Category Archives: Guest Post

Guest Post – Jonathan Hsy: & (Presented at ICMS 2014)

MassMedieval is proud to present a second surprise! Jonathan Hsy was a panelist on the same Babel punctuation session at ICMS 2014 referenced in my previous post and in the guest post by Josh Eyler. After reading these posts (and publicizing them widely), Jonathan has also offered us the full text of his presentation on the ampersand (&). We are very grateful for this continued generosity, and we hope our readers are enjoying this series of posts as much as we are.

Jonathan Hsy is Associate Professor of English at George Washington University, and his research and teaching interests span the fields of translation studies and disability theory. His first book, Trading Tongues: Merchants, Multilingualism, and Medieval Literature (Ohio State University Press, 2013) investigates the work of polyglot urban writers across the late medieval and early Tudor eras. His current book project, Disability and Life Writing: Authorship as Advocacy, Then and Now, explores writing by medieval authors who self-identify as blind or deaf. Hsy is also the founding Co-Director (with Alexa Huang) of the GW Digital Humanities Institute, and he is currently involved in a few collaborative digital endeavors. He blogs at In The Middle, serves on the Editorial Committee of the Online Medieval Disability Glossary, and is collaborating with Candace Barrington on Global Chaucers, an emergent online archive of modern adaptations of Chaucer in non-Anglophone settings.

In modern English, the symbol & [ampersand] stands out among punctuation marks due to its status not as a silent break between words but rather a glyph that signifies an entire word in itself. That is to say, the ampersand functions not as a punctuation mark but rather as a logogram, compressing an entire word (semantic unit) into one graphic symbol. The ampersand, moreover, really came into its own in Middle Ages as a ligature: most visible, for instance, in the linking of Carolingian letters E and T (the Latin word “et”).[1]

ampersand image 1

Over time, the stylized glyph transformed and was eventually carried over into vernacular languages as the grammatical conjunction that we pronounce, in English, as “and.”

I really love the ampersand because it’s so cute. So beautiful. So aesthetically pleasing. So logographically distinctive. The aptly-named blog 300&65 Ampersands devoted an entire year (2010 to be precise) to celebrating the ampersand in all its variety. Each day readers were reminded that the ampersand marks a distinctive flourish for graphic designers and typographers alike.

I also love the ampersand for its conspicuous capacity to signify “and”-ness across languages. The symbol has unique conjunctive powers, and the ampersand does not so much conjoin thoughts as squish them together, enacting a confluence of languages. The name “ampersand,” of course, derives from a bilingual utterance that schoolchildren would recite back in the days when the symbol was considered a “letter” of the alphabet like A and I. In this 19th-century hornbook, the ampersand appears at the end of the alphabet after all the capital letters. When reciting the alphabet (so the story goes), schoolchildren would make the utterance “A per se A” [A by itself means “A”], “I per se I” [I by itself means “I”], and “and per se and” to drive home the point that the symbol “by itself” signaled an entire word. “And per se and” becomes “Ampersand.” Its very name in modern English squishes together two languages (English and Latin) into a conjunctive neologism.

At this point I’d like to pivot to consider the post-medieval life of the ampersand when it enters into print culture and show some of the ways it brazenly flaunts its capacity to move across tongues. Shakespeare’s Henry V is one of my favorite fictive explorations of medieval language contact. In the final courtship scene (Act 5, scene 2), English Henry woos French Katherine initially through her interpreter Alice but soon both attempt to speak, however haltingly, in the other’s language. In this excerpt from a printing of Henry V in Shakespeare’s First Folio(1623), the French dialogue (code-switching) is signaled by italics.[2]

ampersand image 2

First, Henry speaks to Katherine in his halting French: “Ie quand sur le possession de Fraunce, & quand vous aues le possession de moy … Donc vostre est Fraunce, & vous estes mienne” [When I have the possession of France, and (&) when you have the possession of me, then France is yours, and (&) you are mine]. Throughout Henry’s utterance, the ampersand marks the French conjunction “et” [and], conjoining a chain of thoughts on language and reciprocal possession. Katherine then praises Henry’s French: “le Francois ques vous parleis, il & melius que l’Anglois le quel Ie parle” [the French that you speak, it is (& = est) better than the English that I speak]. Here, the ampersand shifts, standing in now for the French verb “est” [is] rather than the conjunction “et” [and]. In a case of typographical irony, the early modern compositor has improperly repurposed the multivalent logogram. Fittingly, this typographical toggling happens in the very episode in the play where boundaries between French and English vernaculars and their overlapping claims to “possession” are increasingly blurred.

And now for a coda, addition, appendix, appendage: some brief comments on the ampersand’s sibling, the Tironian “et” (i.e., the numeral-seven-shaped symbol or plus-sign glyph that also signifies the word “and”).[3] In one sense this Tironian symbol has a parallel life to the ampersand. On the QWERTY keyboard the ampersand (&) lives on the same key as seven (7), suggesting a typographical coupling or toggling between the two. And these symbols’ parallel lives nicely register across languages. This sign for a “pay and park” in Ireland uses the Tironian 7 in the Irish text but the & (ampersand) in English text below.[4]

Stan Carey - íoc & taispeáin, with Tironian et

Despite their similarity in meaning, the Tironian symbol and the ampersand are not entirely interchangeable. The Tironian “and” diverges from the ampersand in another important respect: it can serve a slightly different grammatical role in Latin. The mark in Latin texts did not merely signify a conjunction but could stand in for the enclitic suffix “-que” (meaning “and”).[5]

Perhaps, then, the Tironian “et” and the ampersand engage in a kind of graphic and syntactic sibling rivalry. I leave you with this poster in which Shakespeare is typographically surpassed by the Middle Ages through a deliberate divergence in punctuation. Some of the promotional posters for the film Tristan and Isolde (2006) use a provocative tagline that deploys two different symbols for the word “and.” This poster reads: “Before there was Romeo and [&] Juliet, there was Tristan and [+] Isolde.”[6]

ampersand image 4

So the next time you see the ampersand (or its sibling, the Tironian “and”), don’t just admire the symbol because it’s cute or aesthetically pleasing. Respect it as a logogram. Marvel at its power to move across languages. And consider how it encourages us to adopt not so much “conjunctive” thinking as a concurrent processing of languages and meanings.

[1] Image 1 is excerpted from the section on the ampersand from Keith Houston’s informative book on punctuation marks, Shady Characters (2013); the blog that spawned Houston’s book is also excellent.

[2] Image 2 is a screenshot from this digital reproduction of the Brandeis University Library copy of the First Folio, via Internet Shakespeare Editions.

[3] For the history of this symbol, see Keith Houston’s excellent blog posting.

[4] Image 3 can be accessed on this entry on Stan Carey’s language blog, along with related links about the ampersand.

[5] See Adriano Cappelli (trans. David Heimann and Richard Kay), The elements of abbreviation in medieval Latin paleography (Lawrence: University of Kansas Libraries, 1982), section 3.72 [p. 18].

[6] Image 4 was accessed through Craig Koban’s online review of Tristan and Isolde (2006).

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Guest Post – Josh Eyler: , (A Breath) (Presented at ICMS 2014)

In my last post, I wrote about the BABEL punctuation session at the 2014 International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, MI, and, in particular, the meaningful presentation by Josh Eyler on the comma. Now we have a surprise – he has been generous enough to post the full text of his presentation here on MassMedieval! We are very grateful for this opportunity and thank Josh for his willingness to share his work with us – and you.

After receiving his Ph.D. in Medieval Studies from the University of Connecticut in 2006, Josh Eyler moved to a position as Assistant Professor in the English department at Columbus State University in Georgia.  Although he was approved for tenure at CSU, his love for teaching and his desire to work with instructors from many different disciplines led him to the field of faculty development and to George Mason University, where he served as an Associate Director of the Center for Teaching and Faculty Excellence from 2011-2013. In August of 2013, he moved to Rice University to take the positions of Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and Adjunct Associate Professor of Humanities. He has published broadly on medieval literature, and his eclectic research interests include brain-based learning theories, Chaucer, and disability studies.  His current projects include the book Teaching the Humanities in the 21st Century, which is under contract with the University of Nebraska Press.


The Comma:  it has always intrigued me that such a tiny sliver of ink on paper, as Kurt Vonnegut used to say, could be so powerful.  There are, of course, the heated debates about the Oxford comma that drive proponents of either side into near apoplexy (I am unabashedly in favor of ol’ Oxie).  And there are the books and internet memes shouting at us about the ways in which “Punctuation Saves Lives!”  When used effectively, commas can magnify beauty, as in the elegant, yet potent, appositive in the title of John Updike’s Rabbit, Run, or in the proliferation that drives us deeper into the consciousness of Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.  At the same time, when implemented poorly, commas can render prose nearly unintelligible.  There is power there.  I would like to suggest, though, that the comma’s power is more than just a stylistic one; it is a philosophical one too.  Today I want to productively splice the comma, weaving together a number of different perspectives on our field of Medieval Studies and ourselves.  To do so, I want to a build off of a foundation laid out in the Pulitzer Prize winning play Wit by Margaret Edson.  As you may recall, Wit tells the story of Vivian Bearing, a scholar specializing in John Donne’s poetry, and her ultimately unsuccessful battle with cancer.  In one particular scene, Vivian recalls her time as a graduate student and a meeting she has with her mentor Professor E. M. Ashford.

(The scene performed in the session ends with “It isn’t?”)

It’s not.  The point is the pause.  The breath.

As I think about this field that caught my mind and my heart many years ago now, I think about a comma the way Ashford describes it.  The Middle Ages offer the pregnant pause of possibility, the nurturing breath that gave rise to some of the most profound works of art the world has ever produced.  And yet, at the same time, those centuries that we group together and label as “medieval” still represent only the briefest of moments before the world began to move in different directions.  Time has always operated like this.  The Classical era, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, then, now, tomorrow—all simply breaths in the collective sigh of the past.  Because, despite what Stephen Greenblatt and other Burckhardtians would have us believe, history is not made up of full-stop “periods,” all separate from each other, but of commas, one inextricably linked to the next as parts of the same structure.

In a similar way, only the smallest of pauses, a comma, separates us from the medieval world.  The art of the Middle Ages still speaks to us with immediacy and urgency.  When Dante talks about his dark wood, we understand; manuscripts, written by hands not very different from our own, capture us intellectually; Chaucer’s jokes about bodily functions make us laugh; Boccaccio’s gripping account of the bubonic plague reveal what could still account for the best and worst in human nature; cathedrals and castles built a thousand years ago continue to inspire; Julian of Norwich’s claim that “all shall be well” resonates with a comforting, if not entirely convincing, hope.

Finally, nothing but a breath, a comma, separates us from our students–for we do not teach medieval literature, medieval art, medieval history, or medieval archaeology; we teach students about these subjects, about new ways to see their world through the lens of the past.  Our field will continue to live and breathe only insofar as we dedicate ourselves to teaching it.  And here I look to the wisdom of my dissertation director, Fred Biggs, who once told me that *everything* is a teaching activity—writing, presenting, publishing, but especially our work in the classroom, where we will teach hundreds and even thousands of students over the course of a career.  The work we do with our students will push back the boundaries of our knowledge about the Middle Ages ever further, but to accomplish this we need to tear down the tenuous hierarchies of our classrooms—professor/student, expert/novice—and move forward together as fellow learners, engaging in projects together, teaching each other, finding meaning together in this moment—our own pause, our breath, our comma.

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English Studies Abroad: Guest Post – Cameron Hunt McNabb

What do you do when you realize that you and another professor at a different university are both teaching Thomas Becket in the same week for study abroad courses? Why, you wheedle that professor into writing a guest post, of course! Actually, it didn’t take much arm-twisting. Cameron very graciously – and very quickly – agreed to guest for us in my ongoing English Studies Abroad series.

Cameron Hunt McNabb is an assistant professor of English at Southeastern University in Lakeland, FL. She specializes in medieval and early modern drama, and she has articles published or forthcoming in NeophilologusPedagogy, and Early Theatre.

To begin, I’d like to thank Kisha for inviting me to guest post here. She has been a fountain of creative and engaging pedagogy for me, so it’s an honor to contribute to one of her projects.

My study abroad course is following similar lines as Kisha’s, though we are traveling in May for 2 weeks and thus taking the whole Spring semester to prepare. I am also co-leading the trip with our Victorianist, so we’ve organized the course historically, and I’m primarily responsible for materials pre-1700. So far, we have covered Beowulf in connection with Sutton Hoo and the Staffordshire gold hoard, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Arthurian myth, and the York Corpus Christi plays and the city of York.  This past week, I wanted to cover two major figures in English history—Thomas Becket and Thomas More—as transitions between the medieval and early modern periods, before we usher in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus (which we will see in May at the Globe), alongside Stratford, the Globe, and early modern London next week. (For fun, I also assigned the rather historically-accurate “Shakespeare Code” episode of Doctor Who).

As the truncated syllabus above demonstrates, my choices in assigned reading and discussion topics thus far have been conventional. Our readings and discussion for this past week, though, break from the norm. For one, I’m not actually taking our students to Canterbury this May. Given our limited time frame, we had to choose between Cambridge and Canterbury, and the Cantabrigians had it. Therefore, for this past week, I was less concerned about introducing my students to Canterbury Cathedral specifically and more concerned about how the narratives of Becket, and later More, could contribute to our trip overall.

And two, instead of choosing primary texts, I picked popular, artistic depictions of Becket and More. Besides Simon Schama’s A History of Britain series that students watch each week, I assigned them to read T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral (because one cannot get enough Eliot!) and watch Fred Zinnemann’s A Man for all Seasons (because one cannot get enough Orson Welles!). These two texts served as backdrops for my lecture “Two Undoubting Thomases” and the discussion that followed.

Although we had already surveyed the city of York, and inevitably its minster, we had not spent much time reviewing the ecclesiastical structures and architecture of medieval and early modern England. I felt that Becket and More would make excellent case studies for these issues. So, I began Wednesday’s class by playing the Te Deum (which is referenced in Murder in the Cathedral) in order to expose students to some medieval liturgy as well as offer a taste of the kind of liturgical experiences we will encounter during our trip, such as attending evensong at St. Paul’s. I also used this opportunity to discuss the design of English cathedrals—transepts, quire screens, nave, chapels, etc.—to prepare them for the numerous cathedrals, other than Canterbury’s, that we’d visit on our trip. I also highlighted, for purposes of practicality, that cathedrals can be their compasses, (almost) always quivering east.

Then we explored the tale of two undoubting Thomases, facing off against two powerful Henrys. The similarities between these two—even the players’ names are the same!—gave force to Eliot’s telling lines: “We do not know very much of the future / Except that from generation to generation / The same things happen again and again.” The histories of Becket and More reify the power struggle between the political and ecclesiastical systems within England and interrogate issues of allegiance and supremacy. The almost-400-year gap between them reveals how pervasive—and unchanging—those struggles and issues were within medieval and early modern England. Some students wryly noted the irony in the oft-repeated line from A Man for all Seasons, “This isn’t Spain. This is England.”  Unfortunately, what it meant to be England wasn’t that far from what it meant to be her Continental counterparts. Thus, the stories of Becket and More showed students the nefarious shadows within the radiant stained glass of those lofty cathedrals.  We concluded by reflecting how More’s famous last words apply equally to both undoubting Thomases: “The King’s good servant, but God’s First.”

Click to enlarge

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Guest Post – Jenny Adams: Humor, Guilt, and Ethical Choice: The Trials and Tribulations of Teaching the Miller’s Tale

We are fortunate to have another friend of MassMedieval as a guest. Please read and enjoy her thoughts about teaching the Miller’s Tale. Thank you, Jenny!

Jenny Adams is Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of MassachusettsShe has articles in Studies in the Age of Chaucer, the Journal of English Germanic Philology, Essays in Medieval Studies, The Chaucer Review, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching, and the Journal of Popular Culture. Her book, Power Play: The Literature and Politics of Chess in the Late Middle Ages (University of Pennsylvania Press) was published in 2006, and her edition of William Caxton’s The Game and Playe of the Chesse (TEAMS Middle English Texts series) appeared in 2009.

By any measure, the Miller’s Tale contains the funniest lines of Chaucer’s oeuvre.  It all starts when Alison puts her ambiguously identified “hole” out the window for Absolon to kiss, which he does “ful savourly.”  On the heels of this comes Nicholas’s attempt to “amenden al the jape” [improve the joke] and flaunt his own naked “ers.”  His ensuing fart helps Absolon brand him with the red hot coulter, an act that delivers the story’s coup-de-grace.  As Nicholas cries out “Water!” John, who sleeps in the barn and awaits the second flood, cuts down the tub he has so carefully hung from the barn roof, thereby injuring his own body and exposing himself as a fool.   I’ve taught this story for fifteen years, and it still makes me smile.   But the Miller’s Tale no longer makes me laugh. 

It was not always thus.  When I first came to the Miller’s Tale, I was like Alison.  No, I was not weasel-like in body, nor were my eyebrows “ful smale ypulled.”  Rather I had the innocence with which the Miller imbues her.   At age 18 (Alison’s own age, incidentally), I shared her “Tee Hee” at her silly antic, one that subsequently puts in play a chain reaction of jokes.  Minutes later, my “Tee Hee” soon morphed into a full belly laugh, one that upset the woman next to me at the UCLA library.  It made me love Chaucer.  It turned me into a medievalist.

Today, though, I gaze on the Miller’s Tale with a more Reeve-like eye, suspicious of the story and his motives for telling it.  Unlike Oswald, I’m not so foolish as to read myself into it. Nevertheless, I cannot help but read the tale’s riotous ending in context that, while not excluding the story’s humor, doesn’t account for it.   As I try to impress on my students, these lines necessarily provoke a more complicated reaction than a simple “Tee Hee.”  John’s injury ultimately leaves us frustrated by his ignorance and also angry at the clerical failure on display.  We can definitely blame John for willful insistence on ignorance, but the parish officials must share some of the blame for his duping.  Similarly, Nicholas, whose lines echo those of Arcite, forces us to read the Miller through the lens of the Knight’s Tale as we wondered about the ways the tension between free will and fate in turn shape our capacity for ethical choice.  And finally, the weirdly prescient mind-reading of Nicholas—“A berd!  A berd!” he cries in response to Absolon’s thinking of the same word—raises questions about the relationships between men, both here and in the other tales around it.

All of this is well-trodden ground in Millereque interpretation.  Today, when I taught it, I posed no radical readings, my goal being simply to open up the text to my students so that they could 1) understand the complications embedded in it, and then 2) come to their own conclusions about it.

Yet this act itself represents an ethical choice on my part and a bit of guilt.  For opening up these lines in academic ways necessarily forecloses them in others.  Once one starts reading closely, it’s hard to go back to the “Tee Hee.”  Which in turn makes me realize that while my first reading makes me Alison, my subsequent readings make me John.  While his willful repression of some knowledge might literally cripple him, there is a way I, too, yearn to overlook Chaucer’s “privitee,” to ignore the preaching of the academic glossers, and to recapture my “Tee hee.”

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Guest Post – M. Wendy Hennequin: What a Medievalist Does All Day

We are very excited to have our first guest post here at MassMedieval, and we hope to have many more in the future. At last Kalamazoo, our roundtable for and about blogging medievalists really highlighted the importance of these types of collaborations. In fact, our guest poster of the day attended that session, inspiring this particular collaboration. It is wonderful when our conversations come to life!

Dr. M. Wendy Hennequin is a medievalist working in the Department of Languages, Literature, and Philosophy at Tennessee State University.  She teaches a wide range of classes, including both writing and literature courses.  She’s published on a variety of subjects, including Beowulf, teaching medieval texts, medieval drama, and Harry Potter.  In her copious spare time, she writes poetry and fiction, practices a number of arts and crafts, and reads mystery and fantasy books. She also is the author of Expecto Curriculum, a blog about the “adventures in teaching Harry Potter and his Literary Ancestors.”

Thank you, Wendy!

I trained long and hard to be a medievalist.  The majority of my doctoral classes concerned medieval language and literature.  I took extra classes in medieval topics.  I learned Old English, Old Irish, Old Norse, and Latin.  I translated texts.  I read many Old English and Middle English works and learned everything I could about those works for my dissertation, and I also read dozens of other related medieval (and sometimes ancient) works.  I spent years of my life—nine years, if you’re counting—learning about medieval literature.

Now that I am now full-time professor (with tenure and everything), you might think I spend my days immersed in the subject: teaching medieval classes researching medieval literature; looking for cool new discoveries about the Middle Ages; reading and re reading medieval texts; and writing about them.

I wish.  Ironically, I rarely get to work with medieval texts.  Granted, I spend most of my time teaching and working for the university, but almost none of that work concerns my specialization in Old and Middle English literature.

Like most English professors, I spend most of my time teaching: not only teaching in the classroom, but preparing for class, re-reading the texts, grading, running the on-line elements of the course, grading, creating materials, revising and editing materials, previewing multi-media, holding office hours, grading, answering student e-mails, completing paperwork and other administrative tasks, and finally, grading.  And most of my classes (and most of the grading) are writing courses: Freshman Composition 1 and 2, and occasionally technical writing.

(Why would a medievalist be teaching writing?  All English professors, except for those lucky enough to get positions at universities that can afford a lot of graduate students, teach writing.  And writing takes time to teach and grade, more time than anything else we teach.)

I do get to teach some literature.  Sometimes, I teach English Literature I for the general literature requirement, but normally, I teach World Literature I, a course which includes the Middle Ages, but doesn’t include much medieval English literature.  I’ve also taught a variety of the junior / senior level literature courses (including, oddly, a Gothic Novel course and a Harry Potter seminar), but most often, when I teach an upper level course, it’s Shakespeare.  No, Shakespeare isn’t medieval.  In seven years, I have taught exactly two exclusively medieval courses.

So what else does this medievalist do all day, besides teach a lot of not-medieval stuff?  During the semester, I spend a lot of time on what administrators like to call “service,” very time-consuming, often unexciting, absolutely necessary tasks for running the department and the university.  I generally serve by participating on committees, and I have also been made Freshman English Coordinator for my sins.  Both the committees and the coordinator position are work intensive. I leave every committee meeting with research to do, course proposals to write, numbers to check, information to read and review, and / or reports to compose.  The post of Freshman English coordinator requires much the same sort of work and adds crunching data, a number of administrative tasks, and metaphorical fire-fighting to the pile.

In all, I normally spend at least 65 hours a week, often more, working on teaching and service during the semester.

I am also required to do research for my job, and that does concern medieval texts, but the teaching and service don’t leave any time for it during the school year.  I therefore do most of my research during the summers: reading and writing articles on medieval texts; reviewing books on medieval topics; attending and presenting papers at medieval conferences.  But even during the summer, I don’t do medieval work all day.  I spent a good part of this past summer working as the Freshman English Coordinator and developing a new course with a colleague in History.  At least it was a medieval course.  But during many semesters and even in the summers, I won’t even touch a medieval text.  My research projects this summer concerned teaching medieval literature, not the medieval literature itself.

So what does a medievalist do all day?  Work.  Teach.  Research. Write.

But not about the Middle Ages.

If I sound bleak, well, yes, it is a bit bleak.  But I’m not alone in this situation.  Many medievalists, both in English and in other disciplines, are in the same position: teaching, researching, and serving in ways that ultimately benefit the university, but that do nothing for our particular discipline or our personal passion.

But what can we do about it?  From what I’ve observed, options depend on the particular university, its culture, and its curriculum, both within the department and in general education.  Much, too, depends on the background of the students.  In some universities, the Middle Ages are romantic and cool, familiar to students through video games, movies, and science fiction and fantasy novels.  In other universities, the Middle Ages aren’t even on the radar—or worse, interest in medieval topics is considered weird or even sinful.

But if we have cooperative administrations and the right culture, sometimes we can bring the medieval studies onto the university stage.  One of my friends, who found herself in a position similar to mine, used a combination of recruitment, creativity, and sheer determination to woo students from her general education and non-medieval courses to medieval studies.  She added medieval texts to courses that allowed for it, and in some cases, she skewed non-medieval courses, such as Rensaissance literature, towards the Middle Ages.  She found students who enjoyed the Middle Ages and formed a medieval studies club. She arranged for her visiting medievalist friends to give lectures.  Eventually, this translated into more medieval courses.

My particular situation doesn’t lend itself to these strategies, for curricular, logistical, and cultural reasons.  Most students at my university do not have to take literature beyond the sophomore level, and I don’t consistently teach World Literature I or English Literature I.  Add these issues to the infrequency of the medieval courses (an administrative problem), and you will see why recruiting students from my sophomore classes doesn’t work for me.  Space, too, is at a premium at my university; it is often difficult to reserve a room for any purpose.  And finally, at my university, the Middle Ages are the opposite of cool.

Only three of my strategies have met any sort of success.

First, like my colleague, I add medieval English literature to my courses whenever I can possibly get away with it.  In Shakespeare, I cover two of the medieval Corpus Christi pageants to familiarize the students with one type of drama that Shakespeare would have known from his childhood.  In World Literature, I cover Beowulf, a few of Marie de France’s lais, and selections from Morte Darthur.  In English Literature I, I increase the medieval section beyond the basics covered in most surveys, nearly doubling the usual reading.  I’d add even more, if I could.  As it is, I cut the Long Eighteenth Century very, very short in English Literature I.

My second strategy: I go where other people want to study the Middle Ages.  I attend medieval academic conferences.  I participate in the medieval studies seminar at another local university.   I occasionally offer classes to members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) on everything from Old English language to medieval sources for stories and songs to women warriors in medieval literature.  Many professional medievalists look down on the SCA, but these folks love the Middle Ages, and they love to hear what we have to say about our fields.  (Hey, colleagues!  It counts towards your service.  Call it a “community lecture.”)

My third strategy: in the summer, I research medieval texts.  See above.

These strategies succeed intermittently at best.  I am not always assigned courses that cover the earlier periods of literature, where I can appropriately add or expand the medieval selections.  My teaching schedule often conflicts with the medieval studies seminar on the other local campus and doesn’t allow me to travel to SCA events.  Other commitments during the summer—conference work, administrative work, blah blah blah—sometimes keep me from researching medieval topics.  These strategies are merely stop-gaps, and often meager ones at that.

Yes, I am still bleak.  But I am still a medievalist.  And nothing can change that.

–Dr. M. Wendy Hennequin

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