism (Meister Eckhart, Mechthild von Magdeburg). Class sessions focus on close-reading and translating original texts and also include visits to Rare Book Room and Art Museum (in person, if feasible).
In the Middle Ages, dozens of city-states in Italy were governed by citizens elected by the populace (limited to men of property, as was the American republic in its early years). These communes grew out of the anarchy following the dissolution of the Roman Empire in the West and flourished by playing off the German emperors to the north against the papacy. In the course of the later Middle Ages, many of these cities became autocracies, but some remained republics well into the modern era. Each student will follow the history of a single city, using documents, coins, and art works from Princeton collections.
From Antiquity to the late Renaissance, objects moved and were moved in the Mediterranean world. Trade goods crossed the ocean. Obelisks, statues and relics traveled great distances to be incorporated into new sacred sites. Automata amazed visitors to courts and awed worshipers in churches. In this course we will map the premodern Mediterranean's trade networks to try to understand how premodern men and women viewed and understood these objects in motion.
This course explores the medieval understanding of nature, the heavens, bodies, and minds. In medieval Islam and the Latin West, science was shaped by debates over important questions - the extent of divine and human power, the existence of other worlds, the generation of life, the legitimacy of magic and astrology. We will ask how medieval people sought to put this knowledge into practice, from healing sickness and prolonging life, to making automata, transmuting metals, or predicting the future. The course draws on a wide range of sources, including books, images, material objects, and our own attempts to reconstruct experiments in class.
How did the built and unbuilt environments we live with today come about? Why do our everyday objects look the way they do? Who shaped our mundane physical realities and for what? This multidisciplinary course teaches the tools to answer such questions through studying rural and urban geographies and ecologies, material culture, and human behavior in history. A sustainable future depends on us understanding the intimate historical and social logic of environmental destruction and plumbing the full archive of human actions on matter, and through energy and time for solutions. Undergrad and graduate students of all disciplines are welcome.
Alchemy provides a core theme in medieval and early modern European culture, and a key to understanding early science and medicine. From transmuting base metals into gold and silver, to prolonging human life, alchemy offered fabulous rewards. Alchemical books were studied by princes, physicians, priests, and noblewomen, who sought experimental instructions, medical remedies, and political influence. Yet alchemical ideas also challenge modern perceptions of the relationship between art and nature, science and religion, and learned and craft knowledge. We will explore these contrasts using texts, images, objects, and laboratory reconstructions.
This seminar examines the ways in which philosophers and imaginative writers, historians and philologists, antiquaries and collectors interpreted texts and objects from the ancient world. We begin by raising methodological questions, examining "reception" as a concept and setting it in the larger context of hermeneutical theory and practice. Then we carry out a series of case studies. We examine major texts and works of art and architecture, while also attending to the institutional and disciplinary contexts within which the study of the ancient world was carried on.
This seminar explores the transition from the late ancient to the medieval world through the lens of law and legal practice from the late Roman to the Carolingian empire. We look at how the different codifications built on earlier legal models and traditions but adopted and adapted them in their respective circumstances. We explore these processes until the ninth century when the Carolingian rulers came to rule an Empire which comprised a variety of different Roman and post Roman legal traditions and laws and were confronted with the challenge to find new ways and strategies for their coexistence, compatibility and convergence.
The seminar explores the cultural history of Europe from the 9th to the 12th c. and the emergence of a cultural convergence that allowed to imagine the Latin West as the Latin West. Our window into this process is the codification of various subjects in books and libraries and in the collection, arrangement and transmission of history books, legal handbooks, patristic, hagiographical or liturgical collections. In so doing the course introduces students to paleography, codicology, basic techniques of editing texts and the study of Latin manuscripts, scriptoria and libraries.
The seminar explores the transition from the late ancient to the medieval world in the Merovingian kingdoms, the most successful successor state of the Western Roman empire. We study the various efforts to find order and orientation in a quickly and constantly changing world that was shaped by its continuing connections to the Mediterranean as well as by its interaction with the European North and Northwest. We particularly focus on how the intellectual, social, and spiritual resources and models of the late Roman world were adopted and adapted in an ongoing bricolage which some of the baselines of medieval Europe were created.
Reading and research seminar on thirteenth-century France.
The aim of this course is to introduce students to the history of the Syriac language and Syriac-speaking Christians. We focus on important individual authors, key historical moments, and significant themes and aspects of the history of Syriac-speaking Christians in the Middle East. Since Syriac-speaking churches have traditionally been classified by Western authors as "heretics" we also examine the nature of orthodoxy and heresy. Students are introduced to and trained in the use of the most important instrumenta studiorum of Syriac studies.
The goal of this seminar will be to introduce students to some of the most important ideas and debates surrounding the two major religious revolutions of Late Antiquity: the triumph of Christianity and the subsequent emergence and world conquests of Islam. The course will focus on extensive reading in both primary and secondary literature and students will be introduced to and trained in using major instrumenta studiorum for this period; texts may also be read in Greek, Syriac, and Arabic. No prior knowledge of Late Antiquity, Christianity, or Islam will be assumed.
This course takes alchemy as a starting point for exploring the history of medieval and early modern science and medicine. Alchemy's goals ranged from transmuting metals to prolonging life. They also invoke broader themes: religious belief, artisanal practice, secrecy, medical doctrine, experimental philosophy, visual culture. This Spring, the University Library will host an exhibition on alchemical imagery that seeks to combine these themes. We'll use this opportunity to investigate the historical approaches that inform modern presentations of art and science: from displaying artefacts, to reconstructing experiments in a modern laboratory.
What counts as an experiment and how did experiment become the arbiter of scientific discovery? Certain experiments have achieved iconic status: Galileo's pendulum, Boyle's air pump, Newton's 'crucial experiments.' But what happens when we reevaluate these from the perspective of 'borderline' practices: anatomical dissections, chemical recipes, medical cases, craft techniques? We draw on ancient, medieval and early modern sources, as well as the modern historiography of experiment, to explore the challenge of observing and testing nature. As far as possible, we attempt to recreate practices in class, from glassworking to alchemy.
Introduction to European musical culture in the period 600-1400. The course is divided in the following main periods (1) chant in Carolingian and post-Carolingian Europe, (2) the Enchiriadis tradition of polyphony; (3) troubadours and trouvères, (4) Ars Antiqua, and (5) Ars Nova. The course will make intensive use of primary sources, scores, and will also feature an extensive playlist. The objective is to provide students with a thorough introduction in fully 800 years of music history.
In an age before musical notation, Isidore of Seville could claim that unless sounds are remembered by man they perish, for they cannot be written down. The history of medieval and Renaissance music is largely entwined with the development of a technology that would prove him wrong: the ability to preserve sound in writing. This class explores the profound impact notation had on European musical culture c. 900-1600, from the emergence of musical literacy, to shifting ontologies of sound, authorship, and musical creativity. We learn to sing from dozens of early notations, and use replica tools and techniques to notate our own manuscripts.
In the liturgical and courtly culture of the Middle Ages, music and the visual arts were inseparable. To examine art and music together is the aim of this course, integrating these two fields of study as they were integrated in their historical context. Working through case studies from the ninth through the fifteenth centuries--including the mystic plays of Hildegard of Bingen, the scurrilous satire of the Roman de Fauvel, and Jan van Eyck's Ghent altarpiece--we focus on rich sites of intersection between art and music. Final and midterm projects creative and collaborative in nature.
Course introduces the history of the Iranian world through the lens of historical memory. Study primary sources from the ancient, medieval, and modern periods as they think critically about the notion of "Iranian civilization." Themes range from geography and ethnicity to art and poetry to kingship and revolution. Gain hands-on experience working with archival and visual material through class trips to libraries and museums in and around Princeton. Approaches to large-scale problems in the study of history will be introduced, and by the end of the course, students will gain insight into the relevance of Iranian history in the present.
The Cairo Geniza is a cache of texts from an Egyptian synagogue that include letters, lists and legal deeds from before 1500, when most Jews lived in the Islamic world. These are some of the best-documented people in pre-modern history and among the most mobile, crossing the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean to trade, study, apprentice and marry. Data science, neural network-based handwritten text recognition and other computational methods are now helping make sense of the texts on a large scale. Students will contribute to an evolving state of knowledge and gain an insider's view of what we can and can't know in premodern history.
This class explores medieval Islamic history from the bottom up -- through everyday documents from Egypt produced and used by men and women at all levels of society: state decrees, personal and business letters, legal contracts, court records, and accounts. Even the smallest details of these everyday writings tell us big things about the world in which they were written. Each week will focus in depth on a particular document or cluster of documents that open different doors onto politics, religion, class, commerce, material history, and family relationships in Egypt from just before the Islamic conquests until just before the Ottoman era.