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.

Manuscript Studies, Medieval Studies

Rebecca Bartels Recounts A Lecture Given by Consuelo Dutschke at Colombia University

On October 28th, students of Dr. Hafner’s Manuscript Culture class attended a lecture at the Butler Library in Columbia University in order to hear a private seminar from Consuelo Dutschke, curator of the Medieval and Renaissance rare book collections. The Rare Book Collections seminar room stood behind a secret door which at first glance looked like a wall. The Rare Books Collection has under its control a locus of incunabulum; namely books and documents printed from early Western Europe up until January 1, 1501.

Once we were all ensconced in the lecture room, Consuelo brought to our attention approximately twenty documents and books laid out over a long wooden table. “Keep an open mind,” Consuelo said as we leaned forward to survey the documents, “or you’ll never find what’s out there.” With these words in mind, we began to participate in an interactive lecture that involved answering questions, translating passages, and experiencing the privilege of holding the documents and books themselves.

Since manuscript scholars can’t rely on colophons or script types to give us the place, date, and author necessarily, we must rely on nuances within decoration and textual format to give us some context. Consuelo highlighted and demonstrated the importance of decoration as a way of localizing each book, in some cases identifyingdown to its very city of origin. Before even opening some of the texts, Consuelo described how the original book bindings hinted at a book’s region of origin. For instance, if a book had clasps (do you recall what it was about the clasps that made them specifically Italian? I think it had to do with their being closed toward the back of the book, but I’m not sure), it was likely to have been made in Italy. With Consuelo’s tutelage, we were enlightened on the uses of decoration and the history of the manuscripts and books.

Consuelo shared with us the importance of manuscript culture history. In 1953, French Paleographers created the CIPL (Comité International de PaléographieLatine), an establishment that aspired to solve a fundamental question about manuscript culture: how do we go about studying these manuscripts? Though the CIPLlost momentum, their work was not in vain. Today, the most used book on manuscript identity is Tuscany’s version of the CIPL, which includes a method of dating the documents by means of comparison and contrast. In the United States, Columbia works alongside UC Berkley to produce the Digital Scriptorium. The strengths of a digital database include the use of vibrant color, a vast library, and the ability to correct inaccurate cataloguing and classification information.

As for Columbia’s Plimpton Manuscript collection, Consuelo described why so many manuscripts were broken off in scrappy segments instead of being retained as whole books. George Plimpton, the founder of the Plimpton collection, bought a myriad of cheap little items from 1925 to 1965. One hypothesis as to why these manuscripts were sold folio by folio instead of by book was because of their cheapness. Consuelo offered another imposing hypothesis: that libraries often accept and recognize volumes of one work, having difficulty classifying and describing a book containing multiple works or texts. Due to this, many manuscripts have portions in several localities.

The class was certainly an enlightening one. Not only did we learn about manuscripts and documents by reading and holding them, but we learned about manuscript culture history and how conservationists and curators locate the time and place of the manuscript. In addition, Consuelo’s generosity and warmth culminated in an exciting and welcoming experience that shall not be forgotten. On behalf of the Centre of Medieval Studies, I wish to thank Consuelo Dutschke and Columbia University for hosing such an enlightening class, for it provided indelible inspiration towards our quests to study manuscript culture.

Manuscript Studies

Review: Master Class on Scholarly Editing with Christopher Baswell

On the evening of November 12, Dr. Christopher Baswell from Columbia University and Barnard College graced Fordham medievalists with a seminar on scholarly editing. The evening was organized by Dr. Brian Reilly in conjunction with his graduate course Editing Medieval Texts. The discussion centered on the topic of multilingualism on the page, ranging from the fundamental importance of familiarizing oneself with the immediate and material manuscript page, to the varying degrees of literacy of those medieval manuscript owners and users, to the multifarious functions of the different languages employed on a page, and finally to the currently under-explored contact between Celtic languages, Anglo-Saxon, Hebrew, and Arabic and that common triad of languages in England—French, Latin, and English.


Miniature of the Three Living and the Three Dead, with the Anglo-Norman poem ‘Le dit des trios morts et trios vifs’ below, from the De Lisle Psalter, England (East Anglia), c. 1308 – c. 1340, Arundel MS 83, f. 127v – See more at: The British Library

Dr. Baswell’s enthusiasm for the subject conjured a sense of joy, inquisitiveness, and camaraderie amongst the participants as they collectively admired and investigated a few digital images of manuscript pages. These images included the juxtaposed three living and three dead kings of the DeLisle Psalter, an image described by Dr. Baswell as the “frisson of the deeply creepy.” Typical of Medieval Studies events at Fordham, the seminar drew participants from a variety of departments. Professors from English, History, and Modern Languages and Literatures were present, as well as graduate students from Medieval Studies and the aforementioned departments. The evening concluded with more casual discussion on the topic over a shared meal, while Dr. Baswell graciously continued to offer his time and advice to eager graduate students.



By Sarah-Kam Gordon