This past 11 April, the Center for Medieval Studies hosted its annual “Compatible Careers” event. Each year, the Center asks alumni to share their experiences of finding jobs after their graduations that go beyond the traditional academic/tenure-tracked path. The perennial question for graduate students nearing their graduations is: “what next?” To study what you love is a joy, but the fact of the matter is that, eventually, one needs to realize what one wants to do for a living. This question haunts many a student at night, especially those who would elect a non-academic path. The purpose of this annual workshop is to show students that taking alternate paths is not only possible, but it may even result in finding a better fit for them. This year’s speakers represent a wide array of careers that show promise and reward the creative medievalist willing to look beyond the usual choices presented to them. [Read on for more about the 2017 Compatible Careers Workshop] Continue reading
Every year, students at Fordham University have the unique opportunity to walk the Camino de Santiago through the study abroad course Study Tour: Medieval Spain. This summer, graduate student Alexa Amore (MA Program, Medieval Studies) accompanied Professor David Myers, chaperones Alex Egler, Louisa Foroughi, and Rachel Podd, and a group of 24 undergraduate students (Fordham’s largest Camino group to date!) on the medieval pilgrimage route from León to Santiago de Compostela. The group was also thrilled to be joined in Spain by Katrine Funding Højgaard, a former visiting student from Denmark in Fordham’s graduate program in Medieval Studies.
As a medievalist with interests in pilgrimage studies and art history, Alexa was eager to follow the traditional pilgrimage route through Spain and to adopt the lifestyle of a pilgrim, or peregrina. She opted to travel as light as possible, leaving her laptop at home and bringing only a twelve pound backpack and camera with her for the entire trip. Alexa arrived in Spain several days before the official start of the study tour in order to spend some time in Barcelona and Madrid. Among the highlights from this part of her journey, she visited several famous Gaudí buildings including the Sagrada Familia as well as the National Art Museum of Catalonia, which houses one of the most important collections of romanesque frescoes in the world.
She also visited all three major museums in Madrid–the Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen Bornemisza–and took a day trip to Toledo in order to see several former synagogues and mosques, including El Cristo de la Luz. “As an undergraduate I took a class on Spanish art that covered everything from visigothic churches to Picasso’s Guernica,” she explained “so I was so excited to see all of these works of art in person.”
When she arrived in León, Alexa started to feel nervous about the two weeks of hiking that lay ahead of her. “I didn’t do much training ahead of time because I was so busy during the semester… I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out, but I was determined to walk the whole way on my own two feet!”
For Alexa, the best part of the pilgrimage was the journey itself. She especially enjoyed the tiny villages along the Camino “where there was absolutely nothing going on and it was just peaceful and life was incredibly simple for the people living there. It was so nice to arrive, take off my shoes, and just sit and look at the sky and the mountains, listen to the birds and watch the sun set. And after a really long day’s walk, you just feel like you earned every minute of that stillness.”
After the long-awaited arrival in Santiago de Compostela with the Fordham group, Alexa travelled south to spend a few days visiting Córdoba, Granada and Seville. 28 long days on the road later, she was happy to return to the United States. “It didn’t take long for me to realize that all along, I was actually on a pilgrimage to New York City,” she explained. “I really missed home, but I was so glad that I left it all behind in order to gain a fresh perspective on where I am in my life now and where I’m going in the future.”
For more on the Camino de Santiago, visit the Fordham peregrinos’ ongoing digital project, Mapping the Camino: The Student’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago, which Alexa founded along with Professor Myers and the Fordham peregrinos of 2016.
Last semester, Medieval Studies students David Smigen-Rothkopf and Alexander Profaci worked with Julian Hobbs, former Executive Producer at the History Channel and now co-President of Talos Films, on “Lords of the Darkness: a Historical Docu-Drama” (working title). Composed of three chapters pertaining to Early, High, and Late Medieval Europe, respectively, with six episodes of an hour-and-a-half per chapter, the series is meant to be a popular, narrative presentation of the breakdown of centralized authority in the wake of Rome’s disintegration and the development of new kingdoms in its place.
Hired as fact-checkers and researchers, David and Alex worked predominantly on the first chapter, pertaining to the Early Middle Ages (defined by the show’s scope as the period from the advent of Constantine’s rule to the turn of the millennium), and the pitch episode. The process of disseminating their research took the form of a theoretical trading card game, in which each historical figure was made into a single player wielding his or her cards, which broke down into types pertaining to, for example, the technology and religiosity of his or her time and historical events in which he or she took part or by which that figure was affected. David and Alex, bringing their academic discipline to the forefront, provided as much information as they could accumulate during this brief collaborative period to ensure the more populist approach to history Julian Hobbs practices was married with a greater attention to historical detail. Ultimately, the series is designed to be a broad, thematic one in which the Middle Ages is to be made an approachable subject for a wider, largely non-academic audience.
Essentially presenting the Medieval Era as a time in history abiding by an over-arching narrative, defined in hindsight, the series seeks to show the linear progression of events toward the end of the era. While this presentation of history is considered problematic in many academic circles, it does make the events more digestible for an audience who has not the time or interest in spending the hundreds of hours necessary reading through primary sources and secondary commentaries and analyses to understand what happened and why. This put David and Alex in the interesting position of having to emulate the very medieval chroniclers whose accounts upon which we rely now, giving new perspective of the construction of historical narrative.
History means different things to different people, and, ultimately, this experience gave David and Alex the opportunity to negotiate a balance between the complexities of historical reality with the cultural imagination of the general population, contributing to the building of a bridge between the work of medievalists and an audience as yet unreached by that corpus.
By Kevin Vogelaar
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. Of 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