21L.460 | Spring 2004 | Undergraduate

Medieval Literature: Medieval Women Writers


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


This survey provides a general introduction to medieval European literature (from Late Antiquity to the Fifteenth Century) from the perspective of women writers from a variety of cultures, social backgrounds, and historical timeperiods. Though much of the class will be devoted to exploring the evolution of a new literary tradition by and for women from its earliest emergence in the West, wider historical and cultural movements will also be addressed: the Fall of the Roman Empire, the growth of religious communities, the shift from orality to literacy, the culture of chivalry and courtly love, the emergence of scholasticism and universities, changes in devotional practices, the persecution of heretics, the rise of nationalism and class consciousness. Authors will include some of the most famous women of the period: Hildegard of Bingen, Heloise of Paris, Marie de France, Christine de Pizan, Joan of Arc, Margery Kempe, along with many interesting and intriguing though lesser known figures.

Requirements and Grading

The final grade for this class will be computed according to the following weighted scale:

Active Class Participation 25%
4 Short Reader Response Papers (each 2 pages in length) 25%
Oral Report (10 minute presentation with 5-page write-up due one week afterwards) 20%
Final Paper (8 pages in length) 30%

Criteria for HASS-CI Subjects

Communication Intensive Subjects in the humanities, arts, and social sciences should require at least 20 pages of writing divided among 3-5 assignments. Of these 3-5 assignments, at least one should be revised and resubmitted. HASS-CI subjects should further offer students substantial opportunity for oral expression through presentations, student-led discussion, or class participation. In order to guarantee sufficient attention to student writing and substantial opportunity for oral expression, the maximum number of students per section in a HASS-CI subject is 18, except in the case of a subject taught without sections (where the faculty member in charge is the only instructor). In that case, enrollments can rise to 25, if a writing fellow is attached to the subject.

Reader Responses

Reader Responses should be 2 pages in length, typewritten in 12-point type, double-spaced with 1-inch margins on all sides, stapled together, and each page must be numbered. Each Reader Response will consist of three principal parts as described below:

  1. Identify some feature within the text (e.g., imagery, theme, incident, passage, narrative structure, framing device, style, sentence construction, message or moral, etc.) which happens to strike you as strange, unfamiliar, remarkable, or problematic, and explain what it is that you find so unusual about that particular element or how it differs from what you might have expected.
  2. Consider how that feature is operating within the text, what function or purpose it might be serving within its immediate context or within the broader narrative as a whole, and why it might have been represented in this particular manner rather than some other way.
  3. Then explain how this feature helps you to interpret the general meaning of the text as you explore the particular implications and consequences of your new understanding.

Oral Report

Once during the semester you will give a 10-minute presentation to the class based on independent research you have conducted on an assigned topic. One week afterwards, you will be required to turn in a 5-page write-up of your presentation.

Final Paper

A final paper (10 pages in length), selected from a list of assigned topics and integrating the work you have been doing throughout the term, will be due towards the end of the semester. This work will be evaluated on the basis of consistent logical argumentation, judicious use of evidence, coherent development of ideas, and rhetorical effectiveness. A complete first draft will be required two weeks before the final paper is due.

Attendance Policy

Punctual attendance is required at every class meeting. Each unexcused absence will result in a lowering of the Class Participation component of the grade by 5 points, each lateness by 3 points. Lateness will be considered as arriving to class more than 10 minutes after the beginning of class without an excuse. Absences and latenesses may be excused only by contacting the instructor in advance of the class to be missed and receiving confirmation.

Late Paper Policy

Any of the reader responses and the write-up of the oral report may receive an automatic extension for one class period upon consultation with the instructor. Further lateness will result in a reduction of 1/3 of a grade for each class the paper is overdue beyond that time. No extensions will be permitted for the final paper.

Rewrite Policy

Any paper or reader response may be rewritten upon satisfying the following requirements:

  1. The original paper was submitted on time.
  2. The student meets with the instructor to go over the paper.
  3. The paper is completely rewritten from scratch and not just edited.
  4. The rewritten paper is resubmitted no later than one week after the original was returned in class. 

The highest grade that a rewritten paper may receive is a B+. In addition, one paper needs to be rewritten completely for CI Credit, three quarters of the way through the term.

Plagiarism Policy

Plagiarism - use of another’s intellectual work without acknowledgment - is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgment for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else’s work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student’s own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution, consult the style guides available in the Writing and Communication Center and the MIT Website on Plagiarism.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2004
Learning Resource Types
Presentation Assignments
Written Assignments