Research in Interdisciplinary Studies (Pre-1800)

L758 — Spring 2022

Shannon Gayk
Days and Times
3:00 - 6:00p M (4 CR.)
Course Description

Topic: Action Vs. Contemplation

(This course fulfills one course of the two-course research skill for English Ph.D. students.)

(Non-English Department students please contact the instructor first.)

Taking its cue from Jennifer Summit and Blakey Vermeule’s Action versus Contemplation: Why an Ancient Debate Still Matters (2018), this seminar will examine a tension that develops in significant ways in the Middle Ages and continues to inflect discourses about leisure and labor, and rest and productivity, including the ways we think about the “attention economy,” the value of the sciences and the humanities, and the work of the higher education. Our focus will be on how premodern didactic, practical, and devotional texts both develop the distinction between the vita contemplativa and the vita activa, and on how contemplation and action call each other forth. We will also consider the modern implications of this tension, drawing on theory, theology, and popular writing from Augustine of Hippo to Hannah Arendt. The course will begin with an examination of premodern texts that explicitly explore the nature of active and contemplative modes of living, including anchoretic writings, Walter Hilton’s “On the Mixed Life,” The Cloud of Unknowing, lollard writings, the Showings of Julian of Norwich, and the Book of Margery Kempe. In the second half of the semester, we will turn to the “mixed lives” of miscellanies that bring together devotional and practical texts, including Ashmole 61, Addit. MS 37049, Harley 2253. As we consider the lives and readerships of medieval books, students will work closely with manuscripts (in facsimile) and will gain basic research skills in paleography, codicology, and archival work.