Week by Week Synopsis

Week One

Institute participants will begin with recent examples of gender and feminist reader-response theory and how it has been used to read texts by medieval women. Also important is the evolution of sex difference in medieval medical and natural philosophy--patristic and medieval examples of misogynistic and misogamous writings, as compared with gendered passages in Hildegard of Bingen's medical text, On Natural Philosophy and Medicine, or what Monique Wittig describes as the "crablike" way that women make their entrance in a text when gender, having been imposed, deprives women of "the authority of speech."

Week Two

The Institute's examination of writing by women will follow, with an introduction to the "material culture"-the architecture and archaeology-in which they wrote between the ninth and the twelfth centuries--the monastery, specifically. Gender and space will be examined in the Latin life of Perpetua, the lives and letters of eighth-century Anglo-Saxon nuns (Hilda, Lioba, Walburga), from Bede's History of the English Church and People, the plays of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim (10th c.) and the Letters of Heloise (12th c.)

Week Three

Will center on memoirs and biography, specifically the writings of women from central and Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and the Byzantine Empire (12th-15th c.). After a short contextual survey will follow traditions of female mythographies, Valkyrie, warrior maidens, heroic virginity, etc. (Niebelungenlied, Gudrun, Edda). Later in this week the Institute will examine the subject of desire and gender identity, in French courtly literature in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, in the lais of Marie de France.

Week Four

Offers a continuation of this subject in French courtly romances of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries with female protagonists (by male and anonymous authors), and in Trobairitz lyrics. Desire and gender identity will also contribute to an exploration of the mystical tradition, in particular the thirteenth-century beguines Hadewijch of Brabant and Mechthild of Magdeburg. The strongly eroticized mysticism of such women forms a counterpoint to the classical Benedictine spirituality of Hildegard of Bingen, the twelfth-century abbess whose liturgical chants have enjoyed a recent popular renascence.

Week Five

Will continue with this examination of women mystics who also feminized God in their writings, a technique of gendering that complements the eroticized metaphors of a God depicted as lover. Specifically important will be the fifteenth-century English women mystics Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe and, within the continuing discussion of desire, the classroom problem of teaching religious writers--why the mystics are so inaccessible to modern students and how to make them accessible.

Week Six

Offers as subject gender and intertextuality in the works of Christine de Pizan, especially in her lyrics, the Epistre Othea à Hector, and the Livre de la Cité des Dames, between representative tales and legends from each of the three books and those of chiefly male mythographers, poets, and hagiographers of the Latin scholastic tradition, Old French Literature; and Italian humanism. Of interest will be the question of how a woman creates a place for herself in an otherwise masculine tradition. The Institute will conclude with a Round Table on the participants' new courses.