Category Archives: Huzzah!

English Studies Abroad: Getting Publicity!

It appears my study abroad course is getting even more publicity! There is a mention here in this local newspaper, The Sentinel and Enterprise, article:

Study Abroad Gains Popularity at FSU


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Com hyder, thou, sir John…

So…here I am again.

Two years ago, before and after the birth of my son, I disappeared from this blog for about six months while I adjusted to the joys and challenges of fatherhood.1 I’d been preparing for both, but hadn’t fully realized how little time it would leave me for non-essentials like typing or sleeping.

And since I’m nothing if not a slow learner, I went ahead and did it again.


This is John Leopold Sexton,2 who on December 20th became the early Christmas present that officially pushed life from busy to utterly mad. He’s a serious little guy, much quieter than his brother…most of the time. They get along quite well.


Carl’s been teaching John about the importance of a well-framed selfie…

So, in short, life is good and joyful and very, very full. This blog, however, has been calling to me lately, and there’s plenty I still want to say about life in the academic trenches. So I hope to be back to semi-regular activity…and I promise to keep the kiddie pictures to a minimum.

1 And just as happened last time, Kisha has been so busy, eloquent, and dedicated to keeping things going that it’s probably obvious to everyone by now that I’m essentially here by her sufferance.

2 John is named for two great-grandfathers, two great-uncles, his father, and a number of other family members (Johns tend to multiply like quantum cats in an unobserved box).  His middle name is for a third great-grandfather. John isn’t the world’s most exciting name, but as a John myself, I can testify that it has the advantage of being entirely value-neutral. Also, “John Leopold” sounds like a pretty reasonable name for an ecclesiast with Papal ambitions, which makes sense for a second son and matches up with his older brother Carl Joseph sounding vaguely like an also-ran for Holy Roman Emperor.


Filed under Huzzah!, Personal stuff

MassMedieval in the HMML Illuminations

It is very exciting that a revised version of a previous post here on MassMedieval has been published in the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library‘s Spring 2013 edition of their magazine Illuminations!


Click to enlarge

To see the entire magazine, click here.

Also, we are grateful to a Fitchburg State English Studies colleague, Ben Railton, for including us in a list of  teaching blogs he follows in his post “June 10, 2013: AmericanStudier Blogroll: Teaching Blogs” on AmericanStudier.


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In Appreciation

We (I’m willing to speak for John here, even without explicit permission!) are very honored to be mentioned by our friend and colleague Josh Eyler in his thoughtful blog “A Lifetime’s Training: Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.” Check it out!

“Academic Friendships”


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Around the Table: Day 4, Kalamazoo

Day 4: Roundtables on Blogging and Disability Studies

Today was my day of work (well, a little fun by having lunch with a friend). I participated in two roundtables, both of which turned out to have excellent discussion and provided me with much food for thought.

The first – the MassMedieval roundtable, “Blogging the Medieval(ist) World”! I am incredibly pleased with this discussion. There were so many interesting topics brought up that I will never be able to summarize them, but I will try to get to a few. First, a list of the panelists and their sites:

In the initial comments from each panelist, we hit on a few ideas that were discussed in more detail later. Peter and Sandra briefly considered the possibilities of Twitter, particularly in how medieval images are ideal subjects because they are visually appealing, often have an element of the strange, and need little explanation. Meg, a self-described “slow-blogger,” gave the background of her amazing opportunity to recreate the England to Rome journey of Arthur and how her blog is both a travelogue  and a means for writing through the experience. She offered the idea of how a blog can provide the structure to follow a literary story through a geographic space. She also provided the name of a resource that I plan on examining: Blog Theory by Jodi Dean. Beth uses her blog as a way to read a poem a day from Petrarch’s Canzoniere. She, unlike Meg, describes herself as “blogging in haste” by using “Voi che ascoltate” to focus on daily reading and writing exercises. Beth also brought up the idea of how to bridge the gap between medievalists and “civilians,” particularly by making links to contemporary music and art. Jenny does not currently have a site – though she is on board to write a guest post for MassMedieval! – but, through her survey of medievalist blogs, she offered some insightful comments about the choice to remain anonymous or not and how the choice to incorporate personal details into posts can change the representation of the authors. In my remarks, I outlined the reasons John and I decided to start MassMedieval – in particular, as an outlet of expression for medievalists at small institutions and the desire to connect with other medievalists.

After these comments, the discussion was engaging and wide-ranging. Some highlights:

  • Online presence as an academic – The validity of online interactions has changed considerably over the last few years. Whereas, not too long ago, such activity would have been considered in a poor light, now it is more often than not encouraged. Still, the type of online activity and individual profile is still a consideration. We thought about the concept of how having a blog could be a means of raising profile while on the job market. We found that some of us tend to compartmentalize our online work (Facebook separate from other activities or personal vs professional blogs/Twitter accounts) while others seek to integrate their online personas.
  • Collaboration – Two of the blogs on the panel are a collaborative effort, while two others are not. In general, collaboration allows for more activity as well as more diversity in types of posts and more potential for motivation to continue. The bloggers from one author are both highly structured projects with an end point, not to say this always has to be the case.
  • Guest posts – It was generally agreed that guest posts are the way to go. The advantage of a blog is the ability to communicate. Bringing others in to offer different perspectives creates a rich, dynamic site. Many at the roundtable were interested in collaborating in this way with each other.
  • Using the blog to further research – A couple of the panelists are very much already doing this, especially with their specific focus in their sites. It was also mentioned how blogging can provide motivation and inspiration for research projects. It has even been possible for some to turn their blogs themselves into publications.

Other blogs from the audience (if you are a medieval blogger, please feel free to leave a comment with a link):

For those who attended or participated in the roundtable, please fill in anything I have forgotten to add!

Second, I was a panelist on the Society for the Study of Disability in the Middle Ages roundtable on “Incorporating Medieval Disability Studies in the Classroom.” The discussion here too was quite rich. Some of the panelists focused on descriptions and thoughts about specific courses taught, both undergraduate and graduate, as well as American and European. The considerations raised dealt with issues of considering the types of students in these courses, who may or may not have a background in either disability studies or the Middle Ages. I also discussed my own experience teaching a graduate course, mostly comprised of high school teachers, who found the complications and complexities of medieval disability useful in thinking about their students and the state-mandated labels of different types of students. Besides courses with disability topics, it is also important to think about bringing in issues of disability into other courses, such as surveys, thereby giving students an additional lens with which to read texts. It may also be possible to have students consider what makes someone “abled” or “dis-abled” in a particular profession or social sphere (i.e. kings vs. peasants, women, scribes, etc.).

John also brought up a point that we must consider in introducing our students to any critical framework. How can students become well-versed in a vocabulary or in a particular type of critical reading in one semester? Will they simply default to mimicking terminology or critical styles without learning how to apply or how to assess such work? This becomes important when considering how students may fall back on the “diagnosis model” of reading the text – “therefore, this character has this disease/disability – the end.” One specific solution we considered is the possibility that more focused work – looking at one word across texts, for example – might help this particular situation. The work of the Society also may provide a solution, for we are developing a Medieval Disability Glossary, which will offer opportunities for various critical assignments.

Whew! My last Kzoo post! It has been an informative and invigorating conference. As always, I am filled with ideas for projects and teaching experiments. The trick now is to keep up the momentum as I return and grade finals to end out the semester and begin the summer!



Filed under Conferences, Huzzah!, Kalamazoo, Professional stuff, Technology

Past Meets Present: Day 1, Kalamazoo

John beat me to the post today on a Kzoo-themed update! I will echo his plug for our roundtable: Saturday, May 11, 10AM (Session 382): Blogging the Medieval(ist) World.

In the spirit of my planned comments for this roundtable concerning the development of a new blog, I am going to attempt something a little different this year and actually blog from the conference. I know – it’s a brave new world (or new to me – others have been doing this for years!). I am going to give this a try this time and see how it goes.

To that end…

Day 1: The Journey Begins – Past Meets Present

I always get a bit frantic right before taking off for Kzoo. It falls right in my last week of classes and before finals – not the least stressful time of the semester. And, yet, I smile every time I get news (these days, over Facebook) of an old friend who is making the same journey, generally in the midst of just as much chaos as I am. I wrote last year on this blog – Recap: Kzoo, Jobs, Travel, Research, and Teaching – about the joy in reunions and the continued connection Kalamazoo gives me with colleagues now across the map. Tonight, I know there will be a lively band of us, buying drinks for each other at Waldo’s, shaking off the haze of travel, celebrating good news, and taking advantage of the time we have to reconnect. It seems just a moment in time ago that we were all grad students – some of us more intimidated by Kzoo than others – trying to forge a future in this strange, highly specialized, and exciting (sometimes exotic) discipline. To think, now, how we have found our paths and made careers in this profession we love is worth a toast or three.

To the ‘Zoo!

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ICMS at Kalamazoo 2013: MassMedieval panel reminder!

As I sit in Logan airport and wait to board my flight to the 2013 Congress, I thought I’d take the opportunity to invite all readers of this journal to our MassMedieval-sponsored panel:

Saturday, May 11, 10AM (Session 382): Blogging the Medieval(ist) World

A roundtable discussion featuring:

Peter Konieczny and Sandra Alvarez,

Meg Roland, (Marylhurst University)

Jennifer Adams (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Elizabeth Anderson, (University of Chicago)

Kisha Tracy, MassMedieval Blog (Fitchburg State University)

Moderator: John Sexton, MassMedieval blog (Bridgewater State University)

A happy and productive conference to all those attending. See you there!

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A stout Carl for the nones…

This month will see me making a concerted effort to be a more regular updater on this blog. Like Kisha, I won’t bother recounting all the reasons for my hiatus, but I thought I’d better briefly explain at least one of the major reasons why I dropped out of sight after February.

Pictured above is Carl Joseph Sexton,1 the tiny Viking whose arrival on February 29th brought nearly equal parts joy and chaos into our corner of the world (which is still a much better ratio than most actual Vikings managed). He’s quite a beefy little guy, and while he hasn’t yet shown any notable skill as a miller or a wrestler, he does seem to like trying to smash things ‘at a rennyng with his heed’.

…and he’s already learned how to take Myspace-style self-portraits!

And yes, he’s a leap day baby.

We’re quite pleased about him.

1 He’s named for his grandfathers, Carl Nabbefeld and Joseph Sexton. The picture’s a little blurry because, well, you try keeping him still long enough for a photo. The wee wyllen-helm, by the way, was knitted for Carl by a former student of mine who will be starting graduate school for medieval studies in the fall and who I’ll always think of as “Ættfræðingur,” the nickname bestowed on her by her classmates in our Icelandic Literature class for her uncanny ability to suss out genealogical connections in the sagas. I have no idea whether she reads this blog, but if you stop by—best of luck!


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5 Reasons to Be Thankful for Being a Medievalist

In an earlier post, I posed the statement “You Know You Are a Medievalist When…” In honor of the holiday and time of year, I will offer a quick companion post: “5 Reasons to Be Thankful for Being a Medievalist” (with no disrespect to my colleagues in other fields!).

5) “People, people, people!”

If you ever doubt the generosity as well as the delightful diversity of medievalists, check out one of the bars in Kalamazoo, Michigan, one evening during the International Congress weekend. I have always been grateful for my colleagues and none more than my fellow blogger, John Sexton!

4) “I think you need to be a little more…flexible.”

Medievalists, by their very title, are responsible for at least six hundred years of literature and history, but, more than that, we reach backwards and forwards in time constantly, searching for connections and identifying the evolution of ideas. As a result, medievalists tend to have sub-specialties in classical and Early Modern as well as a command of a significant geographical space. It calls for flexibility and I, for one, think this is a positive of the field.

3) “A Little Bit of This, a Little Bit of That”

The inherent interdisciplinarity of medieval studies has informed not only my scholarship but how I run my classrooms as well. Art, history, literature, science, theology, etc. – all disciplines work together to inform scholarship. It both keeps everything interesting as well as reinforces the previous point about flexibility.

2) “You Sound Like an Elf from Lord of the Rings!”

 I have often been asked if it is difficult to get students to get involved with what I teach. My answer has always been an unequivocal “no.” They want to know more about the medieval world and generally eat up anything you can give them that goes against expectations – the “reality” of courtly love is high on the list. Being the only medievalist in the English Studies Department at FSU allows me a unique perspective in that I may be the only access they ever have during their academic careers to anything medieval. It’s a responsibility, but one I enjoy. (And, yes, I have now heard the Lord of the Rings line at least twice in my teaching career.)

1) “Eventually, you get to like it.”

All right, so being a medievalist may not have the same adrenaline factor – or moral flexibility – as being a hit man like Martin Blank (as always, points if you got the film reference), but the amount of fun medievalists tend to have cannot be ignored. We study monsters, demons, knights, mythology, religion, philosophy, diseases – you name it, we read about it. It is hard not to enjoy a field that calls up images of stories we hear and read about from the time we are kids and remain enamored with whether we dedicate our lives to studying the period or not. Medievalists just get to continue the fun.

These are just a few reasons to be thankful for my profession. My fellow medievalists, feel free to add yours!

A very happy Thanksgiving!



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