Monday, January 04, 2010

Saints, Monsters, and Animals: A Syllabus


Thanks much to everyone who participated in my post "Syllabus Building as Academic Party Game," particularly Anne Harris for emailing me a copy of her fascinating syllabus on postcoloniality, medieval monsters, and transcultural encounters. Per the request of one of our anonymous readers, here is a copy of my syllabus. Enjoy if you can!

If you click through, and make your way past all the assignments and (sadly? necessary) spelling out of rights, duties, and penalties, on pages 3 and 4 you can see what I've come up with. There are fewer monsters than the seminar name might suggest; and, as for medieval animals, there is so much we won't discuss: where are fables? where heraldry? where is the economic centrality of animals? where hunting? butchery? where are the battles between Christmas and Lent in which armies of sausage combat armies of fish? For a taste:
And after those with shields, there came the archers with their bows:
Wild ducks and dried corned beef and sides of mutton now appeared,
And roasted haunches of fresh pork and entire legs of ham.
And then behind all these, there came the mounted cavaliers.

Slices of roast beef and cuts of suckling pigs and kids
Appeared there, leaping all about and uttering loud cries.
And next a whole armed guard--the many fritters made of cheese,
Which spur a man to using good red wine in large supplies.

And then there came a troop replete with old nobility--
A swarm of very fine pheasants, peacocks, proud in gay allure,
Arrived, accoutered brightly, with their banners held up high,
All wearing curious armor and impressive garniture.

Their arms were most elaborate, well wrought and very fine;
As helmets they wore stewpots of pure copper, or tureens,
And as their shields had kettles, frying pans and kitchen pots.
No such majestic, wealthy camp is owned by drab sardines!
(from Juan Ruiz, The Book of True Love stanzas 1084-87).
And where, oh where, the parodic wills? Sadly absent.

Please file your complaints below, and thanks much for your invaluable assistance in constructing this.


Jeffrey Cohen said...

Given that you needed to whittle reams worth of potential reading into what a sane human being can process in one semester -- a mad making task to begin with -- this course looks great. Please update us with how the class is progressing.

But I have to ask: no learning objectives? Can CUNY have escaped the mandation of outcomes on each syllabus?

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Um, OK, I get an F in close reading: course goals were the first things listed.

Karl Steel said...

I think you just read them with as much attention as I wrote them. You get an A in reading for intent!

Anne F. Harris said...

Hello. Thank you for the kind words about the "Monsters and Marvels" syllabus - I am deeply honored, having admired the work of this blog for so long. I love the problems of the syllabus - especially the thorny one of when the human begins and the monstrous leaves off (or the other way around, depending on the tale!). The Greta Austin article we read had a really interesting thesis about the _Wonders of the East_ being arranged in a hierarchy from more monstrous to more human - language (surprised?) turns out to be a key factor. Austin, Greta. “Marvelous Peoples or Marvelous Races? Race and the Anglo-Saxon Wonders of the East,” in _Marvels, Monsters and Miracles; studies in the medieval and early modern imaginations._ ed. Timothy S. Jones and David A. Sprunger. Western Michigan University Press, 2002: 25-51. I look forward to reading through your syllabus (yea, sabbatical!) and to following the course's developments.

Unknown said...

The syllabus looks great, Karl, and I may steal from parts of it if and when I teach course on the posthuman Middle Ages again. This semester I'm doing a course on medieval sexuality, the syllabus of which I'll share soon.

Karl Steel said...

Anne, you're more than welcome. And thanks for the Austin rec.: I read chunks of that book ages ago, back when I started the diss., and it's since got out of memory. You know, however, the order of Thomas Cantimpré's Liber de natura rerum? He has humans first, then the monstrous humans of the east, and then animals: they're quite specifically liminal, and his criteria have to do with bodily form. The language issue, though...will have to deal with that for the book.

Eileen, thanks much, and, yes! Looking forward to seeing (and stealing from) your syllabus, particularly as I'm doing a guest class in 6 weeks or so for a early modern historian colleague who's doing a 'sexualities of the Americas' course.

Rick Godden said...

Karl, the course looks great! And you just helped with one of the problems I was dealing with today. I'm also teaching a course on monsters in the middle ages this Spring, and I wanted to have my students look at a bestiary, but the Barber edition is pretty expensive. At least with the link you provide they can get a sense of them. Fantastic.

Karl Steel said...

Rick, you're welcome! The T.H. White Bestiary is cheaper than the Barber, by the way, if you want them to have an actual book.

Lara Farina said...


Thanks for posting this syllabus--it looks great. I do a "Visions and Wonders" grad course and am always struck by how much more I should do on animality.