How did people inhabit and view their physical environment in early medieval England? Was it life-sustaining or threatening? What was the balance between managing resources and exploiting them? How did poets and farmers, kings and saints invoke images of land and sea as meaningful symbols? The Old English literature on such questions, which is diverse and engaging, will form the basis of our in-class translations. Other assigned readings will survey environmental criticism and allow us to compare today’s perceptions with those from a distant past.
This course combines language study with the investigation of a critical theme. The narratives set for translation provide a thematic coherence as we dig into the language of Old English, which is the vernacular used in England from the sixth century until about 1100. Although some of its features remain recognizable today, Old English needs to be learned as a foreign language with its own spelling, pronunciation, syntax, and so on. The term begins with an emphasis on grammar, which will be covered in graduated steps until midterm, after which the readings and translation will take up more of our class time.
The promise of this course: you will gain the skills to translate any text in Old English; you will learn a great deal about contemporary English including weird facts your inner word-geek will love; you will expand your knowledge of environmental criticism as we examine its deep history.
This course is an introduction to the different voices, cultures, and traditions that made the first 1000 years of English literature, from Beowulf to Aphra Behn. We will study major and influential writings alongside lesser-known interlocutors—works by Marie de France, Geoffrey Chaucer, Margery Kempe, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, Mary Sidney, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and more. We will engage with the (often contested) social, political, and religious contexts that gave rise to creative work. We will pay particular attention to the historical transformations of romance, epic, drama, fable, and lyric, and the ways these forms were embedded in the social worlds of their time.
Note: This course satisfies the English Concentration "Arrivals" requirement for the Class of 2022.
A study of four poetic and/or visionary works written 1300-1400: Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, John of Morigny's Book of Flowers, Julian of Norwich's Revelation of Love, and William Langland's Piers Plowman. We consider the inter-relationship between the poetic and the visionary in light of the categories of "orthodoxy" and "discretion of spirits" during a period when both were fiercely contested.
Note: This course is open, space permitting, to qualified undergraduates: please show up on the first day or contact Prof. Watson if you are an undergrad who wants to take the course.
Harvard’s still governing 1650 charter states the institution’s mission is “the education of English and Indian youth.” What were the ideas about race, culture, and colonialism that made such an idea possible? What was life like for the early Native American students who studied at Harvard, and what happened to the founding idea of a multiracial intellectual space in Harvard Yard over time? This course studies the Harvard Indian College and early Harvard history in the context of broader relationships between New England colonists and Dawnlands Native peoples. We will focus in detail on the surviving early writings of Caleb Cheeshateamuck, Benjamin Larnell, and Eleazar alongside colonial writings by John Winthrop, John Cotton, Anne Bradstreet, and others. We will learn about the catastrophic violence of King Philip’s War and the ways that conflict changed ideas about race and community in the seventeenth century. We will learn about Harvard’s continuing role throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in organizing relations with New England Indian communities, and the forms, genres, and rhetorics Indian activists and protesters developed in response. Throughout our course, we will bring Native American voices from Massachusetts, Wampanoag, Nipmuc, and other communities to the fore, in the past and in the present day.
Note: This course satisfies the English Concentration "Migrations" requirement for the Class of 2022.
Please note that this course will be offered on Zoom and will meet remotely for the entirety of the Fall 2021 semester.
Five Shakespearean Pieces: The seminar will focus on five plays (Hamlet, Measure for Measure, Henry V, The Tempest, and Merchant of Venice) with special attention to staging, literariness, and location.
Note: This course satisfies the English Concentration "Shakespeare" requirement for the Class of 2022.