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History 305: Women and Gender in Pre-Modern

Spring 2006: Mon/Wed 3-4:20pm (Wyatt 305)

Eve once destroyed us, I have heard of Esther, Judith and Deborah,
who were
But Mary redeemed us women of great worth, through whom God
By means of her Son. His people…and I have heard of many other
One mother bore sadness; women as well, champions every one,
through whom
The other with gladness He performed many miracles but He has
Fruit second to none more through this Maid…What an honor for
the female sex!
- Adam of St. Victor, 12thc. - Christine de Pisan on Joan of Arc, 15thc.

Instructor: Katherine Smith

Office phone: 879-3906
Office / Hours: Wyatt 142 / Mon. and Wed. 10:30-12 (and other times by

Description: Although men largely dominated the public sphere in pre-

modern Europe, women left their mark on this world in a number of ways,
serving as rulers, gaining renown as saints and visionaries, and even
leading armies to victory. In this class we will explore the paradoxical
nature of pre-modern ideas that condemned women as the root of all
worldly evil, while simultaneously celebrating a female ideal embodied in
the virtues of chastity, modesty, and passivity. We will find that women
writers, artists, and mystics challenged prevailing ideas about gender
roles and the inferiority of women to men, while others struggled to
compete in the economic or political spheres of a patriarchal world.
After a brief comparison of women’s and men’s roles in the Greco-
Roman, Judeo-Christian, and Germanic traditions, we will trace the
evolution of conceptions of gender through the sixteenth century, with an
emphasis on medieval and early modern Europe. We also will consider
how factors such as social class, religion, age, and marital status
interacted with gender to determine the experience of pre-modern
women. Though we will meet extraordinary and well-known pre-modern
women like the mystic Hildegard of Bingen, the visionary Joan of Arc, and
the humanist Laura Cereta, we will spend most of our time reconstructing
the experiences of ordinary women who lived as wives, mothers, sisters,
and daughters in relative obscurity in the European past.
Finally, the course will introduce students to the historiography of
pre-modern women, as we will read a number of famous older pieces of
writing by pioneers in the field of women’s history, as well as recent work

in the field of gender studies that continues to shape contemporary
scholarship on medieval and early modern women’s (and men’s)

Course Objectives: Throughout the semester, all members of the class

will have the opportunity to:
 trace the evolution of Western ideas about women from the
Classical world through the sixteenth century, and considered how
this pre-modern heritage has shaped (and continues to influence)
our own views of gender roles, sexuality, and the family.
 explore the ways in which scholars use gender as a category to
guide scholarly inquiry, and consider how gender may be
considered in combination with other factors such as religion and
class to gain a better understanding of women’s and men’s lives in
the past.
 read a variety of primary sources by and about pre-modern women,
and develop their own historical voices through critical engagement
with these texts in written assignments and class discussions.
 evaluate various contemporary approaches to the study of women
in pre-modern Europe, and grapple with some of the major scholarly
debates in this field, concerning (among others) the declining status
of women over the course of the medieval period, the impact of
Christian ideals of virginity and celibacy on ordinary women, and
the role of women intellectuals in the Renaissance.

Texts: The five texts listed below are required for the class and are
available for purchase at the university bookstore. Additional readings
will be found in the course packet (available at the campus bookstore).
Readings marked with an (*) appear in the packet in the order in which
they are assigned.
- Emilie Amt, Women’s Lives in Medieval Europe: A Sourcebook (Routledge,
- Margaret L. King and Albert Rabil, eds., Her Immaculate Hand: Selected
Works by and About the Women Humanists of Quattrocento Italy, 2nd ed.
(Pegasus, 1992)
- Steven Ozment, The Burgermeister’s Daughter: Scandal in a Sixteenth-
Century German Town (Perennial, 1997)
- Shulamith Shahar, The Fourth Estate: A History of Women in the Middle
Ages, rev. ed. (Routledge, 2003)
- Willard Trask, ed., Joan of Arc: In Her Own Words (Turtle Point, 2004)

A Note on the Readings: Three of these texts (Amt, King/Rabil, and

Trask) contain primary sources – sources produced in the periods we will
study in the course – that were produced by or directly concern pre-modern
women. Through these primary sources, which range from poetry to trial
transcriptions to the biographies of female saints, we can gain direct access
to the experiences of people who lived in the distant past and become
historians ourselves, rather than relying on the interpretations of other

When reading primary sources, always ask yourself the following
- Who wrote this? What kind of person was the author (social class,
gender, etc.)?
- For what audience was this piece intended? How did the author tailor
the content and style of their text to this audience?
- What was the author’s purpose in writing this piece?
- What can the text tell us about the cultural tradition(s) and period in
which it was written?
I will expect that you will have answered these questions for the assigned
primary sources when you come to class.
The remaining texts (Ozment and Shahar) are secondary sources, or
modern scholars’ interpretations of the history of women in pre-modern
Europe, as do most of the assigned articles listed on the syllabus. When
reading secondary sources, you should spend some time considering the
following questions:
- What is the author’s main argument, or thesis?
- How well does the author support this argument? Does she or he seem
to have a good grasp of the topic?
- Is this piece revisionist (that is, does it challenge some earlier body of
scholarship or suggest a new way of interpreting evidence)? How?
- What kinds of primary sources does the author employ in their
We will read and discuss at least one primary source in nearly every
class, with the goal of becoming comfortable with this kind of direct analysis
rather than relying on readings offered by others. However, we will also
consider the merits and shortcomings of various approaches to the history
of women in the pre-modern past, as exemplified by selected articles by
modern scholars written in recent decades.

Requirements and Evaluation: Students are required to attend class

meetings and to keep up with all reading assignments so that they can
participate in discussions and activities. Be advised that more than two
unexcused absences in the course of the semester will adversely affect
your final grade, and that coming to class more than 15 minutes late
constitutes an absence for that day. All members of the class are required
to complete two short written assignments (3-4 pp. each) and a substantial
research paper (10-12 pp.) on a topic to be determined in consultation with
the instructor.
The final grade is calculated as follows:
Class Participation: 15%
Close Reading of a Primary Source (3-4pp.): 15%
Paper on Joan of Arc: 15%
Annotated Bibliography, Outline, and Thesis Statement: 15%
Research paper (10-12pp.): 40%

Grading Scale: Written assignments, exams and class participation will

all be graded on a scale from A to F. For the numerical equivalents of each
grade, see the list below.
A: 93-96 A-: 90-92 B+: 87-89
B: 83-86 B-: 80-82 C+: 77-79
C: 73-76 C-: 70-72 D+: 67-69
D: 63-66 D-: 60-62 F: below 60


Wed. Jan. 18th: Introduction: Sources and Problems in Pre-Modern Women’s


The Making of Pre-Modern Attitudes Towards Women

Mon. Jan. 23rd: The Heritage of the Classical World
- Amt, docs. 6-8
- (*) “Women, Family, and Sexuality in the Age of Augustus and the Julio-
Claudians,” in Women in the Classical World: Image and Text, ed. Elaine
Fantham et al. (Oxford UP, 1994), pp. 294-329.
Wed. Jan. 25th: Germanic Cultures
Amt, docs. 9-11
Mon. Jan 30th: The Judeo-Christian Tradition
- Amt, docs. 1-5
- (*) Helen Schüngel-Straumann, “On the Creation of Man and Woman in
Genesis 1-3: The History and Reception of the Texts Reconsidered,” in A
Feminist Companion to Genesis, ed. Athalya Brenner (Continuum, 1993), pp.
Wed. Feb. 1st: Women in the Early Middle Ages
- Amt, docs. 29 & 30.

The Female Life Cycle in the Middle Ages

Mon. Feb. 6th: Biological Views of Women
- Amt, doc. 24
- (*) Vern L. Bullough, "Medieval Medical and Scientific Views of Women,"
Viator 4 (1973): 485-501.
Wed. Feb. 8th: Childbirth and Motherhood
- Amt, doc. 23
- (*) “St Jerome on the Education of Girls,” in Love, Marriage, and Family in
the Middle Ages: A Reader, ed. Jacqueline Murray (Broadview, 2001), pp.
- (*) Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English Church and People, book I: ch.
27 (on pregnant women)
Mon. Feb. 13th: Childhood and the Dangers of Adolescence
- Amt, docs. 32 and 56
- (*) “How the Goodwife Taught her Daughter”
- (*) Kim Phillips, “Maidenhood as the Perfect Age of Woman’s Life,” in Young
Medieval Women, ed. Katherine J. Lewis et al. (St Martin’s, 1999), pp. 1-24.

Wed. Feb. 15th: Widowhood and Old Age

- (*) Gautier Le Leu, “The Widow,” in Woman Defamed and Woman
Defended, ed. Alcuin Blamires (Oxford, 1992), pp. 135-43
- (*) Heather Arden, “Grief, Widowhood and Women’s Sexuality in
Medieval French Literature,” in Upon My Husband’s Death, ed. Louis Mirrer
(U of Michigan, 1992).

Mon. Feb. 20th: Library Class on Research Methods and Resources (meet in
Collins room 118)

The close reading of a primary source is due in class today; please bring
your assignment with you to our meeting in Collins. Please also consult
the list of topics at the end of the syllabus and think about possible

Sexuality and Marriage

Wed. Feb. 22nd: Marriage: Ideals
- Amt, docs. 18-20;
- Shahar, chapter 4: “Married Women”
Mon. Feb.27th: Marriage: Realities
- Amt, docs. 32, 41, & 81.
Wed. Mar. 1st: Gender and Sexuality
- (*) St Jerome, “Letter to Eustochium” and “Against Jovinian”
- (*) Clarissa Atkinson, “’Precious Balsam in a Fragile Glass:’ The Ideology of
Virginity in the Later Middle Ages’ Journal of Family History 8 (1983): 131-

Gender and the Medieval Social Order

Mon. Mar. 6th: The Noble Life
- Amt, docs. 35, 38 & 39
- Shahar, chapter 5: “Women in the Nobility”

Wed. Mar. 8th: Women in Towns

- Amt, docs. 51, 54 & 57
- Shahar, chapter 6, “Townswomen”
Everyone must choose a research topic by March 8th. I will ask you to
share** your topic
in class today, and we will choose research partners based on common
SPRING BREAK: No classes meetings on March 13th or 15th

Mon. Mar. 20th: The Peasant Life

- Amt, docs. 48-50;
- Shahar, chapter 7: “Peasant Women”
Wed. Mar. 22nd: Constructions of Masculinity
- (*) “The Strange Story of Thomas of Elderfield”
- (*) “Sir Orfeo,” trans. J.R.R. Tolkien (Ballantine, 1975), pp. 133-48.

Come prepared to give an in class update on research problems &

progress March 22nd

Women, Religion, and Authority

Mon. Mar. 27th: The Monastic Life
- Amt, docs. 61, 64 & 65
­ Shahar, chapter 3, “Nuns”
- (*) Aelred of Rievaulx, “The Nun of Watton,” in Women and Writing in Medieval Europe, ed. 
Carolyne Larrington (Routledge, 1995), pp. 128­133. 
Wed. Mar. 29th: Saints and Mystics
-(*) “The Life of Holy Hildegard,” Scivias, trans. Anna Silvas in Jutta and
Hildegard: The Biographical Sources (Brepols, 1998), pp. 135-80.
Mon. Apr. 3rd: Women and Heresy
- Amt, docs. 79 & 80
- Shahar, chapter 8, “Witches and the Heretical Movements”
Wed. Apr. 5th: An Extraordinary Woman: Joan of Arc
- Trask, Joan of Arc: In Her Own Words, pp. 1-38, 57-61 and 81-144.

Paper on Joan of Arc due in my office (Wyatt 142) Friday, April

7th by 3pm.
Women in the Italian Renaissance
Mon. Apr. 10th: A Renaissance for Women?
- (*) Giovanni Boccaccio, Famous Women, tr. Virginia Brown (Harvard, 2001),
dedication, preface, chapters 1, 100, and 105 (pp. 3-17, 437-41, 455-67, and
- (*) Joan Kelly-Gadol, "Did Women Have a Renaissance?" Repr. in Becoming
Visible: Women in European History, ed. Renate Bridenthal and Claudia
Koonz (Houghton Mifflin, 1977), 137-164.
Wed. Apr. 12th: Women Humanists: Writings by Women
- King & Rabil, Here Immaculate Hand, parts 1 and 2 (pp. 33-88).
Mon. Apr. 17th: Women Humanists: Writings About Women
- King & Rabil, Her Immaculate Hand, part 3 (pp. 91-129).
- (*) Margaret L. King, “Book-Lined Cells: Women and Humanism in the Early
Italian Renaissance,” in Beyond Their Sex, ed. P.H. Labalme (New York U.,
1980), pp. 66-90.
Wed. Apr. 19th: The Renaissance Marriage Market
- (*) Leon Battista Alberti, The Family in Renaissance Florence, trans. Renee
Neu Watkins (U. of Southern California Press, 1969), pp. 109-22 and 207-29.

Come prepared to give an in class update on research problems &

progress April 19th

Early Modern Women

Mon. Apr. 24th: Women, Family, and Reputation (I)
- Ozment, Burgermeister’s Daughter (chapters 1-3)
Wed. Apr. 26th: Women, Family, and Reputation (II)
- Ozment, Burgermeister’s Daughter (chapters 4-7)

Annotated bibliography, outline, and thesis paragraph due in my

office (Wyatt 142) on Friday, April 28th by 3pm

Mon. May 1st: Witchcraft and Gender

- (*) “Judgment on the Witch Walpurga Hausmännin,” in European Witchcraft,
ed. E. William Monter (NY: Wiley, 1969), pp. 75-81
- (*) Christina Larner, “Was Witch-Hunting Woman-Hunting?” and Lyndal
Roper, “Oedipus and the Devil,” both in The Witchcraft Reader, ed. Darren
Oldridge (Routledge, 2002), pp. 273-75 and 329-42.

Wed. May 3rd: Conclusions

- (*) Judith M. Bennett, 'Medieval Women, Modern Women: Beyond the Great
Divide', in Culture and History: 1350-1600, ed. David Aers (Wayne State U.
Press, 1992), pp. 147-75.
- (*) Nancy F. Partner, “No Sex, No Gender,” Speculum 68 (1993): 117-42.

**Research papers are due in my office on Friday, May 12th by


Possible Research Topics

The following is a list of ideas – by no means exhaustive – to help
you get started; you are free to choose one of these or develop your own
paper topic as you wish. While you may choose any topic that treats an
aspect of women’s experience or gender roles through the sixteenth
century, if you choose a topic from one of the earlier periods you will
benefit from class discussions of the period at an earlier stage in your

Non Period Specific Topics

Pregnancy and Childbirth
Motherhood and Fatherhood High Middle Ages, 11th-13th
Childhood and Adolescence centuries
Gender and Literacy Women and Church Reform
Marriage Ceremonies Women Mystics and Ascetics
Clothing and “Fashion” Married Women Saints
Widows and Widowers Virginity, Gender, and Sanctity
Prostitution and Sexuality Peasant Women
Legends of the Virgin Martyrs Women and Labor in Towns
Ideal of Virginity Cult of the Virgin Mary
Women’s Education Cult of Mary Magdalene
Courtly Love
The Early Middle Ages, 6th-10th Chivalry and Masculinity
centuries Chaste or “Spiritual” Marriage
Merovingian or Carolingian Queens The Beguines
Women in Anglo-Saxon England Anchoresses (women recluses)
Polygamy in Early Medieval Europe Female Heretics
Women as Abbesses /Founders of Clerical Celibacy and Priests’ Wives
Monasteries Myth of Pope Joan
Double-Monasteries of Men and Non-Christian Women in Medieval
Women Europe
Female Saints and Ideals of Sanctity
Late Middle Ages and
Renaissance, 14th-16th centuries
Women Humanists
Humanist Writing on Women
Women as Artists
Women as Patrons of the Arts
The Renaissance Marriage Market