Game of Thrones Goes To Harvard With New Course

Cersei Mountain Qyburn

The connection between Game of Thrones and real-world history is frequently brought up in discussion among fans, critics and scholars. Now, the folks at Harvard University will explore that connection further with a new course entitled “The Real Game of Thrones: From Modern Myths to Medieval Models.”

Time magazine has the scoop, with an exclusive look at the introductory-level course taught by Sean Gilsdorf, in tandem with assistant professor Racha Kirakosian.

The course will include material from both A Song of Ice and Fire novels and the TV series. The course description, according to Time, states they’ll examine the way the books and Game of Thrones “echoes and adapts, as well as distorts the history and culture of the ‘medieval world’ of Eurasia from c. 400 to 1500 CE” by studying “a set of archetypal characters at the heart of Game of Thrones — the king, the good wife, the second son, the adventurer, and so on — with distinct analogues in medieval history, literature, religion, and legend.”

Professor Gilsdorf tells Time that “medieval biographies of queens will be prime source material.” Kirakosian tells the magazine that the course will be a “‘recruitment tool’ for the medieval studies and humanities courses, in general.”

For more info on the new course, swing by Time for the full details!

20 responses

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    1. If it gets students interested in medieval studies, or in the study of history in general, I’m all for it.

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    2. I can’t see why the Táin would be particularly relevant. It features a queen who’s angry about being upstaged by her husband and goes to war to one-up him, but it’s a stretch to say that GoT echoes it.

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    3. They tried to offer this course at TrumpU but since it had a reading prereq with a basic understanding of international relations, no one could sign up.

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    4. EE,

      Yes, I can’t see how the Táin would be relevant, and Ibn Fadlan – even less. Maybe, this one is included just to fill the sex quota? And the most relevant biography – that of Jon I of Portugal – hasn’t been mentioned at all. One way or another, this course sounds quite a bit cheesy to me. I would be fully on board, if medievists wrote articles about GoT/ASOIAF (thought about writing one or two myself), but a course at Harward?! I thought that Harward was a serious university LOL. On the other hand, when I read some of the American medievists, it’s… well, not that surprising. But good luck for the course anyway.

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    5. Viz,

      1. Can I apply for retroactive college course credits for watching Seasons 1-6 and reading WoW posts and comment threads ?
      2. How much would you wanna bet that the Harvard “course” shamelessly rips off WoW articles written by Sue et al? (Why not? Everyone else plagiarizes them. Including Pop-Ups Are Coming.net.)
      3. Likewise, Harvard students will write “term papers” by cutting and pasting from WoW comment threads.
      4. Are Sue, Luka et al going to receive honorary Doctorate degrees at Harvard’s next commencement ceremony ?
      5. The course description seems a bit misguided. GRRM, Benioff and Weiss have given extensive interviews describing the historical influences for GoT. Why would Harvard come up with different ones?
      6. I wonder if Harvard’s curriculum next year will include courses like “Gumby & Pokey: Homoerotic Themes”; “Spongebob Squarepants and the Literary Tradition of the Hero’s Journey”; “From Grendel in Beowulf to The Cookie Monster in Sesame Street: The Evolution of the Big Bad.”
      7. There are SO many serious subjects associated with GoT that could form the basis for serious study, including, eg, economic considerations in adapting literary works to the small screen; thematic expression through costuming, music, or production design; etc. Someone could compose a textbook just by cataloging Wimsey’s WoW observations about the challenges of adapting written works to a visual medium.
      It doesn’t appear that the Harvard course will cover some of these unique aspects of GoT. …

      [Argggh! Keyboard starting to freeze. Can’t edit. Sorry! 😖]

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    6. Wolfish,

      I would love to audit this course — the thought of taking a course for a grade makes me break out in a cold sweat. Mr. Cat is teasing me about studying for Con of Thrones!

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    7. (Cont.)

      Here’s what’s confounding. According to the posted article….

      “…The course description, according to Time, states they’ll examine the way the books and Game of Thrones “echoes and adapts, as well as distorts the history and culture of the ‘medieval world’ of Eurasia from c. 400 to 1500 CE” by studying “a set of archetypal characters at the heart of Game of Thrones — the king, the good wife, the second son, the adventurer, and so on — with distinct analogues in medieval history, literature, religion, and legend.”

      – “Echoes and adapts, as well as distorts” the history and culture of the medieval world? Umm. How about fire-breathing dragons, ice zombies, elves, shadow demons, Mission Impossible face-peeling, time-tripping paraplegics, and so on.
      It’s kind of a stretch to analyze GoT as straight-up historical fiction (eg James Michener, inserting fictional characters into actual historical events), as opposed to believable human characters in an imaginary fantasy setting.

      — “Archetypal characters at the heart of Game of Thrones” ???
      “The king, the good wife, the second son, the adventurer….” ???
      That’s funny. I haven’t considered any such characters – archetypal or otherwise – to be at “the heart” of GoT. I haven’t noticed “the good wife” or “the adventurer” appear on the show. The “second son” has been an incidental designation.

      — Now, if they really wanted to tackle subjects with narrative heft in GoT and compare them to literary tradition and historical bases, how about….

      [to be cont]

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    8. Lonely Cat:
      Wolfish,

      I would love to audit this course — the thought of taking a course for a grade makes me break out in a cold sweat. Mr. Cat is teasing me about studying for Con of Thrones!

      Lonely Cat,

      Pass/Fail is always an option as well. At least you could earn some elective credit that way without having to worry too much about a grade, whereas auditing a course does not result in any credit awarded.

      *Takes my academic advisor hat off now*

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    9. Mr Derp,

      Gahhhh! Even pass-fail would stress me out too much!

      I agree that this course is valuable if it creates a passion for study of history. One of my brilliant college roommates was a history / liberal arts honors student who was studying French manuscripts written by a purported sorceror. (At least that’s what I recall after ##ty years and tonight’s glass of wine.)

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    10. Sou,

      Chill. We’re nice to each other on this site, remember? It’s not reddit. Inga is not a native English speaker, and is a wonderful contributor to the wonderful conversations we have here.

      Full disclosure: I’ve been described as a “spelling Nazi” on many occasions… but I grant passes to non-native speakers and dyslexic people.

      Save the negativity for the trolls.

      P.S.: In several languages, a “w” is pronounced like a “v”… and many people remember words in other languages by their sounds. We all consume and remember information differently.

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    11. Sue and all other heroes that run this site, I have a question for you… Are you gonna continue the damn awesome Game of Thrones memory lane? For the ten episodes of season six, during the last ten days for the premiere of season 7? For last year I did no rewatch, but this year I do, and I damn LOVE all your episode analysises, so unbelievable awesome… No matter what you do, thank you for this site!

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