Visit Celtic courses at the Harvard Course Catalog
Celtic 111. Shapeshifting and Identity in Celtic Traditions. Catherine McKenna. TuTh 10:30-11:45 plus Discussion Section TBA
In Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Breton narratives, humans turn into other kinds of animal (and animals into humans) for many different reasons—as punishment, as escape, as expression of their inner nature, among others. These stories are written into medieval manuscripts, recorded from oral storytellers in the twentieth century, recounted in contemporary film, and embedded in popular music. Is there a stable boundary between the animal and human worlds? We explore shapeshifting stories in all of these modes and media, reading them against a background of texts about animals and humans from their own times and ours. All of our readings are in English or English translation: no knowledge of a Celtic language is required.
Celtic 188. Songs of the Highlander. Natasha Sumner. MW 10:30-11:45
An introduction to Scottish Gaelic poetry of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, this course explores poets’ preoccupations and creative impulses in a time of regular conflict and drastic sociopolitical change. Critical issues we will consider include, but are not limited to, the role(s) of the poet in society, tradition and innovation, orality, and intertextuality. All texts will be read in English translation.
Celtic 240. Pursuing Diarmaid and Gráinne: Texts and Contexts. Natasha Sumner. M 12-2:45
Traditions about the love triangle among the aging military leader Fionn mac Cumhaill, his younger subordinate Diarmaid Ua Duibhne, and Gráinne, the daughter of Irish high king Cormac mac Airt, date as far back as the tenth century in the written corpus of Gaelic literature. The protagonists may have their roots in early Celtic deities, and a handful of medieval texts reference the events of the tale. As the story spread across the Gaelic world, it took on new forms. The most celebrated version, the lengthy prose text Tóruigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne (The Pursuit of Diarmaid and Gráinne), is thought to have taken shape in Ireland in the fourteenth century, around the same time as four lengthy poetic lays exploring aspects of the tradition emerged in Ireland and Scotland. The story also circulated orally, and the collected body of folklore about Diarmaid and Gráinne’s elopement and Fionn’s vindictive rage exceeds two hundred tales, songs, and anecdotes. Evidence of the story’s continued popularity can be found in the over fifty creative adaptations that have come into being since the mid-nineteenth century, including poems, short stories, novels, dramas, a graphic novel, and a feature film.
This graduate seminar will examine the development of this captivating body of narrative, following our tragic lovers as they wend their way through multiple forms and genres, and across seas and oceans, over the past c.1200 years. Situating our readings within the broader literary record, we will explore forms, themes, and parallels, and consider critical issues such as orality and intertextuality. Some translation will be required, but this is not primarily a reading course. Prerequisites: Participants should be competent in at least one Gaelic language (modern or medieval).
Folklore and Mythology 111. Folklore of Food. Joseph Nagy. MW 12-1:15 plus Discussion Section TBA
A comparative survey of diverse folkloric and mythological traditions concerning food--the getting, growing, preparing, distributing, sharing, and disposing of food, and the varieties of food themselves. "Foodways" have been a rich repository of lore, imagination, and creativity since the beginning of human history, and perhaps no other necessity for our existence has been put to symbolic use more frequently and consistently than food. We will explore what food is and "means" in our lives, cultures, and collective identities.
Irish 132. Introduction to Modern Irish. MTuWTh 9am-10:15am
Irish is the first official language of Ireland, and it has been officially recognized in Northern Ireland since 1998. Today Irish is spoken not only in the western ‘Gaeltachtaí’ (Irish-speaking regions), but also in cities like Dublin and Belfast. There is Irish-language television, film, radio, and print journalism, and many wonderful poets and fiction writers continue into the present a literary tradition that dates back to the sixth century.
The course introduces students to Irish as it is spoken and written today. Class work is participatory and includes conversational role play and games as well as grammar study and drills. Audio and audiovisual resources reinforce pronunciation and aural comprehension. Songs, proverbs, and poems are an integral part of the course, introducing students to the vibrant oral and literary tradition of Gaelic Ireland. Meets 4 times a week.
Irish 200. Introductory Old Irish. Joseph Nagy. MW 3-4:15
An introduction to the language of the eighth and ninth centuries, with elementary readings in prose texts.
Scottish Gaelic 131r. Intermediate Scottish Gaelic. MTuWTh 10:30-11:45
Direct continuation of the fall term course Scottish Gaelic 130.
Welsh 128. Introduction to Modern Welsh. MTuWTh 9-10:15am
Introduction to the Welsh language as spoken and written today, designed for those with little or no prior knowledge of this vibrant Celtic language. Intensive conversation practice is provided, and students learn to write fluently. Internet, audio and video exercises using dialogue, music and film augment a contextualized grammatical survey, and use of authentic literary texts increases as the course progresses.
Welsh 226r. Readings in Middle Welsh Prose. Catherine McKenna. Tu 12-2:45
An exploration of the enormous variety of medieval Welsh prose literature: selections from tales and romances, chronicles, laws, and lore.
Breton 122. Introduction to Modern Breton. Joseph Nagy (with Myrzinn Boucher-Durand). Time TBD. Meets four times a week. An introduction to the basic grammar of the standard spoken language of Brittany, a region of coastal western Europe deeply rooted in the Celtic tradition. Emphasis will be on pronunciation and conversational skills, but attention will also be paid to the cultural, historical, and folkloric background to this Celtic language. Included among the readings will be simple folk texts.
Celtic 110. The Celtic Arthur. Joseph Nagy. MW 10:30-11:45. We will be reading, in translation, the earliest surviving British Celtic texts featuring the figure of Arthur as well as the prototypes of the legendary figures (such as Merlin, Tristan, Isolde, and Guinevere) popularly associated with him. We will also study the historical context behind the evolution of Arthur from Roman Britain to the era of the Norman Conquest and its aftermath; possible analogs to "Celtic Arthur" and Arthurian tales in Irish tradition; reflections of Arthur in Celtic folklore; and Celtic elements in the treatment of Arthurian story in more recent cultures, including operas and films.
Celtic 209. Ireland 1600-1800: Upheaval and Adaptation. Natasha Sumner. F 1:30-4:15. The two centuries considered in this course witnessed some of the most dramatic and fateful changes in Irish history and, indeed, of the British Empire. The period opens in the midst of armed rebellion linking Gaelic Ireland with Catholic allies from continental Europe which threatened to throw off English monarchical control of the island; it closes on the eve of the Act of Union which would see Ireland legislatively linked to England, Scotland, and Wales. In spite of the political dominance of English crown and Parliament, and the cultural destruction wrought by settler colonialism, Ireland’s majority across those 200 years remained Irish-speaking. What do the voices of those witnesses to upheaval tell us about history, culture, colonialism and the character of “modernity” more broadly?
This cross-disciplinary graduate seminar, co-taught by Natasha Sumner (Harvard) and Brendan Kane (University of Connecticut), pairs a consideration of the major historiographical questions associated with early modern Ireland with close study of Irish-language poetry and prose of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In a time of regular conflict and drastic sociopolitical change for the island’s Irish-speaking majority, we will consider authors’ preoccupations in relation to historical events, and explore their changing creative impulses. Broad historical themes such as the emergence of modern imperialism and state formation will be investigated, and macro-historical themes will be tested through localized case studies. From a literary perspective, critical issues to be deliberated include, but are not limited to, the role(s) of the poet in society, tradition and innovation, orality, and intertextuality. Weekly readings will be drawn from primary sources and historical and literary scholarship, and translations of primary sources will be available. Engagement with the secondary historical literature is intended both to set the literary texts in context and to explore questions of methodology, theory, and argument in working with Irish sources.
The seminar is designed to be accessible to graduate students specializing in either history or literature (in Irish or English). Students from other disciplines are also welcome, and are encouraged to contact the instructors with questions: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
N.B.: This course will be taught concurrently at the University of Connecticut and in the event that in-person instruction is permitted, some of our meetings may take place at UConn.
There are no prerequisites. Competence in Irish would be helpful, but is not required.
Celtic 231. Uncertainly Wonderful: Welsh and Irish Literature Read Again. Aled Llion Jones. Th 12-2. A chance to read (and to reread) some of the central texts of the medieval ‘canon’, both prose and poetry, alongside more ‘marginal’ medieval works. These will be mainly Welsh, but also Irish: e.g., prose legends; political prophecy; poetry of love, praise, mockery and insult. By considering a range of critical studies of these texts, as well as comparative theory and relevant modern rethinkings, our aim will be to develop and focus our own approaches. We ask ourselves which contexts we find relevant, what genres we see being created, and what ways of reading we consider most useful. We know these texts to be wonderful: why exactly is that?
The course is intended to be broadly interdisciplinary and conversation is encouraged between readers and rereaders: students with new perspectives and fresh eyes are welcomed from all areas of study. Relevant Welsh and Irish texts will be provided in translation, though students with relevant linguistic knowledge will be encouraged to engage with the original languages, and with a wider range of texts. Additional close-reading sessions may be arranged.
Irish 132. Introduction to Modern Irish. Natasha Sumner (with Nicholas Thyr). Time TBD. Meets four times a week. Irish is the first official language of Ireland, and it has been officially recognized in Northern Ireland since 1998. Today Irish is spoken not only in the western ‘Gaeltachtaí’ (Irish-speaking regions), but also in cities like Dublin and Belfast. There is Irish-language television, film, radio, and print journalism, and many wonderful poets and fiction writers continue into the present a literary tradition that dates back to the sixth century.
The course introduces students to Irish as it is spoken and written today. Class work is participatory, and includes conversational role play and games as well as grammar study and drills. Audio and audiovisual resources reinforce pronunciation and aural comprehension. Songs, proverbs, and poems are an integral part of the course, introducing students to the vibrant oral and literary tradition of Gaelic Ireland.
Irish 205r. Readings in Early Medieval Irish Prose. Joseph Nagy. MW 3-4:15. Readings in selected texts. Some knowledge of Old/Middle Irish required.
Scottish Gaelic 130. Introduction to Scottish Gaelic. Natasha Sumner (with Shannon Parker). Times TBD. Meets four times a week. Scottish Gaelic is spoken primarily in communities of the West Highlands and the Hebrides—a group of islands off the west coast of Scotland. There is also a Gaelic community on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. Gaelic language and culture thrive in poetry, fiction, traditional and contemporary music, oral tradition, and a very lively blogosphere.
The course introduces students to Scottish Gaelic
Welsh 225a. Medieval Welsh Language and Literature. Aled Llion Jones. TuTh 3-4:15. Introduction to the language and culture of medieval Wales, with particular attention to narrative prose literature and its Celtic, Welsh and Norman contexts. By the end of the term we will have read in the original one of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi and selections from other texts.