Winter 2011: “The Culture of Courts in Premodern Europe and East Asia”

This course explores the cultures of royal and aristocratic courts in Europe and East Asia during the premodern period, from about the seventh through the seventeenth centuries. Within Europe, concentration will fall on the royal courts of France and England, but we will also assess the unique contributions to European courtly culture of the small courts of renaissance Italy. For East Asia, we will focus on the evolving and differing court cultures of China and Japan, while also examining the early modern kingly court of Yee dynasty, Korea. 

After considering the genesis of the courts and the cultures they produced, we will examine how courts invented and maintained their symbolic authority and power by focusing on certain topics that are germane to cross-cultural comparison. This examination should help us to see the potency of cultural construction that shapes the court’s supremacy and makes it meaningful both to its members and within a larger and often competitive society.

Our investigations will address not only specific courtly comparisons, but also, through the lens of certain theoretical writings - such as Norbert Elias on the “civilizing process”, Henri Lefebvre on “the production of space”, Stephen Greenblatt on “self-fashioning” – ways in which courts created new social meanings and behaviors that transgressed their walls. Examples of topics include: Architectural and spatial settings, divinity and legitimacy, legal and bureaucratic dimensions, rhetoric and the practice of courtly love, the formation and concept of the aristocratic body, the court as center of consumption, literary and artistic expressions, sartorial performance, and esoteric beliefs. 

We encourage students with interests in literature, music, and the history of art as well as historians.