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The GW Medieval and Early Modern Institute institute was founded in 2008 by nine faculty members in English, History and Romance Languages. We have quickly grown to include sixteen professors and numerous students in five departments, making us the largest humanities initiative at the George Washington University.
Our mission is to bring fresh critical perspectives to the study of the literature and culture of early Europe. Appropriate to our location within a global city, we emphasize the international character of the period: the connections that entangled England and France with the North Sea, the Celtic world, the Mediterranean and the New World. We have a deep and abiding respect for well known authors such as Chaucer and Shakespeare, and we research and teach them alongside the texts that they read and loved: narratives of travel to China, India, Jerusalem; adventures on the seas and along pilgrimage routes; stories of magic, possibility, loss, and transformation.
Our goal is to ensure that the writings of the medieval and early modern periods are granted the same capaciousness and ambition as more contemporary texts. We never conduct this work in isolation, finding vital partners in programs like Africana Studies and Latino Studies. Thus our panel on Shakespeare’s Tempest included experts speaking about the ways in which the play has been re-written by Caribbean and African authors. We also ensure that our work is available to all, from undergraduates in introductory courses to the graduate students who will someday write field-changing books and teach the next generation of students. Every event we sponsor is free and open to all who wish to attend.
Through a partnership with the School Without Walls, our undergraduate course on "Myths of Britain" brings Shakespeare and Beowulf to Washington’s most ambitious high school students. GW undergraduates of all majors take courses with us, and attend our events. Our “Gateway Lecture” series has proven a popular entryway into the best research being done on the medieval and early modern periods. Examining topics as diverse as ecological approaches to early literature, postcolonial studies and epic, the Order of the Garter, and Shakespeare’s Tempest as a maritime text, these lectures have typically attracted between sixty and eighty undergraduate students, as well as interested persons from around the DC area. The speakers have then had the chance to have an informal dinner with our graduate students, contributing to their professional training. Through our advanced seminars, we train those who will become learned experts and passionate teachers. We are proud of our record of accomplishment in this our third year of being chartered.
We have also been able to support the research of our award-winning faculty, who have been extraordinarily successful in obtaining the grants and fellowships that boost our international ranking. Our published research fosters a deep and lasting regard for the texts and cultures of the past. We believe strongly that this kind of keen engagement with history can help to bring about a better future.
And yet there is so much more that we would like to be able to undertake: a lively program for bringing scholars to GW for long term residencies; an undergraduate course that enables our students to spend a portion of the class abroad visiting the locations that they study; mentored postdoctoral teaching opportunities for our graduate students as they hone their classroom skills and prepare themselves for the difficult humanities job market; a revitalized undergraduate major and minor; an expanded program of public lectures; better support for faculty in the final stages of completing book projects; the launching of a new line of electronic books with the Institute’s imprimatur that would make access to primary and secondary texts immediate and inexpensive; a deeper alliance with the Folger Shakespeare Library. And more. Please check out our website and judge our record – and our intended future -- for yourself. If you see an event that appeals to you, take this as your personal invitation to attend.
We would also ask that you keep us in mind as the year comes to its close and you think about your annual giving. Every penny of philanthropic support for GW MEMSI goes directly towards our programs. Contributing is easy. You may donate online here (please check the box for “Other” and designate “GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute”). You may also donate by telephone (800-789-2611) or by mailing a check to The George Washington University, 2100 M Street, NW, Suite 310, Washington, D.C. 20052 (please designate the Institute on the memo line or in an accompanying note). As director of the Institute, I am happy to speak with you about any particular initiative that intrigues you. I can be reached easily by email (email@example.com) or telephone (202 455-8157).
I am certain that you receive many requests for your time and support. I thank you for reading this note. It is, quite simply, a letter composed by someone who has been teaching medieval and early modern studies at GW for sixteen years, has seen the lives of his students deepened and sometimes even transformed by what they study, and whose passion is to ensure that this work flourishes at the George Washington University for a very long time.
Jeffrey J. Cohen
Professor of English
Director, GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute