Medievalist Rachel Podd (PhD Program, History) wins the 2015 Loomie Prize

This post is cross-blogged from History at Fordham University.

Each year the History department awards its highest honor for excellence in graduate scholarship, the Loomie Prize. The Loomie prize is awarded to the best seminar paper produced during the previous academic year.  All M.A. and Ph.D. students who have taken the proseminar/seminar sequence or a research tutorial are eligible. The prize for 2015 was awarded to Rachel Podd and Christine Kelly.  

Rachel Podd‘s paper “Interrogating the Guaridoras: Women, Medicine and Magic in Catalonia before the Plague” was written under supervision of Alex Novikoff. The Loomie judges noted that it was based on rich source material, and offered a convincing argument about why and how these sources could be useful to scholars beyond those who specialize in 14th century Catalonia. Rachel wrote that “these documents offer a window… into a vibrant and dynamic world. Within them, one may find Saracens and Christians, men and women, as well as spells and incantations for the health of people and of animals. Through close reading and contextualization, they can elucidate the lives of individuals performing curative activities outside of the major civic centers of Catalonia before the arrival of the plague – what types of diseases did they treat, and how? If caught, what punishment could they expect from the ecclesiastical judicial structure?” Hence, Rachel demonstrated how these records sit at the juncture of vernacular medicine, episcopal control, and inquisition.

Christine Kelly‘s paper “Gender, the Popular Front, and the Folksong Revival through Sing Out! Magazine, 1950 – 1968″ written under supervision of Kirsten Swinth. Her essay is an outstanding example of cultural analysis built from the gritty work of data collecting.  By categorizing hundreds of articles in the folk music periodical, Sing Out!, Christine developed a highly original thesis about the discourse of gender in the 1960s folk music revival.  She overturned a conventional division between the leftist cultural movements of the 1930s, and those of the 1960s, showing that folk revivalists in the 1960s resurrected familiar tropes and narratives of gender from the 1930s.  These were ultimately highly traditionalist, premising an anti-capitalist utopia on an idealized view of the American past where women remained tied to “traditional domestic and reproductive spaces” and “men were more responsible for carrying out the daily operations of political thought and cultural innovation that constituted the engine [of the] folk song revival.”

We reached out to Rachel and Christine for details about their work and how they developed the ideas and research for their papers.

Rachel Podd



Rachel Podd

“Over the course of the 2014-2015 school year, I was a student in “Medieval Intellectual Cultures,” with Dr. Alex Novikoff. The course covered a wide geographical and temporal scope; my area of interest had always been late medieval England, but Dr. Novikoff’s class seemed an ideal space to explore a new location, if not a new time, and so I began looking for primary source material involving gender, medical practice, and law on the Iberian peninsula. Eventually, I came upon a set of transcriptions from the fourteenth-century Episcopal Registers of Ponç de Gualba, the bishop of Barcelona. What struck me first was the uniqueness of the texts. It is somewhat of a truism in medieval history that the majority of recorded voices are elite, urban, and male. These episcopal registers included not only those voices we might expect, however, but also those of almost a dozen rural, poor women, brought before the ecclesiastical court for working magic. By and large, and in contrast to the indictment against them, however, these women were acting as healers, guaridoras, albeit without formal education or licensing, and it was those curative activities which interested me. After translating the documents, I wrote “Interrogating the Guaridoras: Women, Medicine and Magic in Catalonia before the Plague”; through close reading and contextualization, I explored what types of diseases they treated, and how. If they were caught, what punishment could they expect from the ecclesiastical judicial structure? Those questions, among others, informed the text. My work is not complete, with regard to both Spain and the paper. In May I will be presenting a version of my project at the annual meeting of the American Association for the History of Medicine. Furthermore, last summer I walked from Leon to Santiago de Compostela as part of a Fordham Course, and I will be going again this summer as a graduate assistant.”


Christine Kelly

Christine Kelly

Christine Kelly

“Among the community of historians, literary scholars, sociologists, and musicologists, who look carefully at the contributions of the folk music revival in the cultural life of twentieth century American society, a standard feature of their source evidence includesSing Out! The Folk Song Magazine.  The most well-known magazine of the folk revival period, founded in 1950 and peaking in influence around 1965, Sing Out!’s high number of subscriptions and articles authored by key figures in the movement render it a window into the world of folk music that help to reshape the political and cultural trajectory of American society.

In the mid-twentieth century, a growing number of folk music aficionados and amateur artists, usually college age youths, turned to folk music to serve as a portal to another time, to transport them to by-gone era which they imagined as superior to the current context of the world they inherited, one of Cold War anxiety, military-industrial profiteering by an invisible but omnipresent power elite, and the anticipated blandness of their futures as organization men living and working in a post-scarcity age. Subscribers toSing Out! joined a growing body of left-leaning activists who would seek cultural changes and political solutions to mitigate their dissatisfaction, protesting for civil rights, against nuclear activity and Vietnam, and for less management of student life on college campuses. All the while, folk music, a major source of musical accompaniment to the unrest of the 1960s, would motivate and unite activists of various kinds, and readers of Sing Out! formed a common community of those “in the know” about folk music’s role as an instrument of social protest.

Curiously, however, as I have researched this movement, I noticed that among the key changes of mid-century American life – in particular the rise of second wave feminism and the movement for women’s liberation – the articles of Sing Out! had little to say, and scholars, drawing from this and similar sources among folk artists and activists, had even less to say about the role of women and gender in a movement so otherwise passionately committed to achieving broad social change and advocating for greater social inclusion. I began to wonder why. I started to explore this question by exploring the life of Joan Baez, perhaps the most influential among the “girl folk singers” as a line in Sing Out! dubbed them, whose autobiography reveals that Baez often felt confused and flabbergasted by “women’s libbers” who urged her to tailor her songs to the needs of their message of radical gender parity, one that at the time she barely understood. And yet, it seemed to me that Baez very deliberately manipulated gender-based symbols to communicate certain ideas in her music – presenting herself as an earthy, long-haired, weak-willed falsetto, she lamented such social issues as pollution and nuclear war.  This was someone who was using gender conventionality very deliberately to carve out a role for herself as an artist and activist within the folk song community that she was in, even while she felt ambivalent about the possibility that gender norms could operate strategically and often oppressively.

Later, I began to explore the long roots of the American folk music movement, so often confined in popular memory to the 1950s and 1960s, even though roots, jazz, pop, and Tin Pan Alley hits were already being labeled as a “folk,” an increasingly mass-produced and popular music genre, as early as the late 1920s and early 1930s. Woody Guthrie, Paul Robeson, Alan Lomax, and Pete Seeger, all of whom traveled closely in Communist Party and other progressive political circles in these years, presented folk music as the “music of the people,” as they proudly called it in Sing Out!’s very first issue, the music of laborers and farmers of all races, who struggled to survive amid Depression era conditions of low wages and boss exploitation. I learned through the work of historians on the American left that folk music helped to facilitate the Communist Party’s aims during the Popular Front, in which the previously isolated and sectarian Party revamped its message, trying to make it seem more authentically “American” to attract more Party members. Barbara Melosh and other historians and critics have suggested that the Depression era and the Popular Front, unlike other periods of economic and social discontent, suppressed any chance of a feminist movement joining the fray of national concerns as men, now jobless or underemployed, tried to keep women out of the workplace to prevent job competition. It was the Popular Front which informed the folk singers’ intellectual, cultural, and political coming of age, and the Front which would determine their thinking on many matters, including matters of women and gender, for decades to come.

Though published after the Front’s supposed end in 1948, the pages of Sing Out! magazine are filled with Popular Front notions of class warfare, advocacy for racial equality, an idealization of the Soviet Union, and, in addition, a depiction of women as tied to domestic spaces, where they were alleged to be most naturally suited unless the dictates of capital pulled them away in the form of wage labor to support their families. As I looked through hundreds of issues of Sing Out! produced from 1950 through 1968, I noticed that women were consistently designated to advertisements and featured in folk song lyrics, whereas men wrote the vast majority of articles of substantive intellectual and political concern. In song lyrics and ad images, women were often portrayed as standard bearers for a mythical past, one that the folk revival thrived on inventing and reinventing, in which familial harmony, simplicity, and sharing – along with accompanying notions of women as domestic and dependent – challenged the sources of discontent in the present. It seemed to me that the Popular Front, this social and cultural reconfiguring of the country’s radical left, was responsible for the folk revival’s portrayals of gender. This representation of gender would persist long past the Depression itself, into the Cold War world and its later fragmentation through social and cultural protests. Folk singers and enthusiasts, both men and women alike, became socialized into a world that, as the life of Joan Baez reveals, couldn’t conceive of later feminist imaginings nor apply them to their music, even as they challenged other kinds of unjust or oppressive norms.

My hope has been for my article, “Gender, the Popular Front, and the Folk Music Revival through Sing Out! Magazine,” to elaborate on these issues. In it, I quantitatively break down the content of Sing Out!, including the magazine’s reprints of folk songs and news articles, to reveal the gendered character of Popular Front discourse in this mid-twentieth century publication. It critically interrogates what is currently a divide among historians of radical and progressive politics and culture between the “Old Left” of the 1930s and 1940s and the “New Left” of the 1960s, as here the two movements appear practically indistinct. It also seeks to recover the role of women artists of the folk song revival, and to parse out why the movement’s most substantial printed cultural product, Sing Out! magazine, says so little about women and gender in and of itself. Though the essay points out the limits on the role of women in the folk revival as derived from the Popular Front, it nevertheless explores a vividly gendered and unique world in its own right that lived in the imaginations of folk artists and their fans who contributed a great deal culturally and politically during times of cultural transition and unrest.”


The Center for Medieval Studies congratulates both winners!


By Nicholas Paul

Week in Review: Workshop on Databases for Medievalists with Dr. Maryanne Kowaleski

This past 5 February, Dr. Maryanne Kowaleski took a break from her appointment at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study to deliver a presentation and lead a workshop on how individual scholars may develop and prepare a database to assist in their research. While the workshop was specifically meant to aid in the Independent Crusader Database project the Center is currently undertaking, the main points of how to construct a database easily apply to nearly any study or field of research requiring the organization of vast volumes of data. Breaking the entire process down step-by-step, Dr. Kowaleski began with which database software program to use and what each offers the prospective user. Be it Microsoft Access or Filemaker Pro, of paramount importance is that the user spends the time necessary to read through whatever manuals come with the software, including such additional guides as the ubiquitous “For Dummies” series. While this point might seem an obvious one, diving into a database program without knowing what that program is capable of, as, frankly, many people do with many types of programs, will leave you at a severe disadvantage. Like a painter who does not know how to mix his colours effectively, a researcher, working either independently or with a group, who does not know what his or her database program is capable of will only be adding information into a table without being able to do anything with it: the data will be an amorphous mass on a screen.

As Dr. Kowaleski related, it is all too easy, when compiling a database of any kind, to fill it in with as much information as the researcher finds interesting. One must limit a database to a specific type of record (detailing a marriage, an indictment, a person, etc.) to serve as a basis of investigation, and stick to that specific type so that each entry in the database does not stray into areas superfluous to the topic of research. Just because a particular point found in a source is fascinating, that does not mean it must be noted in the database unless it modifies the frame of the research topic, as will inevitably happen over the course of one’s study. Focus and specificity are a database compiler’s greatest allies; time, as in most cases, is not.

Herself using databases she produced and continues to augment and adapt with new discoveries for well over a decade, Dr. Kowaleski showed that a properly assembled database can illuminate mistakes in assumptions made at the beginning of the research endeavour, and can serve as a continuing work in progress as one moves on to further studies in the same general topic, as the database can be adapted as new information comes to light and foci shift direction. Far from set-in-stone, a database is something which can be modified and augmented as time goes on, making it an ideal method of note-taking when working on a long-term project and when relating a process of analysis to a wider audience. This, of course, applies to far more than historical research. We are in constant contact with databases, both appearing before our eyes and employed behind the proverbial scenes. Every time one buys something online, that purchase is catalogued and incorporated into databases displaying your buying patterns both individually and as part of the entirety of a seller’s clientele. Demography relies entirely upon the employ of databases in order to present regional information collected in some coherent, useful way. The ability to chart and organize large quantities of information over a prolonged period of time is vital to any profession or academic discipline what requires the analysis of individual cases in relation to one-another under certain circumstances or within a specific context.

The Center thanks Dr. Kowaleski for her sharing her considerable knowledge and experience with us during her time on leave.


By Kevin Vogelaar

Esther Liberman Cuenca Awarded Prestigious Schallek Fellowship

This post is cross-blogged from History at Fordham University


Esther Liberman Cuenca, recipient of the Schallek Fellowship

Fordham History Department’s own Esther Liberman Cuenca was recently awarded the Schallek Fellowship, a one-year grant of $30,000 to support Ph.D. dissertation research in any relevant discipline (art history, literature, history, etc.) dealing with late medieval Britain (ca. 1350-1500). Not only is this a prestigious honor but it will allow Esther to conduct research critical to the completion of her dissertation.

Esther’s research focuses on the development and evolution of borough customary law in medieval Britain. Borough customs were practices or traditions that over time acquired the force of law within the town. Her analytical goals are twofold: to contribute to a deeper understanding of the place of urban customary law within the British legal system, and to reveal custom’s role in the emergence of a distinct bourgeois identity in medieval Britain. Borough customary law has received little scholarly attention because of its scattered distribution in many local and county archives; the need for multi-lingual expertise in Latin, Anglo-Norman French, and Middle English; and the difficulty of dating customary clauses and ordinances from multiple iterative copies.

SROI C/4/1/1, f. 9a: The table of contents for the French Ipswich custumal, contained in the codex they call the 'Black Domesday.'

SROI C/4/1/1, f. 9a: The table of contents for the French Ipswich custumal, contained in the codex they call the ‘Black Domesday.’

Since she reached ABD status at Fordham in 2012, Esther has been teaching multiple courses at Marymount California University and this fellowship will give her the opportunity to focus fully on completing her dissertation. She plans to spend the 2016-2017 year living in England where she can complete her research at the Bristol Record Office and London Metropolitan Archives. In 2013, Esther was also the recipient of the Schallek Award, which is a small grant of $2,000 to help students cover research expenses. “The Medieval Academy/Richard III Society have been very kind to me! And I’m very grateful that they’re supporting my research,” says Esther.


By Grace Healy

CMS says farewell to Katrine Funding Højgaard, Fall 2015 visiting student.

Katrine Funding Højgaard, a master’s student from the History Department of Aalborg University, Denmark, came via a study abroad program to Fordham’s Center for Medieval Studies for the Fall 2015 semester. Having no department in her home university dedicated to Medieval Studies specifically, she came to the Center to take classes that would provide her with the opportunity to engage with medieval subject matter in a classroom environment, as opposed to her independent studies she has been pursuing in Denmark under the guidance and tutelage of historians Torben Kjersgaard Nielsen and Iben Fonnesbech-Schmidt. received_10153729793236351Of the four courses she took during the semester, Dr. Mary Erler’s “Late Medieval Women” proved particularly inspiring to Katrine, as it introduced a wider range of methodologies and theories in the study of medieval cultural history, iconography, and literature that come with employing more interdisciplinary approaches to historical inquiry. This class, and the new methodological horizons it introduced, have instilled within Katrine a desire to utilize more interdisciplinary methods for her thesis, which she plans to begin upon her return to Denmark.

Katrine found the additional lectures and programs provided throughout the semester to be fascinating and useful in widening her historical gaze, even if none specifically directed her toward a particular area of study. The colloquium on Faith and Knowledge in Late Medieval Scandinavia provided a new perspective on Scandinavian Medieval history, which, due to her exposure to it from an early age, had largely escaped her scholarly notice. Being introduced to histories or narratives from birth often does have a polarizing effect. Either one develops a love of the material, or one finds it mundane; lost in the commonplace of normal, every-day life. The latter was the case for Katrine, and listening to such a wide array of scholars discuss unfamiliar aspects of familiar histories shined a new light on the medieval history of her homeland.

The Center proved for Katrine a warm and encouraging place filled with helpful faculty and eager students that, subverting what reservations her family may have had about her living in the Bronx, made the area a welcoming home for three and a half months. Her time with the Center for Medieval Studies sparked within Katrine the desire to continue to study abroad and to learn and experience as much as she can from around the world. Though her time with the Center was all too brief, all here wish Katrine the best in her future endeavors, academic and otherwise.



By Kevin Vogelaar

Introducing Dr. Ronald Herzman, Medieval Fellow for 2015-2016


Dr. Ron Herzman

The Center for Medieval Studies welcomes Ron Herzman, our current medieval fellow in residence. Dr. Herzman, State University of New York Distinguished Teaching Professor of English at the College at Geneseo, studies the relationship between Dante and the visual culture of Italy. He has published widely on Dante and the Middle Ages, with a special interest in the connections between Dante and Francis of Assisi. Dr. Herzman has also taught at Georgetown University, St. John’s College in Santa Fe, and Attica Correctional Facility, and has directed eighteen seminars for high school teachers for the National Endowment for the Humanities in Italy and the United States. He received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from his alma mater, Manhattan College, and was the recipient of the first CARA Award for Excellence in Teaching Medieval Studies from the Medieval Academy of America. He is currently the Director of Dante Outreach and Education for the Dante Society of America.

Dr. Herzman delivered the final lecture of the Fall 2015 Lecture Series, “Dante and the Frescoes of the Sancta Sanctorum” on Tuesday, December 2.


The frescos at the Sancta Sanctorum, showing Pope Nicholas III presented to Christ by Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

In his engaging presentation, Dr. Herzman elucidated the connection between the visual program of the Sancta Sanctorum, a papal chapel in Rome, and the imagery used by Dante in his criticisms of Popes Nicholas III and Boniface VIII in Canto IXX of the Comedia. Dr. Herzman argues that the fresco cycle provided the material for Dante’s deconstruction of Pope Nicholas’ agenda in Canto IXX. The Sancta Sanctorum was decorated in the lavish style of royal chapels such as Louis IX’s Sainte-Chapelle, Justinian’s Hagia Sophia, and Charlemagne’s palace at Aachen, and was designed to publicly proclaim the legitimacy and holiness of the controversial Orsini Pope, Nicholas III, who was known for his excessive nepotism.

Dr. Herzman attracted a huge crowd that included many high school students and his own sophomore English teacher, Bill O’Malley, S.J., a longtime teacher at Fordham Prep. He even opened with a joke about simony that took the entire room by surprise, using this colorful moment to suggest the danger of the co-option of the spiritual by the material.

Dr. Herzman’s talent as a teacher shined through the combination of his commanding knowledge of Dante’s Italy and his acerbic wit. His lecture was a pleasure for all in attendance.


By Alexa Amore

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

Talking Through the Issues: A Podcast Series on the Crusader States

This post is cross-blogged from History at Fordham University

crusaderstA new conversation has started within the History Department at Fordham. Under the direction of Dr. Nicholas Paul, graduate students in his Crusader States class are developing podcasts as a means to initiate discussion. The course, “charts the social, political, and cultural history of the feudal principalities (sometimes called “Crusader States” “the Latin East” or the ‘Frankish Levant”) that were established by Latin Christians in the Eastern Mediterranean in the wake of the First Crusade.” The podcasts, in turn, each focus on a specific theme within the current scholarship, from the background to the First Crusade in the Eastern Mediterranean, to the relationships between Latin Europeans and eastern Christians and Muslims, through the cultural, social, and political development of the Crusader States themselves

What are the advantages of the podcast format? Tom Schellhammer, a student in the course, commented that, “Historical scholarship must also embrace the current trend towards technological interaction,” as “Technology allows us to reach a wide audience, and this idea is a fantastic intro to anyone interested in learning more about the Crusader States. A podcast can build interest by succinctly covering the important discussion points on any one topic, and highlighting the importance of the topic and asking intriguing questions that spark even more debate and scholarship.”

For Tom, and all of the students in The Crusader States, further and broader discussion about the aftermath of the First Crusade is the ultimate goal, and they believe that using podcasts promotes that within and beyond their seminar. Tom says, “I think that as a class we have come up with some thought provoking questions which might benefit a larger community studying the Crusader States.   I find the material challenging and want to hear outside comments upon the work that we are doing, so I appreciate the opportunity to be heard and receive feedback on our discussions. On a topic that has interest in such widespread and diverse communities,  the podcasts truly help reach outside thoughts and opinions and ignite those same thoughts to be shared here at Fordham.”

Check out all the podcasts and listen to Tom address issues faced by the Crusader military and debate whether the creation of new states was inevitable in the aftermath of the First Crusade. History is about so much more than the sources analyzed and papers written– it is about sharing what we learn with others in hopes of creating an atmosphere of inquiry, debate, and ultimately, understanding.