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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IUDC

Jeffrey Doolittle and David Pedersen Present at the IUDC

Jeff Doolittle (PhD Program, History) Presents at the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium, April 2016

Jeff Doolittle (PhD Program, History) Presents at the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium, April 2016.

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.

Alex Novikoff (Dept. of History) moderates a panel at the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium, April 2016.

Alex Novikoff (Dept. of History) moderates a panel at the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium, April 2016.

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.

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Speakers Joy Partridge (PhD Program, Art History-CUNY) and David Pedersen (PhD Program, English-Fordham) take questions after their presentations at the IUDC (April 2016).

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

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