CoursesFirst Year Seminar: Medieval Worlds
English 0300

First Year Seminar: Medieval Worlds

We pride ourselves on thinking globally and having at our fingertips information about people, places, and times. How did people before c.1500 imagine the whole world? What did it mean for them to think big?

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1:45 PM – 3:15 PM

In this course we read a variety of medieval and early authors who try to take into account the whole world – even though they couldn’t circumnavigate it. We will trace the geographical imaginations and cultural encounters of early writers across different literary genres, from maps, to travel narratives, such as Marco Polo’s account of his travels to China and India and Ibn Battuta’s descriptions of the Arabian Peninsula and West Africa; to monstrous encyclopedias and bestiaries, universal chronicles and chivalric romances. We will also explore different medieval systems of thinking big, such as social hierarchies, genealogies, bibliographies, and natural histories. Assignments will include short weekly responses, an oral presentation, a digital exhibit, and a final research project. Our seminar will take place in Penn’s rare books and manuscripts, where we will learn to handle medieval books, some over 1000 years old.

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