Yale College Adds New Certificate in Medieval Studies

Tim Tai, staff photographer

What does the word “medieval” really mean?

At Yale, the new Certificate in Medieval Studies program helps interested undergraduates explore what “medieval” means in its many global contexts. Although the Middle Ages can conjure up images of knights, nobles, peasants, and feudalism, this reflexive conception of the period can be myopic. During the Middle Ages – a period of about a thousand years between the 5th and 15th centuries – people all over the world lived in very different social and aesthetic worlds. Yale’s new Medieval Studies Certificate program offers students a way to organize their study of the global Middle Ages.

Yale’s Medieval Studies program, which expands to Yale College with its new undergraduate certificate, brings together approximately 40 faculty members with a range of academic expertise – including the classics, languages ​​and literatures of East Asia, Philosophy and Religious Studies – to teach students about the diverse culture of the time. According to its website, Yale’s program is one of the largest gatherings of specialist medievalists in the United States. Although faculty began planning for the certificate program in the 2019-2020 school year, it only became available to students this fall.

“Medieval Studies is a very long-standing graduate program that has sought to bring together resources from across the University to study the Middle Ages,” said Emily Thornbury, Associate Professor of English and Chair of Medieval Studies. , at News. “The goal of the new undergraduate certificate is to help make much of Yale’s resources for the Middle Ages available to undergraduate students. …We hope this certificate will allow undergraduates with a wide variety of interests to organize their experiences and discover what they can learn about the Middle Ages during their time here.

To complete the certificate, students must complete five courses covering at least two geographical “areas” and at least two academic disciplines. Each semester, the program publishes a list of courses, each of which is assigned a geographical area, which can count towards obtaining the certificate. The zones are “East and Southeast Asia”, “South and Central Asia”, “Middle East and North Africa” and “Europe, Russia and North Atlantic”. For Spring 2022, there are 15 eligible courses drawn from the departments of Anthropology, Arabic, East Asian Languages ​​and Literatures, English, History, Art History, Italian Studies, Judaic Studies, and Near Eastern Languages ​​and Civilizations.

The News spoke to eight professors involved in the program, including Lucas Bender, an assistant professor of East Asian languages ​​and literatures, who is teaching a new course this semester called “Introduction to Chinese Philosophy.” The course will count towards the Certificate in Medieval Studies as part of the “East and Southeast Asia” area.

Bender said the course fills “a gaping hole in the curriculum” as it provides insight into important philosophical debates in China throughout the medieval and early modern period. The course experienced an overwhelming demand for students during the add/drop period; about 100 students came to the first class and eventually about 70 students were able to enroll for the semester.

“I think a lot of philosophy-related courses deal primarily with one tradition — very largely, ‘the West,’” Bender said. “But there has been a lot of thinking about the same issues – ontology, epistemology, ethics, politics, linguistic philosophy – in India, China and the Arab world. I think one of the challenges for the humanities is to ensure that the field truly represents all of humanity.

The issue of global representation in the medieval world is at the forefront of the new certificate curriculum. Thornbury noted that the area and discipline requirements of the program are designed for students to explore the Middle Ages more broadly than they otherwise could. As a result, Medieval Studies is a naturally flexible program – students have many options to meet requirements in a way that best suits their interests.

Shawkat Toorawa, a professor of Near Eastern languages ​​and civilizations, said the definition of “medieval studies” can be a contentious issue, even for many medievalists. He noted that “medieval Baghdad” – one of his academic priorities – is very different from “medieval Europe”, although both can include the nickname “medieval”.

“I can think of colleagues in the field of medieval studies or Islamic studies who reject the term ‘medieval’,” Toorawa said. “But the thing is, it’s nomenclature – it’s there so you can find a way to intelligently make sense of the topics. So if I meet you and say, ‘I’m giving a course on Baghdad medieval”, you have an idea of ​​what I mean.

Certificate program students must also complete a conference/event requirement. Students must attend at least three medieval-focused academic conferences or events and write one- or two-page reflections for each.

Although the events do not have to take place at Yale, one Yale-based event that students can attend is an upcoming “Humanities/Humanity” medieval studies workshop, which the Whitney Humanities Center will host in April. According to the Center’s website, “Humanities/Humanity is a program that brings together small groups working to advance thinking on fundamental topics linking disciplines.”

English professor Ardis Butterfield said the idea for the event was to invite between 10 and 15 non-Yale colleagues to discuss medieval studies alongside Yale experts in a “very informal but focused way “.

“Because we’ve had a really exciting line-up of new faculty joining medieval studies, it’s a great time to think, ‘Well, what is medieval studies?'” Butterfield said. “I guess that’s what excites me about working in this field — the feeling that at any moment my concerns and assumptions could be completely turned upside down by thinking about someone else’s point of view. . And that’s fine.

Thornbury also highlighted the Medieval Studies program’s ‘Medieval Lunches’ series, which takes place most Tuesdays at noon. Thornbury said these events are a great way for students to learn about academic developments in the field of medieval studies while completing the certificate.

Three students preparing for the certificate all enthusiastically recommended the program to interested students.

Blaise Fangman ’22 told The News that he heard about the certificate program during one of his classes in the fall before deciding he wanted to pursue it.

“I was drawn to medieval studies by its interdisciplinary nature,” Fangman wrote to The News. “Studying the Middle Ages is great because it often seems wacky and fun, but the Middle Ages were also a long formative period where many traditions were broken and reforged into more modern forms. … His [also] been fun to attend the weekly medieval luncheons and hear talks on a wide range of topics from members of the community.”

Claire Mutchnik ’22 recommended the certificate program even though she never originally intended Medieval Studies to be one of her programs.

“I came across the Certificate in Medieval Studies as a retrospective theme in my classes at Yale, rather than an artificial effort to meet the requirements,” Mutchnik wrote to the News. “The program broadened my understanding of what medieval means; The Yale Certificate in Medieval Studies directly opposes the commonly accepted assumption that the Middle Ages took place exclusively in Europe. … At a time when technology and science are increasingly high on the agenda (especially at Yale), this is a special opportunity.

Melia Young ’23, who is also preparing for the certificate, said her time spent studying the Middle Ages shaped her potential career path and encouraged her to look into educational opportunities she might not have. not considered otherwise.

“This summer I am doing an archaeological dig in Wales at a former Cistercian abbey,” Young said. “It’s super exciting and it’s not something I ever thought I’d want to do.”

Yale’s graduate program in Medieval Studies began in 1962.


Evan Gorelick covers professors and scholars. He is a freshman at Timothy Dwight College majoring in English and Economics.

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