Statement of Purpose

The new criticism on medieval women attempts to redress two misconceptions: that medieval women were not literate and that what they wrote was mediocre in comparison to writing by male authors. This Institute will examine the literary traditions of major and some minor medieval women writers from England, France, Italy, Spain, and Germany, as well as Central and Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and the Byzantine Empire, between the ninth and the fifteenth centuries. Although some women wrote in Latin, most of the women who will be read during the Institute wrote in the vernacular. To facilitate the greatest possible participation, and also because of the breadth of this new "canon" and the reading it entails, all works with the exception of the Middle English will be read in translation. The purpose of the Institute will be to outline the shape of a female literary tradition, or traditions, with singular literary conventions and topoi, or commonplaces, separate and distinct from that of the medieval literary tradition associated with Latin and vernacular poets such as Alanus ab Insulis, Chrétien de Troyes, Dante, and Chaucer.

The Institute will function in various specific ways to aid in the changing of the canon: first, to disseminate texts previously inaccessible; second, to discover and articulate new ways of reading these specific texts; and third, to define and characterize the scope of that female literary tradition to which they belong. By inviting as guest lecturers those scholars whose recent publications have helped to revolutionize study in this area, the Institute will help to facilitate a dialogue among teachers of humanities. The specific task of the participants will be to design a course with a syllabus of readings, either a new or an old course that may be enriched by the inclusion of one or more of these authors.

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