Aims & expectations

Érik Desmazières: La Salle des planètes, from his series of illustrations for Jorge Luis Borges’s story ‘The Library of Babel,’ 1997–2001. A new volume of Desmazières’s catalogue raisonné will be published by the Fitch-Febvrel Gallery later this year. Illustration © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.


This course aims to provide you with:

  • foundational knowledge about the Medieval and Renaissance Romance world: its culture and literature, the broad lines of its historical background
  • a grasp of how those fit into broader schemes and spheres of reference: European culture before c. 1700, the pre-modern world, world literature, literature in English, comparative literature, translation (in the broadest sense), and contemporary global–including local–culture, including but by no means limited to literature
  • several sorts of reading skill: from fast general-gist reading; to very slow, careful, attentive, meticulous close-reading, that includes rereading
  • writing skills: from short pithy paragraphs to long essays; constructing sound arguments; using textual evidence and good reasoning; with an emphasis on commentary, analysis, and critique: the “close writing” that parallels close reading
  • some basic but fundamental research skills: library, catalogues, databases, reference works, selected approved online sources and resources; the collection and sorting of data, prior to its analysis and use
  • last but not least, the development, enhancement, and honing of thinking skills

It/I also hope(s) to provide you with, as a bonus,

  • a love for learning
  • some enjoyment and pleasure
  • an awareness of literature’s potential as an infinite resource of comfort
  • in short: what Chaucer calls “sentence and solaas”


What you should expect from this course:

  • form: for 2/3 of the week, a classic but somewhat more interactive lecture format
  • 1/3 of the week: guided/chaired discussion, some work in groups, some debates and quizzes
  • much reading (working up to 100 pages+/week)
  • rereading shorter passages
  • to be thinking while reading, and to make notes
  • reading and researching online: (re)discovering the wonderful Medieval and Renaissance online world
  • much writing: most of this will be conversational, and it is intended to be non-traumatic but intensive
  • an increase in the quality of your writing: you may also be surprised to see not only how much you have produced by the end of the term, but how much easier writing has become
  • to separate out and handle responsibly and competently: facts, arguments, aesthetic judgments, value-judgments; as distinct from opinions and fuzzier feelings
  • to learn: through a combination of lectures, discussion with peers, and your own independent initiative
  • to learn to enjoy and maybe even love learning, through Medieval and Renaissance Romance literature and culture’s love of learning and play with it: this is a major step towards becoming a philologist and/or philosopher
  • to have—it is seriously and strongly hoped—some fun


You will be expected to:

  • attend class
  • do so in an attentive manner
  • participate and contribute
  • prepare for class: have the requisite texts, have read (and in most cases reread) them in advance
  • participate actively and interactively in the discussions on the course blog
  • be courteous, respectful, and tolerant of other students
  • think
  • ask questions
  • complete the required assignments in a timely manner, and do so without cheating or other low, disreputable, underhand, unethical, or illegal means
  • check your email frequently, and check this site regularly
  • communicate in a timely fashion with O’Brien if you are absent, ill, suffer a mishap, and/or–especially–if this will impact on the due handing in of work or sitting of examinations (midterm, final project, final exam)
  • bear in mind that there are some times when O’Brien will not be accessible and available: she has to rest–the better to work with you–so won’t be checking email from 9.00 p.m. – 9.00 a.m.; nor when she is teaching other classes or doing research work
  • try very hard to have a generally positive and sunny outlook, and to be of a cheerful disposition

and to be aware of the following hard and fast rules:

  • late work WILL be penalized: its grade will have 10% deducted from it per day that it is overdue (1 day late = 10% off, 2 days = 20%, etc.). Late work will NOT be accepted at all if it is submitted more than 5 days late: it will receive a 0.
  • assignments (quizzes, midterm examination, final project) will ONLY be rescheduled or extensions granted for limited legitimate reasons (illness, bereavement or other personal or family affliction) for which you will be required to present supporting documentary evidence
  • note that:
    1. under no circumstances will an examination be rescheduled to accommodate a student’s travel plans, not even to prevent the waste of money unwisely spent before the exam schedule was known
    2. no provision will be made for students who miss a scheduled examination because they misread the timetable
  • in the classroom and in online interactions: adhere to rules, policies, and procedures of the University and the Faculty of Arts; behave in accordance with the law of the land; and follow the rules and limits to commentary outlined in “The course blog, and your blogging portfolio” (PDF)

O’Brien promises to:

  • attend, participate, be prepared
  • be courteous, respectful, and tolerant; but also fair, patient, non-judgmental, encouraging, kind, and sympathetic
  • comment on, mark, grade, and return your work in a timely manner; this should include useful and constructive comments
  • make time to go through corrected work with students, in office hours
  • hold weekly office hours
  • be open to questions and requests for further explanations
  • listen
  • communicate with you in a timely fashion on any matters pertaining to the course: BOTH by email (sent to the whole class c/o the Faculty Service Centre) AND by updates on this site (posts in the UPDATES category)
  • reply to emails efficiently and promptly: though she will not be checking her email after 9.00 p.m. and before 9.00 a.m.
  • schedule extra office hours and extend email-checking hours when the final projects are due in and during the examination period
  • try very hard to have a generally positive and sunny outlook, and to be of a cheerful disposition

These rights, rules, and responsibilities are in addition to, not instead of, all policies and guidelines as supplied by the University, Faculty of Arts, and Department of FHIS. Some rules may change along the way; this should always be for good reason and be done in a reasonable way.

[On blogging: main rules are outlined in “The course blog, and your blogging portfolio” (PDF) and Meta-meta-medieval’s Rules of Engagement provides further guidelines.]