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Medieval Worlds

ENGL 715.301
instructor(s):
M 12-3:00

We pride ourselves on thinking “globally” and having at our fingertips information about people, places, and times. How did people before c.1600 imagine the whole world? In this course we read a variety of medieval and early modern texts that try to take the whole world into account. We will trace the geographical imaginations and cultural encounters of early writers across different genres, from maps, to Islamic, Jewish, and Christian travel narratives, such as the account of John de Mandeville (one of Christopher Columbus's favorite writers); to monstrous encyclopedias and books of beasts, such as the "Wonders of the East"; to universal chronicles and Alexander romances. We will also explore different medieval systems of thinking large, such as socio-political schemes, genealogies, bibliographies, and natural taxonomies. Assignments will include oral presentations, an annotated bibliography, and a final research essay. The seminar will take place in Penn’s Special Collections, where we will have the opportunity to examine a range of medieval manuscripts.