Theme 5 HIS116

Specialization in Pre-modern History

People and skeletons alternating
Theme 1 - The Dance of Death/Dance Macabre. 15th-century fresco, National Gallery of Slovenia

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Theme 1Death and the Afterlife in Medieval Scandinavia, c. 1000 – 1500 AD

Course coordinator: Embla Aae

Death is the inevitable conclusion of all human life. Until science progresses to a point where it might permit humans to live indefinitely, death is a concept with which we all must grapple at one point or another. Likewise, all cultures coming before us have found it necessary to develop myths, ideas, and strategies to regulate death within their communities—the people who were experiencing what we now designate as the Middle Ages were no exception.  

This course will examine the various ways in which death affected the lives of Medieval Scandinavians over a period of 500 years and how their understanding of the afterlife shaped their actions in the here-and-now. The course will commence with a look at certain memorial practices peculiar to the conversion period in Scandinavia, such as runestones raised for the souls of the dead. Working our way through the Catholic era, we will note how the emergence of concepts such as Purgatory shaped Medieval interactions with death and the afterlife throughout this period. 

The idea of the soul’s eternal existence was crucial to the perception of self in the Middle Ages. Just as a modern person might experience anxiety at the thought of dying without realising their full potential as an individual, medieval people would fear dying in a manner that did not safeguard their souls for eternity. To understand the reasoning underlying medieval death practices, we will look at perceptions of the soul in different types of carved or written sources from Scandinavia, such as rune stones, rune sticks, and manuscripts. Comparing these with sources from other parts of Europe will provide a thorough understanding of the measures people took to protect their souls in preparation for death.  

Through engagement with relevant literature and a selection of primary sources from the period, we will get a glimpse at life at the northernmost periphery of Roman Catholicism through the lens of death. How was society shaped by death’s presence, and who had access to the different Medieval death practices? Did practices in the north conform to Catholic norms, or did Scandinavian people relate differently to the afterlife? 

Theme 2: The Coasts of Bohemia: A History of the Czech Lands, 1350-1918 

Course coordinator: Stephan Sander-Faes

In this course we will look at the history of the Czech lands (Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, as well as Upper and Lower Lusatia), covering events and developments from the mid-14th century to the end of Austria-Hungary in the ‘Last Days of Mankind’ (1914-18). This course, in other words, covers established scholarship and recent directions of one of Central Europe’s crucial, if widely under-appreciated and -researched, regions. 

We will take a close look at events and developments in the Czech lands and their inhabitants, with emphasis resting on a number of key moments whose importance transcended the boundaries of any one territory. These incl., among others, the Hussite Revolution of the early 14th century, the Habsburg succession (1527), the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48), the Czech National Revival (1790s-), and the establishment of the 1st Czechoslovak Republic in autumn 1918. We shall look at both the history and the historiography of these events and developments of the past 200 years of scholarship, and the most recent 3-4 decades of research after the end of the Cold War. 

Aims of this course: 

  • Gaining an overview of the most important events, developments, and scholarly positions from multiple (transnational) perspectives.

  • Reflections on the continuities and discontinuities involved, as well as their implications for periodisation schemes of mainstream scholarship.

  • Particular attention will be paid to the scholarly discussions of the topics covered, with a specific focus on post-1989 scholarship.

  • Gaining of an understanding of key terms and concepts, as well as the theoretical underpinnings that inform this or that research position.

  • Gaining in-depth understanding of how to include and combine scholarly positions in one’s own research and writing processes.