Reading [Latin] is Fun[damental]!

Fordham English PhD Student David Smigen-Rothkopf leads the Latin Reading Group

If there’s one skill that’s crucial for medievalists, it’s the ability to read Latin confidently and well. Sooner or later there will be Latin charters to read, religious texts to translate, laws and other literary gems to parse out, all of which require a solid command of Latin, and there is a huge chasm between having taken a Latin reading course, or finished a grammar book and the actual ability to translate with (relative) ease. This is exactly where the Latin Reading Group comes in, and Galina Krasskova, one of the leaders of the group sent us this article to tell us more about this aspect of life in the Center for Medieval Studies.


For the past several years, the Center for Medieval Studies has sponsored a weekly Latin Reading Group for students. In years past, it was usually facilitated by a graduate student from Classics, and this year it’s being led by me (Galina Krasskova) and English PhD student David Smigen-Rothkopf. Both of us have a pretty extensive background in Classics.

MA students Stephen Powell (MVST), Ron Braasch (History), and Jake Prescott (MVST) in the Latin Reading Group

Each week we and a handful of intrepid souls gather in FMH in room 416 to plumb the syntactic mysteries of authors from Cicero to Catullus, Vergil to Augustine, Seneca to Gerald of Wales and more. We work our way through poetry and prose, Classical and Christian Latin reviewing points of grammar as needed (and it’s usually needed for all of us. One cannot have too much grammar review with Latin!).  Sometimes a student will bring a particular passage that he or she is working on for a class or research and we’ll tackle it together.

The group is open to all levels from rank beginner to the occasional Classics graduate student who wanders in for an hour of practice. We usually have a friendly mix of Medievalists, Historians, English majors, the occasional Theology major and even an undergrad now and again. So, if you’re Latin-curious, or your Latin is rusty and you’re looking to improve your skills in a non-threatening, supportive environment (where there are no grades to worry about and mistakes are part of the expected learning process), or if your Latin is relatively good and you want to keep it that way, consider popping in on a Monday. As Stephen Powell, 2nd year MA student says, “Our Latin reading group is an underused resource!”.


For more information contacted Galina Krasskova at Latin Reading Group is held most Mondays from 1-2pm in FMH room 416. Carpe diem.

Fordham Collegium’s First Performance

The Collegium Musicum Fordhamense had its first pop-up performance, “Voices of English Praise,” on Thursday March 8  at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus. The concert included anthems by Thomas Tallis, polyphonic hymns by William Byrd, and Latin chants to the Virgin.

The Collegium is a creative initiative from the Center for Medieval Studies and Music Department. Directed by Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, formerly of Anonymous 4, the Collegium meets with the goal of exploring and presenting medieval and early modern music, informed by current research on historical performance styles. The group consists of undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, and staff, both vocalists and instrumentalists.

The performance opened with the monophonic “Miserere,” a Latin chant from the 13th-century Dublin Troper manuscript (Cambridge University Library MS Add.710).

The chant was followed by selections of early modern English music, including anthems by Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), composer of sacred polyphonic music for Tudor monarchs from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I.  This lively take on “Oh Lord in Thee Is All My Trust” features Christina Vilar on recorder and Meghan Kase on cello.

In the words of one of Collegium’s organizers, Professor Andrew Albin:

Eric [Bianchi] and I started Collegium after team teaching our Medieval Studies graduate course, ‘Cultures of Music and Sound in the Medieval World.’ We realized there was interest — much more than we’d anticipated, as it turned out! — and real artistic and intellectual rewards in a group like this one. Collegium is as much about experimenting with medieval music, figuring out how it works, and how it works best, as it is about performing this rarely heard, beautiful repertoire. It’s is also a revival: Fordham had an early music ensemble all through the ’80s under the direction of Dr. James Kurtz, now at Juilliard. Eric and I agreed that it seemed the right time to breathe new life into group, especially with Jacqui Horner-Kwiatek at the helm — we couldn’t have dreamed of a more ideal music director!
Collegium will reconvene for practice and performances next fall.

Medieval Undergrads Present at Marist College Conference

(l-r) Fordham Medieval Studies Students Ruisen Zheng, Emily Gerace, Dr. Andrew Albin, and Katie DeFonzo at the 4th Hudson Valley Medieval and Early Modern Undergraduate Symposium

On February 24, Fordham Medieval Studies undergrads attended an academic conference at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. The Conference, the 4th Hudson Valley Medieval and Early Modern Undergraduate Symposium, brought together scholars from across New York state. Three Fordham scholars presented papers: Emily Gerace (“Memory, Friendship, and Grief in the Book of the Duchess”), Ruisen Zheng (“Interpreting Byzantine Diplomacy in the First Crusade: When the Knights Bow to the Basileus Alexius Komnenos”), and Katie DeFonzo (“Margery Kempe: Outspoken Heretic or Woman of God?”).

Feedback from the participating students was extremely positive, highlighting the importance of such opportunities to share and discuss ideas with colleagues and peers. For the Fordham students involved, it was their first time presenting at such an academic venue. Katie DeFonzo wrote to tell us that

[t]his experience has only made me hopeful that I will be able to do so again in the future. Everyone was welcoming and eager to hear one another’s ideas. Many of the talks focused on literary works in a historical context, and I think this was an excellent way to get students to consider how the study of history can intersect with other disciplines.

Emily Gerace added,

Presenting at the conference was a great experience. Everyone was very welcoming, and it was incredible to be around so many other medievalists. The medieval-themed meal was wonderful, too. I would gladly do it again!

Finally, Ruisen Zheng noted that not only did presenters receive positive and useful feedback on their papers, but the overarching theme of the conference itself really brought home how relevant Medieval Studies can be to our contemporary world and issues:

I was in fact really nervous at the beginning, but in the end, I think it was great to share my work with other amazing students and professors and to talk with them and exchange different ideas we had passion about. Overall, I did learn a lot from this conference. I noticed a theme that was mentioned, about how relevant the medieval history is to today’s world: the millennium we considered as the Middle Age was as shining as any other period in the world’s history. In China, we often think history as a mirror that reflects today’s society, and in this conference while we were talking about the past, we were also talking and thinking of the present day. I received some really good feedback on my paper, especially about how we think of governance, authority, and ideology that I did not think of when I wrote my paper.

And I think I would definitely love to have this great experience again, with other Fordham students and other amazing people from other places.”

Congratulations to the three Fordham presenters who so aptly represented our Medieval Studies department,  and a big thank you to Dr. Albin for his assistance and support.  “I encourage all of our students to apply with abandon to conferences like the Hudson Valley Symposium,” said Dr. Albin. “They provide unique opportunities to share work among a knowledgeable and enthusiastic community of fellow undergrads and committed faculty, and the public speaking and information-building skills you gain are invaluable for future pursuits, both inside and outside the university.”

Check back here regularly at The Venerable Blog: the Official Blog of the Fordham Center for Medieval Studies to see what our students are doing.

(Reporting for this story provided by Galina Krasskova)

John D. Niles Brings Old English Manuscripts and Medicines to Fordham

John D. Niles lectures the Medieval Studies community on the corpus of Anglo-Saxon healing texts

Medieval Studies kicked off its 2017 event series with a visit from a world renowned scholar of Old English literature and culture. John D. Niles. Dr. Niles, professor emeritus a the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been in residence this past Fall at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, and we were delighted that this made it possible for him to come up to Fordham on September 28-29.

Professor Niles spent an eventful two days visiting Fordham beginning with a Master Class for graduate students looking at one particular Old English manuscript, the Exeter Book. Joseph Rudolph, a PhD candidate in English, described the Master Class:

Professor Niles and a small group of students discussed the contents of Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501, commonly known as the Exeter Book. Niles suggested some ways that the codex can be read as a whole and pointed out a number of common themes and internal pairings among the book’s poems. Against the predominant trend of scholarship to read the poems in secular terms, Niles suggested that the book be placed in the monastic context in which it was likely produced. Niles provided some fascinating insights both into his own work (he is currently writing a book on the Exeter Book) and into the thinking and research that remains to be done on this important codex.

John D. Niles leads a Master Class in analysis of the famous Exeter Book manuscript.


The following day, the whole Medieval Studies community was treated to a lunchtime lecture in which Niles introduced his new project to edit and translate the entire corpus of medical texts written in Old English (the first time that such a thing has been attempted since the 1860s). Niles’ current project is undertaken in collaboration of fellows medievalists Debby Banham, Christine Voth, and Maria D’Aronco, who will together produce a two volume edition and translation.We asked Jeffrey Doolittle, a PhD candidate in History working with medical manuscripts in his own doctoral research, to give us his take on Niles’s presentation:

In his talk, Niles provided an introduction to this project, and also gave a helpful overview of the rather striking differences between the main texts of the Anglo-Saxon tradition, including Bald’s Leechbook, the Old English Herbarium and Niles’ own area of expertise, the Lacnunga. With its curious blending of classical, Christian and magical elements, the Lacnunga has been held up as evidence of the scientific dead-end of early medieval medicine as well as a window into pagan Anglo-Saxon beliefs and traditions. Following more recent trends among Anglo-Saxonists, however, Niles reckons both of these trajectories as incomplete and instead sees the Lacnunga as an example of what he terms “total medicine:” a model which emphasizes elements of practicality and utility in the synthesis of therapeutic methods from diverse sources and traditions. In other words, Niles holds that framers of texts such as the Lacnunga recorded many different ways to a cure in the hopes that something – anything – would work. This is an intriguing idea and marks a new frontier in the ongoing reconsideration of early medieval medicine. I do wonder about the “total” part of the term, though. As Niles himself pointed out, despite the clear “unparalleled variety” in the written traditions of medicine in Anglo-Saxon England, a much wider therapeutic world which we cannot see existed beyond the pages of parchment. Also, for purely selfish reasons, I would have liked if Niles refined his definition of “Anglo-Saxon medicine” a bit more. As Linda Voigts, Marilyn Deegan, and also Niles’ colleagues Debby Banham and Maria D’Aronco have shown, “Anglo-Saxon” can be a problematic term when it comes to describing vernacular medical texts such as Bald’s Leechbook, which have demonstrably classical sources; the Lacnunga may be another case altogether. Further, I felt that portions of Niles’ presentation veered into the same sort of morbid curiosity that he so strongly critiqued elsewhere (with a wide-eyed reading of the more disgusting or bizarre medieval recommendations). These minor critiques aside, however, Niles presented a welcome reassessment of the editorial decisions made by the compilers of the Lacnunga, a text that continues to defy easy categorization.

As a student of medical history, I was fascinated by Dr. Niles’ perspective on Anglo-Saxon approaches to healing. He provided a rich introduction to the corpus of medical texts, and I especially appreciated his effort to give context to their more “folkloric” aspects, which are too often belittled. He is a wonderful and generous scholar, and one whose work I will remember.

Thanks Jeffrey and Joseph and all others who came to Professor Niles’s events. But thanks most of all to John D. Niles for his generosity and for inspiring us with his knowledge about Anglo-Saxon texts and manuscripts!


A Medievalist’s Summer Adventures: Michael Weldon in Ireland and Brittany

Michael Weldon’s summer evening walk home to Balintubber, Ireland.

Summer is a time when students in the MA in Medieval History explore further aspects of their research, often working hard expanding prior projects in anticipation of the MA thesis. For medievalists, that can often entail travel to archives or sites to expand their knowledge and expertise. We asked our MA student Michael Weldon to tell us about his adventures this summer, which involved work relevant to his MA Thesis on the Harkness Gospels. Michael’s travels, which were funded by a Fordham Professional Development Grant, took him first to Ireland, where he worked on an archaeological dig centered on a 14th century Norman castle, and then to Brittany, France, where the Harkness Gospels were created. [Read on for the details of Michael’s adventures, and find out more about the Harkness Gospels and the production of medieval manuscripts].

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Digital Day 2017

Professor Maryanne Kowaleski introduces the Center for Medieval Studies digital humanities projects to a capacity crowd at Digital Day.

On Thursday August 24, while all of Fordham buzzed with the orientation of new students, the Center for Medieval Studies hosted its third annual Digital Day. Students, faculty, and staff from across the university joined us for a series of excellent presentations aimed to introduce particular digital platforms and tools. Read on to learn more about Digital Humanities at Medieval Studies and why we have a Digital Day. Continue reading

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. [Read on for more about Alisa’s internship and the workshop she helped to organize] Continue reading

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. [Read on for more on Professor Coulson’s talk] Continue reading

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. [Read on for more on Nathan and Samantha’s presentations and the IUDC consortium] Continue reading