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What is the Program in Medieval and Early Modern Studies?

Founded in 2007 with a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Program in Medieval and Early Modern Studies (or MEMS) at UNC-Chapel Hill is comprised of an interdisciplinary community of scholars and students, featuring more than ninety faculty members across twelve departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, joined by dozens of graduate students working in premodern fields and undergraduates pursuing the MEMS minor. The program currently enjoys support from the UNC-Chapel Hill Dorothy Ford Wiley Fund, the College of Arts and Sciences, and a number of private donors.

MEMS first emerged from Chapel Hill’s traditional strengths in the study of the European Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and other early modern fields, ranging from Shakespeare to Baroque art, from the crusades to the seventeenth-century wars of religion, from medieval Latin philosophers to the French thinkers of the Enlightenment. Recognizing and valuing the contributions of medieval and early modern Europe to the origins of what is commonly called Western civilization, the MEMS program seeks to support and enhance our understanding of the pre-modern world in its European context from the fragmentation of the Roman Empire through the eighteenth century.

MEMS also embarked upon an innovative, global approach to medieval and early modern studies, one that highlights the profound impact of intellectual, cultural, and economic commerce both within and beyond the traditional borders of the European world. In their research and teaching, Carolina faculty recognize medieval and early modern cultures to be defined in large measure by their tendency to explore, analyze, and incorporate ideas and influences from other civilizations, including the Greek and Roman worlds of late antiquity, Byzantine and Islamicate lands, peoples and polities from Eastern and Southern Asia, as well as the Caribbean, Latin American, and North American territories of the “New World.”

The MEMS program thus gives our existing strengths in medieval and early modern studies a new impetus and global reach. In addition to supporting the research and writing of faculty and graduate students, the MEMS program hosts numerous lectures, seminars, and conferences at UNC-Chapel Hill, elevating the university’s profile for scholarship on the medieval and early modern eras. In addition, the program has forged collaborative international links with equivalent programs at King’s College London and the Freie Universität in Berlin. Finally, through the popular MEMS minor, the program enriches the undergraduate environment for the study and appreciation of the diverse peoples, cultures, and material conditions that characterized the premodern world—a place of complex, global interactions and exchanges, much like our own. Although grounded in the human experience of the past, the Medieval and Early Modern Studies program at UNC-Chapel Hill ultimately recognizes that research and teaching on the sixth through the eighteenth centuries shed light on the origins, accomplishments, and challenges of the contemporary world.