Digital Humanities, Graduate Studies, History Department, Manuscript Studies, Workshops

Alisa Beer Holds Manuscript Encoding Workshop at Columbia

Alisa Beer (PhD, History) was fortunate enough to hold an internship with Consuelo Dutschke at the Columbia University Rare Books and Manuscripts Library in the Spring semester of 2017, through a joint program with the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.

The core of Alisa’s internship was the implementation of a two-day graduate student digital humanities workshop centered around RBML’s Plimpton Add. MS 04, a fifteenth-century English manuscript roll containing the Fifteen Oes of Saint Bridget.

The workshop took place on March 24 and 25, 2017, in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia, and was open to Columbia graduate students.  Its goal was the collaborative creation of a digital version of a MS roll, with accompanying searchable transcription & commentary.  Training goals for the graduate student participants included instruction in the paleography and codicology of medieval manuscipt rolls, digital editing and TEI markup, the use of XML editing tools such as oXygen, and project-based collaboration after the workshop concluded.

Alisa first encountered the Fifteen Oes of Saint Bridget, Plimpton Add. MS 04, when she was a student in Dr. Hafner’s Manuscript Culture class in the fall of 2012, when she visited the Columbia University Library as part of a course field trip.  When Alisa attended the Medieval Academy of America meeting in the spring of 2016 and heard about the Digital Editions of Medieval Manuscipt Rolls and Fragments project (DEMMR) at Yale University, the roll in Columbia’s collection seemed like a natural fit for the Yale project, which was looking to branch out into other collections and institutions.

Once Alisa knew she would be interning at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, she reached out to Anya Adair, Katherine Hindley and Gina Hurley, the Yale graduate students in charge of the DEMMR project, about the potential of running an iteration of their workshop at Columbia.

Alisa worked collaboratively with Consuelo Dutschke, Christopher Baswell, Terry Catapano, the three Yale graduate students, Alice Laforêt, another Columbia intern, Lila Goldenberg, and Emily Genatowski in order to implement the workshop, which was generously funded by the Columbia RBML director, Sean Quimby.

Alisa acted as lead coordinator and taught the majority of the two-day workshop.  This involved creating a course website, and adapting course materials shared by the Yale coordinators, as well as organizing participants, brushing up on TEI and XML, and working with English paleography and transcription of the original manuscript.  Alisa also compiled the final TEI file from participants’ individual files, and encoded the second half of the manuscript, which was not assigned to participants.  The TEI-encoded edition, along with the digital images provided by the Columbia photography labs, will be hosted on the Yale website in the near future as part of the final digital edition.

In the process of transcribing this roll, we learned that the Columbia manuscript contains textual variants not present in the published versions of the text.  The prayers included differ from those in the Huntington transcription, and those that are the same are in a different order.  Consuelo Dutschke’s research into other known instances of this text revealed that while the Fifteen Oes is a very common text, known in more than 80 instances, only two of those survivals are in roll format, while the majority of the rest are in codex format within books of hours.

Hopefully, the availability of this digital edition will facilitate research on textual variants of the Fifteen Oes of Saint Bridget, a text that has received comparatively little scholarly attention to date.

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Classics, Italian Literature, Latin language and Literature, Manuscript Studies

Frank Coulson Lectures on a Fragment of an Ovid Translation by Giovanni de Virgilio in the Walsh Library

This past 27 April, Dr. Frank Coulson of Ohio State University gave a lecture on a manuscript he discovered in the Walsh Library.  Coulson believes that Walsh Library MS Item 14, a 15th century manuscript fragment listed by Digital Scriptorium as a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses with marginal commentary, is actually a 14th century copy of the Metamorphoses with a marginal translation written by Giovanni de Virgilio.  Giovanni de Virgilio was a 14th century Paduan scholar who was educated in Bologna and who was commissioned by the Studium of Bologna to lecture on Lucan, Statius, Ovid, and Virgil (for whom he had a particular love, as one can surmise from his chosen name.)  Only his Ovid lectures survive, along with a few of his other translations and commentaries.  We’ve some insight into Giovanni’s personal life, including his friendship and extended correspondence with Dante Alighieri.  Indeed, Giovanni even wrote an epitaph for Dante’s tomb.

The Walsh Ovid fragment, Coulson believes, is part of a lager Oivid commentary and translation Giovanni produced.  Coulson has been hunting down these fragments for the last few years, and has expanded our awareness of them exponentially.  Of the total number of fragments we are aware of, this is the 12th.  Prior to Coulson’s project, we were only aware of a single fragment of this commentary and translation.

What is so interesting about this particular fragment is how it breaks from the standard translation/commentarial methods of the time.  While most translations and commentaries in the 14th and 15th centuries were incorporated into the main text as one continuous block, with alternating segments of text and translation/commentary, this fragment has the translation and comments wrapping around the Latin text.  What’s more, this marginal translation does not even correspond to the text it wraps around: the marginal Italian text and the Latin text are from two different books of the Metamorphoses.  Also, the script of this fragment of this translation is in a textualis hand, meant to be easily read and understood for its formal, proper style.  This would be opposed to a cursive hand, which was more common for documents and university notes and textbook copies.  Coulson believes this is indicative of the intended patron of the translation, being someone who likely did not understand Latin well, if at all, and just wanted to be able to engage with Ovid through the vernacular.

The Center would like to thank Dr. Coulson for his sharing his invaluable expertise and insights with students and faculty alike.

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Alumni, English Department, History Department, IUDC

MVST Alumni Nathan Melson and Samantha Sabalis Present at the 2017 IUDC

This past 21 April, Bernard College hosted the annual Interuniversity Doctoral Consortium Medieval Conference.  Each year PhD students come from the various IUDC participant institutions to present some aspect of their research to their peers and professors.  This exchange facilitates both a greater sense of community between the IUDC member institutions and gives PhD students on the verge of defending their dissertations a chance to receive valuable feedback from others of a myriad of disciplinary backgrounds.  Students came to present from NYU, Columbia, Rutgers, Princeton, CUNY, SUNY Stony Brook, and Fordham.  The two Fordham students presenting this year were Nathan Melson and Samantha Sabalis, Medieval Studies alumni and currently of the History and English departments, respectively.

Nathan presented his paper, “Problems of a Portable Saint: Relic Economy and Negotiation in Late Medieval Marseille,” in which he presented the curious instance of the pawning of parts of St Louis’ reliquary held by Franciscans in late 14th century Marseille in order to pay for the defense of the city.  Nathan relayed the old truth that, if one needs money, one must take out a loan, and, in order to do that, one must present collateral.  It just so happened that the collateral the town government of Marseille presented were pieces of the head reliquary of St Louis, much to the consternation of the Franciscans looking after it.  Nathan noted that the central point of contention between the town government and the Franciscans was the notion of ownership.  While none denied that the relic of St Louis was in the hands of the Franciscans, the town government of Marseille saw the gold and precious stones of the reliquary as property that was under town protection and, thus, under their authority to present as collateral.  During the unstable times of the mid and late 14th century, the relics of the Franciscan monastery outside Marseille were often brought into the city and housed in people’s homes for protection.  This gave the town government of Marseille, in their own minds, the right to count the value of the reliquary as part of what they had to draw upon in times of need.

Samantha presented her own paper, “From a Confessor’s Manual to a Text for Lay Religious Instruction: the Transformation of Robert Grosseteste’s Templum Dei in BL Additional MS 32578.”  Samantha compared the original Latin version of the Templum Dei, a text meant for clerical instruction, and the vernacular version, directed toward lay use.  Looking specifically at the act of confession, Samantha relayed the differences in the presentation of who is authorized to be the receiver of a penitent’s confession.  In the Latin original, God is presented as the doctor, capable of curing the illness of sin.  The confessor is considered the doctor’s assistant, or the doctor-by-proxy.  However, in the vernacular Templum Dei, God retains His position as the doctor, while sin remains the illness that must be cured, but the confessor is overtly absent from the metaphor.  If there is no confessor, Samantha presents, then it is upon the penitent to find a person to serve such a function as assistant to God.  Under such circumstances, laymen can be such assistants, with the vernacular Templum Dei educating them as to how to serve effectively.

Halfway through the conference, a roundtable was held titled, “Theft: Methods and Theories We Don’t Really Know.”  The roundtable consisted of Christopher Baswell (Bernhard College and Columbia University,) Brigitte Bedos-Rezak (NYU), Steven Kruger (CUNY Graduate Center), Sara Poor (Princeton), and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne (Fordham).  The discussion largely was in response to a question posed by Baswell prior to the conference.  Baswell’s question emerged from his own anxieties regarding the increasing emphasis placed on interdisciplinary approaches in medieval studies.  Concerned over how much a medievalist is expected to know and from how many disciplines a medievalist is expected to borrow, Baswell presented whether our interdisciplinarity has perhaps gone too far or if we are holding ourselves to unreal standards as scholars and humans.  The general response from the participants and the audience was that interdisciplinarity does not necessarily preclude specialization.  It was suggested that at the heart of Baswell’s and others’ concerns may be an anxiety over the appearance of academic rigour.  An interdisciplinary approach to medieval studies may appear to be one that lacks a rigourous approach to any one particular discipline.  As the saying goes, “A jack-of-all-trades is a master of none.”  However, the counter-argument was presented that interdisciplinary scholarship does not actually require one to be any such “jack-of-all-trades.”  One cannot engage in scholarship of every kind of discipline and expect to perfectly comprehend all of it.  Nor can one expect to find the products of other disciplines always helpful in one’s own approach.  The general answer to Basswell’s question was that, while one can take interdisciplinarity too far, individual specialties and areas of specific interest will always drive forward the scholarship of each individual.

The Center would like to thank the organizers of this year’s IUDC Medieval Conference and would like to congratulate Nathan and Samantha for their outstanding contributions to the field.

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Alumni, Events, Uncategorized

2017 Compatible Careers Talk and Workshop

This past 11 April, the Center for Medieval Studies hosted its annual “Compatible Careers” event.  Each year, the Center asks alumni to share their experiences of finding jobs after their graduations that go beyond the traditional academic/tenure-tracked path.  The perennial question for graduate students nearing their graduations is: “what next?”  To study what you love is a joy, but the fact of the matter is that, eventually, one needs to realize what one wants to do for a living.  This question haunts many a student at night, especially those who would elect a non-academic path.  The purpose of this annual workshop is to show students that taking alternate paths is not only possible, but it may even result in finding a better fit for them.  This year’s speakers represent a wide array of careers that show promise and reward the creative medievalist willing to look beyond the usual choices presented to them.

Gilbert Stack, who works now as Fordham’s Director of Assessment and Accreditation and fiction writer, relayed that, if you have the opportunity, getting a PhD in a field you love is never, under any circumstances, a bad idea.  Stack called the PhD a “green card” for work in academic institutions, including work in administration.  One can pursue the terminal degree without setting down the path to university teaching, if one does not want to.  He also suggested students consider careers in academic administration, noting that such positions will be expanding to accommodate new regulations and student needs.

The next speaker was Joanne Overty, the owner of DeMontfort Books.  She related that she graduated with a BA in Economics and, after entering into the world of investment banking, realized how much she hated working as a banker.  A medieval art history class she took as an undergraduate changed her perspective, and awoke in her a desire to study manuscripts.  She and her husband (a curator) inherited the extensive manuscript collection of her employer.  After selling much of the collection to collectors and institutions and sending the rest to the Morgan Library and Museum, she went through Fordham for an MA in Medieval Studies and PhD focusing on manuscript studies.  She and her husband now own their own book selling business, combining their love of manuscripts with her economics training and business experience.  Overty’s main point of advice was for students to be flexible if they intend to enter into book selling or archival work.

The next speaker was David Smith, the Director of Marketing and Publishing for the Library of America.  Saying that publishing has always been a good career choice for people with humanities degrees, Smith related that publishing now has a greater need than ever for experienced writers and researchers.  Smith runs the Library of America’s social media presence, monitoring and maintaining relations between the company and its consumer base and spreading the word about upcoming book releases.  He also runs his own blog, where he posts researched stores, biographies, and histories using upcoming publications from the Library of America.  As of this past April, he has surpassed 10 million views.  Smith related that publishers need younger people who know how social media works in order to publicize their latest releases in an intelligent and well-mannered way.

Allison Alberts, the final speaker, presented her experiences as an upper school English teacher at Sacred Heart in Greenwich.  Having taught at both the college and primary school levels, Alberts provided a valuable reflection upon her experiences teaching students at a myriad of ages and levels.  After her PhD, Alberts looked for a position for around three years before she heard of the position at Sacred Heart.  She related that she did not even think of being a high school teacher as a career option, having just left the university environment and having taught undergraduate classes as per the requirements of the doctoral program.  She said that she is happier now than when she was teaching undergraduate students.  Being able to teach a single class of students over the course of a full academic year allows her to see the students grow, mature, and develop intellectually and emotionally in ways that the twice-a-week encounters with undergrads lasting only a few months does not.  High school teaching also allows Alberts to engage in teaching strategies that take advantage of the greater period of time she has to introduce and discuss themes in medieval history and literature.  Teaching younger students also provides her with opportunities to present themes and ideas in more creative ways than a college classroom environment usually allows: such as teaching The Wife’s Lament as a break-up story to ninth-graders, and joyfully seeing how easily they follow along with the deceptively complicated discussion that follows.

The Center would like to thank these alumni for their contributions and for sharing their invaluable advice and anecdotes to students eager to explore their options in the coming years.

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Medieval Studies, Uncategorized, undergraduate news, Undergraduate Studies

Rita Orazi and Larissa Ross Present at the 2017 Hudson Valley Medieval and Early Modern Undergraduate Symposium

This past 25 February, Fordham students Larissa Ross and Rita Orazi presented at the 2017 Hudson Valley Medieval and Early Modern Undergraduate Symposium at the College of Mount Saint Vincent.

Larissa Ross (st right), Rita Orazi (at left)

Larissa Ross presented her paper, “Daughters of the King: Medieval Female Piety as Seen in Julian of Norwich and Constance in Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale.”  In her paper, Larissa looked to Julian of Norwich and Chaucer to explore late medieval conceptions of the metaphysical nature of women and of ideal female holiness.  Julian and Chaucer, contemporaries who influenced and were in turn influenced by the same cultures and ideologies, are rarely brought into conversation with each other.  Larissa placed Julian of Norwich, a renowned holy woman, into dialogue with Chaucer’s fictitious holy woman to see where both figures embody or toy with popular perceptions of what it meant to be a woman mystic considered holy.

                Larissa, who majors now in Medieval Studies, plans to continue her studies of late medieval female piety and its influence on religion, social environment, and literature.  She reflects upon her time working toward and during the conference as an invaluable chance for intellectual exchange that has aided her in expanding both her understanding of medieval studies and narratives and of how to approach them.

Rita Orazi delivered her paper, “Motivations for Crusading: Vengeance or Love?” which was an elaboration of a paper she wrote for Dr. Yeager’s “The Medieval Traveler” class.  Looking at the debate begun by Jonathan Riley-Smith and Susanna Throop over whether we can approach the act of crusading as one of love or of vengeance, Rita discussed revisionist interpretations and manipulations of history.  She emphasized the difficulty for modern audiences to understand the circumstances surrounding the Crusades and how problematic it can often be to relate the Crusades to modern conflicts in the Middle East now.

Rita, a History major minoring in Medieval Studies, also presented at the Symposium last year.  She said that, in comparison to the conference last year, this year was slightly more intimidating for the fact that the presenters were to present in panels before the entire assembled audience, rather than in smaller concurrent sessions.  However, because of this, this year’s Symposium had a livelier and more open-ended Q&A session after each panel.  While the prospect of presenting on something as wide and discipline-spanning as the Crusades was a bit daunting, Rita’s previous experience presenting and knowing that she was focusing on only on part of the discussion surrounding her subject material eased her mind and allowed her to focus all the more clearly.

The Center would like to congratulate Larissa and Rita for their presentations and would like to wish them well as they continue in their budding medievalist careers.

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Art History, Graduate Studies, Manuscript Studies, Medieval Studies

Medieval Studies MA Students Inducted to Jesuit Honors Society

On April 7th, Michael Weldon (MA, Medieval Studies) and Kevin Vogelaar (MA, Medieval Studies) were inducted to the Jesuit Honors Society Alpha Sigma Nu.  The organization, which emphasizes scholarship, loyalty, and service, selected Michael and Kevin for their exemplary commitment to the tenets of Jesuit learning.

Michael Weldon

During his time in Fordham’s Medieval Studies MA program, Michael has specialized in insular manuscript illumination, stained glass, and the relationship between these two artistic media. This semester, he is studying the late-medieval glazing program practiced at the Church of St. Peter Mancroft, Norwich, in a tutorial with Dr. Zachary Stewart of the Art History Department.  He is also delving into the labor-intensive, painstakingly precise, and malodorous medieval process for turning raw animal hides into parchment as an intern at Pergamena Leather and Parchment.  In the summer, Michael will participate in a month-long anthropological / archaeological field study of the early-14th-century Balintober Castle in Ireland, for which he was awarded a competitive Summer Fellowship from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Last fall, Michael took advantage of Dr. Hafner’s Manuscript Culture course to research the Harkness Gospels, a late-9th- / early-10th-century insular manuscript attributed to Abbey Landevennec, Brittany.  In his forthcoming MA thesis, Michael will expand upon this research, analyzing and deconstructing imagery in the Harkness Gospels to shed light on Abbey Landevennec’s scribal practices.  Michael’s approach to scribal practice at Landevennec is informed by his firsthand encounter with the Harkness Gospels manuscript, which is held in the New York Public Library.  Next spring, he will share a section of his thesis at the 2018 Manuscripta conference at St. Louis University.

Michael’s contributions to Fordham aren’t limited to his accomplishments within the Center for Medieval Studies; he joins us from Fordham Preparatory School where he serves as Fine Arts Chair and teaches studio art and architectural drawing.

Kevin Vogelaar

While at the Center for Medieval Studies, Kevin has focused on intellectual history, interfaith relations, pilgrimage texts, art history, and sound studies.  His forthcoming thesis will address the reception of Pseudo-Methodius’ late-7th-century Syriac Apocalypse in Western Europe between the 9th and 11th centuries.  He will argue that Pseudo-Methodius allowed for a greater assertion of human agency in apocalyptic thought than other writers such as Augustine, Tyconius, and Jerome.  Like Michael, Kevin plans to present at next year’s Manuscripta conference.  His presentation will analyze illumination and architectural decoration in the Syriac Peshitta Gospels (Morgan Library MS M.235) to suggest that these decorative elements display early ‘Abbasid artistic influence and reveal a Syriac Christian nostalgia for an earlier time of ‘Abbasid rule.

Kevin is an active contributor to The Venerable Blog and works in Walsh Library, where he splits his time between the Reference Desk and Archives and Special Collections.  In Archives, Kevin has facilitated manuscript workshops for classes taught by professors in the Center for Medieval Studies and several teaching PhD candidates.  He is creating a database of manuscript facsimiles held in the Archive; in addition to serving as a well-needed finding aid for the facsimiles, the database will also provide useful discussion questions and introductory bibliographies.  This promising digital project will make the many highly-realistic facsimiles in Archives more accessible to the Fordham community and will offer students a valuable resource to begin exploring manuscript studies.

In the future, Kevin plans to pursue library and museum sciences, curating exhibits and collections that can expand and promote interdisciplinary studies within the field of interfaith relations.

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Digital Humanities, Events, Medieval Studies, Vernacular Languages

37th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies: Part 2

The second half of the conference began with the second panel session focusing on Jews and Christians. Sarit Kattan Gribetz (Fordham) began the panel with her paper, “Jewish-Christian Polemics and the Challenges of Studying Them.” Gribetz presented that in Origen, John Chrysostom, and other Christian sources polemic against Jews was tied to specific times of the year and their concurrent festivals and celebrations.  During times beyond these festivals and seasons of celebration, specific polemic targeting certain practices would lose its impact, or would be devoid of its context. The same is true for Jewish polemic. Gribetz presented that, in the Toledot Yeshu, the defeat and execution of Yeshu is intentionally paralleled with the festival of Purim, a time of the year celebrating the defeat and execution of Haman. Gribetz noted the numerous parallels between the narrative of Yeshu’s defeat and that of Haman’s, one of which is the refusal of the trees to be used to hang the offenders. Purim, a time of remembering God granting victory to His people against their enemies who sought their total destruction, was a time of particular anti-Christian sentiment, and, by its association with the Toledot Yeshu, a time meant to look forward to the day when this newest enemy would be defeated in like kind. Just as Christian polemics were bound to certain times of the year to maximize their effectiveness, so too were Jewish polemics timed according to the festivals of the year to capitalize on seasonal sentiments. This allows us to come closer to understanding how Jews and Christians could be friendly neighbors and business partners one day and hostile the next.

The second speaker was Samantha Zacher (Cornell), who presented her paper, “Anglo-Saxon Maccabees: Political Theology in Ælfric’s Lives of the Saints.”  While Ælfric seems to have been generally averse to armed conflict, leading many to cast him as a pacifist now, he saw the Viking incursions as necessitating an armed response. Presenting the Anglo-Saxons as the new Maccabees in a struggle against the Viking’s new Antiochus, Ælfric described the Maccabees as the only figures from the Old Testament who exemplified the spirit of faith ushered into the world by Christ. The Maccabees broke the letter of the Law in order to act in accordance with the spirit of the Law, so Ælfric believed, making their faith of a purer kind for its not relying upon strictures and decrees. Accordingly, Zacher believes, Ælfric saw an armed resistance against the Vikings as keeping with the spirit of Christ’s peace, even if it did require bloodying swords.

The final roundtable of the conference focused on the broad and often misunderstood concept of popular religion. Popular religion is often not considered a part of the history of religious institutions or of famous movements. Indeed, popular religion, both in academia and beyond, is often presented as preserving some of the pagan beliefs of pre-Christian Europe, causing us to isolate it as a distinct, if amorphous, entity from orthodox or institutionalized practices. Louisa Burnham (Middlebury College) began the roundtable with a description of the place popular religion holds in modern scholarship and beyond. Burnham put forward that, looking at inquisitorial records, one can see a difference in practices between communities and individuals that were recognized at the time, but noted that these differences should not be taken as creating a definite distinction between “popular” and “educated” practices. Rather, these differences present us with varying “flavours” of Christian devotion. Merrill Kaplan (Ohio State) presented popular religion in an Old Norse context as essentially being the comparison of folk tales and stores. Saying that “people have always been clever,” Kaplan related that people hear stores and recognize them as stories for their having heard the same tale in a different place or in a different form. Popular religion, then, in Old Norse accounts is more a comparison of stories and a debate over their truth value. This can be done by the educated, or by the uneducated but reasonably well-traveled lay person.

Richard Kieckhefer (Northwestern) then spoke of popular religion in broader terms, seeking, as he put it, to “problematize the problemitization” of religion begun with Peter Brown and John Van Engen. Kieckhefer presented the difference between popular and elite culture to generally be not one of religion, but of expectation. Popular religion was cluttered with local traditions and stories, which often ran contrary to the reforming intentions of the clergy who usually came from outside the local community. This difference in expectation is defined by the local Christians’ tolerance for their own clutter and the reforming clergy’s intolerance for that same clutter to which they had no personal attachment. The last speaker of the conference, Ittai Weinryb (Bard Graduate Center), presented an art historical approach to questions of popular religion. Weinryb discussed votive offerings, and, in particular, iron oxen that were offered to St. Leonard, the devotional focus of the so-called “Iron Cult.” St. Leonard, a saint associated with prisoners, did not have terribly many relics that could be displayed, prompting the giving of votive offerings that could be used to physically denote Leonard’s presence in a particular church or place. Broken chains and shackles could be found hung on the walls of the church dedicated to him, given by those who had been miraculously freed of their bonds. Iron oxen would be donated to petition the saint for his continuing protection over the animals so many relied upon for their survival. These oxen were not given in gratitude for saved animals, but out of devotion and thanks for the protection assumed to already be granted to them. They reflected enduring faith, not a specific prayer answered.

The Center would like to thank the speakers for their excellent contributions in this celebration of Traditio and the effects of tradition on daily life. We would also like to thank the organizers and all those whose donations made this conference possible.

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Digital Humanities, Events, Medieval Studies, Vernacular Languages

37th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies: Part 1

This past 25 March, the Center held its 37th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies. This year’s conference, “The Generative Power of Tradition: A Celebration of Traditio, 75 Years,” explored both the power of tradition in producing new ideas and movements and the role and history of Traditio in the humanities.

This year’s conference was divided into two panel sessions and two roundtables, with Father Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J., beginning the conference with a brief history of Traditio’s origin, its current role in facilitating discourse in numerous disciplines in the humanities, and its future under both Fordham and Cambridge University Press.

The first session was dedicated to mysticism, with the current state of the discourse surrounding mystics and their written experiences forming the central focus of the presenters. Barbara Newman (Northwestern) began the panel with her paper, “New Seeds, New Harvest: Thirty Years of Tilling the Mystic Field.” Discussions of medieval mysticism were, prior to the Second Vatican Council, dominated by authors with some kind of tie to religious institutions or orders. These men and, very occasionally, women approached medieval mystic experiences with a particular eye toward their agreement with established orthodoxy. While these earlier discussions thoroughly traced genealogies of influence and, when the reader’s Latin comprehension was not assumed, provided exceptional translations of the source material, the discourse, dominated as it was by the same communities of scholars, fell into certain assumptions that prevented the discussion from expanding. Women mystics, for example, were only discussed if they were considered saints. After Vatican II and the explosion of interest in mystical experiences in the 1960s, the discourse began opening up to a wider body of scholars of more diverse disciplinary backgrounds. Mystics came to be understood through less a spiritualist lens and more through a material, bodily, and terrestrial one. In conclusion, Newman challenged medievalists to now explore mystics in relation to political roles. Saying that mystics strove for an otherworldly ideal while still remaining grounded in this world, Newman expressed her desire for medievalists now to look to mystic vernacular writings not as inferior to the well-worded Latin copies, but as attempts by mystics to reach out to a wider audience in more tangible ways.

Concluding the first session was Sara Poor (Princeton). Her paper, “From Author to Textual Construct: Changing Approaches to Female Mystics in the European Tradition,” explored how female mystics have been discussed in relation to the often contentious notion of authorship for the past few decades. Looking to Mechthild von Magdeburg as her prime example, Poor discussed how the role of author can be, and is often, denied medieval women. By denying the notion of an author, as we often do when considering medieval texts, we allow for reinterpretations of the persona of the author that eliminate the possibility of a female origin of a text. Some interpretations of Mechthild’s The Flowing Light of the Godhead relate that Mechthild was herself a textual construct: an invented author figure meant to facilitate a description of a mystic experience that would have been unwelcome if openly coming from a man. Poor related that, while we willingly contemplate such possibilities concerning the existence of female authors, we rarely seem to apply such critical reinterpretations to supposed male authors, revealing an incongruity that medievalists and scholars of mystic texts need to be made aware of.

After the first panel came a roundtable concerning editing medieval manuscripts in the digital age. The first speaker, William Noel (University of Pennsylvania), addressed rampant problems with the current methods of production and use of digitized manuscripts and source material. Such problems he brought up were the tendency for libraries and museums to make their digitized manuscripts look as nice as they can aesthetically, covering up valuable information in the process. Likewise, while Noel by no means intimated that individuals or institutions engaged in this kind of activity, there is a very real possibility that one could digitally alter an image to provide information it actually does not. Ultimately, Noel presented a general need for institutions to digitize their manuscripts, provide the digitized versions free of charge, and provide with them the metadata that proves their legitimacy and gives scholars the information needed to know what to do with them.

William Stoneman (Harvard) presented the uses and applications of the programs Jeffrey Witt (Loyola Maryland) is developing to make use of the versatile nature of digitized manuscripts and texts. Witt’s programs will allow for the digitizing of a manuscript’s text and the embedding of links within the text which will allow a user to click on a certain word and bring up a list of translations and explanations which could be provided by the user base itself. In effect, this program would allow for the creation of a potentially unlimited number of editions of digitized texts to be produced online while hybridizing the digitized text and edition into a single entity. Stoneman commented on Witt’s project, bringing up questions of sustainability, where the data behind these hundreds of crowd-sourced editions would be kept, and for how long.

The final speaker of the first roundtable was Raymond Clemens (Yale), who presented a program he had been employing for some time that seeks to lower the barrier for entry into paleography and text editing. His program, the Digital Platform of Textual Editing Projects, has graduate students working together in workshops on editing and digitizing manuscripts while being taught by other graduate students who are familiar with the software and methods needed to do so. This provides the teaching students with valuable experience in pedagogy while introducing the students participating in the workshops to digital editing and paleography in a minimal-stress environment.

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English Department, Events, Italian Literature, Medieval England, Medieval Studies, Vernacular Languages

Valentine’s Day Vernacular Poetry Reading

This past 14 February, the Medieval Studies Department hosted their first Valentine’s Day poetry reading. In the spirit of the day, all selections discussed, in some capacity, the nature of love and its effect on the human beings fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to find themselves in its throes. From the pure love of God to the often controversial love felt between human beings, the poems and songs performed provided a wide range of perspectives of a state of being infamous for its eluding a clear definition in any known language.
It is perhaps this very elusiveness that makes the performance of Mohammad Alsidi so apt as the first given of the evening. A masterful player of the Oud, a stringed instrument originating from Ur, Alsidi performed old Aleppan music often played during the day in Sufi circles while conversations and discussion of the scripture and current events were echoing through the courtyards. While the melodies Alsidi played could be accompanied by lyric or chant, he played the pieces as they were taught to him: without vocal accompaniment. Each pluck of a string composed a wordless prayer in praise to God, proclaiming love for Him. Having roots in the region around Aleppo that stretch back nearly two millennia, these melodies, in a myriad of different forms, can be heard wherever Aleppans have strode, from India to Venezuela. Alsidi, himself a native of the region around Aleppo, played these beautiful pieces with a bittersweet tone. These melodies, like so much of Aleppo and, indeed, much of Syria, are being lost in the civil war. These songs, and the hands that can play them and the voices that can sing them, are dying. Alsidi said that he plays in order to have these pieces still heard in the world, so that we might not deafen ourselves to what is being lost while it is still here to be recorded, preserved, and enjoyed.
The next poem was Guido Cavalcanti’s “Voi che per gli occhi mi passaste il core,” delivered by Dr. Susana Barsella. A friend of Dante, Guido presented love as beautiful and uplifting, but ultimately ending in a “language of sighs.” Dr. Emanuel Fiano recited St. Ephrem’s “Hymn III: On Paradise.” Dating to the fourth century, this Syriac piece discussed the choice given to Adam and Eve over whether or not to eat of the forbidden fruit. Needless to say, their story does not end on a happy note: a reasonably consistent theme of this Valentine’s Day celebration. Next was Father Martin Chase’s recitation of lausavisur from the Old Norse Kormáks Saga. Kormák’s Saga, a prose tale with occasional segments of Skaldic song, also presents us with a narrative filled with less Cupid floating through a tranquil grove and more facing the difficulties that come with loving another over a prolonged period of time, albeit under less then mundane circumstances. However, the segment Father Chase read was one toward the beginning of the tale, when the lovers meet for the first time: a happy affair in which Kormákr fell in love at the first sight of Steingerðr’s ankles and feet.
The final three poetic readings were given by Drs. Jocelyn Wogan-Brown, Susanne Hafner, and Andrew Albin. Saying that God might deserve a Valentine’s Day gift too, Dr. Wogan-Brown presented the Old French “Rossignos” of John of Howden. Dating to the 1270s, Dr. Wogan-Brown related that this piece was written in such a way that the audience was meant to participate in its recitation, and the poetic sophistication of the piece itself shows just how intricate and elegant the Old French of England is. Dr. Hafner read “Unter der linden,” by Walther von der Vogelveide. This poem was originally set to music, though the music has been lost. Of the “dawn song” genre, “Unter der linden” presents a woman, rather than a man, reflecting upon a night of shameless sensual indulgence with her lover after he had to flee the next morning. Utilizing a number of overt euphemisms, the poem intentionally walks the line between descent and indecent evocation of a night spent in ecstasy. On that note, Dr. Albin finished the evening with a spirited reading of Chaucer’s “The Parliament of Fowls,” carrying on the theme of love being suspended between fulfillment and denial. This parliament, consisting of numerous and diverse types of birds, eagerly awaiting their dismissal from the assembly so they could fly off with their lovers, undoubtedly reminded all present of the agony of having to fulfill an obligation while one’s true desire lay just within reach. Love may be fulfilling, but no one ever said it would be easy to endure.
The Centre would like to graciously thank all who participated in this inaugural Valentine’s Day poetry reading and those who attended and experienced examples of nearly every kind of human reaction to this eternally problematic notion of love. Here’s hoping we, as humans, never actually manage to figure it out.

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