Pilgrims, Playwrights, and Poets: Women Authors from Late Antiquity to Early Modernity
“What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic."
--Carl Sagan, Cosmos [Part 11, The Persistence of Memory (1980)]
This course seeks to challenge contemporary popular perceptions of pre-modern cultures and texts by focusing on texts composed during Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and early modernity by, for, and about women. Worthy of study in their own right as literature, these texts also offer students historical and cultural insight; owing to the nature of textual transmission, however, the full range of texts composed by women is unknown to us today. Of what can be securely attributed to women, it is of great value in assessing both the education and status of women at the time of its composition. As part of their introduction to pre-modern literature, students will learn about the transmission of texts through manuscript and print media and visit Special Collections to engage with medieval and early modern artefacts. Primary readings will likely include works by Egeria, the Bonifatian women, Hildegard of Bingen, Marie de France, Anna Komnene, Jean de Meun, Geoffrey Chaucer, Christine di Pizan, and Elizabeth Cary among others.
Assessment will be based, in part, on periodic reading quizzes and reading responses, as well as a take-home midterm written exam and a final course project (6-10 pages). This course fulfills the University of Washington’s writing (‘W’) requirement.