This past 1 April, the 2016 Interuniversity Doctoral Consortium Medieval Conference was hosted by CUNY in the Graduate Centre’s Segal Theatre. To this conference of doctoral candidates presenting their research to professors and students alike came chosen representatives from members of the Consortium: SUNY Stony Brook, NYU, Princeton, Rutgers, Colombia, from CUNY itself, and two students from Fordham, Jeffrey Doolittle and David Pedersen.
Jeffrey Doolittle, a PhD candidate in the History Department, delivered his presentation, “Reframing the Works of Pliny in the Early Middle Ages: Montecassino and Monastic Medical Culture,” on his work studying two copies of the Physica Plinii, the Early Medieval compilations of the sections on medicine in Pliny’s Historia Naturalis. Likening it to entries from the Catholic Encyclopedia making their way into undergraduate papers, Jeffrey presented the Historia Naturalis as a text from which scribes took material for their own codices and works, copying only what they needed. Comparing the Physica Plinii copies of Montecassino’s Archivio dell’Abbazia codex 69 and Bamberg codex Med. 2, Jeffrey seeks to explore the differences between two roughly contemporary recipe collections and show that the monks of Montecassino had a very different approach to organization and the idea of “completeness” in regard to the Physica Plinii. While both manuscripts he is studying seem to agree with each other to a remarkable extent (accounting, of course, for the ubiquitous problem of missing pages) in both the list of treatments and the steps provided, they also display some levels of regional adaptation, as Pliny’s original list has been added onto in both medieval copies.
David Pedersen, of the English Department, delivered his presentation, “Old English Apologetics: The Search for Epistemological Certainty in The Old English Boethius,” based on the first chapter of his book. Contrary to some interpretations of The Old English Boethius, the English adaptor of the text (who had an audience for his works, of which the Exeter Book, David believes, likely was one) did not fail in his ability to follow the logic of Boethius, but, rather, consciously modified the text to more accurately reflect his own questions of why evil persists in a world created and governed by God. In effect, the Old English adaptor of Boethius modified the original text to incorporate the Augustinian belief that creation is, fundamentally, good, though currently exists in a fallen state. The adaptor’s refusal to come to a conclusion is not a failure of logic, but, rather, a refusal to allow anything beyond his own logic to serve as a basis of inquiry. He disallows his faith to serve as the underlying assumption that would allow his logic to carry him through to the end. David contests the adaptor’s failure is not one of logic, but of the employ of logic alone. The second chapter of David’s book will be published later this summer by Studies in Philology.
Between these two presentations was the roundtable session, “Trigger Warnings and Free Speech: The Politics of Teaching the Middle Ages,” during which the issue of whether trigger warnings should or should not be used in a classroom environment was discussed by Steven F. Kruger (Queens College and CUNY), Sara Lipton (Stony Brook), Andrew Romig (NYU), and Jill Stevenson (Marymount Manhattan). The discussion spotlighted how divisive the topic is, with instructors and professors of varying levels of experience, but with ample examples drawn upon from their personal experiences, weighing in on whether a trigger warning may ruin the shock value of a text or image, losing a valuable pedagogical resource and sterilizing medieval history, or whether they can allow a student to psychologically prepare him or herself to more readily accept the lesson material. The discussion also highlighted how the term “trigger warning” is itself largely misunderstood or stands in need of further clarification, as some believed it to be an allowance for a student to refuse interaction with particular subjects or ideas. This debate will continue to grow in prominence, and, undoubtedly, in enthusiasm in the years to come.
The Centre for Medieval Studies would like to congratulate Jeffrey and David for their excellent presentations and contributions.
By Kevin Vogelaar