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
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.
David Pedersen is a PhD candidate in English and Medieval Studies at Fordham University. His dissertation, “Anxiously Pursuing Peace: Defining and Defending Christian Faith in Texts of Old English Reflective Wisdom,” explores the unique questions, preoccupations, and concerns that Anglo-Saxons brought to Christian faith when they engaged with Christianity in their own vernacular. David argues that these questions had a profound effect on the conception of Christianity that took root and flourished in Anglo-Saxon England, and that we must understand this effect in order to contextualize properly our view of Anglo-Saxon art and literature. David is scheduled to defend his dissertation in April of 2017.
David joined Fordham’s English PhD program in the fall of 2011 after completing an MA in medieval English literature at the University of York. Recognizing that his research and teaching interests are largely interdisciplinary, David quickly enrolled in the Medieval Studies Doctoral Certificate program. David has been consistently involved in the Centre for Medieval Studies ever since.
During his first two years in the program, David participated in Old English, Old Norse, and Ecclesiastical Latin reading groups while also completing his coursework and working as a tutor in the University’s writing centre and as a research assistant for Prof. Jocelyn Wogan-Browne. During his third year, he took over the Old English reading group as a co-organizer, a position he held for the next three years. In addition, David spent the 2015-2016 academic year developing teaching modules for two of the Centre’s digital initiatives: The Oxford Outremer and the French of Italy projects. For his work on these projects, David was invited to present at the Centre’s Annual Colloquium in April of 2016.
In addition to his work with the Centre, David has spent the past six years building his scholarly and pedagogical profile. He has been the instructed numerous courses at Fordham that range from introductory writing to a senior level capstone, and he has participated in training programs in the teaching of writing and in the teaching of the history of English. He has presented at numerous regional, national, and international conferences, most recently at the 42nd Annual Conference on Manuscript Studies at St. Louis University in October of 2016. David’s first article, “Wyrd þe Warnung…or God: The Question of Absolute Sovereignty in Solomon and Saturn II” was published last month in Studies in Philology, and his article “The Wife of Bath’s Deaf Ear and the Flawed Exegesis of St. Jerome” is currently under review at PMLA.
David has been given a teaching position at the College of the Ozarks in Missouri. While he and his family are sad to be preparing to leave New York City, which has been David and his wife, Katrina’s, home for more than a decade, they are also excited by the prospect of having a yard and maybe a car. David plans to turn his dissertation into a book and then to begin work on a second book-length project that explores the various ways that medieval histories employ the ancient Israelites as a trope that is ultimately used to legitimize a wide range of racial and nationalistic ideals.
We would like to thank David for his extraordinary contributions to the mission and vitality of the Centre and wish him well as he steps forth to make his mark in the field.
The Fordham-York exchange program was a wonderful experience full of challenges and inspiration! We’re two students at Fordham – Liz Light, a second-year PhD student in the English department who studies embodiment and gender in late-medieval devotional writing, and David Smigen-Rothkopf, currently finishing his MA Thesis on the idea of genealogy in Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur before starting in the English department this fall– who were chosen for the student-exchange program between the Center (and Centre) for Medieval Studies at Fordham University and the University of York. We helped out at York’s conference, Medieval Women Revisited, cosponsored by Palacky University in the Czech Republic. It was an experience filled with inspiring scholarship, excellent new studies from academics all over the world, camaraderie, and fruitful, thought-provoking conversations.
Upon our arrival from King’s Cross, Gillian Galloway kindly greeted us at the station and drove us to our apartment at which the York CMS had arranged for us to stay during our visit. We loved the apartment’s full kitchen, window view of the Minster, backyard rose garden, proximity to the CMS, and the really comfortable beds. Who could ask for more? Our hosts also gave us maps of amenities in the area, including a handwritten list of vegan restaurants for David!
On our first day we checked in with the Medieval Studies office, met everyone, and did a few quick preparations for the conference. One of the conference presenters, who lived close by, took Liz on a walk around town to point out some landmarks and get acquainted. When David arrived the next day, we went for a walk around the walls of York, through the park and the Shambles, eventually putting our heels up at the House of Trembling Madness (what a name!), a self-proclaimed medieval pub featuring a wall of over-the-top taxidermy, wooden beams flanking the ceiling, and many Yorkshire staples on the menu.
Our second day in York brought new adventures: a day trip with one of York’s PhD students, Zara Burford, who earlier this year had been on exchange to Fordham to help out at our “Manuscript as Medium” conference through the same bursary program that brought us to York! It was great to see her again and to have our hospitality returned with a trip through Yorkshire together.
Zara drove us to Rievaulx Abbey, a Cistercian monastery dating back to the twelfth century, now in ruins, nestled in the North York Moors. After a morning of exploring the abbey’s skeletal remains, we embarked on the seven-mile pilgrims’ walk to Helmsley Castle. The scenery was stunning, and we’re lucky it didn’t rain! Sheep, horses, cows, and the occasional hare greeted us on the walk. Arriving in Helmsley, we had tea in the castle’s walled garden before making the return trip to Rievaulx and then York.
The next day saw the beginning of the conference, but we still had time to explore York Minster in the morning! We spent a good amount of time admiring the many memorial stones and impressive architecture of the Minster, but we both agreed: the older, the better. It was amazing to go below the cathedral to see the remains of Roman and Norman York! After a quick bite to eat nearby, we made our way over to King’s Manor for the start of the conference.
The conference itself was wonderful. All of a sudden, no longer just guests, we were now hosts! The conference came to a rousing start with provocative presentations by Daniela Rywiková and Rachel Moss. Daniela’s opening
presentation about “Sin and Death Gendered” in late-medieval visual culture was especially interesting because her work is the first in Czech to investigate visual representations of “unspeakable” sins and their gendered associations. We also loved Rachel’s presentation on “(B)Romance and Rape Culture in Late Medieval England,” which asked provocative and challenging questions about homosociality and rape culture from Chaucer’s “Reeve’s Tale” to the modern-day case of Brock Turner’s recent prosecution. These two papers were an amazing way to kick off the conference, as they presented fascinating and refreshing new research. We reconvened for a homemade dinner in our apartment.
Brushing aside the jetlag with abundant coffee and Yorkshire tea, we were able to sit back and enjoy a full day of dynamic presentations and hearty discussion. The presentations were at the cutting edge of scholarship on medieval women’s social and economic roles. Through the collaborative effort of scholars from the United Kingdom and Central-Eastern Europe, the day proffered a vision beyond queens, saints, and nuns, to present a portrait of medieval Europe – indeed a multitude of portraits – where women played vital and active roles in the machinery of social, economic, and cultural life. Hollie Morgan’s opening paper discussed the magical and protective forces that ladies’ chambers played in medieval romance, tracing her findings to larger anxieties about women’s containment in contemporary culture. Gerhard Jaritz’s paper on gendered space in visual culture added important research to the field. Nicola McDonald’s presentation on women’s “unruly laughter” gave evidence for women’s reclamation of agency through irreverence, play, and “ludic misconduct.” Liz, who studies women’s embodiment and adores medieval medicinal manuals, especially enjoyed Kim Phillips’s paper on the cultural meanings of breast size for medieval women, titled “The Breasts of Virgins: Sexual Reputation and Female Bodies in Medieval Culture and Society,” which suggested that women’s breasts in the Middle Ages were active, not passive, body parts, with powerful meanings that inspired anxieties about female agency and sexuality.
After breaking for lunch, we prepared for the conference’s second half, which held a multitude of papers often exploring women’s economic roles in the Middle Ages. Maria Mogorovic presented invaluable research on marriage patterns and concubinage in medieval and early modern Istria, while Beata Mozejko explored women’s roles in Gdansk, Poland based on her groundbreaking findings from Gdansk’s written records. Vicki Blud offered a refreshing look at queer medieval women in Confessio Amantis and the Roman de Silence, revealing the instabilities of naturalized gender roles in these disruptive texts. Returning to the economic and social sphere, Cordelia Beattie asked of us, “Did Married Women Stop Making Wills in 15th Century England?” while Teresa Phipps “located” women in the town court rolls of Nottingham and Chester, showing us how medieval women traveled, trespassed, and traversed the streets, marketplaces, and homes of these towns.
The day concluded with a dinner, arranged by the York CMS, with the many speakers. Food, drinks, and laughter were in abundance, bringing the evening to a happy conclusion. David was so happy to see a vegan meal and dessert!
The next day brought us even more inspiring and thoughtful papers, focusing largely on women’s economic and social statuses. Michaela Antonin Malanikova explored spousal property relations in late medieval Czech towns while Deborah Young showed how women negotiated the boundaries of justice through their appearances as plaintiffs in Star Chamber court cases. Jeremy Goldberg, one of our kind hosts at York and the key organizer for this conference, revisited the social and economic implications for medieval women that he had considered in his 1992 book, Women, Work, and Life Cycle in a Medieval Economy, asking provocative questions about whether the so-called “position of women” can be categorized according to a single model, or through quantifiable statistical findings. Goldberg’s critique built an even more nuanced picture of medieval women’s economic position, this time revealing the problematic relationship between women and history by juxtaposing historical and literary sources.
We finished up the final day of the conference with a luncheon roundtable asking the question, “Medieval Women: Where Next?” It was wonderful to hear so many voices contributing to this discussion. What kinds of papers about medieval women are appearing in the academic world today? We talked about the need for more excellent scholarship on medieval women, especially work that crosses disciplinary boundaries and unearths concurrent and contemporary issues, such as women and power, embodiment and gender presentation, and internationalism. Provocative in its uncompromising appraisal of the current state of scholarship and its ambitious goals for the diversification of both the scope and participation in the field, this roundtable was a high point of inspiration and encouragement to both of us, and really reflected the camaraderie and solidarity that characterized the rest of the conference!
Our last day in York brought us to the Museum Gardens just behind the Centre for Medieval Studies, where we met some friendly owls through Yorkshire’s falconry group. A proper sendoff for a wonderful visit! We will dearly remember this fantastic experience. We want to thank the University of York’s Centre for Medieval Studies and, of course, Fordham University’s Center for Medieval Studies for such a great opportunity to meet new friends, rub shoulders with admired scholars, and encounter exciting ideas about medieval women and medieval scholarship in general!
Thank you, Fordham, and Thank You, York!
-Elizabeth Light and David Smigen-Rothkopf
Professor of English Andrew Albin has been awarded a dual appointment in English and Medieval Studies. This distinction recognizes Professor Albin’s scholarship in medieval aurality and literature and honors his contributions to Fordham’s Center for Medieval Studies as an instructor since 2012. He has published on Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale, the Chester shepherd’s play, and the medieval mystic Richard Rolle. While at Fordham, he has taught courses on subjects and authors such as early English drama, medieval embodiment, Chaucer, the Pearl poet, and spiritual sensory experience.
Professor Albin is on leave for the 2015-2016 academic year to complete a senior fellowship at Yale University’s Institute for Sacred Music, an interdisciplinary center for music history, musicology, theology, music performance, and ministry. During his fellowship, he is translating Richard Rolle’s Melos Amoris, preserving the alliterative patterns and musical prosody of the original text. Not only will this be the first English translation of the Melos Amoris, but Professor Albin plans to supplement it with groundbreaking research on the marginalia and manuscript context of Rolle’s work to shed light on its reception history. Professor Albin has noted that one of the ten manuscript witnesses of the Melos Amoris was bound with a gathering of mid-15th century sacred polyphonic music by three English composers. Professor Albin will include a recording, diplomatic edition, and analysis of this music in his forthcoming book and will examine the ways in which the link between medieval mysticism and music was perceived by 15th- and 16th-century readers. His multimedia and intertextual presentation of the Melos Amoris will allow modern readers to get a sense of how Rolle’s text was experienced aurally and conversant with musical practice of the period.
By Katherine Briant