Sunday, December 14, 2014

Communities, Collectivities, Ecologies: MKH's First Graduate Syllabus!

by Mary Kate Hurley

As the semester comes to its close and grading begins in earnest, I’m getting ready to teach my very first graduate seminar in the Spring, currently entitled “Community, Collectivity, Ecology.” I’m sharing my first pass at the syllabus in part because I’d love to get feedback as I finalize it.

Our graduate students at Ohio University are not, generally speaking, medievalists (although give me a few more semesters and I bet I can change that!). My plan, then, is not to focus on giving them a complete historical overview of the period nor to make them into medievalists, per se, although I do want to give them a good grounding in the period. Rather, I thought that brief introductions to critical trends in the field would be the most useful approach to take: the idea would be to use medieval literature as a kind of laboratory for thinking through theoretical ideas that they can import to their work in various fields.

My plan, then, is to teach the interconnections of the two divergent projects I’ve been developing over the past few years. The first, which is based on work from my current book project, locates the development of communities and collectivities in texts that are considered, broadly speaking, as translations. The second is a more ecology-driven project, one that considers how texts participate in their environments. Obviously the second project is far too under-developed to use as a paradigm for graduate study, so my plan here is to start exploring the way that community and collectivity, when taken expansively, shade into ecologies. What I mean by that: if you keep tracing the actors, collectivities can look a lot like ecologies. I want to explore those grey areas with my students, to try to figure out how these three terms interrelate, interpenetrate, and perhaps unhinge one another. I’m not quite sure what we will find, especially since the second half of the course is very much experimental, but I thought it worth a go. I would welcome any feedback or thoughts, especially in the last half of the course where I move to materials I'm less familiar with.


Course Description:
Where does humanity end and “nature” begin? Modern eco-critical, materialist, and object-oriented critical modes question the centrality of the human to literary texts and the worlds they create, describe, and inhabit, encouraging readers to acknowledge and circumvent the often tacit anthropocentrism of their concerns. In this course, we take the post-human to the pre-modern. Medieval authors knew nothing of Timothy Morton, Bruno Latour, or Graham Harman, yet their depictions of human communities are deeply concerned with the ways humans are implicated in their environments. We’ll read medieval texts including Beowulf, Exeter Book poetry, Aelfric’s Lives of the Saints, Marie de France, and Chaucer.
Marie de France, Lais (trans. Ferrante and Hanning)
Beowulf, trans. Roy Liuzza (2nd Edition, facing page edition and translation)
Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social
Coursepack and Blackboard Readings

Informed Participation: 25%
Short Discussion Papers and Leading Discussion (x2): 25%
Conference Paper 1 (including annotated bibliography and abstract): 25%
Conference Paper 2 (or article-length essay version of Conference Paper 1, plus annotated bibliography and abstract): 25%

Community, Collectivity, Ecology

Week One: Communities in Context
• Raymond Williams, Keywords (excerpt on Community)
• Brian Stock, Listening for the Text, “Textual Community”
• Sarah Foot, “The Making of Angelcynn: English Identity Before the Norman Conquest” THRS 6 (1996): 25-49.

Week Two: Textual Communities, Communities of the Page
• Holsinger, “Of Pigs and Parchment”
• Elaine Treharne, Living Through Conquest (excerpt)
• Fleshing out the text: the Transcendent Manuscript in the Digital Age," Elaine Treharne (Postmedieval 4.4)

[Possible Workshop with rare librarians and local bookmakers to talk about the production and creation of books]

Week Three: Medieval Textual Communities
• Alfred’s Preface to the Pastoral Care
• Kathleen Davis, “National Writing in the Ninth Century: A Reminder for Post-Colonialist Thinking about the Nation”
• Nicholas Howe, “Rome: Capital of Anglo-Saxon England” JMEMS 34.1 (Winter 2004): 147-172.

Week Four: Medieval Textual Communities in Translation
• Geographical Preface and Excerpt from Old English Orosius (with Latin translation)
• Lawrence Venuti, “Translation, Community, Utopia”
• Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator”

Week Five: Communities of Faith
• Aelfric, Life of Saint Gregory (ed. Clemoes)
• Clare Lees, “In Ælfric’s Words: Vigilance and the Nation in the Life of Saint Gregory” in A Companion to Ælfric, ed. Mary Swan and Hugh Magennis. Leiden: Brill, 2009.

Week Six: Collectivity and Community
• Aelfric, Life of Saint Oswald
• Michel Callon, “Toward a Sociology of Translation”
• Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social (excerpts)

Week Seven: Actors and Networks
• Bede, excerpt on Life of King Oswald
• Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social (excerpts)
• Marianne Malo Chenard, “King Oswald’s Holy Hands: Metonymy and the Making of a Saint in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History”

Week Eight: Beowulf’s Collectivities
• Graham Harman, “The Well-Wrought Broken Urn”
• Deleuze and Guattari, 10000 Plateaus (excerpt: Rhizome)

Week Nine: Animals
• Marie de France, Lais
• Susan Crane, Animal Encounters: “Cohabitation,” “Wolf, Man, and Wolf-Man” and “Conclusion”
• Peggy McCracken, “Animals and Translation in Marie de France”

Week Nine: Anglo-Saxon Oceans in Middle English
• Chaucer, The Man of Law’s Tale
• AHR Forum: Oceans of History, “Introduction”
• Horden and Purcell, “The Mediterranean and the New Thalassology”
• Ingrid Nelson, “Premodern Media and Networks of Transmission in the Man of Law’s Tale,” Exemplaria 2013

Week Ten: Wonder Ecologies
• Old English Wonders of the East (ed. and trans. Orchard)
• Letter of Alexander to Aristotle (ed. and trans. Orchard)
• Stacy Alaimo, Bodily Natures (excerpt)
• Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway (excerpt)

Week Eleven: Landscapes
• Guðlac A and B
• Alfred Siewers, “Landscapes of Conversion” (from The Postmodern Beowulf)
• Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects (introduction)

Week Twelve: Saint Erkenwald and Time
Saint Erkenwald
• Karl Steel on Erkenwald and Claustrophilia

Week Thirteen: Made of Meat
Disputation of the Body and the Worms
• Karl Steel, “Abyss: Everything is Food,” Postmedieval 4.1

Week Fourteen: Presentations of Conference Paper 2 or expansion of Paper 1


Jeffrey Cohen said...

I really love this course Mary Kate, and am intrigued by the idea of thinking communities as ecologies. I used to teach a graduate seminar with some affinities:
From that I'd say Bede's Life of Cuthbert and the Voyage of Brendan worked especially well at getting at the intersections of community and environment.
Here's the last ecology course I taught:
And now I can see it is impossible NOT to teach community and ecology at once!

It might be good to add a bit though about ecotheory to the seminar -- eg, Gillian Rudd's book Greenery?

Mary Kate Hurley said...

Jeffrey -- Thank you so much! I'd found your contact ecologies seminar (I think I stole my Marie de France sequence, or part of it, from you? Too much grading, can't remember), but somehow missed the race and nation one. I'll check it out and see what I find once grades are in. And Gillian Rudd is an inspired choice that I completely forgot. I'll add it to Karl's recommendation (on facebook) that I add one of the Soul and Body dialogues to our week with the worms.

I also saw that Rudd appears in a handbook to Ecocriticism...suddenly I know what I'm buying myself for Christmas.

Anonymous said...

MK, I love this syllabus!