Ger 380: Enigmatic Middle Ages

Course materials:


Ger 380: The Middle Ages: The Enigmatic Precursor to Modern Europe

Winter session 2023/2024

This course can count toward the Cultural Minor in German Studies or toward the THEMATIC MINOR IN MEDIEVAL STUDIES. It is also a TIER 2 course, open to students across campus.

INSTRUCTOR: Prof. Albrecht Classen, Dept. of German Studies, 301 Learning Services Building, Office 318; tel. 621-1395;;

OFFICE HOURS: Mo and We 11a.m.-12 p.m., and any other time after appointment (but always feel free simply to stop by at my office, email me, call me to make sure that I am in).

All online now for the winter 2023/24 course

Tel.: 520 621-1395


COURSE OBJECTIVES: The Middle Ages seem to be a period far away from our own times, but any close analysis indicates that the roots of the modern world reach back directly to the medieval period. We cannot understand our own present and the imminent future without having a solid grasp of the past in all of its facets. This course will examine medieval culture in terms of the visual arts, religion, literature, political sciences, and sociology, drawing primarily from evidence situated within the German-speaking world. This is not a history course, but a course on the cultural history of the Middle Ages, laying the foundation for many other courses in a variety of disciplines. We will also focus on the development of the themes of love and marriage first in the tradition of the Tristan romances, then in a collection of late medieval verse narratives.

COURSE OUTCOME: Students will have gained a solid understanding of a major cultural period in western history and how to perceive it through a wide range of sources and materials. Art-historical analysis will be as much at the students’ fingertips as literary interpretations, social, historical, and also religious investigations. Based on this course, students will have a comprehensive view of that large and complex period and will have acquired an in-depth knowledge of some of the major works and art objects from that period. They will be as much educated in the world of medieval literature as well as medieval art, medieval social structures and religious conditions. This ambitious goal will be achieved through a carefully chosen selection of texts and materials to be studied in class.

COURSE MATERIAL: 1. Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan (London: Penguin, 1960/1987); 2. Albrecht Classen, trans. and intro., Love, Life, and Lust in Heinrich Kaufringer’s Verse Narratives (2014); 3. The Tumbler (all online)

Although it is assumed that you will attend all class sessions, you are informed hereby that excessive absences will have consequences. For details see below in the grading section. If justified circumstances prevent you from attending, please inform me in writing either before or after the event and provide satisfactory documentation (e.g., a doctor’s note). I will use a software called “Top Hat” with which you can register your attendance in each class. This will also allow us to get everyone in class actively engaged through questions and discussion points.


Please treat each other with respect and tolerance. People do have different views and opinions, but all these can only contribute to the rich learning experience I hope you all will have in this class. You are strongly encouraged to participate in class as much as possible. The two-class meetings per week will only be of profit for you if you respond to my questions and those of your classmates. The class will take place online, in the chatroom set up in D2L. All my previous students have greatly appreciated this format which is very focused, unobtrusive, and engaging.

For information on the University of Arizona Policy on Threatening Behavior by Students, click on this link:

HONORS CONTRACTS: “Students who enter The Honors College as freshmen may fulfill up to 12 units (maximum 6 lower-division) through contracts. Students who enter the Honors College as sophomores may fulfill up to 9 units (maximum 3 lower-division) through contracts.  Students who enter The Honors College as juniors may fulfill six Honors credits through contracts.”  See also: “The work assigned as a result of the Contract should not determine the student’s final grade. That is, the fact that the student is working for Honors credit does not guarantee a high grade. Final grades should reflect the quality and content of all of the student’s work in the course.” ( The honors experience should involve not quantity but quality of further research, allowing a student in the Honors College taking this class to gain deeper and broader understanding of the class material. This might entail the study of some relevant research papers, which should result in an extra paper or oral presentation, or the study of additional material expanding the horizon as aimed for in this course.

SPECIAL NEEDS: Students with disabilities who require reasonable accommodations to participate fully in course activities or meet course requirements must register with the Disability Resource Center. Students need to submit appropriate documentation to the instructor if they are requesting reasonable accommodations.

WARNING: If you use secondary material for your papers, make sure that you indicate clearly where you took it from. Plagiarism and cheating violate the Code of Academic Integrity. For further information, see:



Do not ever copy from the work produced by published authors, by your classmates, by other students who might have taken this course in previous semesters, or by yourself in a previous or parallel class. If you receive help in writing your papers, make sure that the final outcome still represents your own work. You can discuss your papers with your fellow students, but at the end they need to consist of your own ideas and words! Be advised that the Web is a great search tool, but never, never copy from there without identifying very clearly what you used (and then only sparingly). At this point the scholarly value of web-based material still is not totally reliable, and the chances that you might stumble upon a most dubious webpage with untrustworthy information are very high. When you quote from a secondary source, clearly identify the quote and tell the reader in a footnote where you quoted it from. Every year more than 800 students at the UA are caught having committed the crime of plagiarism, resulting in penalties that could be as severe as expulsion from the University! You are smart enough not to copy from other people.

If there is any doubt in your mind whether you might commit plagiarism, see:

Plagiarism and the Web

If you commit plagiarism, you could either receive a 0 on your specific assignment, or an F for the entire course. Depending on the gravity of the case, you might even be expelled from the University.

Help with writing: The Writing Skills Improvement Program offers a number of valuable workshops at 1201 E. Helen Street. Please consult with them if you have a need to improve your writing skills (no walk-ins). For perhaps more immediate help, see the Writing Center: (walk-ins allowed). Tel.: 621-5849

Writing Center: The Writing Center is a free resource for UA undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty and staff. At the Writing Center, a trained peer consultant will work individually with you on anything you’re writing (in or out of class), at any point in the writing process from brainstorming to editing. Appointments are recommended, but not required. For more information or to make an appointment, visit their website at, stop by at 1201 E Helen St., main level, or call (520) 626-0530.?

How to avoid logical fallacies in your arguments (webpage, to be supplied)

GRADING: (1000 points total):

1. Attendance: 15% via zoom meetings and top hat

2. 2 papers: 25%, 25%

3. 1 essays-based exam: 20%

4. 1 project: focus on a medieval (nothing beyond 1400, and nothing pertaining to the Renaissance!) cathedral, a major artwork (cathedral, sculpture, stained glass window of a major kind, wooden carvings, or a major manuscript illumination) (15 pts), write ca. 400 words describing the details (40 pts), provide a good color photo (10 pts), examine the background, give dates, location, function, and your appreciation (25 pts), along with some bibliography (ca. 5 studies specifically addressing that work, 10 pts). Put everything together in one file and upload to D2L: 15%

(the following does not apply for the online version, 2023/24)

Each paper will be graded as follows:

Must be typed, with at least 1″ margin on all sides, at least 12 points letter size. Bring the print-out to class when paper is due. Submit also in electronic form to the dropboxes in D2L, though only the paper copy will count. Keep in mind that each paper will be automatically examined as to the degree of similarities with other papers (turnitin software!). When there is suspicion of plagiarism, I will call you in for a conference, and the consequences for plagiarism might be very harsh. Do not write your paper together with a classmate, though you can, of course, discuss the topics with him/her. If you copy from another paper/chapter/article in print or online, without acknowledging the author and without indicating the extent to which you have copied by means of quotation marks and references, you commit plagiarism.

Thesis: Concisely developed, clear concept, well-formulated (avoid paraphrase!). Always provide a title that captures your thesis. 20 pts

Argument: Good use of original text to illustrate the thesis; complex argument based on a solid knowledge of the text; convincing organization. 50 pts. If you do not engage with at least one critical secondary source, loss of 15 points, if only fleetingly or superficially, loss of 10 points.

Conclusion: Convincing connection with the thesis, good summary of the argument, final comment on the outside source (negatively or positively), concise formulation; 20 pts.

(Not this semester!) Outside Sources: You must engage with at least one pertinent outside source for each paper, i.e., a critical study of recent vintage (preferably not from prior to 1970!). Bring in the author’s opinion and use it either to support your own argument or demonstrate why you believe that the other opinion misreads the text.

Format: Write down your first last name, SI, class, instructor, term, year on the top of your paper. Next follows the title. Next the thesis in bold.

At the end of your paper write a statement and sign it that this is your own piece of work and that you did not receive outside help.

Stylistics: 10 pts: Correct use of grammar and diction, sophisticated use of vocabulary, complex sentence structure.

LENGTH: Each paper should consist of ca. 700-800 words.

Always submit to Assignments in D2L! Bibliography: See, for instance, my Handbook of Medieval Studies, ed. A. C. (Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2010; online in the library). Familiarize yourself with the various research sources in our library (MLA, JSTOr, etc.). Your outside sources do not necessarily have to engage with the same text, but they must focus on medieval culture at large. The studies that you will consult cannot be from prior to 1960.

How to cite your secondary source/s :

Trumpener, Katie. “Memories Carved in Granite: Great War Memorials and Everyday Life.” PMLA 115 (2000): 1096-103. – this is a journal article

Hanks, Patrick. “Do Word Meanings Exist?” Computers and the Humanities 34 (2000): 205-15. – this is a journal article

Kurlansky, Mark. Salt. A World (New York: Scribner’s, 2001). – this is a monograph!

Niiranen, Susanna. “At the Crossroads of Religion, Magic, Science and Written Culture.” Mental Health, Spirituality, and Religion in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age, ed. Albrecht Classen. Fundamentals of Medieval and Early Modern Culture, 15. Berlin and Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2014. 290-313. – this is an article in an edited volume

“Selected Seventeenth-Century Events,” Romantic Chronology. Ed. Laura Mandell and Alan Liu. 1999. U of California, Santa Barbara. 12 November 2003 <;. (last accessed on Month, date, year) – this is an online source


We will always meet via D2L in our zoom room at 8 p.m. each time.

Week 1, Dec. 18, 20, 8 p.m.: Intro. to the Middle Ages, online (Amt/Classen). Alternative for further info: Britannica

Dec. 22 and 24: Intro. to medieval art; focus on: Ravenna (very first picture), and Hildesheim (under that category), plus: Notre Dame in Paris. Those links might not work;, so let’s use the simple Wikipedia article. Please use the list of bullet points to go over the material.

Dec. 26 and 28: Book of Kells Intro; In Trinity College LibraryVideo I; in class, we’ll address the Wikipedia article. Please have it ready.

Dec. 29: 1st paper (answer 4 questions)

Dec. 30 and Jan. 1: Read about Mysticism

Jan. 3: study the Codex Manesse, listen to the music by Hildegard, links below:
Codex Manesse (pictures 1-6); Hildegard of Bingen II. III; image I  II.

Jan. 4: 2nd paper, due at 8 p.m.

Jan. 5: Read: Tristan, prologue

Jan. 7: Book of Hours: Read the online article and study the artworks

Jan. 7: Your art project is due at 8 p.m.

Jan. 8: The Tumbler:

Jan. 9: Final Exam, 8 p.m, via top hat on D2L

Possible Changes: The information contained in the course syllabus, other than the grade and absence policies, may be subject to change with reasonable advance notice, as deemed appropriate by the instructor.

Final Grade Review: If there might be a problem with your grade, you can ask me for a review until: date to be determined (shortly before finals week is over). Beyond that, there will not be any opportunity to revisit your grade.