Undergraduate Program

The Program in Medieval and Renaissance Studies promotes the interdisciplinary study of the twelve-hundred-year period from 500 to 1700 that definitively shaped the civilizations of Western Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and the Americas of the New World. We have inherited an amazing legacy from this era that we can hardly imagine living without today: for example, the heliocentric universe; theological concepts, religious practices, and ethical values of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam; the development of English and other modern languages; the printed book and widespread literacy; the structures of capitalist market economies; the basic foundations of our legal systems; global exploration and contact between European cultures and native cultures of the Americas; parliamentary government and the nation-state; ideals of chivalric honor, romantic love, and consensual marriage; artistic masterpieces that we continue to cherish, such as the works of Dante, Chaucer, the Arthurian legends, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, or Rembrandt; even the very universities in which we research and teach all these subjects.

While we can see a great deal of ourselves in the Medieval and Renaissance past, we also observe so much that is not at all like ourselves, that is strange, alien, or mysterious. Stereotypes of religious fanaticism, ignorant superstition, violent action, and abject material existence pervade forms of popular culture that fascinate us. Medieval and Renaissance Studies is all about exploring this varied pattern of likeness and difference, continuity and break. This program gives students the opportunity to study Medieval and Renaissance worlds from a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives, employing a range of interpretive strategies and methodologies. What we continue to value, what we reject, and the very way we go about telling our stories about these long-standing traditions or unsettling relics from the past shape who we are now.

Goals for the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Major and Minor

Our program aims for students to:

Gain a broad, interdisciplinary knowledge of Medieval and Renaissance worlds. Drawing on a variety of perspectives from history, religion and philosophy, languages and literatures, and fine arts, and employing a range of interpretive strategies and methodologies, students will develop a sophisticated understanding of how present-day experience has been shaped by patterns of inheritance and rejection of Medieval and Renaissance traditions.

Engage and build upon intellectual curiosity and dedication. A hallmark of our students is that they are intensely curious, and they value being able to pursue their own intellectual pathways. No two MEDREN majors look alike. Our students design a thoughtful, unique pathway through the major that extends individual interests and passions beyond the classroom. They frequently construct independent studies to pursue special interests, take their interests to new places by studying abroad, and conduct their own research and produce an honors thesis, graduating with distinction.

Participate in firsthand experiences of cultural forms related to what we study. Our students cultivate their minds and imaginations outside of the classroom by engaging with cultural forms such as musical and theatrical performances, art exhibitions, materials from special collections, historic sites and buildings, cinematic or textual representations of the period, and historical reenactments. Doing this together with other students in the program contributes to scholarly solidarity and social community.

Gain the skills and flexibility of a liberal arts education. Our students build critical and analytical skills, discover how to interpret the givenness of the world and think outside the box, and learn to speak and write with sophisticated fluency. Their humanities work in the program prepares them for graduate and professional degrees and a wide variety of career paths.