The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Page  [1]

History of the Medieval and Renaissance Collegium

The Medieval and Renaissance Collegium at the University of Michigan was conceived on a plane trip from Detroit to Washington, D. C. in the early fall of 1972. Fruitful opportunism is the rubric here and hereafter. Come to Washington, said Ronald S. Berman of the National Endowment for the Humanities to Russell Fraser of the University's English Department, and suggest new departures which might be funded by NEH. One suggestion was that Michigan inaugurate a program in medieval and Renaissance studies, drawing on the competence of faculty throughout the University and enlisting the support of interested undergraduates. In a context of declining enrollments, Fraser proposed to abandon the relatively insular structure that characterizes most academic departments and to enable students to move freely among departments and schools, designing at their choice a more nearly comprehensive course of study in different aspects of medieval and Renaissance culture. To quote from the original submission to NEH: "Rarely does the student who is reading Chaucer have the chance or encouragement to familiarize himself with the painting of Duccio or the music and poetry of Guillaume de Machaut or Guillaume Dufay, or Islam in the 14th century, or, a hundred years earlier, with the Icelandic Eddas or the Albigensian Crusade. Now it is proposed to tie together in a coherent program…what has been, by long convention, essentially discrete."

The new course of study was not to be restricted to LS&A — prospectively, other schools like Music, Law and Architecture would participate. It was not to be restricted to the Humanities either — MARC (as the program came to be known) would seek to elicit cooperation from the social and physical sciences, as well. The informing notion held that any subject was grist, from the Page  2beginnings of the Middle Ages in the early Christian centuries roughly to the close of the 17th century.

But the program, its sponsors thought, ought not to be totally eclectic. Students who decided to concentrate in MARC would be asked to choose one among seven areas of specialization, devoting their energy to the study of Renaissance Italy (for example) or to the Age of Baroque, or Law and Society from Rome to the Enlightenment. Having selected an area of specialization, entailing several related courses and a substantial paper, the student would be expected to take additionally a prescribed number of MARC courses in different disciplines and to demonstrate real competence in a foreign language. The supposition was that, in the beginning at least, the program would be restricted to undergraduates, and that the number of concentrators would be relatively small. MARC, in other words, was understood to be an elitist program. Students who did not wish to declare a major but simply to take MARC courses at random — and in practice that meant most of the constituency — were encouraged, however, to make use of the program's resources.

On December 20, 1972, Professors Fraser and William Ingram of the English Department, with the approval of the Dean and the Executive Committee of the College, sent a formal proposal to NEH, requesting a development grant in the amount of $573,071. The foundation, accepting the proposal, stipulated a radical abridging, and submission in the category of a program rather than a development grant. Accordingly, in March 1973 a new budget of $179,974 was submitted. The grant was awarded in April 1973. MARC commenced operation in the Fall Term of that year under the direction of William Ingram, working with a small Executive and a larger Advisory Board, members of which were drawn from all relevant disciplines. (Succeeding Directors have included Charles Trinkaus and Nicholas Steneck from History, Christine Bornstein, pro tem, from Page  3History of Art, and Russell Fraser from English.) The budget at MARC's disposal, augmented by a matching commitment of $103,476 from the University over the three-year period of the grant, made possible a degree of released time for the Director, the hiring of an Associate Director and a half-time Administrative Secretary, and the purchase from departments of faculty time for teaching MARC courses. With the expiration of the grant, it became necessary to ask departments to release staff to MARC without remuneration. By and large, and thanks to the enlightened generosity of department chairpersons, this riches-to-rags sequence has not impaired the health of the Collegium.

Enrollment in MARC courses for the first year of operation totalled 168 students, 144 of whom came from LS&A. This total has pretty much remained constant in subsequent years. The content of MARC courses has varied widely from year to year, but an adequate notion of the variety and scope of the program is indicated by this sampling of courses offered in the year MARC began: The Role of Material Resources in Medieval and Renaissance Culture, Family Life and Education in the Late Middle Ages and Early Renaissance, The Medieval Near East and the Steppes, Music in Medieval Culture, Monastic Culture, Allegory and Symbol, Paris from Abelard to Villon, Florence from Dante to Machiavelli, London from Chaucer to Shakespeare, Paleography. In addition to formal course offerings, MARC has sponsored from its inception an imaginative program of public lectures, staffed by guest lecturers from within the University and from other institutions in this country and abroad. It has brought to the campus concerts in early music and productions of medieval and Renaissance theatre, and has scheduled conferences and symposia like that on the 700th anniversary of Aquinas and on the Early Printed Book. Extracurricular activities of this nature continue to describe on one side of the Collegium's reason-for-being.

Page  4Other activities have flourished briefly and subsequently waned: like the MARC Residence House, located initially in an entry of the Law Quad, contiguous to the MARC office. Pressure on the Law School for student dormitory space has forced the removal of the Collegium from these neo-gothic splendors, with a consequent falling off of interest in the House. The MARC library, begun with NEH money and the invaluable assistance of Fred Wagman, then director of University Libraries, continues to exist, however. So does the program of summer study abroad, under the aegis of the Michigan Consortium for Medieval and Early Modern Studies.

The belief in which MARC was founded remains the belief that sustains it today — in a sentence: that we must cultivate, for reasons both pious and pragmatic, a more fully informed understanding of the matrix from which we have come. MARC does not have a motto; but this, from the medieval chronicler Wace, would serve nicely for a motto to express its purpose and the springs of its continuing vitality: "Pur remembrer les ancessurs / Les diz e les faits e les murs."