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Welcome to Global Medieval Studies at Penn !

The University of Pennsylvania is one of the oldest centers for the study of the Middle Ages in North America. Since the nineteenth century, Penn has been the home of eminent medievalists in many fields, including all areas of East Asian, European, Islamic, and Jewish history, cultures, and literature. This long tradition has built rich resources for pursuing specialized study and research, notably in the Van Pelt and Fisher Fine Arts Libraries, the Schoenberg Center for Manuscript Studies, and the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. In addition to the regular academic departmental curricula, a deep commitment to interdisciplinarity fosters broad interaction across academic communities: active programs of lectures, colloquia, working groups, and exhibitions bring together faculty, staff, and students.

Eleven Penn departments contribute to the undergraduate interdisciplinary program in Global Medieval Studies, which allows students to discover the premodern world together, as the root and necessary precondition to the modern. The program is broad geographically and temporally; it includes Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, and in the latter part of our period even the New World, from Late Antiquity to 1700. This was a formative historical and cultural period in a variety of civilizations, from the north-western corner of Europe, across the Mediterranean and the Middle East, and on to southern and eastern Asia, south to Africa and over the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. The program encourages students to view the world through the lens of various disciplinary and geographic perspectives and discover the interaction of diverse civilizations and religions. As the era that gave birth to contemporary nations and a time before the formation of modern geo-political concepts, this period provides a critical space for thinking about the composite nature of contemporary identities.

Undergraduate and graduate students of all levels of study are encouraged to take advantage of this broad perspective—an English major studying Chaucer will find the manuscripts of a Wycliffite Bible to examine first-hand and a doctoral candidate writing on the Fourth Crusade can study original texts, coins, and illuminations from the Islamic Mediterranean. Students can develop skills in paleography, musicology, linguistics, or textual editing, according to their interests, and they learn the essentials of medieval bibliography and historiography. Student research projects often take advantage of local collections, whether poring over a nun’s prayer book or performing Fauvel’s musical cacophony, or they may just as well collaborate in faculty-sponsored projects, testing Avicenna’s theories of vision or excavating Plantagenet castles, for example.

Graduate students will also find opportunities to present their original research, both in workshop settings at Penn and more formally at area colloquia. Faculty involvement in the Medieval Academy and the Medieval Institute (Kalamazoo) similarly encourages student participation at those organizations’ annual meetings.

Penn’s research and educational missions also enjoy close collaboration with numerous Philadelphia-area institutions. Hundreds of manuscripts and incunabula await study and investigation at the Free Library and the The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the medieval art collections of Glencairn Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art are inexhaustible resources. The Delaware Valley Medieval Association and the Quaker Consortium, an association of area colleges and universities that allows students to take courses from leading scholars at neighboring schools, especially foster dialogue and interaction among scholars and students.