The spring semester Research Course takes place after the term’s tutorials and seminars are complete, in the last month of the semester. This course is an opportunity to explore western European encounters with the rest of the world: historical and imaginative, understandings and misunderstandings. Your task is to select a relevant source (or sources) produced between the classical era and c.1800. This could be a text, an image, a building, or a small group of any of these. You will formulate a research question and write a 6,000 word essay. Lectures and field trips will help to get you thinking. Once you have identified the area you wish to work on, you will have weekly one-to-one meetings with an individual supervisor, who will also read and comment on your final draft. This project will help you develop the research and writing skills needed for senior theses, graduate work, and similar challenges ahead.
Your research might touch on topics such as the crusades, conversion, gender, exploration, colonialism, Orientalism, or the ‘noble savage’. The concepts of ‘Europe’ and ‘western Europe’ are themselves historically contingent, and had little resonance within most of the period of study. This course also provides an opportunity to look at the construction of ‘outsiders’ within the area that would become regarded as Europe, including classical ‘barbarians’ (in Herodotus or Tacitus, for example), medieval ‘heathens’ and ‘savages’ (such as the Vikings), and those who fell outside the mainstream of western Europe: Muslims, Greeks, Jews, and heretics. Note that projects which focus exclusively on elite culture in Anglophone North America might not fall within the parameters of this course.
There is no obligatory preparatory reading for this course. You can work with texts in translation. If you do wish to work in a language other than English that is welcome, too, but this will not automatically receive a higher grade. There is no textbook for this course, and you will not be under any obligation to purchase any volumes (although you may wish to do so). The resources of the Bodleian Library, Keble College Library, and the Feneley Library will almost always suffice.