Jonathan Lyon, Lives and Deeds: Writing Biography in the Middle Ages

Jacobus de Voragine, La Legende Dorée, trans. into French by Jehann de Vignay, c. 1400. Newberry MS Fragment 68.
Jacobus de Voragine, La Legende Dorée, trans. into French by Jehann de Vignay, c. 1400. Newberry MS Fragment 68.
Center for Renaissance Studies Programs
Renaissance Graduate Programs
Graduate Seminar
Friday, January 9, 2015 to Friday, March 13, 2015

2 to 5 pm, ten consecutive Fridays

Application deadline: November 3

Room B-91

Led by Jonathan Lyon, University of Chicago

This seminar will focus on a pair of common genres of literature in the Middle Ages, “lives” (vitae) and “deeds” (gestae), in order to introduce students to medieval biographical writing. Participants will read not only saints’ lives, which have attracted a great deal of scholarly interest in recent decades, but also the lives and deeds of less saintly kings, queens, nobles, popes, bishops, and abbots.

All course readings will be in English. However, we will occasionally work with the original Latin texts in class in order to identify which specific Latin terms (descriptive adjectives, for example) appear in key passages we want to compare and contrast.

The seminar has two main goals:

  • First, participants will analyze and discuss what kinds of personal qualities are emphasized in each of these texts. While we cannot necessarily rely on these sources for reliable biographical details about their subjects, we can use them to enhance our understanding of what medieval authors considered to be positive and negative traits, behaviors and actions in the members of their society.
  • Second, participants will dissect the individual authors’ biases and rhetorical strategies with the aim of analyzing the goals and agendas of medieval writers of biographical texts. In the process, we will work to build a complex picture of the uses of biographical forms of writing during the Middle Ages.

Learn more about the instructor: Jonathan Lyon, University of Chicago

Download a printable PDF flyer.

Students may take this seminar on a not-for-credit basis or arrange to earn credit at their home campuses. When space permits, consortium faculty members are encouraged to audit Newberry seminars, and graduate students from non-consortium schools may also enroll.

Faculty and graduate students of Center for Renaissance Studies consortium institutions may be eligible to apply for travel funds to attend CRS programs or to do research at the Newberry. Each member university sets its own policies and deadlines; contact your Representative Council member in advance for details.

Cost and registration information: 

Enrollment is limited, with priority to students from Center for Renaissance Studies consortium institutions, in accordance with the consortium agreement. The course fee is waived for consortium students.

The early application deadline is November 3. Apply online here. We will notify applicants whether they have been accepted by November 10. We may accept later applications if space permits.

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