Medieval studies is a broad category of study that examines cultural materials from the era c. 500-1500 AD. These materials include myths, philosophy, history, heroic stories, theology, combat, fine arts, language, military history, manuscripts, literature, politics, music, economics, calligraphy, urban studies, architecture, language history, images, philosophy of science, cultural studies, gender studies, and many other areas and disciplines. Study of the medieval era frequently requires an inherent interdisciplinary approach as well as a variety of intellectual approaches. Medieval studies in modern universities also include courses in medievalism, that is, the study of the representations of medieval cultures in modern or contemporary cultures.
Interdisciplinary Medieval Studies
An interdisciplinary medieval studies program offers a concentration in medieval and medievalism courses by drawing together a number of disciplines and areas which are related to the culture of the Middle Ages but which are isolated in various departments and faculties in the university. Students have the opportunity to explore the rich and complex civilization of the Middle Ages in terms of the medieval past but also as a legacy of our modern culture. Such a program offers students an introduction to a multidisciplinary perspective crucial to today’s teaching and research and the chance to experience the value of an interdisciplinary approach to the humanities.
By crossing traditional disciplinary boundaries and intensively studying a variety of cultural materials from the Middle Ages, students can improve their cultural literacy, cultivate their sense of internationalization, learn to use an unbounded array of theories and methodologies, and communicate with skill. Ideally, the Medieval Studies program teaches students what it means to specialize in a period: the endless possibilities, the often permeable boundaries, the core issues, the important debates, and the most productive and useful research. More specifically, the progressive development of a Medieval Studies program at Laurier has important implications for civic engagement, personal decision-making, behaviour-adjustments, rethinking of attitudes, quality of life, and interpersonal relationships in Canada. Medieval peoples are often characterized as "barbaric" and "primitive," while their cultural materials have been frequently ignored and slighted by later societies. Research into these materials enhances in a fundamental way our understanding of prejudice and discrimination against societies perceived as distant from present-day ones, and promotes ideas of justice, tolerance, understanding, respect, and other multi-cultural concerns and initiatives that Laurier is known for internationally.
Study of any cultural material of the Middle Ages almost invariably leads to an appreciation of the amazingly creative, original, and vigorous communities of interpretation that flourished in diverse parts of the world during this period. Indeed, topics such as representations of race, gender, trade, colonialism, political theories, and inter-cultural artistic and musical currents all seen through the lens of internationalization are burgeoning fields within the discipline.
What Students Learn in Laurier's Medieval Studies Program
Our general attitude to the learning process in Medieval Studies is that it should be generous and reciprocal: classes offer opportunities for students to contribute not only to their own intellectual development, but also to that of fellow students and faculty. Classes try to provide safe environments where students and faculty are prepared to cross disciplinary boundaries, to work together as a team, and to engage in open-minded discussions; where questions are encouraged so that students are able not only to deepen their knowledge but also to develop their intellectual maturity, their intellectual competence, their professional competence, and their abilities to recognize opportunities and unrealized potential. Ideally, students will also gain a sense of purpose, self-knowledge, and confidence: qualities that are essential to good leadership. Teachers in particular need the kinds of time-management, team-building, motivational, inventive, and intervention skills that define strong leadership, and many of our graduates choose teaching as their profession.
Specific Learning Outcomes for Laurier's Medieval Studies Program
Depth and Breadth of Knowledge
In Year 1 of our program, students are introduced to various bodies of knowledge. If they have decided to include languages in their program, they are introduced to these languages and to the requisite literatures.
All students are expected to:
- Identify and explain the key political, economic, social, and cultural concepts and activities of the period c. 500 to c. 1500 and how they impact the development of modern movements, institutions, and ideas (Years 1-4).
- Identify and explain current attitudes, individual and general, towards cultural material from the Middle Ages (1-4).
- Identify and explain what an interdisciplinary program of study is in order to demonstrate its properties, value, and distinctiveness (1).
- Classify medieval political, economic, social, and cultural material according to historicity and genre (1).
- Be able to distinguish between fields, disciplines, and periods in order to choose appropriate paths of inquiry (1).
Limits of Knowledge
Our students are also expected to be able to recognize the limitations of their knowledge. Students should come to an understanding that:
- Analysis can be limited by pre-suppositions and assumptions: any path of inquiry that one uses, disciplinary or interdisciplinary, is limited by ones own existing reading, education, habits of inquiry, and experience (1-4).
- Interpretation of a text or other kind of cultural material is limited: one cannot reasonably make a text or object mean anything one wants it to (1).
- judgments of cultural material by criteria that are totally alien to it are very difficult to construe and support (1).
- personal feelings concerning a path of inquiry, period, or example of cultural material do not typically constitute analysis. For instance, fans of a discipline or period are distinct from students of the same discipline or period (1).
- Arguments are not always based on facts (1).
- To think exactly like a medieval person would do is impossible (1).
By second year, students are being introduced to the more specific methodologies typical to the field of Medieval Studies, while the depth and breadth of knowledge acquired in first year is reinforced. Students who have chosen to study languages continue to engage in language acquisition through reading, speaking, and writing.
Knowledge of Methodologies
Students should be able to:
- Identify, define, and articulate the key goals of, and concepts behind, interdisciplinary, traditional, modern, and (where apt) pre-modern research principles, approaches, methodologies, and analytical techniques (2-4).
- Analyze closely the language and form of complex texts, music, images, and other cultural materials (1-4).
- Describe the sorts of tools and materials that medievalists use to study the Middle Ages (1-4).
- Synthesize a range of perspectives concerning the political, economic, social, and cultural material of the Middle Ages (1-4).
- Use cross-cultural and interdisciplinary approaches to examine the cultural material of the Middle Ages, particularly when examining non-Western historical periods, texts, music, etc. (1-4).
- Originate, plan, manage, and complete major undertakings, both independently and as part of a team (1-4).
- Learn to articulate a variety of theories of history, writing, investigating, reading, representation, and other kinds of cultural analysis, especially interdisciplinary theories (eg., intertextuality, interplay between text and theory) (3-4).
- Evaluate statements, arguments, assumptions, critical models, and theoretical presuppositions for veracity, validity, and persuasive techniques, while using appropriate criteria (3-4).
- Understand the political, cultural, and discursive frameworks that determine the composition and reception of texts, music, images, and other cultural materials from the Middle Ages and the composition and reception of the medieval period as a whole (2-4).
By fourth year, the mastery of certain skills should be evident. For instance, our program, like most social sciences and humanities programs, would expect students to have mastered the ability to read, plan, organize, strategize, write, edit, and document research papers and similar assignments.
Students would also be expected to demonstrate their communication skills by being able to:
- Conduct independent, motivated, and targeted research, including the ability to gather, review, organize, and interpret different levels of sources (eg. primary and secondary), kinds of resources (eg. manuscript facsimiles, critical studies, and artifacts) and modes of resources (eg. library catalogues, archives, documents, electronic databases, digital resources, virtual resources, and the world-wide web) (1-4).
- Develop a critical vocabulary and framework with which to discuss and write about historical periods, texts, music, images, and other cultural materials, in the light of recent developments in historical, literary, and cultural theory (3-4).
- Express clear, fluent, coherent, well-organized, and properly supported critical arguments, both in written and oral/visual contexts, to a variety of audiences (1-4).
- Employ an effective, precise, concise, and understandable writing style by producing logical, relevant, and effective statements, supported by appropriate documentation (1-4).
In the later years of their education and after graduating, students should be able to apply what they have learned to appropriate situations. These skills are particularly important in demonstrating leadership and in other factors contributing to employment and life-long learning.
Application of Knowledge
Students should be able to:
- Carry forward their leadership, planning, collaborative, organizational, analytical, evaluative, and decision-making abilities into responsible practical applications and into appropriate problem-solving situations (4).
- Apply their synthetic, media literacy, information competency, time management, and critical thinking skills to appropriate research and problem-solving situations (4).
- Articulate the importance and influence of the medieval period through fostering a desire to preserve, conserve, appreciate, and also interrogate its artifacts, as well as its early modern and modern representations (4).
- Develop a familiarity with technology, and use this knowledge as a base for the learning of new technologies and technological skills (1-4).
- Deepen understanding of intellectual traditions and interpretive communities (1-4).
- Increase moral awareness and aesthetic appreciation of the past and of the world around us that can lay the groundwork for constructive social change (1-4).
- Engage in profound and rewarding self-reflection (1-4).
- Understand and interrogate the relationship between course content and their lives (1-4).
- Recognize the relevance of their academic skills to personal growth, to professional competency, to purposeful thought and action, to the kinds of decisions that define leadership, and to successful careers after university (1-4).