Fall 2022

Visit Celtic courses at the Harvard Course Catalog



Faculty:  Catherine McKenna, Joseph F. Nagy, Natasha Sumner



Celtic 105. The Folklore of Gaelic Ireland. Natasha Sumner. MW 10:30-11:45. An introduction to the traditional stories, lore, customs, and music of Gaelic Ireland. Since collecting began in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Ireland has amassed one of the most extensive collections of folklore in the world. Prominent tradition bearers and collectors will be introduced, and issues of collecting will be considered. Theoretical approaches will be explored to gain a deeper understanding of the material. All texts will be read in English translation.


Celtic 111. Shapeshifting and Identity in Celtic Traditions. Catherine McKenna. TuTh 10:30-11:45. 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 300 001:  Reading Modern Welsh. This section (001) of Celtic 300, Reading and Research,  is  a credit-bearing reading course focusing on Modern literary Welsh.  Open to anyone with some background in Welsh--including reading Middle Welsh and/or speaking/reading/writing colloquial Modern Welsh--the course will assign readings of academic articles and chapters, and also, depending on interest, in literary texts.  Meetings will be occasional, and arranged to suit the schedules of participants.  The course will be graded  on a P/F or SAT/UNSAT basis, and assessment will depend entirely on participation in our reading and translation work. The Canvas site is at https://canvas.harvard.edu/courses/111838

This group is also open to anyone who wants to join us on a non-credit basis.  Contact Professor McKenna at cmckenna@fas.harvard.edu if you're interested in joining us.


Irish 132. Introduction to Modern Irish. Natasha Sumner (with Colin Brady). MTWTh 9-10:15. 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. M 1:30-4. Readings in selected texts. Some knowledge of Old/Middle Irish required.


Welsh 225a. Medieval Welsh Language and Literature. Catherine McKenna. TuTh 1:30-2:45. 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.


Seminar 61F. Cartoons, Folklore, and Mythology. Joseph Nagy. W 3:00-5:30. The creators of cinematic (and later TV) animation have     perennially turned to traditional oral and literary tales about fantastic heroes, villains, tricksters, and settings for their story material. In the world of the animated “short” and feature-length film, myths, epics, legends, and folktales could come to life in a highly stylized, kinetic, and visually arresting way. Cartooning created a pathway for traditional stories to live on in the consciousness of twentieth-century viewers, and also for these old tales to be adapted to changing times. Hence animation offers not only an influential modern commentary on the folklore and mythology of the past but also a contemporary mythology of its own, deeply meaningful to adults and children alike. In this freshman seminar, students are invited to take what might be considered mere entertainment very seriously, closely reading texts of traditional stories in tandem with critically viewing animation that draws its inspiration from those stories. For a final assignment, each student will be called upon to choose some animation (a short or a clip from a feature-length film) to share with the rest of the seminar, to provide some background for it, and to lead a discussion of the animation in light of what else we will have seen, learned, and said. While the instructor’s contribution to the seminar will primarily focus on animation from 1900 to 1960, students when choosing which sample of animation to share will be welcome to present later or contemporary examples of the cartooning art—including perhaps even their own.