Center for Early Modern Studies

College of Letters & Science




Art History 835: Early Modern Media: Hurry up and Slow Down

Dr. Shira Brisman (

At the end of the fifteenth century, the world was speeding up. Prints were rapidly making available new kinds of visual experiences at a purchasable price: occasions for devotional encounters, markers of scientific data, portraits substituting for real presence, and templates for designs. In the midst of these new combinations of images and texts, another novelty in the history of communication appeared: the news. Never before had a technology been so successful at synchronizing the arrival of recent information with reception in various geographic locals. And yet, in the midst of the rapid and rampant production of reproducible visual data, another change to the art market emerged: drawings, once restricted in circulation to members of craft trade, now began to be collected as autonomous occasions for aesthetic delight.  Focusing our attention on works on paper (sketches, woodcuts, engravings, and printed books) produced in the period of 1470-1820 (from Martin Schongauer to Goya’s “Disasters of War”), this course will examine how the media revolution of print brought about social change, formulated new communities and publics, forged occasions for privacy and intimacy as never before, and mobilized changing conceptions of what constitutes a work of art.



English 803: Books, Birds, and Betrayal: Chaucer’s Early Works

Dr. Lisa H. Cooper

M, 10:15am-12:45pm

This course is an introduction to the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer, the most famous and influential English poet of the later Middle Ages. Starting with some of Chaucer’s shortest and (mostly, or at least believed to be) earliest poems, we will trace the poet’s movement through the forms of complaint and dream vision (The Book of the Duchess, The Parliament of Fowls, The House of Fame) before pursuing an extended engagement with his Troilus and Criseyde, a historical romance set against the background of the Trojan War (not to mention a major translation and adaptation of the Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio’s Filostrato). Along the way, we will consider such topics as the import of the emergence of the English vernacular in the fourteenth century as a language for poetry and other discourses; the changing meaning of authorship within manuscript culture and an age of (predominantly) literary anonymity; the nature of court culture and the phenomenon known as “courtly love”; and, last but not least, Chaucer’s wry, self-conscious manipulation of the established genres of complaint, vision, allegory, confession, satire, and romance.  Each week of the seminar will also have a distinct theoretical focus, drawing upon recent (and some less recent) criticism that speaks to current concerns in literary scholarship more broadly, including material culture, science, new formalism, cognition, animals, the posthuman, trauma, and more. It should therefore be of use not only to medievalists and early modernists (Shakespeare, after all, knew Chaucer’s Troilus well), but also to all those curious about the origins of some of our current, pressing questions about the place of literature (and ourselves) in the world, and the exciting conversations going on in medieval studies about those very questions. No previous knowledge of Middle English is required, but we will be reading all of Chaucer’s works in their original language. Chaucer’s Middle English is actually quite easy to read, but guidance in doing so more easily will also be provided. NOTE: Space permitting, students from departments other than English are very welcome. Please contact Professor Cooper ( and the English department’s graduate administrator, Robyn Shanahan ( for permission to enroll.



French 451: Medieval, Renaissance and Early Modern Studies: De l’amour courtois à l’amour moderne

Dr. Ullrich Langer (

MWF, 12:05-12:55pm

Love is really not such a good idea, in the European medieval and early modern periods: we will look at the great medieval myths of courtly love and their avatars in the following centuries, and see howmodern notions of love and marriage arise in the 18th century.  The beginning is the tragic love of Tristan and Iseult; then we will look at lyric poetry, at sublime love letters, and at the novel’s treatmentof desire and pleasure.  Course will be taught in French.  



History 283: Undergraduate Intermediate Honors Seminar: The Foundations of Modern Political Thought  

Dr. Johann Sommerville (

T 1:20-3:15pm, 5245 Humanities 

This 3-credit Honors course will survey the development of European political and social ideas from the end of the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. These centuries were a crucial period in the evolution of attitudes that have shaped the modern world, and that still exercise a profound influence on our lives. Amongst the broad themes which the course surveys are the development of the idea of state sovereignty, the growth of the notion of international law, the links between attitudes towards the family and gender on the one hand and state power on the other, the history of the notion that individuals or groups may legitimately resist or even depose tyrannical rulers, and the arguments used for and against toleration in an age of bitter religious disputes.



History 323: The Scientific Revolution: From Copernicus to Newton

See: History of Science/History 323 



History 710: Dissertation Writing Seminar

Dr. Lee Palmer Wandel



History 867: European Social and Intellectual History: Political and Social Ideas in Early Modern Europe

Dr. Johann Sommerville (

R 11am-12:55pm, 5257 Mosse Humanities 

This course aims principally to introduce students to the most important and influential theories about the nature, purposes, and objectives of the state and society which circulated in early modern Europe, and which have shaped how the Western World has thought about these questions ever since as well as to improve students' skills in analyzing and criticizing political arguments and theories, both in discussion and on paper.



History of Science/History 323: The Scientific Revolution: From Copernicus to Newton

Drs. Robin Rider and Florence Hsia

W 12:05-12:55pm (lecture) & R 3:30-5:25pm (lab) 

An investigation of renaissance and revolution in European science, beginning in 1543 with the heliocentric astronomy of Nicolaus Copernicus and ending with Isaac Newton's death in 1727. We’ll pay particular attention to issues of tradition and novelty in natural knowledge, institutional settings for scientific activity, the multifaceted relationship between science and religion, as well as manuscript traditions and the textual/visual transition to print culture. Topics covered include the Copernican cosmology and Galileo's trial, the mechanical philosophy, Newtonianism, the significance of new scientific organizations like the Royal Society of London and the Paris Academy of Sciences, the role of science in European exploration and expansion, public perceptions of science and its practitioners, and scientific writing and communication. Labs will be held in the seminar room in Special Collections (Memorial Library), where class participants will have the opportunity to work with rare textual and visual materials dating from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries.  Graduate students should enroll concurrently in History of Science 623.



Italian 741: Il Seicento: Ribelli, Libertini e Ortodossi

Dr. Stefania Buccini (

TR 1-2:15pm

This course offers a survey of seventeenth-century Italian literature and examines the development of specific literary genres in the contexts of cultural and intellectual history. It provides methodologies andphilological instruments necessary to the critical reading of a variety of narrative and poetic texts in theperspective of literary and cultural cross-currents of this time period. Special attention will be devotedto the nature and function of the early baroque novel and poetry, Counter-Reformation oratory,libertine fiction and ideology. Textual analysis will be conducted also on seventeenth-century printededitions with the purpose of allowing the students to familiarize themselves with the typographiccharacteristics and oddities of antique books. Course will be taught in Italian.



Italian 951: Tasso and the Late Renaissance 

Dr. Kristin Phillips-Court (

T 4-6pm 

Within the context of the late-16th-century ‘age of criticism’ Tasso’s epic poem celebrates the First Crusade, the rise of the new imperial vision of the West, and its discontents.  This seminar focuses primarily on a close reading of Torquato Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered but will include other works. Students will bring to their reading contemporaneous debates regarding the nature of imitation, whether art and poetry were meant to teach or to please, artistic decorum and Church reform, the role of the imagination in visual and literary arts, genre, and political ideology.  Requirements: familiarity Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and earlier (Homeric, Virgilian, Medieval) epic traditions. *Language of instruction will depend on class composition. All Italian graduate students will read primary texts in Italian.



*Please send descriptions for upcoming early modern courses to Katherine Robiadek ( or Sabine Mödersheim ( for inclusion in the Enews and on the CEMS website.  






Art History 731: Angels, Demons, Nudes: Early Netherlandish Painting from van Eyck to Bruegel
Shira Brisman | MW 2:30 – 3:45 | L140 Elvehjem Building

The world painted by Netherlandish artists of the fifteenth century was an exquisite place. It was a world textured by excellent examples of craft, enhanced by meticulously rendered specimens of flowers, and visited by saints and angels. It is no small wonder that many of the patrons who commissioned these works of art desired to have themselves painted into the pictures. The era was one of great technological advancements in the art of painting: the application of oil on panel allowed for an unprecedented richness of color; experiments with optics led to improved illusions of space; light and reflections were rendered as never before. Yet these advancements in depicting the natural world were not in conflict with, but rather enhanced the project of portraying spiritual visions. Some historians of art, however, have argued that it was precisely these techniques of “realism” that paved the way for the increasingly “secularized” art of the sixteenth century, which witnessed the emergence of paintings that had no other purpose than to portray ordinary people or scenes of everyday life.

In this course, we will look critically at the relationship of science and art, tradition and innovation, the imagined and the experienced. The delicate preciousness of Jan van Eyck, the strange spaces of Petrus Christus, the bizarre hellscapes of Hieronymus Bosch, and the peasant festivals of Peter Bruegel will guide us through these themes.


Art History 835: Death and Magic in Renaissance Art

Shira Brisman | MW 4:30 – 5:45 | L166 Elvehjem Building


Focusing on the representation of absent bodies—divine, deceased, remote, or idealized—this course will proceed from the question of how early modern viewers imagined the communication between here and there, present and past, self and other. At the core of our investigation is the use of pictorial language to persuade beholders that, in the presence of the art object, transformations and transgressions were taking place. We will ask the question of whether these visual strategies were—and are—bound to the fundamentals of Christian theology. In the final weeks of the semester, we will consider how modern and contemporary artists from a variety of religious traditions have drawn upon Christian iconography to question how the visual laws of picture making developed in the Renaissance might exclude other belief systems and cultures. This course will emphasize looking closely, reading deeply, and writing well. Students interested in contemporary art as well as those interested in the early modern period will find the comparative methods appealing.



French 630/931: Le siècle des Lumières:  Femmes et philosophes au XVIIIe siècle

Professor Anne Vila (

Friday 10 a.m.-noon, Van Hise 119


French 630/931 will set well-known 18th-century French plays and prose fiction in dialogue with lesser-known works by women playwrights and moralists--and with the period's philosophical debates on women's "nature," role in society, and place in intellectual life.  The readings and discussions will be entirely in French--but students from other departments are encouraged to enroll (and can do their written work in English). The syllabus will be organized around three main units: 1)  femmes and philosophes on the stage ; 2) women and moral philosophy: the "querelle des femmes" and its evolution ; feminine retreat and solitude; the quest for happiness; etc.; 3) the role and status of women in the Enlightenment movement. This class will be offered on a "meets with" for either 600-level credit or 900-level seminar credit.  Please contact Anne Vila if you have questions.



German 392: German for Graduate Reading Knowledge II, 3 credits
Calomino, TuTh, 11:00-12:15
Prerequisites:  Some previous acquaintance with German grammar or reading. Open to graduate students and advanced undergraduates
Language Taught in: English
Contacts:  and

This course provides further practice in reading and translating German expository prose in a variety of fields.  At the start of the semester a review of both grammatical and syntactical topics vital to progress in reading will be combined with a discussion of selected chapters in R.A. Korb, Jannach’s German for Reading Knowledge.  During the balance of the semester specific reading will be made available through both photocopy and internet sources.  The goal for all participants will be enhanced practice and confidence in reading German at various levels of both scholarly and journalistic prose, in addition to developing a focus in reading for their specific research areas.
Jannach, Hubert and Richard A. Korb, German for Reading Knowledge.  Heinle.  Most recent ed
Cassell’s German-English / English-German Dictionary.  Cassell & Co./ MacMillan. (or other equivalent dictionary, unabridged)


HISTORY 361: England 1485-1660;

MWF 8:50-9:40A.M. 1217  Humanities; Professor Johann Sommerville

see <> for details;

This is a 3-credit lecture course for graduates and undergraduates.

This course will explore a decisive period in the making of modern Britain, and of the western world today. Though the social, economic and intellectual aspects of the period will not be neglected, the main focus of the course will be on political and constitutional change. The course will begin with a broad introduction to early-modern Britain. Then we will examine how the turbulent period of the Wars of the Roses was ended, and how the Tudor monarchy broke the independence of the "over-mighty magnates" of late-medieval England. 

The Tudors succeeded in introducing far greater unity and centralization than had existed earlier, and this will be the main theme of the first half of the course. Topics discussed will include the Reformation, the so-called "Tudor Revolution in Government," the bitter factional politics of the court of Henry VIII, the Marian Reaction and the "mid-Tudor crisis," and the re-establishment of royal power in the reign of Elizabeth - when an unprecedented flowering of English culture took place, and when English sea-power staved off conquest by Catholic Spain. 

The succession of James, King of Scots to the English throne in 1603, united the Scottish and English monarchies but the new Stuart dynasty was soon faced with grave problems. The second half of the course will examine the ways in which financial, constitutional and religious issues combined to lead to civil war and to the execution of the King and the introduction of a republic in England in 1649. We will also see how the advent of a military despotism and the proliferation of radical ideas led the English to reintroduce monarchy in 1660. 



11-11:50 MWF, 1651 HUMANITIES; Professor Johann Sommerville

see <> and <> for details;

this is a 3-credit lecture course for graduates and undergraduates.

This course is about Europe in the seventeenth century - probably the most important century in the making of the modern world. It was during the 1600s that Galileo and Newton founded modern science; that Descartes began modern philosophy; that Hugo Grotius initiated international law; and that Thomas Hobbes and John Locke started modern political theory. In the same century strong centralized European states entered into worldwide international competition for wealth and power, accelerating the pace of colonization in America and Asia. The Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, English, and others, all struggled to maintain and extend colonies and trading-posts in distant corners of the globe, with profound and permanent consequences for the whole world. They also fought one another in Europe, where warfare grew increasingly complex and expensive. To gain an edge against other powers in war, European governments invested in research in military technology, and the seventeenth century was consequently an age of military revolution, enabling Europeans from then on to defeat most non-European peoples relatively easily in battle.

The course will examine the main social, economic, intellectual, religious, cultural and political developments that occurred in the seventeenth century. It will begin by exploring European religious divisions at the opening of the seventeenth century - divisions that led to assassinations and to widespread warfare, especially in the Thirty Years War of 1618-48. This war devastated much of Germany, and for a while made Sweden a great power. It also profoundly affected France, Spain and the Netherlands. In France, Cardinal Richelieu and Jules Mazarin strengthened and centralized state power, though at times their policies came perilously close to disaster. In Spain, disaster struck, and the Spaniards lost their long war with the Dutch, who formed a prosperous independent republic. Spain also lost control of Portugal, and for a while it seemed that Catalonia too would break free from Spanish control.

In the seventeenth century, Spain declined but France rose to become the greatest power in Europe. In the second half of the century Louis XIV increased royal power at home and French power abroad, but at a very high cost in lives and cash. The France of Louis XIV threatened to dominate Europe, and to oppose him other powers laid aside their religious differences (which were becoming less important in the increasingly secularized and scientific atmosphere of the late 1600s) and joined forces against France. By the end of the century two powers in particular were rivaling France, namely Holland and England. Both benefited from the shift of Europe's economic center of gravity from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. In both, agricultural and commercial changes were taking place which would soon pave the way for the Industrial Revolution.



History of Science 903 (Early Modern Science) and

History of Science 911 (18th-Century Science): Early Modern Scientific Data

Instructors: Florence Hsia & Robin Rider

Wed 1:20PM–3:15PM


Fact and theory, evidence and argument, empiricism and experimentation, method and case study: such pillars of scientific knowledge-making have been well studied by scholars keen to expose their historical and conceptual foundations. Yet the data tsunami that has inundated contemporary society and promises what has been called a new scientific paradigm (‘data-intensive science’) has only recently come under critical scrutiny. Drawing extensively on the rich resources of rare books held in Special Collections, this seminar will explore the historical emergence of ‘data’ as a scientific object in the course of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries as the bureaucratic state began to deploy the power of statistics to control natural and human resources. We will look closely at accounting, archival, and publishing practices; efforts to standardize units of measure; and visual and textual technologies (tables, graphs, lists, journals, catalogues) that simultaneously shaped and encouraged the collection, processing, and interpretation of data. Secondary source readings will represent a range of disciplinary perspectives and the writing requirement for this seminar will be tailored to students’ particular needs in their respective programs of study.

Please contact Florence Hsia or Robin Rider if you have questions.



Italian 732 Modalità di lettura del Settecento

Stefania Buccini

This graduate course is designed to analyze eighteenth-century reading methods and techniques through a close examination of selected forms of life writing (autobiographies, memoirs, journals and letters) composed between 1728 and 1804, two important chronological markers that reflect respectively the publication of Giambattista Vico's autobiography and Vittorio Alfieri's "Vita". Reading practices will be revisited in a historical and cultural context and special focus will be placed on how specific authors followed, challenged and, occasionally, subverted contemporary canons.

Please contact Stefania Buccini if you have questions.



Latin 391: Latin for Graduate Reading Knowledge

There is a change to the timing of Latin 391: Latin for Grad Reading Knowledge. Typically, offered in summer, we'll begin offering this course in spring 2017. Additionally, this course will be a combination of 391 and 392 so students will no longer need both.

Please contact Toni Landis if you have questions.


Political Science 601: Civil War and Revolution: Hobbes and 17th Century Political Thought

Professor Daniel Kapust

Thursday, 1:20 to 3:20, Education L150


This course focuses on the politics of the English Civil War, a tumultuous period captured in the lyrics of a song popular at the time: "The world turned upside down." Focusing especially on the writings of Thomas Hobbes, along with a variety of his contemporaries, we will explore how philosophical and ideological conflicts led to the war's outbreak, and how these ideas were embedded in the institutions that emerged from a conflict that saw King Charles I beheaded. We will also read and discuss a variety of contemporary scholarship on civil war in order to further our understanding of the conflict and the arguments of the philosophers we will encounter.

Please contact Daniel Kapust if you have questions.