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

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. [Read on for more about the 2017 Compatible Careers Workshop] Continue reading

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.[Read on for more about Larissa and Rita’s presentations] Continue reading

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.

[Read on for profiles of our two Alpha Sigma Nu inductees]

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