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.

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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.

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Summer Conference on Europe After Wyclif

vaclav_brozik_-_husIn conjunction with the website, The Latin Works of John Wyclif, Fordham will be hosting a conference this coming June entitled “Europe After Wyclif”. Fordham is sponsoring the conference jointly with Michael Van Dussen at McGill University, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the Lollard Society. It is co-chaired by Fordham Theology Professor J. Patrick Hornbeck II, and will take place at the Lincoln Center Campus, June 4-6, 2014.

“Europe after Wyclif” aims to explore the impact of John Wyclif, a controversial Oxford scholar, and the L/lollards in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, particularly in continental contexts. By taking an interdisciplinary approach to the theme, the conference organizers highlight intersections between Wycliffism, traditionally considered a purely insular heresy of the fourteenth century, and broader European cultural trends. Most of the presentations will address Wycliffism or oppositions to it in England and abroad, but some will focus on related contemporary religious movements, such as the Hussites and Waldensians. Scholars of late-medieval religion, literature, and politics will find this conference exciting as it links geographic and cultural areas that are most often treated separately. The full program is listed on the conference website, along with instructions on how to register.

The Latin Works of John Wyclif, a digital initiative first undertaken by Dr. Hornbeck and Georgetown Professor Penn Szittya, includes Latin Wyclif image letters, sermons, and other works within the Wyclif corpus. The site’s continuing aim is to digitize the full canon of Wyclif’s works, first published in nineteenth- and twentieth-century editions.

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Welcome to the Venerable Blog! (And News of the French of Outremer Conference)

Welcome to The Venerable Blog, a biweekly update highlighting the wide range of digital activities taking place on the sites hosted by Fordham’s Center for Medieval Studies. We invite you to comment and participate as our digital projects change and expand!

french of outremer thumbnail (1)This week, we’d like to bring attention to our annual conference taking place March 29-30 at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus. This year’s topic, “The French of Outremer: Communities and Communication in the Crusading Mediterranean,” grows out of the French of Outremer website hosted by the Center. The French of Outremer (or FOO) conference will feature roughly 50 speakers coming from Lebanon, Cyprus, Italy, France, Denmark, the UK, Canada, and the US who will offer papers exploring the artistic, geographical, historical, linguistic, literary, musical, and religious aspects of the French penetration and colonization of lands in the eastern Mediterranean.  Two of the three plenary sessions will showcase well-known French of Outremer scholars Peter Edbury (Cardiff University) and Laura Minervini (University of Naples), and the third will feature a sneak peek from two Metropolitan Museum of Art curators who are planning the MET’s 2016 exhibition, “Jerusalem, 1000-1400.” An updated version of the program, including speaker names along with their paper abstracts, can be found here.  If you are unable to join us in person, be sure to follow the conference on twitter, at #FOO2014. We will be live-streaming Dr. Edbury’s presentation, so check the conference web-page for instructions on how to follow the presentation and tweet in comments or questions.

We are looking forward to the conference with great excitement, and view it as a real opportunity to expand the activities and reach of the site. The French of Outremer site currently serves as a scholarly meeting place for those interested in French-language texts and communities from the Latin East.

Tombstone of Gauthier Mainebeuf  — Image courtesy of Pierre-Vincent Claverie

We are continuously updating the various source pages and adding new scholarly submissions to our “thematic essay” page.  An exciting recent contribution by French scholar Pierre-Vincent Claverie provides an introduction to the topic of Frankish epigraphy, and includes detailed images of both Latin- and  French-language inscriptions etched on tombstones and other stone surfaces from the Latin East. We will soon be posting two more essays, one on textual translation in the Latin East, and another on wills from the Levant.

 

 Our next blog post will highlight the latest additions to the French of England website, for those wishing to perfect their Anglo-Norman accents!

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