Winter 2006:  “The Presence of the Past in Medieval and Early Modern Culture”

The proseminar explored several broad purposes of the past in medieval and early modern cultures. The past could be used to construct identity in the present; the effort to assimilate an alien past could be a main engine for hermeneutics, allegory, and other forms of re-signifying; the past could support claims of political and cultural legitimacy; and conversely, it could become the site for the oppositional imagination. 

Through a series of case studies, we will investigate the varied ways in which myths of the past were created, exposed, and continually reinvented for these (and perhaps other) purposes. We will focus our exploration through such cases as Beowulf and the past as treasure; invented genealogies and other forgeries; the legend of Arthur; the story of Lucretia; architectural spolia and the idea of Rome; the Donation of Constantine and the past as text; visual histories; hagiography and devotional images; and biblical hermeneuetics and the Franciscans.