Category Archives: Professional stuff

Medieval Studies Books Every Student Should Read in 2017 (Selected by Medievalists)

Inspired by all of the end-of-the-year lists for this and that, particularly one in The Independent entitled “Professors at America’s elite colleges pick one book every student should read in 2017,” I decided to ask medievalists from around the world (and not only at “elite” colleges, whatever that means) to compile our own list of must-read medieval studies books for students. As was expected, many were eager to share their selections! These are the ones suggested to date, and there will likely be more in the future. They include a wide range: from a few primary medieval texts to mostly modern non-fiction and fiction. I will keep the list updated. If you have a book to add, please leave a comment (with your name/affiliation if you would like it included).

For my own selection, I have to go with one also suggested by a colleague below: The Book of Memory: The Study of Memory in Medieval Culture by Mary Carruthers. Yes, it was and is central to my dissertation and my current book project. Yes, those of us who work with memory live in its pages. But, other than that, it is an essential study of medieval culture that draws on diverse aspects of society as well as delves into the cognitive processes of the medieval mind.

–Kisha

PS If any information is incorrect, please let me know. This was mostly gathered over social media, and anything could have happened!


Eva Andersson (Gothenburg University, Sweden)
The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe by Patrick J. Geary
“While stretching to modern times, it still has its basis in the Late Antiquity and Middle Ages.”

Laura Ashe (University of Oxford)
Conquest and Transformation. The Oxford English Literary History vol. 1: 1000-1350 (forthcoming)
“Apologies for the self promotion, but no one else yet knows it exists!”

Orel Beilinson (Harari College Worldwide)
At Europe’s Borders: Medieval Towns in the Romanian Principalities by Laurenţiu Rădvan
“For a more ‘Eastern’ view, I’d recommend this book for it gives its readers a fascinating look at the urban world in Central and South-Eastern Europe, a perspective that most mediaevalists lack these days.”

Katrin Boniface (UC Riverside)
Images of Intolerance: The Representation of Jews and Judaism in the Bible Moralisée by Sara Lipton

Susannah Chewning (Union County College)
The Discarded Image: An Introducton to Medieval and Renaissance Literature by C.S. Lewis
Bisclavret by Marie de France

Stephanie Evans Mooers Christelow (Idaho State University)
The Identity of France: History and Enviornment, Volume 1 and 2 by Fernand Braudel

Anthony G. Cirilla (Niagara University)
The Discarded Image: An Introducton to Medieval and Renaissance Literature by C.S. Lewis
The Book of Memory: The Study of Memory in Medieval Culture by Mary Carruthers

Karen Cook (University of Hartford)
Music in Films on the Middle Ages by John Haines
“I’m using this book heavily in a spring medievalism seminar. Lots of good, lots to critique.”

Jeremy DeAngelo (Carleton College)
The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change, 950-1350 by Robert Bartlett
“It’s a work that manages to tie a lot of phenomena together (especially the Crusades) that are usually treated discretely into a continent-wide dynamic. More importantly, it’s a work about, as I like to describe it, ‘people coming together and learning how to deal with one another’ – both in the positive and negative senses. It’s about the imposure of a cultural hegemony upon diverse populations, but also those populations’ leveraging of that hegemony to their own advantages. It deals with a lot of issues that too many people consider solely ‘modern’ – diversity, colonialism, tolerance – but it shows how a different time with different priorities tackled these issues. In 2017 I feel that we will need a reminder that these struggles to follow the better angels of our natures are not new, and that reverting to a supposedly more ‘natural’ intolerance is not a return to the proper order of things.”

A.J. DeLong (Suffolk County Community College)
The Dream and the Tomb by Robert Payne
“It’s a beautifully-written history of the Crusades and helps elucidate part of the current Middle East situation.”

Josh Eyler (Rice University)
Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women by Caroline Walker Bynum
“I always tell students that I think Bynum’s Holy Feast and Holy Fast is one of the best and most important books Medieval Studies, as a field, has produced.”

Katherine French (University of Michigan)
Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World by Judith Bennett
“It is about the complex world of misogyny, patriarchy, and patriarchal equilibrium.”

Shirin Fozi (University of Pittsburgh)
Authority and the Sacred: Aspects of the Christianisation of the Roman World by Peter Brown
“Not his greatest, but it’s in a format that all undergraduates can read, and it’s so important to destabilize their understanding of the Christianization of Europe.”

Daniel P. Franke (Richard Bland College of William and Mary)
The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000 by Chris Wickham
“I often assign chapter 10, ‘The Power of the Visual,’ to my students when we reach the early Middle Ages. His comparison of how Byzantines, Umayyads, Franks, and Italians reconfigured sacred urban space is just superb!”

Matt Gabriele (Virginia Tech)
Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse by Jay Rubenstein

Dorothy Gilbert (University of California, Berkeley Extension)
The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
The Discarded Image: An Introduction of Medieval and Renaissance Literature by C.S. Lewis
From Aesop to Reynard: Beast Literature in Medieval Britain  by Jill Mann
“I recommend the Beowulf Norton Critical Edition, for students. No education re medieval literature is complete without the first two of these books. The third is a fascinating intensive work of scholarship, sophisticated and full of insights. (There’s also my book, Marie de France: Poetry, A Norton Critical Edition, but someone else can mention that.)”

Rick Godden (Loyola University New Orleans)
Becoming Human: The Matter of the Medieval Child by J. Allan Mitchell

Ken A. Grant (University of Detroit Mercy)
The First European Revolution – c. 970-1215 by R.I. Moore

Paul Halsall (Internet History Sourcebooks Project at Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies)
Pre-Industrial Societies: Anatomy of the Pre-Modern World by Patricia Crone
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World by Gregory Clark
“These all provide some context to what we are studying in medieval history and overcome the tendency, so prominent for four decades now, to wallow in microhistory and to refuse the obligation of historians to attempt narratives and explanations (even if these are wrong).”

Brandon Hawk (Rhode Island College)
Medieval Hackers by Kathleen Kennedy

Carlos Hawley (NDSU)
El libro de buen amor by Juan Ruiz

Joanna Huckins (University of Connecticut)
The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580 by Eamon Duffy
“It has been indispensable to me in classwork, in my teaching, and in my research.”

Máire Johnson (Emporia State University)
The Black Death: A Personal History by John Hatcher
“It is fiction, but it is truly historical in that it draws from the one of the largest bodies of evidence from 14th-century England to recreate – and in some cases to create – the lives of those who lived in East Anglia in the 1300s. The story begins with the news of a terrible pestilence far away, follows the trail of that disease as it gets closer and closer to England and finally makes landfall, and then tracks through the lives of the people we get to know in the parish of the story all the way through the years following the initial blast of the disease. It is exceedingly readable, and the students I have assigned to read Hatcher have all enjoyed the book immensely. It doesn’t hurt that it also provides plenty of opportunities to discuss with students the ways these lives were reconstructed using primary source data, and students tend as a result to really get that history done well is VISCERAL rather than dry. It’s a story of people’s lives, of real, lived events, and that makes it relevant and relatable.”

Jonathan Juilfs (Redeemer University College, Ancaster, Ontario, Canada)
The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture by Jean Leclerq

Marie Kelleher (California State Long Beach)
The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe by Patrick J. Geary
The Great Transition: Climate, Disease and Society in the Late-Medieval World by Bruce Campbell
“The first is about the myth of pure ethnostates; the second is about the havoc wreaked by climate change.”

Ada Kuskowski (University of Pennsylvania)
From Memory to Written Record: England 1066-1307 by Michael T. Clanchy
Medieval Robots: Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art by Elly Truitt
“The first is a classic that shows the deep connection between cultural and institutional history, and the second is exciting new work that shows the breadth of medieval imagination.”

Kate Laity (College of Saint Rose)
Life of Christina of Markyate
“There is an inexpensive edition by Oxford World Classics.”

Kyle C. Lincoln (Kalamazoo College)
The Terror of History: On the Uncertainties of Life in Western Civilization by Teofilo Ruiz
The Wise King: A Christian Prince, Muslim Spain, and the Birth of the Renaissance by Simon Doubleday

Erika Lindgren (Wartburg College)
The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer
“I use this book in my class on Medieval Britain, which is a prep class for a UK travel course. I also recommend it to non-college students (e.g. parents of students or older adults who want to know what the Middle Ages were like).”

Nicole Lopez-Jantzen (Queensborough Community College)
Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages by David Niremberg
Belief and Unbelief in Medieval Europe by John Arnold

Kara Maloney (Binghampton University)
Fire Watch by Connie Willis
“It’s not medieval or nonfiction, but, as a friend put it, nothing makes the love or need for history more real. Why study history — any history? Read Fire Watch.”

Taiko Maria (University of Colorado Boulder)
Chariots of Ladies by Núria Silleras-Fernández
“This book looks at the medieval Iberian didactic literature that sought to shape the practice of female piety among queens.”

Charles-Louis Morand-Metivier (University of Vermont)
The Autumn of the Middle Ages by Johan Huizinga

Heather Nieto (Copper Canyon High School, Glendale, AZ)
Summer of Blood by Dan Jones
“This book is about the Wat Tyler rebellion against Richard II.”

A.J. Odasso (University of New Mexico Honors College)
Traditions and Renewals: Chaucer, the Gawain-Poet, and Beyond by Marie Borroff

Tom Ohlgren (Purdue University)
Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism by Erwin Panofsky

Kathleen O’Neil (Glasgow Libraries)
Courtly Love Undressed: Reading Through Clothes in Medieval French Culture by E. Jane Burns
“If anybody is even remotely interested in medieval dress (in literature in particular), they have to read. It’s still one of my favourite books.”

Frederik Pedersen (University of Aberdeen)
Papacy, Monarchs and Marriage, 860-1600 AND Dissolving Royal Marriages: A Documentary History, 860-1600 by David d’Avray
“Not an easy read, but so exciting. The two books must be read together.”

Anna Peterson (University of St. Andrews)
Leprosy in Medieval England by Carole Rawcliffe

Janine Larmon Peterson (Marist College)
Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe by Lester Little
Belief and Unbelief in Medieval Europe by John Arnold
On the Medieval Origins of the Modern State by Joseph Strayer
“Like all of these, Strayer’s is accessible but also short and, I think, would engender some good discussion.”

Mark Philpott (St Stephen’s House and Keble College, Oxford University)
St. Anselm: A Portrait in a Landscape by R.W. Southern

Melissa Ridley Elmes (Lindenwood University)
Torture and Brutality in Medieval Literature by Larissa (Kat) Tracy
“This book is essential reading for anyone who thinks the Middle Ages consists of Game of Thrones-esque levels of violence, which is just about everyone who doesn’t actually study the medieval period. If I had to choose ONE book in medieval studies that provided the most bang for its buck in terms of a better understanding of the literature and culture, that would be the one I’d pick.”

Levi Roach (University of Exeter)
Formation of a Persecuting Society by R.I. Moore
“This book is a troubling but powerful view of socio-political transformation between the early and central Middle Ages. Honourable mention to Rosamond McKitterick’s Carolingians and the Written Word, a great book which has transformed the way we look at the early Middle Ages.

Abigail G. Robertson (University of New Mexico)
Strange Beauty: Issues in the Making and Meaning of Reliquaries, 400-circa 1204 by Cynthia Hahn

Christopher Roman (Kent State University)
Musica Naturalis by Phillip Jesserich
Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor
“If you’re interested in medieval sound studies and the categorization of so-called natural and artificial music this erudite study is a must-read. Also, the Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor who thinks about education, study, and the division of knowledge and arts that still resonates. (An excellent translation is Jerome Taylor’s).

Charlie Rozier (Swansea University)
Shaping a Monastic Identity: Liturgy and History at the Imperial Abbey of Farfa, 1000–1125 by Susan Boynton
“A model of how to study a single community in a specified period, and someone everyone who is writing their first ‘I’ve finished my thesis but how do I write a book?’ should read for how to write a book!”

Silvia Ruiz-Tresgallo (Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro, México)
Isabel Rules: Constructing Queenship, Wielding Power by Barbara F. Weissberger
“This is an excellent study on the representation of Queen Isabela of Castille (Isabel la Católica) in Medieval Literature and Culture.”

Yvonne Seale (SUNY Geneseo)
Why the Middle Ages Matter: Medieval Light on Modern Injustice edited by Celia Chazelle and Simon Doubleday
“Essay collection with lots of discussion fodder.”

Peter Sposato (Indiana University Kokomo)
Medieval Chivalry by Richard Kaeuper

Margrethe C. Stang (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)
Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography by Sara Lipton

Jeff Stoyanoff (Spring Hill College)
The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare by Helen Cooper
“One of the most important works on Middle English romance – Cooper’s work is both engaging and incredibly informative.”

Paul Sturtevant (Smithsonian Institution)
The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England: A handbook for visitors to the fourteenth century by Ian Mortimer
“This is one for everyone, especially for people not actively studying the Middle Ages. It’s a beautiful and compelling history, written by someone with a verve for communicating history to a broad audience.”

Larry Swain (Bemidjii University)
Aelfric of Eynshams Letter to Sigeweard (forthcoming)
“Must read for every medievalist!”

Robert T. Tally Jr. (Texas State University)
A Medieval Woman’s Companion by Susan Morrison
“I’d like to nominate my colleague Susan Morrison’s book for the list, as a marvelous feminist contribution to the cultural study of daily life in that era. Susan is also the author of a novel, Grendel’s Mother, a retelling of the Beowulf tale from a feminist perspective. Both would be great reads for students in 2017!”

Kate Tuley (University of Minnesota)
Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades by Paul Cobb
Byzantium and the Turks in the Thirteenth Century by Dimitri Korobeinikov
The Written Word in the Medieval Arabic Lands by Konrad Hirschler
The Silk Road: A New History by Valerie Hansen
The Silk Roads: A Brief History with Documents by Xinru Liu
“Cobb’s is about the only discussion of late 11th-century history in the Levant and Anatolia that actually makes it make sense. Korobeinikov’s uses sources from multiple languages/cultures, including diplomatic letters, to complicate the relationship between the Empire of Nicaea and the Seljuks of Rum in particular, although brings in the other Byzantine successor states, and, towards the end, the Mongols as well. Really interesting methodolog as well as argument. Hirschler’s is a detailed look at reading, education, and books. A bit later than Brian Stock’s The Implications of Literacy: Written Language and Models of Interpretation in the 11th and 12th Centuries, but both are well worth reading, especially for those who work primarily on textual evidence and need to be thinking about the context in which that evidence was written and read. Hansen’s is a fairly basic introduction, but with the topic as large and far-ranging in time, geography, and languages, you have to start somewhere. Liu’s is designed for classroom use, but still worth a skim.”

University of Toronto Press History (@utphistory)
Short History of the Middle Ages by Barbara H. Rosenwein

Elizabeth R. Upton (UCLA)
An Introduction to Gregorian Chant by Richard Crocker
“If you’re going to read only one book about medieval music, read this one!”

Mary Valante (Appalachian State University)
Origins of the European Economy: Communications and Commerce AD 300-900 by Michael McCormick

Björn Weiler (Aberystwyth University, UK)
From Memory to Written Record by Michael Clanchy
Family, Friends and Followers: Political and Social Bonds in Early Medieval Europe by Gerd Althoff

Valerie M. Wilhite (University of Virgin Islands)
Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition by Marcia Colish

Andrea Williams (KCL)
The Arthur of… Series
“The Arthurian legend is so central to medieval literature (and there’s so much material on it, some of it very dodgy) – these collaborative reference books are a great place to start.”

Alex Woolf (University of St. Andrews)
Debt, the First 5000 Years by David Graeber
The End of Ancient Christianity by Robert Markús
Kristín Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

Suggestions for Graduate Students
Politics of Dreaming in the Carolingian Empire by Paul Dutton
Medieval Europe by Chris Wickham
Phantoms of Remembrance by Patrick Geary
Holy War by Philippe Buc
Medieval Polities and Modern Mentalities by Tim Reuter
Loyalty and Leadership in an Early Islamic Society by Roy Mottahedeh

Bonus Titles!
The Medieval Imagination by Jacques Le Goff

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Filed under Guest Post, Professional stuff, Scholar, Teaching

Post 3: King John’s Palace and Sherwood Forest Up Close and Personal

My main reaction to the experience of participating in the Sherwood Forest Archaeological Field School at King John’s Palace in Clipstone, Nottinghamshire is this: medievalists not in the field of archaeology should participate in this field school or something like it. I cannot emphasize that enough. This opportunity was unique and eye-opening. It both reinforced my passion for the period as well as opened up new avenues of experience.
When I first arrived at the field school, our hearty band of nine volunteers introduced ourselves to each other. At my turn, I added that being on an archaeological excavation had been a bucket list item for many years. This is true. The archaeologists from Mercian Archaeological Services leading the site laughed when I said it was a bucket list item. Like any of us, they know the tedium and hard work that goes with their job, but, for me, I have been fascinated with archaeology for as long as I can remember. The act of uncovering even the tiniest of artifacts, piecing together the story of a location, people, or event, is not only an interesting endeavor, but, I feel, a necessary one in order to understand the past. I really would have been content at almost any site, but to participate in one in the heart of Sherwood Forest, the heart of the land that I’ve studied and dreamed about since I was a child? This was unbelievable.
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King John’s Palace – the above ground part!

On our first day, Andy Gaunt of Mercian explained some of the history of King John’s Palace and the surrounding area. I have in a previous post mentioned the history of the Palace, particularly that six successive Plantagenet kings from Henry II to Edward II used and visited it. As with any other architectural structure, it was built up, neglected, added on to, and burned at regular intervals throughout its history. Much of the excavations have attempted to define the boundaries of the Palace land, particularly the early versus later ones. Our job on this field school was to excavate a trench on an embankment in order to begin the determination if it might be an outer wall of the early Palace. More on that later!
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Our trench!

Part of Andy’s initial briefing was to talk about Sherwood Forest. It’s easy enough to say blithely – and I have frequently before this experience – that a medieval forest is not just trees. It is different, however, to see the landscape in context. They explained that the area around the Palace still looks very similar to what it did in the Middle Ages. The Palace would have been visible from any direction of approach. The small village of Clipstone (or Kings Clipstone as its known to distinguish it from the bigger, modern town of the same name) would have existed in a similar configuration as it does now.
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But it certainly was and is not in the middle of what we typically call a forest. As Andy pointed out, the Sherwood Forest Visitor Center is this typical forest landscape, but the original Sherwood encompassed forest, heath, villages, buildings, hunting-scapes, etc. In reality, it was a huge area. Again this is a known fact, but to witness it – to see the land around the Palace where the kings and their guests would have stayed, the heaths in what is now called Sherwood Forest that would once have seen hunting parties riding across them, the ancient and veteran trees that have witnessed the comings and goings of history for centuries – is a different experience.
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View from the Palace into the village

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Heath in Sherwood Forest – typical hunting area

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Deer in Sherwood Forest seen from King John’s Palace through the lens of a Total Station during a measured survey of the ruins – photo taken and posted by Mercian (click for original link)

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Look closely – the indent of a medieval path still exists through the forest!

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Popular impression of what Sherwood Forest was/is – trees!

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Major Oak – famous Sherwood Forest tree – legendary hiding spot of Robin Hood

It reinforces and provides context for image after image described in medieval texts. No less importantly, it grounds those texts. Quite literally. It grounds them in the feel and presence of their own settings.
In the next couple of posts, I will give some detail about my other impressions of participating in the field school as well as some of the archaeology skills we learned.
–Kisha

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Filed under 14th Century, Anglo-Norman, History, Professional stuff, Robin Hood, Scholar, Teaching, Travels

Post 1: Sherwood Forest Archaeological Training Field School 2016

Exciting news! I have received the Marion and Jasper Whiting Foundation Fellowship to participate in the Sherwood Forest Archaeological Training Field School 2016. This program runs August 8th-12th. The Field School is organized by Mercian Archaeological Services CIC and is located at the ruins of King John’s Palace, Kings Clipstone, Sherwood Forest, in Nottinghamshire, England.

As the web site states, “This is not an ordinary field school – this is a ‘Training Field School’ where you will learn about all aspects of archaeological excavation and receive hands on training and learning from archaeological professionals in the heart of Sherwood Forest.”

The following, by way of an introduction to the project, is edited from my grant proposal…

The benefits of this project to myself, my students, my discipline, and my university fall into four categories: continuing education, pedagogy, community outreach, and future scholarship.

Continuing Education

In addition to the archaeological training, the site describes:

“As part of the field school attendees will have the opportunity to learn all about Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood, outlaws, foresters, the landscape of Sherwood Forest in medieval times, the forest law, courts, offences and judiciary, the Palace at Clipstone, monasteries, chapels and hermitages, hunting parks, Nottingham Castle, Sheriffs and much much more about life in Medieval Sherwood Forest.”

These particular themes are essential aspects of my research and teaching. This experience will provide practical knowledge and a unique perspective to complement my previous academic study.

Pedagogy

The list above of topics covered in the Field School are ones that often are included in my courses. For instance, Robin Hood is a unit in my medieval literature study abroad course (link to blog post on that: “English Studies Abroad: A Gest of Robyn Hode“), Henry II and Richard I are kings I frequently include in historical background discussions, religious buildings and castles are prevalent settings for texts, forest law is key to histories (particularly with respect to royal rights), and courts and law in general provide context for understanding the medieval world view. In addition, in my courses with medieval content, I teach several texts that fall into the genre of romance, a significant body of work of the time period. The forest and hunting are ubiquitous aspects of these texts, and it is important to provide historical context to students about these unfamiliar settings. As the Field School site states, Mercian Archaeological Services CIC has “interpreted the surrounding lordship [around King John’s Palace] as a ‘designed’ medieval romantic hunting landscape.” In essence, this is the exact setting of these romance texts, and taking photos and videos of this example of landscape will be helpful for many students who find it hard to imagine it. I intend to video interview the experts at the site in order to create a compilation that I can share with my students.

Given that I teach not only medieval literature, but also early world literature, the Bible as literature, and classical mythology, archaeological sites are recurring elements of my courses. Much of what we read in these courses was found in such sites or is continuing to be found. We study the site at Troy, the location of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the remains of Hadrian’s Wall, the burial site at Sutton Hoo, the recent discovery of Richard III’s skeleton, among many others. In some courses, I require my students to visit the Fitchburg Art Museum, which has ancient artifact collections. Indeed, my courses are some of the few at Fitchburg State that provide exposure to archaeology as a method of studying the past.

More recently, I have started beginning my courses (particularly general education courses) with “why are we studying this subject” units, which I have found effective in helping students to think about the value of their courses and curriculum, rather than simply defaulting to thinking they are required to take certain subjects. For example, I begin my World Literature I course with a unit that includes readings and discussion related to the idea of present and historical deliberate destruction and appropriation of cultural heritage. In particular, we study the destruction by ISIS of archaeological sites in the Middle East and the protection of library collections in warzones by private citizens, many of which have direct connections to the texts we read in the course. By foregrounding the class with such a unit, students begin to understand the value of what we are studying (i.e. if cultural heritage – including literature – is targeted for destruction and is key to preserve, then what we study is important), and I have seen a marked increase in investment.

However, as I have not previously participated in an archaeological dig, my understanding of the workings of these sites and how artifacts are discovered and preserved is theoretical, which makes deepening our study of and fielding questions about these subjects difficult. In the past, I have invited working archaeologists as guest presenters to provide students more context, but having my own experience to impart will be far more consistently beneficial.

Community Outreach

Given my expertise in medieval topics and in Robin Hood in particular, I have been asked to present various times on the topic, including this one:

Participating in the Field School will provide a new dimension to such talks. I will especially volunteer to speak at local historical societies in addition to academic venues such as those above. I also am considering proposing a National Endowment for the Humanities summer program workshop on the topic of Robin Hood, which has the potential to bring scholars from around the country to Massachusetts and Fitchburg State.

Future Scholarship

Finally, in terms of my own personal research, I would like to pursue two separate approaches. The first article I would consider is the pedagogical benefits of such an experience, exploring the effect on teaching and learning early literature from being able to incorporate practical knowledge into courses. A separate article, also pedagogical, would be to consider incorporating archaeological field experience into study abroad courses. The second topic would be the applications of archaeological study to medieval literary studies, thinking about how the interaction with the physical affects our reading of the textual.

As a public scholar, I intend to write a series of day-by-day (pre-, during, and post-) blog posts on the academic, pedagogical, and personal aspects of the experience. I am co-founder of MassMedieval as well as The Lone Medievalist Project, so stay tuned for a blog series and photolog!

–Kisha

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Filed under History, Professional stuff, Robin Hood, Teaching, Travels, University

Significance of Studying the Middle Ages

Recently, I asked a favor of my fellow medievalists. I have started beginning my courses (particularly general education ones) with “why are we studying this” units, which I have found very effective in getting students to think about the value of the course, rather than simply thinking they are required to be there. I currently added one to my British Literature I (spanning medieval and Early Modern) course. I am essentially starting with a two-week unit with relevant readings, blog posts, etc. As a part of this unit, I asked my medievalist circles to contribute a few sentences as to why studying medieval (and Early Modern) literature is important/significant/relevant. My students will be required to respond and ask questions. The idea was well-received, and some wanted to use it in their own courses. Thus, I have created a Facebook group on which to collect these thoughts/discussions/relevant links, and, so far, the posts are thought-provoking. If you are interested, please feel free to join the group, post your thoughts, share with others, and/or use it with your own students!

Why do I think studying the Middle Ages is significant? Here are a few thoughts…

Progress: “Perhaps at the core of many of the social, economic, educational, and intellectual problems that face us today is our deep, nearly unconscious commitment to the notion that history is progress, that the human community moves inexorably and endlessly towards betterment, sophistication, wisdom, happiness, and that the future will be preferable to the past…Those of us involved in historical studies need to be introducing cautions about the doctrines of progress. It should be stressed that past cultures were sophisticated in ways that often outstrip us” (Milton McC. Gatch, “The Medievalist and Cultural Literacy,” Speculum 66, no. 3 (1991): 591-604 at 595). I must give grateful credit to Sarah Harlan-Haughey for introducing me to this article and quotation. It captures my experience as a student of literature and history, an instructor, a citizen, and even a Facebook onlooker. There is a distinct tendency to believe that what is past – especially what is long past and thus different than our present view – must be “primitive” or even “wrong.” I wonder if technological development is part of what contributes to this bias. The printing press saved us time; therefore, it is better than handwriting. The internet makes life easier; therefore, it must be better than…no internet. This sense of constant update might contribute to this idea that we must be progressing as a species. Whatever the causes, there is a general belief that the peoples of the past were somehow exempt from (positive, especially) human nature, or had less of a sense of morality (by any definition) than we do now, or were unaware of basic human dilemmas or triumphs. This approach to history often creates – wittingly or unwittingly – a “better than thou” attitude and a rather stagnant complacency.

The Middle Ages in particular seems to draw these sorts of conclusions: dogmatic slaves to faith, universal abusers of women, staunch deniers of science, etc. Relegating this time period to”primitive” distances us from close examination of what has not changed in society or, if it has changed, that it might not indeed be for the better. Women’s rights, in particular, is a striking example (my students often have to pause, for instance, when they get “disgusted” by primogeniture or other patriarchal customs, only to be reminded that the United States has yet to elect a female President). Assuming that women have more rights now (and dismissing the Middle Ages as a result) prevents discussion of the nuances of such a topic, for this is a society that also produced Christine de Pizan, who commented in her Book of the City of Ladies, that (paraphrased) “God has truly made women’s minds sharp enough to learn, understand, and retain any form of knowledge.” Progress indeed is a tricky concept.

Humanness: Without studying human beings over the course of time, we risk failing to discover what it is that it means to be human. Our modern experience is only one of many throughout the course of history. Studying what we know about our counterparts in the past, how they reacted to and understood their world, and what commonalities they share with us presents a method to understand what – putting aside technology, social or religious structures, governments, etc. – “humanness” is. Not what the modern human is, or the American, or the first/third-world citizen. But what the human experience is universally, regardless of time and geography.

And, yet, it is difficult, if not impossible, to grasp all of humanity in the same thought. We can process more deeply when delving with focus into a defined set of information – or, in this case, a defined time period. The Middle Ages is the final pre-modern period in Western civilization and, thus, ideally situated as a locus for deep investigation into past humanness. It reaches simultaneously backward to previous civilizations and forward to future generations. It encompasses both tradition and innovation. It operates before certain major technological inventions and yet exhibits scientific inquiry (which is aside from the technology and speaks to invention). Studying this experience as well as in comparison to our own yields a clearer image of what is intrinsically human.

Alterity Immersion: In a Chronicle of Higher Education article entitled “One College’s Method to Prove Its Value: Scanning Students’ Brains,” one university has decided to use brain scans to test the efficacy of study abroad programs. They theorize that “students who spend 15 weeks abroad in a highly structured, fully immersive program end up with a greater intellectual capacity and an increased ability to work with people from different cultures than do their peers who stay on the campus.” I would agree that the physical interaction with a different culture has the ability to change perspectives dramatically, and it is an experience I would encourage every college student to have if logistically possible.

Yet, I would argue that it is just as vital to immerse ourselves in the alterity of past cultures as well as modern ones. This, of course, poses certain practical problems, especially as time travel hasn’t been perfected…yet. To do what we can though – to increase contact with the artists of the time, to struggle with putting ourselves in their minds and daily lives, to think in their languages, to imagine the scope of and reasons for their wars – it gives us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in other mindsets and beliefs. It’s only through contact with “the other” that we shape who we are and develop tolerance, empathy, and acceptance.

In addition, there is perhaps no better time period in order to consider the issues of alterity. Quite literally, it’s everywhere in the Middle Ages – literature, art, history, medicine, sociology, religion, economics, etc. There are a multitude of examples of “the other” in the contact among cultures and in how its varying forms negotiate and are negotiated by society.

Faith/Belief: It may seem counter-intuitive after the discussion of “progress” above to include then a section on faith and belief. That reaction is unto itself something to reconsider. Faith is an aspect of studying the Middle Ages that deserves recognition. While there is indeed science in this period and some rather sophisticated thought at that, it is a time period occurring prior to what we call the scientific revolution or the age of psychoanalysis. Their worldview is frequently defined in terms of faith and belief – not the blind belief that is often associated with the period, but, rather, deep and careful thought about the very meaning of belief and how belief can be explored, shaped,  defined, and applied. It strips the trappings of “knowing” away,  opening up what is possible. This is a period when, no matter how we might diagnose it, Julian of Norwich believes firmly in her visions. There is a freedom from prosaic explanation that allows for imaginative exploration.

Technology: I have mentioned this several times already, so I won’t belabor the point. The Middle Ages is the time of transfer from oral to written (then to printed) text. This shift in technology is essential to the study of literature, storytelling, individualism, identity, memory, book production, and so much more. There is indeed a humility in recognizing the achievements of civilizations before our “tools of progress” made certain activities comparatively “easy” and second nature.

Development of Critical Study, Empathy, and Skepticism: I think this is a truly beneficial side effect of studying unfamiliar civilizations. As my friend and colleague Brandon Hawk stated, “If we can learn to critically think about medieval culture, we can learn to critically think about any culture.” For instance, if what we have been taught about this culture is wrong, what else is also incorrect? If we can learn to appreciate the nuances of this culture, then what can we discover about our own? If we can develop an empathy for the peoples far removed from us, what empathy can we feel for modern peoples?

These are only a few thoughts. Indeed, my belief in the significance of studying the Middle Ages is endless.

–Kisha

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Guest Post – Brandon Hawk: Life in a New Job

First, let me say how happy I am to be back in New England and within the proximity of Kisha, John, and the wider MASSMedieval community. And thanks to them for the invitation to share some thoughts on my new position as Assistant Professor in English at Rhode Island College. At RIC, I am “the lone medievalist,” but I mostly see this an opportunity rather than a drawback: while I’m the sole pre-modernist in the department, I’ve also been encouraged to pursue some of the ways in which I can look beyond the medieval period in my teaching and research. In other words, I see plenty of possibilities for expanding the diversity of my work.

For example, I’m eager to cultivate my interests in the long history of media and technologies. Several of my colleagues have a strong media studies focus, and there’s a close link between English and the Media Studies Program. Related to that, I’ve made some great friends in the Adams Library on campus, including a new reference librarian who specializes in English and digital humanities, as well as the interim Head of Digital Initiatives. While there are no details plans yet, we have informally schemed to think about collaborative projects around campus and using the library’s special collections.

In terms of research, I’m using some of my interest in media studies to start new projects or reframe old ideas as I revise. In particular, I am turning to revising my dissertation into a book, which I’m tentatively calling Preaching Apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England. As I rethink this project, I’m particularly thinking about the long history of media, how Anglo-Saxon culture can be thought of as “multi-media,” and what that can tell us about the contexts of translation and adaptation, the circulation of books, and especially preaching in medieval England. Last weekend I attended the York Christian Apocrypha Symposium (http://tonyburke.ca/conference/) and presented part of my research on sermons and visual art related to stories about Jesus’ infancy in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. This represents one step in bringing medieval and media studies together as I forge ahead with the larger book project.

Teaching has also posed opportunities both to stay rooted in the medieval and to look beyond it. I’m teaching a 100-level general education “Literature and the Canon” course; a 200-level course that welcomes students to the English major as “Introduction to Literary Study”; and a 300-level “Literature of Medieval Britain.” I’ve taken the most liberty to look beyond the medieval period in “Introduction to Literary Study,” in which we’re reading a smattering of literature including Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Kazuo Ishiguro’s “A Village After Dark,” Homer’s Odyssey, the biblical Genesis, Sophocles’ Antigone, Beowulf, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Virginia Woolf’s short stories in Monday or Tuesday, Alan Moore’s Watchmen, and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Essentially, I’ve mixed a bit of classic, canonical literature with things that I just want to read (and some, like Woolf’s stories or Satrapi’s Persepolis, that I’ve never read before). For the last book of the semester, I had students nominate ideas (a total of 6) and then vote on them—offering a type of democratic ending to the semester—for which they collectively chose Harper Lee’s recently published Go Set a Watchman. I’m also taking the opportunity to experiment with teaching, like an exercise you can read about here (http://brandonwhawk.net/2015/09/04/teaching-with-lego/).

So far, I’ve had a good start to the semester and this position, and I’m looking forward to what else might come—medieval and otherwise—in my future at RIC.

–Brandon

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And on the Sabbath…

Last week, I began the first sabbatical of my career. I’m still trying to figure out what to make of it.

I don’t mean “what to do with it”–I’ve figured that out. I decided what I was working on last year. And again last semester. And then this past month. Repeatedly. With lists, calendars, spreadsheets, and every other timetable-based organizational tool that imagination can contrive. Twice in the last twenty-four hours, in fact.

Maybe I do mean “what to do with it.”

The problem isn’t in finding a project–I’ve always been blessed (or cursed) with an overactive mind when it comes to thinking up things to explore, learn, etc.I’ve always been the sort of person who spends a month or more at a time reading everything I can find about vice-presidents, or the history of football, or nineteenth-century sailing memoirs, or gerrymandering, or armorsmithing, usually at the expense of more immediately important things like doing the laundry. I would be, in other words, an utter failure as a zen master, but am reasonably well-equipped for the life of an intellectual dilettante.

The problem is sorting out which are the projects to pursue now. What can I manage in a few months’ time; which ideas are ripe for exploration and which need more time on the vine; how much energy should I pour into my ongoing commitments and half-finished articles, and how much should I devote to finding the next steps on the path? Given my teaching-heavy professional obligations at Bridgewater, how much time should I devote to recalibrating my course structures, reading up on the pedagogical insights of my peers, and seeking out the latest scholarship on my most-taught texts?

And, of course, with two  boys aged 1 and 2 at home with me much of the time, I also expect and hope to spend time on snowman-making, pillow-castle building, toy-share officiating, feeding, entertaining, (etc., etc.) and generally enjoying my never-to-be-this-young-again sons. And how about a little time with my wife, whose own job as a secondary-school Classics teacher is at least as all-consuming as my own?

I want to explicitly state that I don’t mean any of this as a complaint. I’m grateful, almost unreasoningly so, for the existence of the sabbatical as concept and practice. As concept, because of its value in punctuating the years of “if-only” in between, when so many texts go unread and so many ideas unexamined due to a simple lack of time. A sabbatical is a gift, and I very much feel it as such. All the more so because I’m painfully aware of how many equally- or better-qualified minds, both in academia and outside of it, are never afforded this space and time in which to follow a labyrinth to its center. As practice, because I entered into this profession for a multitude of reasons–teaching, writing, a love of medieval literature and history, a strong conviction in the importance of the humanities to the health of the human animal–but also because I believe in the hunt for ideas worth having. Not necessarily big ideas, though the profundity of the smallest idea probably comes from its place among and between the big ones. A sabbatical is a chance to follow ideas in uninterrupted fashion through to their completion.

Well, less-interrupted, anyway.

Some of this work of envisioning how best to spend my time went on (repeatedly, as mentioned above, and with Escherian feedback loops) over the last year, but some adjustments are still being made. I have a plan–a modest one, which I’ll stick in a separate post at some point–and a much bigger and broader dream of learning how to manage all of the facets of my daily routine–teaching and publishing and family and magpie intellectualism–with real attention. I involuntarily recoil from the self-help-speak version of these ideas, but I can recognize the need for both greater integration and, not paradoxically, greater compartmentalization of the component parts of my life and work. This semester, with its store of time, is a chance to renew my commitment to my commitments, and I revel in it.

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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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