Aims & expectations


This course aims to provide you with:

  • foundational knowledge about the world of 14th- to 16th-century Europe: 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 longer forms; constructing sound arguments; using textual evidence and good reasoning; with an emphasis on commentary, analysis, exegesis, and critique: the “close writing” that parallels close reading
  • 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, including some debates
  • much reading
  • 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 (of the regular blog-comment variety) will be les formal, and it is intended to be non-traumatic but intensive
  • 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 culture’s love of learning and play with it
  • 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 (midterm paper, final paper) 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 the final 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.


  1. You are free to express any view, opinion, point of view, or belief; to hold or adopt any position; and to adhere to any school of thought. With few exceptions.
  2. Any view (especially if contentious, unusual, or indeed innovative) should be expressed clearly and coherently and supported by argument and/or proof. You should be prepared to uphold and defend your view/point of view.
  3. In the event of a discussion becoming heated: remember, you may agree to disagree. Some disputes cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. Some matters are irresolvable (by this kind of discussion, anyway). Some questions have no answers.
  4. If a view is contrary to fact—reality, historical facts (where known), material evidence (including the text at hand)—be prepared for this to be pointed out.
    Note: unlike real life and the law, however, ignorance is a defence (and is often expected: this is after all a course).
  5. Be polite, civil, and courteous.
  6. While you may ask pointed or loaded questions, it is usually recommended that you avoid provoking or offending for the sake of causing offence and/or hurt. These may be online identities, but there are real human beings behind them…
  7. You are commenting on (texts and) comments, and arguing with arguments. Not with people. No personal attacks, accusations, insults, defamation, etc.
    Note: in rhetoric—a.k.a. the art of argument and persuasion—ad hominem is an informal fallacy—a.k.a. “fail.”
  8. Please refrain from making statements that are against Canadian and (as applicable) international law (incitement to violence, high treason, race hatred, genocide, etc.).
  9. If in doubt, exercise common sense.
  10. O’Brien reserves the right to step in to comment as needed.

[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.]

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