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Medieval Studies (Cluster and Certificate)

The Medieval Studies Cluster is designed to prepare students to succeed as scholars in this challenging interdisciplinary field.

Alongside rigorous training in their home department, students in the Medieval Studies Cluster pursue multidisciplinary training in Anthropology, Art History, English, French and Italian, History, and Musicology. Medieval Studies courses enable students to acquire specialized skills such as paleography, archival research methods, and the use of often-recondite manuscript catalogues and bibliographic resources (both digital and print). In order to conduct research in our field, Cluster students must also become proficient in the medieval vernaculars and classical languages that will allow them to explore the rich array of medieval texts and textual traditions, as well as modern languages that enable them to access contemporary scholarship in our international research community.

Faculty affiliated with the Medieval Cluster (in alphabetical order):

Programs and events

There are many different ways for faculty and students to participate in the intellectual life of the cluster. Many cluster events, such as visiting lecturers and conferences, are open to all members of the University. Cluster seminars are open to graduate students across the University.

Who should apply?

Doctoral candidates from any field are eligible to apply to join this intellectual “home” outside their department. Current and recent participants have come from the following programs:

  • Anthropology
  • Art History
  • English
  • French and Francophone Studies
  • History
  • Musicology

How to apply

Prospective students interested in participating in this program should indicate their interest when they apply to their respective graduate programs.

Current graduate students interested in joining this cluster should contact the cluster director.

Who to contact

Please contact the program director, listed below, with questions about this program.

The following requirements are in addition to, or further elaborate upon, those requirements outlined in the Graduate School Policy Guide.


Language Requirements

In order to achieve candidacy in the Cluster, students must demonstrate proficiency in two languages other than English. Ordinarily, one will be a classical language used in the Middle Ages (Greek, Latin, Hebrew, or Arabic), and the other will be a modern language such as French, German, Italian, or Spanish. Students should also aim to acquire a reading knowledge of the modern language in one of its medieval forms. Less commonly taught languages, such as Dutch, Catalan, or Old Occitan, may be substituted if appropriate. Middle English cannot be used to satisfy the cluster language requirement.

Proficiency will be measured by passage of departmental placement exams or, where these do not exist, exams administered by cluster faculty. The ultimate goal of language study is to work with untranslated primary sources in medieval languages and take full account of research published in modern languages.

In the first quarter of coursework, students should make a language contract with an appropriate cluster-affiliated faculty member (usually the prospective departmental adviser) outlining their course of study. This contract should be submitted to the cluster director before the end of the first quarter of the first year.

Required courses

All cluster students must take at least two medieval graduate seminars within their home discipline and three outside of it. In addition to graduate seminars on the Middle Ages offered outside the student’s home department, these “outside” courses may include Paleography, Medieval Latin, and graduate seminars offered at the Newberry Library or the University of Chicago outside of the student’s primary discipline. Students may also count 400-level coursework in the medieval period broadly construed (ca. 300-1500) that covers regions other than Europe. When in doubt, students should consult with the cluster director about whether a course is appropriate.

2. MED. ST. 420: Medieval Doctoral Colloquium

Students are required to attend the Medieval Doctoral Colloquium (Medieval Studies 420), an interdisciplinary speaker series, as long as they are in residence.

This is a non-credit, yearlong colloquium for which students should officially register in their first or second year. Graduate students are warmly encouraged to have lunch with the speakers closest to their fields. The graduate lunches are an indispensable part of each visit and may prove invaluable for research assistance and recommendations later on.

Pertinent courses

ANTHRO. 390: Material Worlds of the Middle Ages

ART HISTORY 420: Studies in Medieval Art

Offerings have included Art and Patronage Under the Valois; Africa and Medieval Art History; Mapping the Middle Ages; and Decolonizing the Medieval Wing.

ENGLISH 422: Studies in Medieval Literature

Offerings have included The Canterbury Tales; The Piers Plowman Tradition; Heresy, Rebellion, and the Book; Allegory and Gender; Medieval Autobiography; and Sacred and Profane: Studies in Medieval Crossover.

FRENCH 410  Studies in Medieval Literature

Offerings have included Chrétien de Troyes; Christine de Pizan; Troubadours; and Fictions of the Grail.

HISTORY 430: Medieval Field Seminar

Offerings have included Europe in the High and Later Middle Ages; Medieval Popular Religion; Jewish Life in Medieval Europe; Hagiography; and Medieval Marriage.

LATIN 400: Medieval Latin

Participants read and translate medieval Latin texts ranging from the Vulgate (Latin Bible) to a wide selection of literary, historical, and religious works. Instructors review difficult points of grammar as well as specialized medieval vocabulary and orthography. Sightreading practice is included.

Students may also participate in an informal Medieval Latin workshop, which meets year-round (with occasional intermissions) and is led by faculty or advanced students.

MED. ST. 430: Paleography

Instruction in Latin and vernacular paleography is offered through individual and group tutorials and at the Newberry Library. It may be taken with or without formal credit, depending on a student’s particular needs and stage in the program.

MUSICOL. 350: History of Western Music to 1499

Additional opportunities 

Aside from their regular departmental coursework, Cluster students might also take Classics courses on Latin authors regularly studied in the Middle Ages; medieval courses at the University of Chicago (available through the CIC Travelling Scholars’ program); and regularly scheduled seminars at the Newberry Library’s Center for Renaissance Studies. Students can obtain Northwestern credit for these seminars by registering for a 499 (Independent Study) in the relevant department.

All Cluster students are eligible for summer grants, which may at various points cover language acquisition, specialized training in paleography or codicology, and manuscript research in collections and archives.


Students who wish to receive the extra credential of a Certificate in Medieval Studies (awarded at graduation) must take Latin 400, Medieval Studies 420, and at least four seminars in medieval subjects in at least two departments. They must also pass the Toronto Medieval Latin Exam (Level 2) before defending their dissertations. A student working in Jewish or Islamic studies may pass the Toronto Medieval Latin Exam (Level 1) and instead of Level 2, substitute a proof of equivalent proficiency in Hebrew or Arabic.