As a result of directing an institute that combines the medieval and the early modern across the disciplines, and maybe just because I'm getting older and thereby wearier of the divisions we emplace to separate us from the work and the influence of others (partly as a survival strategy -- who can read it all? who can keep up?), I've been increasingly drawn to projects that muddle the medieval/early modern divide, and critical of projects that rely on needlessly instantiating that boundary as clean and secure in order to self propel. More positively, in projects like AVMEO and The Future We Want,* I've tried to mingle the early modernists and the medievalists to create something that two disciplines in parallel play could not. I've also done crazy things like attend the SAA -- and am doing it again next month, to run with Julian Yates not one but two seminars on Object-Oriented Environs. Should be fun.
And now ... I am teaching a seminar at the Folger Shakespeare Library, an institution to which I must admit I feel a great deal of attachment. The description is below, and you can follow this link if you are interested in applying. It's open to graduate students, postdoctoral scholars and faculty by application, with support (grants-in-aid) a possibility for those who do not reside nearby. If the topic intrigues you, please consider applying for a space.
The Scale of Catastrophe: Ecology and Transition, Medieval to Early Modern
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
Spring Semester Seminar
Medieval and early modern texts share a vocabulary for catastrophe that intermixes deluge (the Flood that only Noah and his family survived) and incineration (the advent of apocalypse and the purging of the mortal world). Although one was in the distant past and never supposed to arrive again, the other to blaze forth at some uncertain future, both fire and flood tended to be invoked to mark historical breaks and anxious moments of transition. This seminar will pair medieval texts fascinated by survival in the face of cataclysm with early modern ones that carry the stories they offer into new realms. Participants will investigate the scale of catastrophe stories, where scale is both size (local versus cosmic) and structure, a ladder (scala) that arranges nature into a hierarchy. They will also consider the gender of catastrophe, and map whether women tell different stories against and within catastrophe from men. Readings frequently pair medieval texts with early modern ones that reinterpreted them. Medieval primary texts may include Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History, Des Grantz Geanz, the Chester play ofNoah’s Flood, and Chaucer’s “Franklin’s Tale” and “Miller’s Tale.” Early modern readings may include Hooke’s Micrographia, Raleigh’s Discovery of Guyana, Holinshed’s Chronicles, and several plays by Shakespeare before considering Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.
Director: Jeffrey Jerome Cohen is Professor of English and Director of the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute at The George Washington University. He is the author and editor of numerous books, including Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory Beyond Green (2013), Medieval Identity Machines (2003), and Monster Theory: Reading Culture (1996). His book Stories of Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman is forthcoming.
Schedule: Thursdays, 1 – 4:30 p.m., 29 January through 23 April 2015, excluding 12 March, 2 April, and 9 April.
Apply: 5 September 2014 for admission and grants-in-aid; 12 January 2015 for admission only.
*Not sure when that volume will be published; it's been done and off my desk for quite a long time. Something to look forward to. In the future. That we want.