Early Cultures Courses 2020-21
Upper Division and Graduate Seminars



AH 198/VS 298 Early Modern Environment: The Sea
Instructor: Lyle Massey

In keeping with the "Sea" theme organized by the Humanities Center at UCI for 2020-21, this graduate seminar explores early modern representations of maritime environments and their challenges. Exploring the impact of visual cultural studies on the  “blue humanities,” a term coined by Steven Mentz, this seminar is concerned with the recent turn toward understanding the physical and symbolic impact of oceans and seas in the history of pre- and early modern Europe. The emergence of seascapes and harbor scenes in genre painting, the large number of shells in European cabinets of curiosities and grottos, ichthyology and fossils, maps and itineraries, ships and modes of navigation, horizons and coastlines, are some examples of the archive. Through readings and student research, we will interrogate narratives of progress and science, contend with changing historical notions of nature and power, and think about the oceans and seas as matrices of environmental and ecocritical interrogation.


EA 116 Premodern Japanese Ghosts
Instructor: Susan Klein

This course will examine the historical development of premodern Japanese ghosts, from the 9th to 19th centuries, in response to historical changes in the political and religious context, as well as genre developments in literature, drama, and art. We will focus on how the changing literary and artistic representation of Japanese ghosts has embodied (or disembodied) problematic fissures in premodern Japanese society, especially with regard to gender and class issues.


E210: Shakespeare and Wisdom Literature
Instructor: Julia Lupton

Wisdom literature refers to a diverse body of ancient texts that combine philosophical, pragmatic, poetic, and theological/cosmological aspirations. Examples include Proverbs, Psalms, the Song of Songs, and the Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible; the letters, meditations, and handbooks of the ancient Stoics, including Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius; the theogenic nature hymns attributed to Orpheus; and the vegetarian teachings of Pythagoras. Egyptian, Buddhist, and Arabic wisdom literature mixed with Greek and Jewish traditions to contribute to a common thought world taken up by both Christianity and Islam. In the Renaissance, Montaigne and Erasmus elaborated the ecumenical and experimental dimensions of wisdom literature to create the modern essay. This course will look at Shakespeare’s creative exchange with Greco-Roman and Hebrew writings while placing that exchange within the deep congeniality--vertical and horizontal--of this wisdom-seeking thought world, in which sapience functions as a potential solvent among confessional and ethnic divisions. We will read Hamlet, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Timon of Athens, and selected sonnets, plus prose works by Plato, Seneca, Cato, Cicero, Epictetus, Sextus Empiricus, Erasmus, and Montaigne as well as the sapiential books of the Hebrew Bible considered in their Near Eastern context. We will address the following questions: In what sense does Shakespeare draw on and contribute to wisdom literature? Is wisdom literature inherently dramatic as well as poetic? Where do Shakespeare’s plays and poems turn essayistic? In what ways have his works been received as wisdom, in, for example, the common-placing tradition? How does wisdom literature offer Shakespeare a humanistic framework beyond confessional divisions? Does the feminine and transcultural depiction of Wisdom as a woman who co-exists with God at creation in any way shape Shakespearean drama’s understanding of femininity and culture? Finally, how does Shakespeare draw upon the ecological dimension of wisdom literature in his plays?


FRE 218 - ES201: The Enlightenment and the Interpretation of Pain
Instructor: Christophe Litwin

When the sum of our pains surpasses that of our pleasures, non-existence becomes preferable to existence. This argument rapidly became ubiquitous in Enlightenment philosophical debates. Many used it to discuss the rationality of suicide, of God’s creation, of religious faith, as well as the metaphysical grounds of human existence and the idea of progress. Some criticized the quantitative premises of the argument and questioned the idea that pain could change the positive value of human existence into a negative one. They also criticized the premise of a preference for non-existence as such. To suggest that pain and existence should be interpreted otherwise, they argued that sometimes our own pain becomes such an essential part of who we are that the perspective of living painlessly appears to us just as horrifying as our moral annihilation. This critique gave way to a romantic critique of the Enlightenment’s approach to pain as well as to a genealogy of the Western process of civilization as nihilistic.
In this class, we will examine those debates in philosophical and literary texts and discuss some of their later and contemporary echoes in ethics. The course will use these discourses on pain in the long 18th century to query whether there is something consistent that can even be called "the Enlightenment." What's the value of using such a period designation? Is it just heuristic? Does it have historical significance, as when we then say that there was a "Romantic" reaction to the "Enlightenment"?



AH 121 Leonardo and Michelangelo
Instructor: Lyle Massey

The names Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti are associated with some of the greatest achievements of the Italian Renaissance: Mona Lisa, the Last Supper, the Pieta, the Sistine Chapel. Through their individual personalities and artworks, each artist has come to define what we imagine as the special and unique character of "the artist": an individual of extraordinary creativity, invention, skill, intellect and tortured mentality. Concepts like "artistic personality" or "artistic genius" are inventions of the Renaissance, and they emerged explicitly from the biographies of Leonardo and Michelangelo. The careers of these two artists intersected—both were Tuscan and were trained in Florence. Contemporaries clearly compared them, and each was seen as an outstanding master of art. The two artists knew each other, and at one point, they were placed into a competitive situation, each having been commissioned to produce a battle scene for the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence. Exploring the myths, histories, artworks, sexuality, writings and reputations associated with these two artists, we will seek to understand how and why they achieved fame in their lifetimes and why they continue to hold our fascination to this day.


English 210 Sanctuary: Medieval and Modern
Instructor: Elizabeth Allen

In medieval England, sanctuary seeking was a legal practice: a felon could flee to the nearest church and delay or avoid prosecution, often at the cost of being sent penniless into exile after 40 days. Up to five hundred people a year took sanctuary in medieval England, for felonies ranging from robbery to murder. The practice was a legal mitigation, a way of softening punishment to save people’s lives.  Far from simply providing a safe “home base,” sanctuary’s boundaries are defined, yet open: jurisdictional disputes and violations abound, and sanctity itself can be made ‘portable’. In miracles, sacredness can spread through cities, regions, and the world. Sanctuary suspends the hectic events of the status quo, providing space and time for negotiation, re-casting social relationships, and enabling socio-political change. But the practice also evokes the vocabularies of Christian martyrdom and sacrifice, sometimes drawing violence as much as warding it off. These paradoxes remain in the extra-legal practices of sanctuary that persist in activist movements to this day, when sanctuary marks the fundamental human need for safety in an unsafe world.  What does it mean that medieval criminals could flee, negotiate, and avoid punishment? What significance does flight to the church have, not only for the fugitive but also for the pursuers, the hosts, and the surrounding community? How does sanctuary law come down to us in modern America, where sanctuary is no longer formally defined within the law or granted by the King, and where it is a practice of dissent, not a criminal law practice? What methods might we use to bring medieval and modern texts into relation across these structural differences?  This course is designed to explore the legal, religious and social logic of sanctuary, anchored in medieval English documents, chronicles, saints’ legends, and romances, and extending to the use of churches and other safe spaces in American law and literature, from Colson Whitehead's Underground Railroad to the 1980s Sanctuary Movement, from the Civil Rights movement to sanctuary cities. By bringing past and present into parallel, we will also ask how cross-period fertilization might happen, what present-day developments might illuminate the past, and how the past might show us the strangeness of the present day.