“What shall we do now?” This sentence, written by a beleagured monk and erstwhile poet, was written in the wake of the destruction caused by raids to his beloved city of Paris and its environs in the ninth century. This course will explore precisely this question: how did individuals and communities react to catastrophes of all shades in the Middle Ages? In this course, students will deeply examine the ways in which societies throughout the medieval world responded to crisis from c.500 to c.1500. Each section of the course will be arranged thematically, addressing ‘Crises of the City’, ‘Crises of the Body’, and ‘Crises of Faith.’ Throughout, the goal will be to investigate how manifold crises forced medieval societies to deliberate on proper responses and remedies, triggering intense debates about how to live and with whom to associate.
This lecture course will draw on a diverse set of primary and secondary works in translation as well as material objects connected to these varied medieval cultures, introducing students to kingdoms and empires from around the globe. These include Byzantium, the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates, and the Yuan Dynasty in China, as well as European polities. The course will feature guest presentations from late antique and medieval scholars working across these diverse areas. Students will in turn produce written work to analyze both medieval sources and critique recent academic scholarship on ways of interpreting crisis in the medieval and modern world.