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Medieval Studies at Penn

The University of Pennsylvania is one of the oldest centers for the study of the Middle Ages in North America. Since the nineteenth century, Penn has been the home of eminent medievalists in many fields, including all areas of European, Jewish, Islamic, and East Asian history, cultures, and literature. This long tradition has built rich resources for pursuing advanced research, notably in the Van Pelt, Fisher Fine Arts, and Jewish Studies Center libraries. A deep commitment to interdisciplinarity fosters broad interaction across fields, and active programs of lectures, colloquia, and exhibitions bring together specialists from all departments.

Undergraduate and graduate students of all levels of study are encouraged to take advantage of this broad perspective—an English major studying Chaucer will find manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales to examine first-hand and a doctoral candidate writing on the Fourth Crusade can study original texts, coins, and illuminations from the Islamic Mediterranean. Students can develop skills in paleography, musicology, linguistics, or textual editing, according to their interests, and they learn the essentials of medieval bibliography and historiography. Student research projects often take advantage of local collections, whether poring over a nun’s prayer book or performing Fauvel’s musical cacophony, or they may just as well collaborate in faculty-sponsored projects, testing Avicenna’s theories of vision or excavating Plantagenet castles, for example.

Graduate students will also find opportunities to present their original research, both in workshop settings at Penn and more formally at area colloquia. Faculty involvement in the Medieval Academy and the Medieval Institute (Kalamazoo) similarly encourages student participation at those organizations’ annual meetings.

Penn’s research and educational missions also enjoy close collaboration with numerous Philadelphia-area institutions. Hundreds of manuscripts and incunabula await study and investigation at the Free Library, and the medieval art collections of Glencairn Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art are inexhaustible resources. The Delaware Valley Medieval Association and the Quaker Consortium, an association of area colleges and universities that allows students to take courses from leading scholars at neighboring schools, especially foster dialogue and interaction among scholars and students.

Welcome to Medieval Studies at Penn!


Stain Glass Window
Flight into Egypt, Abbey St-Denis (Paris), 1144
(Glencairn Museum 03.SG.114)

All images are from objects at Penn or in other Philadelphia collections
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