FALL 2002 (03-1)
Instructor: Bruce L. Venarde, Associate Professor of History
Office: Posvar Hall 3M26, 624-8437
Office hours: Wednesdays 10-12 and by appointment
This seminar is meant to prepare history majors for advanced research and writing. Put another way, it is an introduction to what professional historians do. We will refine skills already developed in other history courses by reading and evaluating - in class discussion and writing - primary documents, modern scholarship, and imaginative recreations of the past in historical novels and film.

Our topic is "Abelard and Heloise in Medieval History and Modern Memory." We shall explore medieval records and modern interpretations of the lives and writings of the twelfth-century French lovers and intellectuals Peter Abelard and Heloise. We will read and write about the sexual, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual relationship of these two extraordinary people, whose lives and opinions have been controversial for centuries. What was the relationship between bodies and minds in medieval European culture, and how might that differ from our own perspective on the subject? How did people understand identity, individuality, or even personality in the twelfth century? Can we apply the category of "feminist" to twelfth-century people and ideas? How were the categories of "private" and "public" different in the past? Is there, or can there be, a history of emotions?

Writing will include commentary, critique, and analysis; topics will be assigned or suggested in advance. The total number of pages of writing is approximately 25-30. This is a W-course, meaning that rewriting and revision will be an important part of the work. The instructor is committed to helping you write better and, where possible, more easily. A good deal of class time will be spent discussing various aspects of writing technique and process.

We meet once a week, Wednesdays from 1:00-3:30. Since active and interactive learning is vital in this seminar, I expect to see you at every class. If you are absent, you deprive yourself and others of opportunities to learn. In this course, poor attendance constitutes antisocial and uncollegial behavior.

In class, we will together try to come to a better understanding of the people and society revealed by the readings through focused discussion. It is important that you come prepared to remark on and even debate about what you have read. Please also come with questions. I'm aware that few of you have much background in medieval European history, so some of this will seem strange, especially at the beginning. You'll learn a lot quickly, but even more if you ask for help and enlightenment. Despite what you may have heard, there are a lot of dumb answers, but very few truly dumb questions.

There are seven writing assignments, ranging in length from one paragraph to ten pages. The due dates are September 4th, September 13th, September 20th, October 4th, October 21st, November 8th, November 20th, and December 11th. That's actually eight dates. You must do the first three assignments and the last one, plus three of the four from October 4th to November 20th. Papers are due either in class (on September 4th and 11th) or at noon in my mailbox in Posvar Hall. Topics will be distributed in advance and, after the first few, you are free to write about something of your own design as long as you discuss it with me first.

Everyone will rewrite the paper due September 20th. Thereafter, you must rewrite at least one more paper, and may rewrite up to three more, by the last week of classes. In general, rewrites are due two weeks after I return the original paper to you, although there can be a bit of flexibility to help you meet obligations in other courses. The final deadline for rewrites is Wednesday, December 4th, at our last meeting.

Grade weighting will be, roughly, 70% writing assignments and 30% class work. Beyond that I hesitate to give precise percentages except to say that the weighting of writing will be related to the number of pages of each paper. For example, the final paper, which will constitute about a third of all the writing for the course, will ordinarily make up about a third of the writing grade. However, I will generously reward improvement in both writing and class participation across the course of the semester. Your final grade for the course, then, can to a significant degree reflect your best work if that is better than the average of all you have done and especially if you make good progress across the course of the semester.

The following titles are available in the Book Center. As you know, there are often cheaper ways to obtain books, so I have included ISBNs if you wish to investigate other options.
  • Peter Abelard, Ethical Writings. ISBN 0872203220
  • Michael Clanchy, Abelard: A Medieval Life. ISBN 0631214445
  • The Letters of Abelard and Heloise. ISBN 0140442979
  • C. Stephen Jaeger, Ennobling Love. ISBN 0812216911
  • Marion Meade, Stealing Heaven. ISBN 1569470111
  • Constant J. Mews, The Lost Love Letters of Heloise and Abelard. ISBN 0312239416
  • Luise Rinser, Abelard's Love. ISBN 0803289685
  • William Strunk and E. B. White, Elements of Style. 4th edition. ISBN 020530902X
  • What follows is provisional. Since I have not taught this course before, I have an imprecise idea of what will be most beneficial. I do not expect to add required reading or writing assignments to this list and I will try very hard not to change due dates for papers.
  • For the first several weeks I have given you some hints as to what to look for in the readings and about what we will discuss. As we go on, you'll get better at advanced active reading and will want to take more charge of what we discuss in class. Nonetheless, I will still provide a little guidance for each week.
  • Notice that the workload is not evenly distributed across the semester. We start with relatively short reading and writing assignments, building to a rapid pace by mid-October. You will read four whole books (although two are fiction and one of them is fairly short) and write two medium-length papers in the four weeks before Thanksgiving Recess. However, after November 20th there is no new reading -- assuming you have kept up! -- and the remaining work for the course is revision of old papers and completing the final assignment.
August 28th

Introduction to the seminar

September 4th

Clanchy, Abelard. First investigate the book's contents, with the help of the "How to Read A Book" handout, then read everything up to p. 22.

Strunk and White, Elements of Style, entire. You will find pp. 34-65 skimmable; read the rest carefully. We will refer to this book and its recommendations throughout the semester.

Writing assignment #1 due in class. After reading Elements of Style, find one paragraph in your writing sample that you think is in need of revision. Submit the original paragraph, the improved paragraph, and a paragraph explaining what you have changed and why.

September 11th

The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, pp. 57-106 (Abelard's "History of Misfortunes"). Optional reading: translator's introduction, pp. 9-55. We will discuss Abelard's account of his life using the "How to Read Historical Documents" handout as a guide and also make our first attempts to answer some of the more specific questions outlined in "Descriptions and Goals," above. What most surprises you about this twelfth-century narrative?

Writing assignment #2 due in class. Write a short (no more than one page) precis of Abelard's "History of Misfortunes." If a fellow student wanted to know what was in the "History," how would you summarize it in, say, 250-300 words? Bring three copies of your precis to class.

September 18th

The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, pp. 107-179 (Letters 1-5) and 275-288 (Heloise's correspondence with Peter the Venerable). First is an exchange of letters between Abelard and Heloise that follow up on the "History of Misfortunes." What do you learn about the social, intellectual, and emotional lives of elite twelfth-century people from these letters? How would you characterize each individual based on what they say about themselves, each other, other people, and the world around them? In what ways is the fifth letter similar to and different from the ones that precede it? The last pages are short letters by Heloise and Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, the famed monastery where Abelard died. What additional light do they shed on Abelard and Heloise? How do they compare in tone and content with the Abelard-Heloise exchange?

Writing assignment #3 due on Friday, September 20th at noon. Write either a description of the major themes in the dialogue of Letters 1-4 or an analysis of the contents and form of Letter 5. Do not simply summarize; instead you should read and re-read, decide what's most important, and then explain your conclusions in 2-3 pages.

September 25th

Peter Abelard, Ethical Writings, pp. 1-58 ("Ethics" or "Know Thyself") and Heloise, Problemata (excerpts to be provided). This is medieval Christian philosophy and, to my mind, difficult reading. With the "Ethics," make use of the editorial paragraphing and rubrics and try to keep track of what Abelard's most important opinions and beliefs are. What connections can you make between Abelard's philosophical writing and his more personal "History of Misfortunes" and letters to Heloise? What is the nature and content of Heloise's "problems" and Abelard's solutions? How is the last "problem" related to the others? How are public and private, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual linked in Abelard and Heloise's lives and writings?

October 2nd

The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, pp. 159-269 (Letters 5-7) and Mary Martin McLaughlin, "Peter Abelard and the Dignity of Women: Twelfth-Century ´Feminism' in Theory and Practice" (to be provided). What more do you learn by re-reading Letter 5 a few weeks later? What are the major concerns about their post-romantic lives expressed in these letters? (Is "post-romantic" even an appropriate description?) How adequate is the editorial division of "personal letters" and "letters of direction"? What does McLaughlin mean by "feminism," and how does make her points (pay attention to the footnotes!) Do you think "feminist" is an appropriate description of Abelard or Heloise?

Writing assignment #4 due Friday, October 4th at noon. In about 4 pages, comment on the relations between Abelard and Heloise's philosophical and personal writings or discuss the notion of "feminism" as it applies to Abelard.

October 9th

Mews, The Lost Love Letters of Heloise and Abelard, pp. ix-xiii, 3-28, 181-291

October 16th

Mews, The Lost Love Letters of Heloise and Abelard, pp. 29-180 and articles by John F. Benton and Barbara Newman to be provided

Writing assignment #5, 4-5 pages on topics to be announced, due on Monday, October 21st at noon.

October 23rd

No class meeting. Get a jump on the reading assignments for the following two sessions, for each of which you'll be responsible for the contents of a full-length scholarly study. Refer to "How to Read a Scholarly Book." Do you know how to look up reviews of books? If well written, a review can give you a good idea what's in a book before you read it; many reviews are even available on line. Reading reviews is no substitute for reading a book, but it may speed the process.

October 30th

Clanchy, Abelard. Review what you read in September and read the rest.

November 6th

Jaeger, Ennobling Love, entire

Writing assignment #6, 5-7 pages on topics to be announced, due Friday, November 8th at noon.

November 13th

Marion Meade, Stealing Heaven, entire

November 20th

Luise Rinser, Abelard's Love, entire

Writing assignment #7, 3-4 pages on topic(s) to be announced, due in class.

November 27th

Thanksgiving Recess: no class meeting

December 4th

"Stealing Heaven" (film) to be shown and discussed.

Writing assignment #8, 8-10 pages on topics to be announced, due on Wednesday, December 11th at noon.