Digital Humanities, Events, Medieval Studies, Vernacular Languages

37th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies: Part 2

The second half of the conference began with the second panel session focusing on Jews and Christians. Sarit Kattan Gribetz (Fordham) began the panel with her paper, “Jewish-Christian Polemics and the Challenges of Studying Them.” Gribetz presented that in Origen, John Chrysostom, and other Christian sources polemic against Jews was tied to specific times of the year and their concurrent festivals and celebrations.  During times beyond these festivals and seasons of celebration, specific polemic targeting certain practices would lose its impact, or would be devoid of its context. The same is true for Jewish polemic. Gribetz presented that, in the Toledot Yeshu, the defeat and execution of Yeshu is intentionally paralleled with the festival of Purim, a time of the year celebrating the defeat and execution of Haman. Gribetz noted the numerous parallels between the narrative of Yeshu’s defeat and that of Haman’s, one of which is the refusal of the trees to be used to hang the offenders. Purim, a time of remembering God granting victory to His people against their enemies who sought their total destruction, was a time of particular anti-Christian sentiment, and, by its association with the Toledot Yeshu, a time meant to look forward to the day when this newest enemy would be defeated in like kind. Just as Christian polemics were bound to certain times of the year to maximize their effectiveness, so too were Jewish polemics timed according to the festivals of the year to capitalize on seasonal sentiments. This allows us to come closer to understanding how Jews and Christians could be friendly neighbors and business partners one day and hostile the next.

The second speaker was Samantha Zacher (Cornell), who presented her paper, “Anglo-Saxon Maccabees: Political Theology in Ælfric’s Lives of the Saints.”  While Ælfric seems to have been generally averse to armed conflict, leading many to cast him as a pacifist now, he saw the Viking incursions as necessitating an armed response. Presenting the Anglo-Saxons as the new Maccabees in a struggle against the Viking’s new Antiochus, Ælfric described the Maccabees as the only figures from the Old Testament who exemplified the spirit of faith ushered into the world by Christ. The Maccabees broke the letter of the Law in order to act in accordance with the spirit of the Law, so Ælfric believed, making their faith of a purer kind for its not relying upon strictures and decrees. Accordingly, Zacher believes, Ælfric saw an armed resistance against the Vikings as keeping with the spirit of Christ’s peace, even if it did require bloodying swords.

The final roundtable of the conference focused on the broad and often misunderstood concept of popular religion. Popular religion is often not considered a part of the history of religious institutions or of famous movements. Indeed, popular religion, both in academia and beyond, is often presented as preserving some of the pagan beliefs of pre-Christian Europe, causing us to isolate it as a distinct, if amorphous, entity from orthodox or institutionalized practices. Louisa Burnham (Middlebury College) began the roundtable with a description of the place popular religion holds in modern scholarship and beyond. Burnham put forward that, looking at inquisitorial records, one can see a difference in practices between communities and individuals that were recognized at the time, but noted that these differences should not be taken as creating a definite distinction between “popular” and “educated” practices. Rather, these differences present us with varying “flavours” of Christian devotion. Merrill Kaplan (Ohio State) presented popular religion in an Old Norse context as essentially being the comparison of folk tales and stores. Saying that “people have always been clever,” Kaplan related that people hear stores and recognize them as stories for their having heard the same tale in a different place or in a different form. Popular religion, then, in Old Norse accounts is more a comparison of stories and a debate over their truth value. This can be done by the educated, or by the uneducated but reasonably well-traveled lay person.

Richard Kieckhefer (Northwestern) then spoke of popular religion in broader terms, seeking, as he put it, to “problematize the problemitization” of religion begun with Peter Brown and John Van Engen. Kieckhefer presented the difference between popular and elite culture to generally be not one of religion, but of expectation. Popular religion was cluttered with local traditions and stories, which often ran contrary to the reforming intentions of the clergy who usually came from outside the local community. This difference in expectation is defined by the local Christians’ tolerance for their own clutter and the reforming clergy’s intolerance for that same clutter to which they had no personal attachment. The last speaker of the conference, Ittai Weinryb (Bard Graduate Center), presented an art historical approach to questions of popular religion. Weinryb discussed votive offerings, and, in particular, iron oxen that were offered to St. Leonard, the devotional focus of the so-called “Iron Cult.” St. Leonard, a saint associated with prisoners, did not have terribly many relics that could be displayed, prompting the giving of votive offerings that could be used to physically denote Leonard’s presence in a particular church or place. Broken chains and shackles could be found hung on the walls of the church dedicated to him, given by those who had been miraculously freed of their bonds. Iron oxen would be donated to petition the saint for his continuing protection over the animals so many relied upon for their survival. These oxen were not given in gratitude for saved animals, but out of devotion and thanks for the protection assumed to already be granted to them. They reflected enduring faith, not a specific prayer answered.

The Center would like to thank the speakers for their excellent contributions in this celebration of Traditio and the effects of tradition on daily life. We would also like to thank the organizers and all those whose donations made this conference possible.

Standard
Digital Humanities, Events, Medieval Studies, Vernacular Languages

37th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies: Part 1

This past 25 March, the Center held its 37th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies. This year’s conference, “The Generative Power of Tradition: A Celebration of Traditio, 75 Years,” explored both the power of tradition in producing new ideas and movements and the role and history of Traditio in the humanities.

This year’s conference was divided into two panel sessions and two roundtables, with Father Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J., beginning the conference with a brief history of Traditio’s origin, its current role in facilitating discourse in numerous disciplines in the humanities, and its future under both Fordham and Cambridge University Press.

The first session was dedicated to mysticism, with the current state of the discourse surrounding mystics and their written experiences forming the central focus of the presenters. Barbara Newman (Northwestern) began the panel with her paper, “New Seeds, New Harvest: Thirty Years of Tilling the Mystic Field.” Discussions of medieval mysticism were, prior to the Second Vatican Council, dominated by authors with some kind of tie to religious institutions or orders. These men and, very occasionally, women approached medieval mystic experiences with a particular eye toward their agreement with established orthodoxy. While these earlier discussions thoroughly traced genealogies of influence and, when the reader’s Latin comprehension was not assumed, provided exceptional translations of the source material, the discourse, dominated as it was by the same communities of scholars, fell into certain assumptions that prevented the discussion from expanding. Women mystics, for example, were only discussed if they were considered saints. After Vatican II and the explosion of interest in mystical experiences in the 1960s, the discourse began opening up to a wider body of scholars of more diverse disciplinary backgrounds. Mystics came to be understood through less a spiritualist lens and more through a material, bodily, and terrestrial one. In conclusion, Newman challenged medievalists to now explore mystics in relation to political roles. Saying that mystics strove for an otherworldly ideal while still remaining grounded in this world, Newman expressed her desire for medievalists now to look to mystic vernacular writings not as inferior to the well-worded Latin copies, but as attempts by mystics to reach out to a wider audience in more tangible ways.

Concluding the first session was Sara Poor (Princeton). Her paper, “From Author to Textual Construct: Changing Approaches to Female Mystics in the European Tradition,” explored how female mystics have been discussed in relation to the often contentious notion of authorship for the past few decades. Looking to Mechthild von Magdeburg as her prime example, Poor discussed how the role of author can be, and is often, denied medieval women. By denying the notion of an author, as we often do when considering medieval texts, we allow for reinterpretations of the persona of the author that eliminate the possibility of a female origin of a text. Some interpretations of Mechthild’s The Flowing Light of the Godhead relate that Mechthild was herself a textual construct: an invented author figure meant to facilitate a description of a mystic experience that would have been unwelcome if openly coming from a man. Poor related that, while we willingly contemplate such possibilities concerning the existence of female authors, we rarely seem to apply such critical reinterpretations to supposed male authors, revealing an incongruity that medievalists and scholars of mystic texts need to be made aware of.

After the first panel came a roundtable concerning editing medieval manuscripts in the digital age. The first speaker, William Noel (University of Pennsylvania), addressed rampant problems with the current methods of production and use of digitized manuscripts and source material. Such problems he brought up were the tendency for libraries and museums to make their digitized manuscripts look as nice as they can aesthetically, covering up valuable information in the process. Likewise, while Noel by no means intimated that individuals or institutions engaged in this kind of activity, there is a very real possibility that one could digitally alter an image to provide information it actually does not. Ultimately, Noel presented a general need for institutions to digitize their manuscripts, provide the digitized versions free of charge, and provide with them the metadata that proves their legitimacy and gives scholars the information needed to know what to do with them.

William Stoneman (Harvard) presented the uses and applications of the programs Jeffrey Witt (Loyola Maryland) is developing to make use of the versatile nature of digitized manuscripts and texts. Witt’s programs will allow for the digitizing of a manuscript’s text and the embedding of links within the text which will allow a user to click on a certain word and bring up a list of translations and explanations which could be provided by the user base itself. In effect, this program would allow for the creation of a potentially unlimited number of editions of digitized texts to be produced online while hybridizing the digitized text and edition into a single entity. Stoneman commented on Witt’s project, bringing up questions of sustainability, where the data behind these hundreds of crowd-sourced editions would be kept, and for how long.

The final speaker of the first roundtable was Raymond Clemens (Yale), who presented a program he had been employing for some time that seeks to lower the barrier for entry into paleography and text editing. His program, the Digital Platform of Textual Editing Projects, has graduate students working together in workshops on editing and digitizing manuscripts while being taught by other graduate students who are familiar with the software and methods needed to do so. This provides the teaching students with valuable experience in pedagogy while introducing the students participating in the workshops to digital editing and paleography in a minimal-stress environment.

Standard
English Department, Events, Italian Literature, Medieval England, Medieval Studies, Vernacular Languages

Valentine’s Day Vernacular Poetry 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.

Standard
English Department, Faculty News, Manuscript Studies, Medieval Studies, Vernacular Languages

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Andrew Albin

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.

Albin240
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

Standard
Events, Medieval Studies, Vernacular Languages

Fall Symposium on “Faith and Knowledge in Late Medieval Scandinavia” a Success

In the midst of the excitement and commotion of Pope Francis’s Manhattan visit on Friday, September 25, an intimate group of scholars from the United States and Norway convened at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus for a conference on Faith & Knowledge in Late Medieval Scandinavia, organized by Drs. Mikael Males and Karoline Kjesrud, both postdoctoral fellows at the University of Oslo.

The conference is the latest in a series of recent events at Fordham concerning the literature and culture of medieval Scandinavia. In 2012, Fordham hosted a symposium titled “Textual Interpretation in Medieval Vernaculars,” as well as an earlier conference in 2010, “New Directions in Medieval Scandinavian Studies,” which developed into a book, Eddic, Skaldic, and Beyond: Poetic Variety in Medieval Iceland and Norway, edited by Fordham’s Dr. Martin Chase, S.J., and released by Fordham University Press this past spring 2015. The theme of this latest conference grew out of conversations that took place between the two organizers regarding their respective interests. While Dr. Males studies the poetics of Old Norseskaldic verse and Dr. Kjesrud studies the reflection of power relations between social classes in literary genres, both often found themselves wondering how ideas about the divine were made manifest to subjects in medieval Scandinavian society. How did people acquire the tenants of their religious beliefs? In what terms and forms did they express them?

With such fundamental questions as these forming the conference’s unifying thread, the
N 347day’s talks ranged over a wide field of topics. Among the presenters, Elise Kleivane (University of Oslo) discussed the availability of scriptural texts in Scandinavian vernacular languages – a talk which included the fascinating example of a church door ring bearing a runic inscription of the Ave Maria; Margaret Cormack (College of Charleston) reported on the progress of a project that aims to map statue purchases in order to document the spread of saints’ cults throughout Iceland; and Stephen Mitchell (Harvard University) surveyed the charms and spells of the late medieval and early modern periods that invoked pagan gods for the attainment of such ends as wealth and treasure or protection against rats. Taken together, these talks and others presented a revealing overview of the age’s social and intellectual landscape.

The day demonstrated the potential for a focused conference to illuminate a broad question using insights from a variety of disciplines. The attendees agreed that with further refinement and consolidation, the day’s material will make for a unique book project, and all expressed interest in a follow-up conference at which the contributors might present their progress.

—-

By Andrew O’Sullivan

Drawing by Wilhelm F.K. Christie (image courtesy of Elise Kleivane: “the ring’s catalogue number is N 347 and it is from Tønjum church, a stave church that was destroyed in a storm in 1824. The dating of the ring and its inscription is uncertain, but ca. 1200 is not impossible.”)

Standard
Medieval Studies, Vernacular Languages

Fall Symposium: Faith and Knowledge in Late Medieval Scandinavia

FAITH & KNOWLEDGE

IN LATE MEDIEVAL SCANDINAVIA

Fordham University, Lincoln Center Campus

South Lounge of the Lowenstein Building

September 25th

At this seminar we will investigate religious life in Late Medieval Scandinavia, in particular as it relates to how knowledge was perceived and attained. The absoluteness of the dichotomy between what we believe and what we know has always been dependent on context, and in the Late Middle Ages, the difference between the two was undergoing constant negotiation. This is probably due not only to an increase in sources, but also in voices, disco
urses, and questions actually raised. This seminar is dedicated to listening to those voices, and to trying to discern how they sought to answer questions that have constantly beset the human mind. The seminar is part of a book project.

Lunch will be provided. Please email medievals@fordham.edu for more information. We hope to see you there!

scandi

Standard
Medieval Studies, Vernacular Languages

What is the Vernacular?

This post is guest-edited by David Wrisley, Medieval Fellow @DJWrisley.

Medieval Fellows for the Fall 2014-15 semester Emma Campbell and David Wrisley are hosting an informal workshop with other Fordham scholars on the notion of the vernacular across different medieval contexts.

Participating Fordham medievalists include Lucy Barnhouse (History), Louisa Foroughi (History), Laura Morreale (Medieval Studies) and David Pedersen (English).

Guiding questions for the flash presentations are as follows:

  • What happens when competing vernaculars exist and which specific historical contexts shape their use? (Morreale)
  • How did language become authoritative in Mainz’s courts and contracts? (Barnhouse)
  • How does the representation and use of Latin and vernacular languages in medieval Francophone texts complicate opposition between these groupings? (Campbell)
  • How has the tendency among scholars to establish Latin as the pinnacle of literary production in the early Middle Ages caused us to miss the possibilities that might have been utilized by authors writing in the vernacular? (Pedersen)
  • Since the term vernacular itself does not appear to be a medieval term, are there medieval ways of approximating the concept? (Wrisley)
  • Where does language choice feature in constructing identities and navigating social hierarchies? (Foroughi)
  • What about different national language situations inflects the way the term ‘vernacular’ is used in medieval scholarship? (Wrisley)
  • What are the implications of this for the way we think about medieval language and translation? (Campbell)
  • What can the use of the vernacular in surviving documents tell us about how it was used alongside Latin (complementing or competing with it) in legal process? (Barnhouse)
  • What do we gain or lose from applying the term ‘vernacular’ to discourses beyond the realm of language difference, i.e. material cultures, social groups, or religious practices/beliefs? (Foroughi)
  • How might the critical tendency to assume Latinate philosophy and theology as an ideal for authors writing in the vernacular have caused us to gloss over the peculiarities of the subtly varied worldviews that vernacular languages might be uniquely able to express? (Pedersen)
  • When multiple vernaculars exist beside indigenous vernaculars, what benefits do authors enjoy with each linguistic choice? In the case of Italy, I’m wondering if French and Occitan were more easily transferred within the Italian peninsula than were the local Italian dialects.  (Morreale)
  • How we might use humanities “big data” to think about the vernacular as a shifting literary historiographic category?  (Wrisley)

Check back here for a crowd-edited summary of the event.

Fordham vernacularity

Standard