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Medieval and Renaissance Studies

Medieval and Renaissance Studies (MARS) invites students to explore the rich confluence of cultures in Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East from the 4th  to the 17th century. An era when writers and artists honed vernacular idioms, explorers mapped the globe, and rival religions competed for minds and hearts, this period offers a model for contemporary study of the interaction of cultures. If you long to “goon on pilgrimages” or to see the perfect proportions of the universe in the measure of a man, come study the writers, artists, and public figures who fashioned the modern world.

The College of the Holy Cross prides itself in an unusually rich faculty researching the medieval and early modern periods. Nineteen faculty members, in fields including Art History, English, Spanish, Italian, Russian, History, Religious Studies, Music, Philosophy, and Latin, study a period spanning from the fourth to the seventeenth century in Europe, Asia, and the Mediterranean basin.

MARS seeks to forge links among these disciplines. A distinctive characteristic of medieval and early modern Western thought is the intellectual struggle for the synthesis of knowledge.  Many of the disciplinary boundaries that define academic programs today would have been foreign to people living in these periods.  MARS encourages students to pursue the same kinds of syntheses.

The goals of MARS are closely allied with the College’s mission:  to explore “meaning in life and history,” and, in a special way, to enable “all who choose to do so to encounter the intellectual heritage of Catholicism.” There is virtually no aspect of historical or literary inquiry into this time that does not reflect the presence of religious belief and traditions. With three major world religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, rising in the Mediterranean basin, this period offers a highly relevant model for contemporary study of the interaction of cultures. Study of the medieval and early modern world is fundamental for understanding many of the current pressures that are again opening the world to a renewed internationalism.

Program faculty advise students on the connections to be made across disciplines and time periods and assist them in building coherent curricula around their individual interests.

Program Highlights

Students enrich their formal study of the Medieval and Renaissance periods with an array of extracurricular offerings.  Recent events and excursions include:
  • Lecture titled “I’ve Got You Under My Skin: The Green Man, Trans-Species Bodies, and Queer Worldmaking” by Carolyn Dinshaw, professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and English at New York University
  • Trips into Boston to see Shakespeare’s Globe performance of “King Lear” and Actors’ Shakespeare Project production of “Measure for Measure”
  • Tours of the Cantor Art Gallery exhibit of Italian nativity scenes, “The Italian Presepe: Cultural Landscapes of the Soul,” curated by Sarah Stanbury and Margot Balboni
  • Student performance of the 15th-century “Second Shepherd’s Play”
  • Paper presentations at the annual Undergraduate Shakespeare Conference
  • Visits to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and The Cloisters in New York