Spring 2022

Visit Celtic courses at the Harvard Course Catalog

Celtic 101. Irish Heroic Saga. Joseph Nagy. MW 12-1:15 plus Discussion Section TBA

A study of the ways in which the hero is represented in early Irish sources, especially in the saga literature. The texts reflect the ideology and concerns of a society which had been converted to Christianity, but continued to draw on its Indo-European and Celtic heritage. The biographies of the Ulster hero, Cú Chulainn, of his divine father, Lug, and of certain king-heroes are studied in depth. The wisdom literature, and archaeological and historical evidence will be taken into account.

Celtic 187. Literature of the Dispossessed. Natasha Sumner. MW 10:30-11:45

An introduction to Irish Gaelic poetry and prose of the seventeenth 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.

Irish 133r. Intermediate Modern Irish. 9-10:15am. MTuWTh

A continuation of Irish 132, developing students' fluency in spoken and written Irish. As our knowledge of the language expands, we venture into storytelling, journal writing and writing and performing short skits. Internet, audio and video resources complement the study of grammar and select prose texts.

Irish 201r. Continuing Old Irish. Joseph Nagy. MW 3-4:15

Further grammatical study, with continued reading of saga texts.

Irish 208. Readings in Early Modern Irish. Natasha Sumner. M 12-2:45

Readings in selected texts. Recommended prep: Irish 160r or permission of the instructor

Welsh 129r. Intermediate Modern Welsh. MTuWTh 9-10:15am

Direct continuation of Welsh 128, developing and deepening students' knowledge of, and skill in, the modern spoken and written language. By the end of the semester students will be able to converse, read and write in a number of registers of idiomatic Welsh (academic, literary, informal). Various media, featuring dialogue, music and film, augment the advanced grammatical survey. Central cultural and historical issues are discussed.

Welsh 227. Welsh Bardic Poetry. Catherine McKenna. Tu 12-2:45

Readings from the hengerdd, the beirdd y tywysogion and the beirdd yr uchelwyr; consideration of the social and political contexts of their poetry, its forms, and its relationship to other medieval European poetic traditions.

Gen Ed 1081. The Celts: People or Construct? Catherine McKenna. TuTh 10:30-11:45 plus Discussion Section TBA

We are exposed every day to terms referring to ethnic groups, and we tend to accept these terms uncritically, assuming that we know what they mean and to whom they refer. These labels help to shape our sense of ourselves, of others, and of ourselves in relation to others. Yet the ethnic identities associated with such terms are in fact ambiguous and malleable, constructed of a shifting array of elements, including genetics, shared history, language, religion, economy, political institutions, music, architecture, and foodways. Ethnic descriptors encode attributes, either positive or negative, with which people want to associate themselves or others. So, in order to understand the claims implicit in the use of an ethnic label, we need to evaluate the bases for assigning it and who allows a people the identity they claim for themselves. This course takes as a case study the idea of the “Celt,” a term thrown around so freely that it sometimes seems to be as much a brand as an ethnonym. In our readings and a series of hands on exercises, we explore the ways in which the history, languages, material culture, and cultural mythology of Celtic peoples are used both to construct and to deconstruct Celtic identity. Then we examine the cultural and political forces that have motivated these constructions and deconstructions. Studying what “Celt” has meant over the course of the past 2500 years, you will develop tools for analyzing the bases of ethnicity claimed by a people or attributed to them by others. And by examining the ways in which the name “Celt” has been both adopted as a badge of honor and assigned as a way of dismissing conquered peoples, you will better understand the ways in which ethnic labels manipulate attitudes toward the groups with which they are associated.


Spring 2021

Breton 123. Intermediate Modern Breton. Joseph Nagy (with Myrzinn Boucher-Durand). Times TBD. Meets four times a week. Continuation of Breton 122.


Celtic 109. Finn: The Great Gaelic Hero. Natasha Sumner. TuTh 10:30-11:45. This course explores the lengthy and wildly popular Irish and Scottish Gaelic tradition surrounding the hero Finn mac Cumaill (Finn McCool). Stories about Finn and his legendary warrior band, the Fianna, have circulated in manuscript, print, and oral forms for well over a millennium. The protectors of Ireland and Gaelic Scotland, Finn and the Fianna are presented alternatively as hunters, warriors, and seers. Embodying heroic qualities valued by their culture at different periods, they undertake seemingly impossible tasks and defend Gaels from foreign and supernatural threat. In the course, we examine literature about Finn and the Fianna as it is presented in medieval and early modern manuscripts; we engage with the rich modern folklore of Ireland, Scotland, and Nova Scotia; and we consider the international impact of the tradition by examining James Macpherson's infamous English-language adaptations and the vicious controversy over their ‘authenticity’ that erupted in the eighteenth century and persists to this day. All Gaelic texts are read in English translation.


Celtic 138. The Mabinogion: Stories from Medieval Wales. Catherine McKenna. TuTh 10:30-11:45. An exploration of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, Welsh Arthurian romances and tales, and the bardic lore associated with them, in the context of the literary culture of Wales in the twelfth through fourteenth centuries. All texts are read in English translation.




Celtic 340. Celtic Languages and Literatures Proseminar  Natasha Sumner. M 12:45-2:45.  An introduction to Celtic studies and a review of the major critical approaches to the field. Course Notes:  Required of candidates for the PhD in Celtic Languages and Literatures. Not open to undergraduates. Class Notes:  Enrollment in this course is restricted to G1 and G2 members of the Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures Course Level: Primarily for Graduate Studen


Irish 133r. Intermediate Modern Irish. Natasha Sumner (with Nicholas Thyr). Times TBD. Meets four times a week. A continuation of Irish 132, developing students' fluency in spoken and written Irish. As our knowledge of the language expands, we venture into storytelling, journal writing and writing and performing short skits. Internet, audio and video resources complement the study of grammar and select prose texts.


Irish 204r. Readings in Early Irish Poetry. Joseph Nagy. F 12-2:45. Readings in selected texts. Some knowledge of Old/Middle Irish required.


Scottish Gaelic 131r. Intermediate Scottish Gaelic. Natasha Sumner (with Shannon Parker). Times TBD. Meets four times a week. Direct continuation of the fall term course Scottish Gaelic 130.


Welsh 225B. Medieval Welsh Poetry. Catherine McKenna. TuTh 1:30-2:45. Continued readings in medieval Welsh prose and an introduction to Welsh poetry down to 1400. Continued study of grammar and practice in translation, as well as an introduction to the manuscript sources of the poetry and their cultural contexts, and the intricacies of medieval Welsh poetics.


Freshman Seminar 61F. Cartoons, Folklore, and Mythology. Joseph Nagy. Tu 12. 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.


Gen Ed 1097. Tradition, Performance and Culture. Joseph Nagy. TuTh 3:00. What is culture, and how does it shape us? This class explores how folklore (a broad term meant to include all aspects of tradition, custom, and heritage) and its expressive manifestations shape national, regional, and ethnic identities. In particular, we examine the function of folklore within the communities that have, perform and use these cultural goods, as well as the ways traditions are expressed and performed in daily life. In this course, you will study major forms of folklore (e.g., myths, legends, beliefs, rituals, festivals), as well as the theoretical approaches (e.g., performance theory, the ethnography of communication) used to interpret cultural documents drawn from the world of traditional expression and ritualized behavior.