First Year Seminar: Medieval Worlds (SNF Paideia Program Course)
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, and how did they learn about it? In this freshman seminar, we will read a variety of premodern 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 the Great romances. We will also explore different medieval systems of thinking big, such as socio-political schemes, genealogies, bibliographies, and taxonomies of species. Assignments will include short weekly responses, a midterm, and a final exam. The seminar will take place in Penn Library's Special Collections, where we will have the opportunity to study all kinds of medieval manuscripts.