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Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program Goals and Objectives

The interdepartmental program in Medieval and Renaissance Studies is designed to provide the student with a coherent course of study in the arts, history, literature, and thought of European civilization from the fall of Rome to the seventeenth century. The focus of each major depends on the individual interests and skills of each student, who selects from a range of approved courses across the departments of art, music, history, philosophy, religion, and language and literature.n/aStudents enter the program through the interdisciplinary course, MRST 220, which offers training in interdisciplinary work in a selected topic in the field. Two regular courses have been a course on manuscripts, called Detectives in the Archive, and one on women in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The courses work somewhat differently. The manuscripts course is supervised by one faculty member with contributions through guest lecturers by members of the program.  Students are introduced to the study of manuscripts in a variety of disciplines from Latin epigraphy to early modern women's letters. The work offers students insight into the sweep of the historical eras and, at the same time, offers some insight into a variety of approaches within particular disciplines. The course on women looks at the elements of the construction of gender in western Europe from the Bible, Aristotle, and the Church fathers through to the polemicists and political theorists of the Renaissance; it also offers students a chance to read literary texts and primary documents in selected periods, depending on the fields of the instructors. Frequent papers, close readings, and class presentations mark the 200-level courses as students prepare for the writing of an extended research project. Work with primary documents and artifacts guides the construction of the syllabi.

The major is a demanding one, and majors tend to offer 14 to 15 courses in fulfillment of the requirements, rather than the required twelve. All majors must demonstrate competency in a language to the intermediate level. Those planning on attending graduate school are strongly advised to study Latin, as well as a language appropriate to their planned field of graduate study. The language requirements for those who elect more than one language tend to engage students in intensive work. Students develop coherence in their majors of study through consultation with the program coordinator and with attention to the pre-prequisites for 300-level work in the departments. Once students have chosen a focus for the major, 300-level seminar preparation tends to guide the development of their programs. A number of students participate in junior year abroad programs so that they can enter more specialized courses than those offered at Vassar.

We require majors to complete two 300-level seminars and a senior essay. The essay is an multidisciplinary work of some length (40 pages at least) on a topic supervised by instructors from two disciplines. Many students take thesis preparation, a half-unit independent course that allows them to develop a topic and bibliography for the thesis. That course is modeled on the thesis preparation course in the history department.