Category Archives: Scholar

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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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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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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