This past 5 December, three Fordham undergraduate students of Dr. Alex Novikoff’s presented their respective papers at the tenth annual Undergraduate Conference in Medieval and Early Modern Studies. Rita Orazi, Kyle Stelzer, and Arthur Mezzo III were driven by Dr. Novikoff to Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where the conference was held. At this conference, undergraduate students from across the country are invited to present their finest papers pertaining to subjects Medieval and Early Modern on topics ranging from literature, art, and music to history and philosophy. The study and perception of the medieval world in the modern day also holds a prominent place in the topics discussed.
Moravian College professors, Dr. Sandra Bardsley, of the history department, and Dr. John Black, of the English department, founded the annual conference in 2006 for the purpose of nurturing and promoting undergraduate interest in historical studies by highlighting the myriad interdisciplinary methods of approach to those studies, building a bridge between scholars of medieval and early modern history and the musical and performing arts. This year’s plenary lecture was delivered by Dr. Michael Drout of Wheaton College, a scholar of Anglo-Saxon and Middle English literature and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Rita Orazi presented her paper, “The Emperor as Classical Hero in Ana Komnene’s Alexiad,” which demonstrates how Ana Komnene proclaims her Roman identity in the Alexiad in the manner in which she makes her father, Alexios, out to be a hero of a Homeric epic. Rita highlighted that Ana Komnene’s narrative focuses on the main channels of power in Constantinople (an archetypical trait of Roman histories), and her distrust of the barbarian “other,” a role occupied by the Franks. Acting not only as a body of work meant to praise her father, the Alexiad may also have served as a defense or justification for Alexios’ actions during the events of the First Crusade, as a result of which his popularity dwindled. Rita believes the fact that this work is one of only two surviving Byzantine accounts of Alexios’ reign possibly indicates that Ana Komnene wrote of her father fearing none other would care to do so, and wanted to leave a positive view of her father for future generations to inherit. Rita Orazi, having set her sights on medical school, was drawn to the Alexiad because, aside from it being one of the few Byzantine accounts of Alexios’ reign, Ana Komnene herself was a practicing and teaching physician and ran a hospital in Constantinople.
Arthur Mezzo III’s “God and King: Biographies of Medieval Frankish Kings,” explored the biographies of medieval Frankish rulers and the parallels they drew between themselves and stories and contemporary images of Christ. Arthur paid special attention to the works of Gregory of Tours, Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne, and the anonymously authored panegyric Beatus Ludovicus, composed for the canonization of Louis IX.
Kyle Stelzer’s paper, “The Tibyan: One Ruler’s Account of Christian-Muslim Relations in Eleventh-Century Iberia,” focuses on the Tibyan: Memoirs of ‘Abdallah ibn Buluggin, Last Zirid Amir of Granada, an autobiography discovered by Levi Provencal in 1933 and translated into English in 1986. These memoirs provide a firsthand account of the history of the Zirid dynasty of the Ta’ifa of Granada from circa 1013-1095. ‘Abdallah ibn Buluggin’s autobiography is one of a very few accounts of eleventh century Al-Andalus actually written in the eleventh century. ‘Abdallah’s recounting of Andalusian politics, society, and culture provide both historical and personal insight into the era. Kyle presents the Tibyan more specifically as elucidating both the ethno-racial hostilities present amongst Muslim communities and the struggles for power between the various Muslim and Christian states of the Iberian Peninsula. This drastically modifies the common notion of how Muslims, Christians, and Jews related to one-another and lived together, referred to often as “La Convivencia,” or, “The Coexistence,” and the multicultural identity of the Iberian Peninsula.
Our most heartfelt congratulations are extended to the presenters for their excellent work and for their contributions.
By Kevin Vogelaar and Andrew O’Sullivan