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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2006

E 379M • Premodern Lives (HONORS)

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
33815 MWF
9:00 AM-10:00 AM
PAR 302

Course Description

Restricted to students admitted to the English Honors Program.

This course is an inquiry into biography and its uses: social and scholarly, past--various pasts--and present. Our driving concern will be to ask how doing biography (or biographically inflected criticism) is necessarily different with regard to early eras. 'Early' historical periods tend to be defined for us by their sparse documentation and/or divergent communications technology. Moreover, these are periods regarded as lying prior to the invention or appearance of the 'individual subject', 'public sphere,' etc. Given these and other conditions of difference between premodern and modern vantage points, what limitations frame the very undertaking of biography before modernity? And in the face of such obstacles, what may be gained by adopting an explicitly biographical approach in the study of early literature and/or history?

In addition to our premodern selections themselves, we will examine some famous models in the scholarship of historical reconstruction. These two primary orders of reading (early life-writing itself, and modern reconstruction of premodern lives) will be supplemented by shorter selections on biographical theory and practice.

Grading Policy

2 short essays (2-3 pp each; critical analysis of text/scholarly source) 15%
Mid-term essay (5-8 pp; textual analysis, critical engagement, some research) 25%
Term paper (8-10+ ppconsiderable research; considerable latitude for topic choice) 35%
In-class performance 25%
Attendance: each absence beginning with #4 will reduce grade; NC at #9


Primary Texts: The Book of Margery Kempe, St. Augustine's Confessions,The Letters of Heloise & Abelard, the Paston & Cely Letters, and one or more of Plutarch's Lives, together with a handful of romances, saint's lives, political lives, and devotional works, plus selections from Chaucer, Langland, and Hoccleve.

Major Secondary Texts: Natalie Zemon Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre; Erik Erikson, Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis & History; Sigmund Freud, Leonardo Da Vinci: A Memory of his Childhood; Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese & the Worms: The Cosmos of a 16th Century Miller; Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error; Eileen Powell, Medieval People; Jonathan Spence, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci; Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard.


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