Category Archives: Professional stuff

CFP: Journal Issue on Teaching the Middle Ages and Renaissance with New Techniques and Technologies

Following in the illustrious footsteps of my fellow blogger and the New England Saga Society (NESS), I am looking to put together a special journal issue for  Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching (SMART). The focus of this special issue will be on the teaching of medieval and Renaissance texts, courses, and/or assignments through new pedagogical technologies. I am defining this concept rather broadly, especially as I hear about the ideas of those interested. If you are interested, please consider sending me a description of your idea.

Please contact me by August 1, 2013, with a short abstract (approximately 250 words). Send to:

I am hoping to gather completed articles by December 15th, 2013, though this may change depending on the abstracts submitted.

A bit about SMART (from their site): “Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching (SMART) is a journal of essays designed to assist teachers in communicating an understanding of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Since we believe that excellent research and inspired teaching are dual aspects of a revived medieval/Renaissance curriculum, SMART essays are scholarly and pedagogical, informative and practical…Authors are held to high standards of accuracy, currency, and relevance to the field of medieval studies. All papers are judged by at least two peer reviewers….Papers vary greatly in length but typically are at least seven double-spaced pages, or about 2,500 words.”

Given my own approaches to teaching such courses, I am looking forward to hearing from others! I personally am considering contributing my work with wikis. There are so many resources available to us these days, and I am intrigued by the possibilities for teaching medieval and Renaissance curriculum. I think such a special journal issue could be a valuable resource.


PS Need some ideas? This is an interesting Prezi designed by Derek Bruff on Social Pedagogies. These are BY FAR not the only techniques/technologies relevant to this journal issue, but it might get the creative juices flowing.

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Shameless Plug: CFP for Special Journal Issue on Teaching Old Norse Literature

So, one of my other professional personae is organizer and co-founder of the New England Saga Society (NESS), a group started ten years ago to promote the study of Old Norse literature and, more broadly, the medieval Anglo-Scandinavian world. In keeping with that goal, I am excited to announce plans for a special issue of Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching (SMART). This issue will address the subject of Teaching Old Norse Literature. The full announcement and CFP can be found here, but the upshot is that we’re going to be putting this together over the next year or so, and we welcome proposals from anyone interested and/or experienced in the topic. Proposals of c.250 words are due by August 31, 2013, and can be submitted to me ( or to Andrew Pfrenger (

To be a bit bloggier (does “blog” have an adjectival form? And does it take a comparative? So many things I don’t know) about this for a moment, I’d like to add that this issue represents, in a very direct way, the goals that Andy Pfrenger and I set out to accomplish ten years ago when we put NESS together. I’m really looking forward to reading the submissions and getting this into print…but I promise to try to keep the updates about it on MassMedieval to a minimum.

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…and back again.

The annual conference at Kalamazoo, ably documented by Kisha for this blog, always involves a bit of a shock to the system. Part of it, undeniably, is physical: several days’ worth of sleeping in a dorm bed, eating somewhat less than healthy food (and perhaps just the slightest hint of drink), staying up late, and flying/driving from Boston to Detroit to Kalamazoo and back again takes a certain toll on a body.

There’s the exhilarating shock of hearing all the wonderful work that’s been done in the past year. This year that included hearing about Stephen C. Law’s extended experiment testing the differing theories regarding the “twice-brewed ale” of Anglo-Saxon medicinal fame, a discussion of the innovative ways in which people are teaching the Icelandic sagas at the undergraduate level in North America (about which a bit more information can be found here), Richard Dance’s fascinating recalibration of the evidence for the Danelaw’s influence on Old and Middle English, Jaimin Weets’ work in anthropology with dental evidence that will force a serious reconsideration of early Celtic migrations to Ireland (and whose paper’s concluding lines have already given rise to the term “Kalamazoo mic drop”), and of course an exciting conversation (which I had the privilege of moderating) on blogging as a medievalist. I come back from Kalamazoo every year fired up, with new projects, new ideas, and a much-needed intellectual energy boost. It’s a shame that all that scholarly foment is trapped in a body that is probably in the early stages of scurvy (see above paragraph), but such is the price paid for inspiration.

But probably the largest part is the culture shock–the aftermath of having spent days with some of my favorite people–brilliant friends from grad school who have gone on to successful careers of their own as well as friends old and new from the conference itself–talking about our projects, reading, students, institutions, and travels, all through the lens of unabashed passion for medieval studies. Since I began my job at Bridgewater State, the conference has been my best way to reconnect with my medieval friends, and to re-immerse myself in the work I love. This always comes with a bit of melancholia, as the conference’s end means a year before I can see all those same people in one place again. It also means a return to a world in which few people are terribly interested in a bad St. Swithun joke, an impromptu discussion of mead hall architecture, a comparison of Crispin-Glover-as-Grendel impressions, or an ex tempore lesson on the meaning of Onund Tree-Leg’s missing limb.

There’s no denying that coming home has its rewards–my colleagues and students at BSU (an institution I appreciate more with each passing year, especially after hearing others’ stories of life elsewhere), the comforts of home, the time for a bit of reflection, and (of course) my much-missed family. But somewhere in the back of my mind is that countdown to the next visit to Kalamazoo and to seeing my fellow medievalists en masse once more.


Filed under Conferences, Kalamazoo, Professional stuff

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

Of Drama and Marie de France: Day 3, Kalamazoo

Day 3: Medieval Drama and Marie de France

Today began with me playing moderator to a session sponsored by the Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society, “Post Death/After Life on the Medieval and Early Modern Stage. Two of the presenters are friends and colleagues of mine, and I was pleased to moderate for them. The three papers were really thought-provoking. For instance, the N-Town Lazarus and the Chester Antichrist plays have a great deal of conditional language in them – “if…then.” The Antichrist in the Chester states (paraphrasing), “If I can indeed bring these people back from the dead, then you shall believe in me.” The consolers in the N-Town make conditional statements concerning what Lazarus should do on his death bed. It made me think about the nature of such statements and how they would work very well in drama. For one, it encourages anticipation – will this indeed happen? Or will such and such character really “fall for it”? It also encourages the audience to consider the conditions on offer. Do they believe it? Would they react differently? Is a character presenting “truth” or is he offering “false truth”? The conditional statements work well in developing engagement.

Another thought this panel raised concerns the Ars MoriendiI have studied the Ars Memoria quite a bit, and it occurred to me while listening to the paper on N-Town by my friend that I should look in to the Ars Moriendi as well. Its discussion of what to do at the end of life, how to meet death, might have some great implications for memory.

After this session, I attended the International Marie de France Society business meeting. I have decided to join, which means I need to return my membership form (note to self). Afterwards I stayed for the Teaching Marie de France roundtable I mentioned here yesterday. Some interesting points of discussion were raised. The first was a link to the site Performing Medieval Narrative Today, which I think is going to be an excellent resource for teaching. In addition, an historian was on the panel, who talked about using Marie de France – Bisclavret, in particular – in his history courses. This is a topic near and dear to my heart, as I feel history and literature are almost inseparable, and I enjoy hearing about teachers who make the connections between them. I am going to consider using his primary source suggestions in my own teaching of Marie: Fulbert of Chartres, “On Feudal Obligations” and Ranulf de Glanvill, “Treatise on the Laws and Customs of the Kingdom of England”. Juxtaposing these next to Bisclavret could promote some productive discussions about lord/vassal relationships, as demonstrated by Bisclavret and the King. 

All for now – I am off to a business meeting of the Society for the Study of Disability in the Middle Ages!


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

The Program: Day 2, Kalamazoo

Day 2: Thinking about the Kzoo Program

This morning I am reflecting on the program of sessions. It’s part of the ritual (or my ritual – I don’t know about anyone else!) to plan out the sessions I want to attend and think about the broad spectrum of work offered by my fellow medievalists. It’s often a mind-boggling experience, given the depth and breadth of topics and disciplines. The sheer number of subjects of which I haven’t even previously heard is humbling as well as exciting.

I am rather conditioned at this point to pick out those sessions and papers with any reference to memory in them. This year, the vast majority of those about memory are Anglo-Saxon-specific. Two sessions in particular, “Memory and Community in Anglo-Saxon England” (413) and “Memory at Work In Anglo-Saxon England” (519), are entirely devoted to the subject. The first is primarily comprised of papers on Beowulf; the title “Burning to Remember, Eating to Forget” has immense possibilities. The latter session includes a title that intrigues me – “Memory and Identity Formation: A Cognitive Construction of the Self in The Wanderer.” I often teach this text through the concept of memory, particularly its bittersweet components. Is it better to remember or to forget? Which causes the most pain? This title makes me consider the possibilities of the loss of memory dealing the final “death blow” to The Wanderer’s previous life. Is it in the pain of remembering that he still retains what is left of his kin, of his role in society? If he forgets, will he, in essence, cease to exist? Another session, “Text and Image II: Memory and Visual Space” (232), looks interesting. As is not uncommon, there are several individual papers exploring the connections between death and memory.

Coinciding with being hired at Fitchburg State, I have found my interest in panels shifting. Now, at least half of the time, I choose sessions based upon what might be beneficial to me in the classroom. For instance, a roundtable on Friday (260), “Teaching Marie de France” (sponsored by the International Marie de France Society), is calling to me. As I was just mentioning last night, my students adore Marie de France. It has been one of the biggest surprises as a teacher; for some reason, I did not expect her to be such a draw. However, she does have everything – romance, intrigue, werewolves, knight-saving damsels, resurrecting weasels. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. At any rate, I am curious what others have to say.

Then there is always the almost hagiographic torture of the sessions that are happening while I am already booked!

I need a rest, and this is only the program!



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Filed under Anglo-Norman, Anglo-Saxon, Conferences, Kalamazoo, Professional stuff, Scholar, Teaching, Travels, Uncategorized

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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So when does the medievalist get medieval?

I’m currently in recovery from a series of colds–what a friend refers to as the “creeping crud” that hits teachers in the winter, as one after another of the year’s crop of flus, rhinoviruses,* and other bugs is introduced to one’s besieged immune system by students and colleagues and, in my case, my wife’s students and colleagues and, for good measure, the new treasure trove of colds brought home from day care by our son. Once the cycle begins, it can be hard to break…and so for weeks, my students have had to tolerate my rasping not-quite-laryngitis as I attempt to recreate the fine shadings of sound that make up the Great Vowel Shift, and colleagues have learned to expect that I will be sucking a throat lozenge during meetings. Yesterday, I finally broke down and visited a doctor.

This is not actually about my cold, although it’s therapeutic to grouch about it a bit.

At the doctor’s office, I turned in my forms, and the receptionist’s response to my occupation was, “Oh. That explains it–I was wondering why you were available for an appointment so early in the afternoon.”

I’ve had a few interactions with non-academics lately that have been along these lines–probably innocent comments that nevertheless betray certain assumptions about the work, or lack thereof, of a college professor. I don’t want to go into a long diatribe about one of those ivory-tower problems that never really go away–there have been many articulate defenses of the flexibility of the academic’s schedule. I particularly like the point made by Greg Semenza in his brilliant Graduate Study for the 21st Century that “schedular flexibility is perhaps the greatest practical benefit afforded by the academic lifestyle”–but that with that flexibility comes the responsibility of each academic to create for him or herself a regular (if unconventional) schedule that enforces and accommodates the individual’s work ethic.

So…having rambled around to the subject (the doctor gave me an antibiotic, and I’m a little less than fully coherent at the moment), what I actually want to talk about–and to invite conversation about–is that commitment to a schedule, specifically to a schedule that accommodates the quirks of the medievalist’s work.

As I mentioned in a post a while back, my academic workload was in something of a shambles last fall as I tried to adjust to my son’s needs and my own desire to spend as much time with him (and with my wife, whose job is much less flexible than mine) as possible. This spring, despite the endless sniffles and aches, I’ve been trying to carve out specific chunks of the week when I can focus on my work–Saturday mornings, Monday and Wednesdays from 8-10:30 AM (when meetings allow), late Tuesday afternoons (likewise), and the narrow slice of time at night between when Carl has been washed up and read to and (with my wife) gone off to bed, and when I become too bleary-eyed to work productively. This is still a work in progress, but it’s  an improvement–at least my students’ papers are being graded on a schedule and I have time for prepping my materials and covering my campus responsibilities.

Finding time for the specifically “medievalist” part of my life, though, is still a struggle–keeping my language skills strong, reading up on professional publications, writing conference papers for the looming Congress at Kalamazoo, finishing up two articles that have been three-quarters finished for months, producing promised work for a collaborative project for SSDMA, and so on. Finding slots of time for my medieval self is proving hard enough–deciding how to prioritize the many plates wobbling on their stems is turning out to be more complicated than I’d expected.

So I turn to those of you in this or similar fields for suggestions on avoiding the metaphorical smash of neglected crockery. How does a medieval scholar with flexible-but-very-limited free time maintain his medievalist self?


*The plural of “virus” apparently presents an interesting problem. According to what I can find, it’s unlikely that “viri,” “virii'” or “vira” (all of which are attested in modern use, but not in actual Latin sources) would be appropriate; for an interesting discussion of the nature of the problem and why “viruses,” though unsatisfying, seems to be the best answer in an English-language context, see the following archived explanation from Tom Christiansen, Unix and Perl developer:

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The Path of the Scholar

I received in my Inbox this morning an announcement concerning the Heckman Research grants to the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) at St. John’s University in Minnesota. I was immediately taken back to my stay at HMML when I was a Heckman Scholar in the spring of 2008. The grants are available from two weeks to six months to graduate students or scholars who are within three years of completing a terminal master’s or doctoral degree. Given my schedule then as a doctoral student, I opted for the shortest amount of time, two weeks.

I remember, the first day I arrived, I sat at my desk – empty then – a bit bewildered. My guide had left me, the paperwork was done. It was just me and my laptop and a blank sheet asking what microfilm I wanted delivered. I was at a loss. I wasn’t a novice to research; I had been a graduate student for several years. I had prepared seminar papers, conference presentations, even journal articles. Yet, now, I had no idea where to begin. The possibilities were overwhelming, limitless. I was there to work, to accomplish. I had a two-week deadline to make the trip worthwhile, to take advantage of the time. The clock was oppressive.

Falling back on the familiar, my skills at organizing, I gradually put together a routine: request microfilm manuscripts in the morning, compile texts to look at later, spend time writing, examine manuscripts, take a walk to the main stacks to check out sources, return to mine them for their knowledge, and go back to the dorm, exhausted but feeling productive, in order to rest and prepare my agenda for the next day.

Slowly, the rest of the world disappeared and all that was important was the next epiphany, the next discovery. For those two weeks, I was a pure scholar. I had nothing else to do, nothing else pulling on my time. I awoke in the morning, admired the  snow-covered silence of St. John’s on spring break as I walked from the dorm to the library, and spent the day hunting for medieval memory in confession manuals. The library was at my disposal. The manuscript collection was my playground. I would search their catalog, create a list of what I wanted to see that day, and, magically, it would appear outside of my designated area, ready for me to look at on the machine provided for me for as long as I wanted. I squinted, I studied, I pondered, I compared. I had a mound of books to my left and right, pulled from the stacks with my very own visitors library card, to converse with as much I wanted.

At some point, it wasn’t about working on the dissertation, although certainly that was why I was there. It was time out of time, wherein the search, following the path of the scholar, was the limit of my existence – or, I should say, the expansion of my existence. One thought leading to another…and another…and another. Other avenues of research opening up, painting images, filling in colors in what were black-and-white sketches of ideas.

In some ways, the experience was surreal. It was almost like those stories wherein the main character draws the veil back from reality in one way or another only to discover there are parallel existences beyond the mundane. Cloistered away in my scholar’s cell, I felt truly multi-dimensional during those two weeks, able to see and touch cultures and minds normally far removed from my own.

I reflect on my time at the HMML with a sense of reverence. I was enamored of the academic’s life beforehand and I have experienced similar feelings since then, but this was my first true immersion in the adventure of being a scholar. It is the memory I carry with me, reminding me of the charm of the path I walk, even when real life offers its detours and ruts. 


For information on how to apply to be a Heckman Scholar, click here.


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