Medieval and Renaissance Studies
The goal of the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program is to encourage critical understanding of the multicultural histories, literatures, and artistic traditions of the European and Arab-Islamic worlds--and the various forms of exchange, conflict, and contact between them.
About the Minor
In this interdisciplinary program, students delve into the complex histories and cultures of medieval and early modern worlds from a variety of perspectives, taking courses in art, literature, languages, history, and music from Byzantium to Shakespeare’s England. Working closely with faculty in small classes, students find one-on-one encouragement, personal direction, and research opportunities.
A Sampling of Courses
Visual Culture of the Medieval World
This course surveys the art and architecture of Europe during the Middle Ages from ca. 500-1400. We will focus on key artworks and monuments made and built in Europe from the Visigoths and Vikings to the Valois court, as well as examine cross-cultural interactions across religious and political boundaries in medieval Africa, the Arctic, and the Mediterranean. Students will develop an awareness of the production, function, and social context of medieval visual culture through the close study of architecture, manuscript, metalwork, mosaic, painting, sculpture, and textile. Despite our historical distance from the Middle Ages, we will also consider how medieval imagery remains relevant to our current visual world.
Explore these select courses:
Solo vocal and choral music of the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque eras from Gregorian chant to Bach. Topics include text expression through music, historical approaches to vocal compositional styles and performance practices (a cappella and accompanied), and responses to early music by later composers (Lauridsen, Whitacre, Respighi, Vaughan Williams, Britten, Orff, Pärt). Some consideration of the use of early music in film and television (Lord of the Rings, Dangerous Liaisons, Shakespeare in Love, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Game of Thrones).
Beginning in the Age of Encounters and ending with the Enlightenment, the course traces how the Scientific Revolution fundamentally changed the way we think about nature through key figures, including da Vinci, Copernicus, Kepler, Galilei, Bacon, Descartes, Newton, and Linnaeus. In addition to basic concepts and terminology in the history of science, students will read and analyze primary sources; think critically about how historians write history; evaluate the role of institutions and social customs in the creation of knowledge; and articulate historical arguments orally and in writing.
"Amor condusse noi ad una morte" (“Love led us to one death”). As Dante portrayed in the Inferno, the experience love is inseparable from death. Our journey begins with Dante’s memory of Beatrice retold and reimagined in The New Life—a work inspired as much by love as by death. When Dante reunites with Beatrice in The Divine Comedy, his understanding of love also evolved. How did this shift prompt him to twist the stories of great lovers as a near-death encounter? We will explore an array of literary variations on the theme of love and death from the Middle Ages to the contemporary world. In addition to investigating the rich literary tradition, we will also turn to works in music and the visual arts.
What is the relationship between aesthetics, material culture, and religious experience? In this course we explore this question by examining the aesthetic traditions of Islam, focusing on how Muslims have used literature, visual art, musical performance, and architecture as modes of religious expression and creativity. Through studying aesthetics and devotion in the Islamic tradition, we will reflect on questions of cultural appropriation and reuse, politics of representation, and the global circulation of objects, peoples, and capital.
Meet Our Faculty
Jane Watson Irwin Professor of Literature, Director of Medieval and Renaissance Studies
literature in 17th-century England and Colonial America, particularly by women and by people writing on religious subjects
Associate Professor of Asian Studies
archaeological history of South Asian religions, especially Buddhist and Hindu traditions; research in themes of inter-religious dynamics, syncretism and religious transformation; colonialism and reconfigurations of sacred centers; and religion and water management in the Buddhist and Hindu traditions
Assistant Professor of History, Director of Latin American Studies
history of science; early modern world; Colonial Latin America; environmental history; intellectual history; digital humanities; history of gender and sexuality; animal studies; genetics and history
Luis Miguel dos Santos Vicente
Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies
Medieval Iberian literatures and cultures; cross-cultural exchanges; medieval travel writing; Alfonso X of Castile; early modern Spanish travel; autobiography
Professor of History, Chair of the Department of German, Russian, Italian, and Arabic
social and economic history of the early Middle Ages; history of law and mechanisms of conflict resolution; the perceptions of non-Christian peoples and lands in medieval manuscript culture
Chair, the Eugene M. Tobin Distinguished Professor of Music
Dolly Parton; American folk and traditional musics; banjo, music and film; medieval and renaissance music; music and gender
Assistant Professor of Asian Studies
History of Islam in South Asia, specializing in Sultanate and Mughal India; Muslim devotional traditions, material culture, and gender and sexuality; history of pre-modern Iran and Persian culture
Professor of Literature
Old English, Middle English, and Middle Scots language and literature
Assistant Professor of Art History
Medieval and early modern art; Scandinavian studies; German studies; economics and trade; religious iconography; object-based learning; history and methods of art history
Explore Hamilton Stories
Meshing Digital Arts and Medieval Maps
Fueled by a dual passion for production value and the Middle Ages, Ryan Mayhan ’22 created a project that successfully meshes his academic interests. It’s a video, aimed at a general audience, about how cartographers created ideological maps of the medieval mind.
Cooley Awarded I Tatti Fellowship
Assistant Professor of History MacKenzie Cooley has received one of the most prestigious fellowships in the field of Renaissance studies, a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard University’s Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, I Tatti, for the 2021-22 academic year.
These days, Hamilton students and faculty delve deeply into the Lang Special Collections and Archives, and thanks to Michael Lang ’67, access to the trove is greater than ever.
Careers After Hamilton
Hamilton graduates who concentrated in Medieval and Renaissance studies are pursuing careers in a variety of fields, including:
- Assistant Professor of English, Wittenberg University
- Arts Editor, Bennington Banner
Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program
Margie Thickstun, Chair
Clinton, NY 13323