By Minna Xiao
A new interdisciplinary Global Middle Ages minor at Stanford is under development and will be launched in fall 2014.
Kathryn Starkey, a professor in the Department of German Studies; Elaine Treharne, professor of medieval literature in the Department of English; and Bissera Pentcheva, associate professor in the Department of Art & Art History, are spearheading the initiative with funding from the Faculty College program. Starkey and Treharne also serve as co-directors of the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (CMEMS).
Pentcheva explained in an email statement to The Daily that the expansion of the medieval studies faculty in 2011 enriched a vibrant scholarly community at Stanford. This in turn motivated the three faculty members to propose the minor as a replacement for the preexisting interdisciplinary program in medieval studies, for which no students have signed up since 2010.
“We are seeking ways in which the introductory courses [of the minor] could be spread out to reach beyond the scope of the usual humanities students in trying to be inventive in the way we structure the minor,” Pentcheva said.
Three courses—The Digital Middle Ages, Medieval Journeys and Performing the Middle Ages—are in development for the minor as a selection from which students can choose a core course. Students will fulfill the remaining minor requirements based on a list of courses that satisfy the minor; this list includes courses like Arthist 408C: Architecture, Acoustics and Ritual in Byzantium, Music 305A: Analysis and Repertoire: Medieval and Renaissance and Phil 101: Introduction to Medieval Philosophy.
Pentcheva explained the team is trying to list the core courses as electives for other fields such as engineering and computer science to reach out to a broader group of students for the minor.
Starkey added that the core course offerings will be similar to each other in key material but will differ in the way students approach their course projects.
“They are structured like templates right now, so that the first part of the course will always provide a core material about the medieval period,” Starkey said. “The second part of the course will be thinking about journeys, performance or digitalization projects, depending on which course is being taught.”
True to the interdisciplinary nature of the Global Middle Ages minor, Starkey explained how the course project for The Digital Middle Ages, for example, might be a digital project that could include creating a website on a particular manuscript held at Stanford or making a video, podcast or visualization of a medieval space or landscape. Starkey hopes that such modern approaches to teaching medieval studies will draw students from all fields, including the more technically inclined.
Ben Diego ’16, a sophomore double majoring in history and English, discovered the study of medieval manuscripts during his freshman year after working one-on-one with Treharne—who is now his major advisor—on a 1596 manuscript from a Spanish town where most of his family now lives. With such a background, Diego is excited for the new minor.
“To understand the crusades or the [Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela] or the St. Albans Psalter requires a mental adjustment,” Diego said. “The medieval mind that made their production possible was radically different from the modern mind.
“But something essentially human connects me to it and I want to figure out what that is,” he added.
Starkey is confident of the value that students will gain from immersing themselves in the study of the Middle Ages and emphasizes the important academic skills that students can develop by studying this history period in depth.
Contact Minna Xiao at mxiao26 ‘at’ stanford.edu.