MEMS 2001: Discovering the Medieval and Early Modern Past

Carleton University, Fall 2019

College of the Humanities

(Minor in Medieval and Early Modern Studies)

Prerequisites: None

Tuesdays and Thursdays / 1:05-2:25pm

Location: Please confirm location on Carleton Central

Professor: Dr. S. Bly Calkin


Office: 1809 DT

Phone: (613) 520-2600×2337

Office Hours: Thursdays 10:30am-12noon; Fridays 11:40am-12:10noon

Course Description:

Do you want to handle thirteenth-century folios and flip through 500 year old printed books? Are you interested in the medieval or early modern world and want to learn more about what was happening then and how those periods of the past infuse the world around us today? Do you want to discover how scholars study the world as it was between 500 and 1700 CE? If so, then this is the course for you. In Medieval and Early Modern Studies  (MEMS) 2001, that world comes to life—and you will discover that it turns up in your modern life in Ottawa in strange ways too!

MEMS 2001 introduces students to the arcane world of the medieval and early modern past, preparing you for more advanced interdisciplinary research in the field. Our focus for our exploration is initially on popular representations of the medieval past, which reveal broad themes about modern understandings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. But our larger goal is to question these images of the medieval and early modern world,  to excavate some of that world’s intellectual origins and historical realities, and to learn how the rich tapestry of medieval and early-modern culture is studied today.

We will begin by reading and talking about what we think the medieval and early modern periods are, where they turn up in the contemporary world, and what pre-conceptions we have about these periods.

In late September we will move to a unit entitled Researching the Medieval and Early Modern Worlds I: People, Places, Things, and Events, and what Secondary Sources Can Tell You About Them. In this unit, students will learn through their own project work what a trustworthy scholarly source is, how to find and access such sources for the medieval and early modern periods, and what these sources say about some key events, people, places, and things from the period 500-1700 CE.

In November, we move to the final unit, entitled  Touching the Past, or Researching the Medieval and Early Modern Worlds II: Primary Sources and How to Approach Them. In this unit, we will learn about medieval manuscripts, languages and other direct material records of the medieval and early modern past, and consider how people today use media and material culture from that past to learn about life back then. We will be working with manuscript and early print holdings from the Library’s Rare Books Department, and hearing from professors in different disciplines about what they study and how. Topics presented by our guest lecturers will include Studying Disease in the Medieval and Early Modern Worlds, and Working with Medieval Material Culture (or: How Written Documents, ‘Art’, Architecture, and Archaeological Materials Intersect).

Course Objectives:

This year, students in MEMS 2001 will:

  • Explore how our contemporary popular culture creates persuasive representations of the Middle Ages and Early Modernity
  • Reflect on how these representations are partial and often in disagreement with how scholars view the same time and culture
  • Learn how to find and access scholarly representations of the peoples, places, events, and objects of the medieval and early modern worlds
  • Learn about some of the media and material culture dating from the medieval and early modern periods (manuscripts, music, narratives, images, objects)
  • Consider how scholars access and study such media and material culture
  • Consider how media and material culture dating from the Middle Ages and Early Modern period give evidence of a unique culture that both shares similarities with, and has great differences from, our own

Among other things we will consider:

  • how medieval people and creatures we think we know (e.g. knights, Robin Hood, King Arthur, dragons) differ from their manifestations in the Middle Ages
  • how multilingualism and multiculturalism were as much part of the medieval and early modern worlds as they are today
  • how difficult it is to read and understand medieval writing, texts, and languages today
  • how globally diffuse the medieval and early modern worlds were
  • how we probably would not get along very well with a medieval or early modern person, were we to meet them
  • how medieval and early modern people are racist, misogynist and nationalist in different ways than you would think, and why people today need to think about invocations of the past, their accuracy or inaccuracy, and the political and socio-political ends to which the medieval and early modern past are put today


Marcus Bull. Thinking Medieval: An Introduction to the Study of the Middle Ages, Houndsmills & New York: Palgrave, 2005. ISBN: 9781403912954

Book available at Haven Books, 43 Seneca Street, tel: 613-730-9888 /e-mail:;

In addition to the textbook, students will also be expected each week to view various media and/or read articles, book chapters and primary sources on reserve in the library or online.


Unit 1 Critical Reflection: How We Think About the Middle Ages and Renaissance (Due: Sept. 24 or 26, 2019)

(500-word written reflection on what brought you to the course, what your ideas of the medieval and/or early modern were, and how they intersect with trends identified in class and by scholars in your readings. To be submitted in typed, double-spaced hard copy. Use MLA or Chicago style to cite readings in your bibliography. NOTE: bibliography is not part of word count).


Unit 2: Research Project

(A multi-part research assignment designed to introduce students to: a)the process of locating and accessing scholarly knowledge of the medieval and early modern periods, and b) some of the key places, people, things and events from 500-1700CE. The professor will guide students through each discrete task and more detailed descriptions of each component/requirement will be distributed in class.)


Breakdown of 45%:

Part 1: Annotated Bibliography        5%

(A bibliography containing both the bibliographic entries and a 3-4 sentence annotation of each entry for 3 scholarly sources and 1 medieval image. Due in hard copy at class Oct. 1 or 3, 2019)

Part 2: Preliminary Draft Report      5%

(A 250-500 word + image/media (if desired) draft of your report on your research topic. Due on CUPortfolio Oct. 10, 2019; will be posted to class)

Part 3: Communication of Research to Class via Group Timeline Presentation   10%

(An in-class presentation of basic information about your medieval/early modern topic as part of a small group timeline presentation. You will be responsible for the portion of the presentation showcasing your topic and will be assessed both on that individual portion and on the overall clarity, cohesiveness and effectiveness of the group’s 15-minute presentation of its timeline. Due in class Oct. 17 or 29, 2019)

Part 4: Feedback on other group members’ Draft Reports 5%

(100-200 word long comment on each draft report by the three other members of your group (i.e. 300-600 words total). Will be assessed on civility, constructiveness and thoughtfulness of post as well as on timely completion. Due as comments in CULearn small group discussion forums Oct. 29, 2019.

Part 5: Personal Reflection on Feedback     5%

(100-250 word reflection upon feedback your draft report received and what you plan to do to revise your report for final submission based on that feedback and your own thoughts after your oral presentations. Due in hard copy (typed, double-spaced) at class Nov. 5.)

Part 6: Final Polished Research Report       15%

(1000-1250 words +media polished final version of report on your assigned topic. Due on CUPortfolio Nov. 14, 2019 as final submission of portfolio; will be shared with class as resource for final exam revision. All sources must be cited in a bibliography at the bottom of your report/page using either MLA or Chicago style format. NOTE: Bibliography does not count towards word count).

Unit 3: Primary Sources Work  DUE: Dec. 5 

(Transcription of assigned manuscript page portion. Due in hard copy at class.) 


Final Examination

(will be scheduled during final examination period; will likely include short answer questions, essay question(s) and some sort of timeline construction)

Class Participation and Attendance

  • You are expected to attend class regularly; attendance will be taken at each class.
  • You are expected to come to class with the readings and/or assignments completed so that you are able to participate in group and class discussion and reflection.
  • You are expected to meet your in-class presentation and group work commitments (barring illness, bereavement etc.)
  • You are expected to pay attention to lectures and to your fellow students’ presentations.
  • You are expected to complete occasional small participation assignments such as this one, which is due Sept. 9: e-mail me a photo of your favourite medieval or early modern thing to show me you either read the syllabus or paid attention when I went over it in class
  • You are expected to complete all assignments
  • You are expected to participate in small group work and small group discussions.
  • Please note that surfing the web, e-mailing, texting, facebooking, instagramming, snapchatting, shopping online, reading for other classes, sleeping etc. while in class does not constitute an active presence in this course; you may be here physically but are elsewhere mentally, and your mark will reflect that absence.

PLAGIARISM The University Senate defines plagiarism as presenting, whether intentionally or not, the ideas, expression of ideas or work of others as one’s own.” This can include:

  • reproducing or paraphrasing portions of someone else’s published or unpublished material, regardless of the source, and presenting these as one’s own without proper citation or reference to the original source;
  • submitting a take-home examination, essay, laboratory report or other assignment written, in whole or in part, by someone else;
  • using ideas or direct, verbatim quotations, or paraphrased material, concepts or ideas without appropriate acknowledgment in any academic assignment;
  • using another’s data or research findings without acknowledgement;
  • failing to acknowledge sources through the use of proper citations when using another’s works and/or failing to use quotation marks;
  • handing in substantially the same piece of work for academic credit more than once without prior written permission of the course instructor in which the submission occurs.

Plagiarism is a form of intellectual theft. It is a serious offence that cannot be resolved directly with the course’s instructor. The Associate Dean of the Faculty conducts a rigorous investigation, including an interview with the student, when an instructor suspects a piece of work has been plagiarized. Penalties are not trivial. They can include failure of the assignment, failure of the entire course, suspension from a program, suspension from the university, or even expulsion from the university. For more information please go to:

***Why am I Making You Use CUPortfolio? Based on student and professor feedback from earlier versions of this course, using CUPortfolio allows students to use media of different sorts to communicate their research in whatever ways they find compelling. In other words, it allows you to be more creative than a Word document would and to do things such as include images or maps. CUPortfolio also allows us to share research. Your case studies will be the items we plot on our timeline of the medieval and early modern periods. Sharing research on CUPortfolio allows us to create a shared textbook for our timeline—and will help you when reviewing the materials of Unit 2 for the final examination. Be aware that one question on the exam will require you to deploy your own and some of your colleagues’ research in the construction of a timeline; access to the CUPortfolio reports will allow you to flesh out and correct your in-class notes from the various presentations as you prepare for the final exam.

Please Note: If one of your assignments is lost, misplaced, or not received by the instructor, you are responsible for having a backup copy that can be submitted immediately upon request.

Standing in a course is determined by the course instructor subject to the approval of the Faculty Dean. This means that grades submitted by the instructor may be subject to revision.  No grades are final until they have been approved by the Dean.

Schedule of Classes and Readings:

Check Class Location in Carleton Central. Readings are to be completed for class by the date under which they are listed. Please note that I reserve the right to adjust this syllabus to meet the needs of the class; however, major changes will be announced in advance. The readings that do not have an URL provided are to be accessed via ARES reserves (which can be accessed through CULearn or the Library’s web page).

Th. Sept. 5

UNIT 1: Ideas of the Medieval and Early Modern

Course Introduction: Who We Are and What We’re Doing

Class Icebreaking:

Assemble your manuscript puzzle and then introduce yourself to your group and find another group member to introduce you to the class.

Information you should communicate and they should remember:

  • Your name, degree stream
  • Why you took the class
  • An idea/thing/place that you think sums up the medieval or early modern period and why
  • Your most memorable/influential encounter with the Middle Ages or Early Modern Period

T. Sept. 10

How Do We Think About the Middle Ages?

READ: Marcus Bull, “Introduction” and “Popular Images of the Middle Ages,” in Thinking Medieval: An Introduction to the Study of the Middle Ages (New York: Palgrave, 2005): 1-41.

Umberto Eco, “Dreaming the Middle Ages,” in Travels in Hyperreality: Essays, trans. William Weaver (New York: Harvest,1986): 119-34 (available through ARES reserves)


ASSIGNMENT: Find a toy, brand or advertisement that uses the Middle Ages or Renaissance and its imagery as a product or to sell something.

Th. Sept. 12 

What are the Middle Ages? What do we mean by the Renaissance, or the Early Modern Period?

READ: Marcus Bull, “What are the ‘Middle Ages’?” in Thinking Medieval, 42-61.

T. Sept. 17

Introduce/Distribute Research Project Topics

CLASS: Creating a Middle Ages Palatable to Children (And why it might be a problem that grade 4 is the last time most Ontario Public School students have studied it)

READ: Paul Sturtevant, “’You don’t learn it deliberately, but you just know it from what you’ve seen’: British Understandings of the Medieval Past Gleaned from Disney’s Fairy Tales,” in The Disney Middle Ages: A Fairy-Tale and Fantasy Past, ed. Tison Pugh and Susan Aronstein (New York: Palgrave MacMillan: 2015): 77-96. (ARES)

Classroom Exercise: After an introduction, we’ll divide into groups to dissect (intellectually, not physically) a bunch of children’s books about the Middle Ages written in the last 40 years or so. Your goal will be to determine what messages about the Middle Ages are being conveyed to the reader and to discern what––if this was the only book you had read about the time period––would you think about it?

Th. Sept. 19 

Research Topic Selection/Assignment of Topics

CLASS: The Middle Ages in the Modern Political Imagination

READ: Marcus Bull, “Is Medieval History Relevant?” in Thinking Medieval, 99-136.

Andrew B. R. Elliott, “A Vile Love Affair: Right Wing Nationalism and the Middle Ages,” The Public Medievalist, February 14, 2017. (popular article version)


“Internet Medievalism and the White Middle Ages,” History Compass 16, no. 3 (March 2018): e12441, (scholarly article)

T. Sept. 24

UNIT 2: Researching the Medieval and Early Modern Worlds I:People, Places, Things, Events, and What Secondary Sources Can Tell You About Them.

 DUE: Critical Reflection (in hard copy at class)

CLASS: Introduction to Research Project and Secondary Source Searching Please bring a laptop if you have one. We will be going over the various components of the Research Project, looking at helpful databases and resources for researching people(s), places, things, and events from the medieval and early modern periods, and going over what constitutes a reliable scholarly source for research (and what does not!).

READ: Marcus Bull, “The Evidence for Medieval History,” in Thinking Medieval, 62-98.

Th. Sept. 26 


CLASS: Academic Medievalism and the Birth of Medieval Studies

We’ve all got to start somewhere. Medieval Studies has a dirty secret: medievalists started their research by creating the basis of what would become modern nationalism.

READ: Patrick Geary, “A Poisoned Landscape: Ethnicity and Nationalism in the Nineteenth Century,” in The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003): 15-40 (ARES)

Richard Utz, “Academic Medievalism and Nationalism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Medievalism, ed. Louise D’Arcens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016): 119-34 (ARES)

T. Oct. 1

DUE: Annotated Bibliography (in hard copy at class)

CLASS: Medieval Studies Today: Understanding the Concept of the Global Middle Ages

Students will be asked to closely read the following, which is arguably a dense but rich article about how to understand the concept of the Global Middle Ages. In class, we will be examining closely the argument this article makes, so you need to read it very carefully, look up words you do not understand, and be aware of what scholars (historians and theorists) McClure is citing in the body of the article.

READ: Julia McClure, “A New Politics of the Middle Ages: A Global Middle Ages for a Global Modernity,” History Compass 13, no. 11 (November 1, 2015): 610-19,

Th. Oct. 3


CLASS: British Case Study: King Arthur

Do you think you know who King Arthur is? What is his story? We will briefly consider some of your understandings of this medieval personage and then I will lead you through some of the historical and textual medieval actualities.

READ: Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, ed. and trans. Michael Faletra (Peterborough: Broadview, 2008), pp. 127-30 and 163-99. (ARES)

T. Oct. 8

Multilingualism and Multiculturalism Case Study 1: 12th-Century England

READ: Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, trans. and ed. Michael Faletra (Peterborough: Broadview, 2008), pp. 41-42. (ARES)

Th. Oct. 10

DUE: Draft Preliminary Research Report (on CUPortfolio)

CLASS: Timeline Travails I  You will be introducing your group to your researched topic and assembling your small group presentation of a timeline and key basic information about your 4 assigned medieval or early modern persons, places, events or things to present to the class next week.

T. Oct. 15

Timeline Travails I continued

Th. Oct. 17

Timeline Travails II: Group Research Presentations (5 groups)

T. Oct. 22

Th. Oct. 24


T. Oct. 29

DUE: Feedback on Group Members’ Draft Reports (on CULearn forum)

CLASS: Timeline Travails II: Group Research Presentations (5 groups)

Th. Oct. 31

Unit 3: Researching the Medieval and Early Modern Worlds II: Touching the Past, Working With Primary Sources

CLASS: Finish Group Presentations if necessary

Introduction to Primary Sources and Manuscript Culture

T. Nov. 5

DUE: Personal Reflection on Feedback your draft report received (in hard copy at class)

 VISIT TO RARE BOOKS DEPARTMENT, MacOdrum Library Do you want to handle thirteenth-century folios and flip through 500 year old printed books? This is the day when you will get a hands-on introduction to, and interaction with, medieval and early modern texts held in Carleton University’s Library Collection

Location: TBD (There are so many of you that the Rare Books Librarian needs to find a large enough space for all of you and the University’s manuscripts and early printed books. We may need to divide into two groups and visit in shifts.

Th. Nov. 7 

GUEST LECTURE: Dr. John Osborne (SSAC: Art History)

Medieval Material Culture: How Written Documents, ‘Art’, Architecture, and Archaeological Materials Intersect

T. Nov. 12

Transcribing Manuscripts (Or how you make the writing of the medieval and early modern periods legible today).We will be working with digitized images online so if you have a  laptop, please bring it to class to make viewing the items easier. We will also be assigning the manuscript section for your transcription assignment.

Th. Nov. 14

DUE: Final Polished Research Report (on CUPortfolio)

CLASS: Codicology, Philology, and Linguistics, or Reading Middle English

READ: The King of Tars, ed. John H. Chandler (Kalamazoo: TEAMS, 2015), available online at:

Note: This is going to be challenging. We will be going over the text together for two class meetings so give it your best shot and bring questions, confusion, etc to class to sort out there. Helpful hints: 1) Remember that spelling in Middle English is variable and often different from today’s English—and relax about it!; 2) Read bits you don’t understand aloud as the different spelling will trip you up but the sounds will be more familiar; 3) If you are totally lost and too curious to wait for class, read the Introduction—it gives you a rough sense of what happens.

T. Nov. 19

Literary Interpretation Case Study: Race and Religion in The King of Tars
READ: Siobhain Bly Calkin, “Marking Religion on the Body: Saracens, Categorization, and The King of Tars,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 104 (2005): 219-38. (ARES)

Th. Nov. 21

GUEST LECTURE: Dr. Lori Jones, AMS Postdoctoral Fellow (History)

Studying Disease in the Medieval and Early Modern Worlds

READ: Lori Jones and Richard Nevell,  “Plagued by Doubt and Viral Misinformation: The Need for Evidence-Based Use of Historical Disease Images,” The Lancet 16.10 (2016): e235-e240 available at or as a PDF on CULearn.

T. Nov. 26

GUEST LECTURE: Dr. Johannes Wolfart (Religious Studies)

Confrontations with Mundane Chronicles

Th. Nov. 28

GUEST LECTURE: Dr. Alexis Luko (SSAC: Music)

Medieval and Early Modern Music


T. Dec. 3

Multilingualism and Multiculturalism Case Study 2: Lyrics from around the world

READ: CULearn Selection of Lyrics. I will be making a page on CULearn that will include URLS to 5-7 lyric poems from different parts of the medieval world written  in different languages, as well as whatever manuscript images I can find of them; please read the selections indicated (which will all be in English translation as needed).

Th. Dec. 5

DUE: Manuscript Transcription Exercise

CLASS: Exam Format

Periodization: Medieval vs Early Modern?

The Printing Press (? Book Arts Lab Visit)



You may need special arrangements to meet your academic obligations during the term. For an accommodation request the processes are as follows:

Pregnancy obligation: write to me with any requests for academic accommodation during the first two weeks of class, or as soon as possible after the need for accommodation is known to exist. For more details, click here:

Religious obligation: write to me with any requests for academic accommodation during the first two weeks of class, or as soon as possible after the need for accommodation is known to exist. For more details, click here:

Academic Accommodations for Students with Disabilities: The Paul Menton Centre for Students with Disabilities (PMC) provides services to students with Learning Disabilities (LD), psychiatric/mental health disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), chronic medical conditions, and impairments in mobility, hearing, and vision. If you have a disability requiring academic accommodations in this course, please contact PMC at 613-520-6608 or for a formal evaluation. If you are already registered with the PMC, contact your PMC coordinator to send me your Letter of Accommodation at the beginning of the term, and no later than two weeks before the first in-class scheduled test or exam requiring accommodation (if applicable). After requesting accommodation from PMC, meet with me to ensure accommodation arrangements are made. Please consult the PMC website ( for the deadline to request accommodations for the formally-scheduled exam.

Survivors of Sexual Violence: As a community, Carleton University is committed to maintaining a positive learning, working and living environment where sexual violence will not be tolerated, and where survivors are supported through academic accommodations as per Carleton’s Sexual Violence Policy. For more information about the services available at the university and to obtain information about sexual violence and/or support, visit:

Accommodation for Student Activities: Carleton University recognizes the substantial benefits, both to the individual student and for the university, that result from a student participating in activities beyond the classroom experience. Reasonable accommodation must be provided to students who compete or perform at the national or international level. Write to me with any requests for academic accommodation during the first two weeks of class, or as soon as possible after the need for accommodation is known to exist.