A Hortulus Social Media Event: #AskaDHMedievalist !

We are excited to announce that Hortulus is hosting its first-ever social media event: #AskaDHMedievalist!

Are you a medievalist who is interested in using digital humanities in your teaching or scholarship, but unsure of how to proceed? Looking for tips, advice, or resources for a digital project? Wondering how to apply for medieval-focused DH grants? Concerned about how to market yourself as both a medievalist and a digital humanities scholar?Or maybe you just wonder what a medievalist digital humanities scholar does in terms of scholarship?

For the next two weeks (October 1-14), we are collecting your questions about the intersection of medieval studies and digital humanities via Twitter (#AskaDHMedievalist, tweeted to @HortulusJournal) and our Facebook page. No question is too basic or too technical!

Your questions will be answered by two medievalist digital humanities scholars in the Fall 2015 issue of Hortulus Journal.

ready…. set…. ask away!

Melissa Ridley Elmes and Nadine Kuipers, Hortulus Editors

CFP: Hortulus-sponsored session at Leeds IMC 2016


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Hortulus-sponsored session, International Medieval Congress at Leeds, 2016

Gender at the Feast

The roles of women and of gender in the Middle Ages have received particular attention in recent years with invigorating studies across multiple disciplines. Medieval women, such as Margery Kempe or Christina of Markyate, have been brought to the forefront in the minds of medieval scholars and questions of female agency and gender roles have been given new scholastic importance in medieval circles.

Keeping in mind the theme of the 2016 Congress this session seeks to turn the focus of gender to the specific topic of feasts and feasting. This session will examine how gender roles and gendered objects affected the preparation, celebration, ceremony, patronage, and perception of feasting in all strata of medieval society. The session follows the theme of our Fall, 2016 issue of Hortulus, ‘Gendered Spaces’, and we hope to be able to publish in that issue some of the papers delivered in this session. As our journal mission is to support the professionalization efforts of graduate students, the session is organized, presided over, and comprises papers given by current graduate students.

Welcome topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Roles of women and female religious orders at feast times.
  • Gendered objects and their uses in times of celebration or feasting.
  • Defining gender roles within the process of celebration.
  • Gendered spaces pertaining to either the secular dining hall or the physical religious environment at feast times.

Abstracts for 20 minute papers and brief bio or CV to Dustin Aaron (dustin.aaron@courtauld.ac.uk / dustin.aaron1@gmail.com) by September 20, 2015.

Announcing Our New Co-Editor!

After careful deliberation of a number of qualified applicants, we have finally settled on the new co-editor for Hortulus. Nadine Kuipers of the University of Groningen will be joining us this Fall as the Junior editor, with Melissa Ridley Elmes moving into the senior editor’s position as Jenny Bledsoe leaves the editorial staff.

Nadine holds a Research Master’s degree in Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance Studies, with a specialization in the field of medieval English literature and book history, and a Bachelor’s degree in English Language and Culture, also from the University of Groningen. She is currently working on a PhD, with medieval husbandry books comprising the subject of her dissertation. Her multidisciplinary approach to medieval studies, comprising paleography and codicology, art, landscape, and archaeology, will permit her to work across disciplines with article writers and book reviewers, while the extensive digital humanities experience she has gleaned through working on the digital John Skelton project will help ensure that Hortulus Journal arrives safely and bug-free to your computer screen, Ipad, mobile phone, and other digital reading platforms.

The Hortulus staff would like to present its heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Jenny Bledsoe for her strong leadership of the journal over the past two years, and we wish her well as she continues her doctoral studies at Emory University.

Call For Papers: International Congress on Medieval Studies (“Kalamazoo”) 2016: “Gendered Spaces”

We are excited to announce that Hortulus has had a sponsored session approved for ICMS 2016. Please find details below, and consider submitting an abstract!

CFP, ICMS (“Kalamazoo”) 2016: Gendered Spaces
Hortulus-sponsored session
Session organizer and presider: Melissa Ridley Elmes, co-editor of Hortulus

The concept of gendered spaces—areas in which particular genders and types of gender expression are considered welcome or appropriate while other gender types are unwelcome or inappropriate—is a key element in the study of human geography. Gendering spaces is one way in which social systems maintain the organization of gender, and can preserve and dictate the accepted norms of gendered behavior, as well as relationships and hierarchies between men and women. Studying gendered spaces—environments, landscapes, and other places that have been designated specifically for “men” or for “women,” as well as the “public-private” divide often defined  with men in public and women in private spaces, for example—can provide us with important knowledge of the ways in which the spaces we inhabit reinforce our cultural positions from a gendered perspective; for instance, how such spaces serve to segregate or to unify, to reinforce or subvert traditional forms of masculinity and femininity. This understanding, in turn, can shed light on existing power structures and the conflicts and issues that arise between men and women in a given culture.

This session seeks to examine the subject of gendered spaces from a medieval vantage point, considering ways in which medieval society powerfully shaped and sought to control ideas of masculinity and femininity through the public and private spaces that were designated for men and women and how those spaces were used. We hope to attract an interdisciplinary panel of papers including studies from historians, art historians, and literary scholars that will extend our thinking about gender in the medieval period. The session shares a theme with our Fall, 2016 issue of Hortulus: The Online Graduate Journal of Medieval Studies, and we hope to be able to publish in that issue some of the papers delivered in this session. As our journal mission is to support the professionalization efforts of graduate students, the session is organized, presided over, and comprises papers given by current graduate students.

Abstracts, brief bio, and participant information form to Melissa Ridley Elmes (maelmes@uncg.edu) by September 15, 2015.

General Interest Column: A. W. Strouse on, “How To Be Unprofessional”


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How to be Unprofessional

A.W. Strouse

Plenty of empirical evidence demonstrates that humanist doctoral students are utterly screwed:

  • The mean attrition rate in humanities Ph.D. programs is roughly half.
  • Time-to-degree averages about ten years.
  • There are practically no decent jobs for humanities doctorates.

And anecdotal evidence confirms, too, that many graduate students feel tormented by their advisers, tortured by poverty-level stipends, and generally just stressed the hell out.

So, what should we do?

Personally, I see this doomsday scenario as a radical opportunity. In such a dire situation, it would be irrational for me to simply conform to the norms of professionalization in the hopes of winning a tenure-track position. Therefore, I feel liberated. If I have nothing to lose, then I can to take big risks, go for broke, and enjoy my studies.

As I recently argued (in a special issue of Pedagogy [1] dedicated to issues in graduate education) I want to create a more “unprofessional” kind of “professionalism.” I’m not talking about skimping on footnotes, sleeping with undergraduates, or staging “occupations.” I’m talking about making a conscious decision to take pleasure in my studies and to resist, in whatever ways possible, the forces that often make graduate school unpleasant. My theoretical explication of “unprofessionalism” can be found in the article; here are some practical policies:

  • Don’t complain to or commiserate with other graduate students. It’s boring, unproductive, and self-indulgent.
  • Write only one course paper per semester. During my last three semesters of coursework, I would arrange my schedule so that I only had to write a full research paper for one of my courses. I would audit some of my classes. And for the full-credit courses, I would write a historiography paper (usually to compliment the full paper); or I would create a translation, an edition, etc. This made my life much less stressful, and it made my papers much stronger.
  • Read widely. I’m currently reading Paul Vitz’s biography of Freud. Freud has nothing whatsoever to do with my dissertation, but I’m completely fascinated by Vitz’s thesis that Freud was an unconscious Catholic.
  • Get out of the library. I usually work from home. But when I’m reading at the library I always make sure to take a long walk to my favorite bakery, where I eat a big cookie. Life is too short!
  • Get out of academia. Go to the theater, go to a roller coaster park. Tutor, garden, volunteer. Don’t wait until summer break—do these things during the most stressful part of the semester.
  • Grade papers with a timer. Any highly literate person should be able to read and grade an undergraduate’s six-page paper in five minutes. When I grade my students’ essays, I set a five-minute timer for each paper. Often I go over the time limit, but it’s pretty exhilarating to race against the clock.
  • It’s OK to cancel office hours sometimes. Occasionally I hold my office hours in Central Park, or I cancel them altogether and walk up to the Metropolitan Museum. (I love to look at those pious portraits of Low Land burghers[2], whose neurotic work ethic and propensity for self-flagellation still inspires so many of us.)
  • Your students will respect you more if, just once during the semester, you use a four-letter word.
  • Don’t ask permission. A few semesters ago I decided to teach Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde in a required, freshman composition class. I knew that my supervisor would tell me it was a terrible idea to teach Middle English in an introductory course, so I never mentioned it to anybody until after the fact. The course was, of course, an overwhelming success, because students love to be challenged.
  • Ask for opportunities. In my experience, most of the people working in the university are kindhearted, bright individuals who recognize the struggles that graduate students face, and they’re more than willing to help—but they often don’t know how to help. But almost every time that I have asked for an opportunity, it has been afforded me. All you have to do is: figure out who to ask, figure out how to ask, and then ask.
  • See the big picture. Graduate students are in such bad shape for a reason: the folks who dictate national economic policy believe strongly in privatized, individualist entrepreneurship. We are impoverished, because (in theory) such material pressures will force us to compete, innovate, and create—in ways that benefit society at large. That ideology may or may not be flawed. But, for now, it’s all we’ve got to work with. And, to some extent, it is working. On the micro-economic level (i.e., in terms of my own quality of life) being a graduate student kind of sucks sometimes. But, on the macro-economic level, the system produces quality researchers and teachers for what is arguably the world’s best university system.

Looking at the situation from a global perspective, I’m grateful that the American taxpayer is willing to fund my quixotic investigations of medieval poetry. I see it as my duty to repay society for its investment by working hard, teaching well, and creating new opportunities. It’s my responsibility to make the most of my time as a graduate student, and sometimes that means challenging preconceived ideas about what it means to be a graduate student.

A.W. Strouse is a poet who studies and teaches medieval literature at the City University of New York. Strouse’s articles have appeared in Romanic Review, Pedagogy, and Names; and Strouse’s recent book of poems, Retractions & Revelations, is available from Jerk Poet[3].

[1] http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/pedagogy/toc/ped.15.1.html
[2] http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4f/Hugo_van_der_Goes_007.jpg
[3] http://www.jerkpoet.com

Digital Publishing Column: Yvonne Seale, “On Empathy in Editing”


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On Empathy in Editing

Yvonne Seale, Fall 2014 Assistant Editor

            You’d perhaps expect to learn a great deal about the craft of writing when working as the editor of a journal like Hortulus. It’s true. I learned to wrangle wayward apostrophes, to figure out where an argument needed to be shored up with a contextualizing paragraph, and the tricky art of unearthing topic sentences from where they’ve been buried mid-paragraph. But what I didn’t expect to learn was something more profound: that you are not what you write.

Getting to grips with the mechanical aspects of editing is an important thing for any aspiring academic to learn, one which benefits both the article on which you’re working and, ultimately, your own writing. I know from my experiences as an editor and as a peer reviewer that figuring out how to phrase the suggestions you want to make to an author, thinking through how to articulate a hunch you have about why that paragraph needs to be moved there, can help you to truly internalize writing rules you’ve been hearing for a long time. It may be an old adage, but it’s a true one—you only really understand something if you can explain it to someone else.

Yet this is not the most valuable aspect of the editorial experience. That lies in the way that working with someone else’s prose can change your own relationship with your writing. One of the most difficult things for a budding medievalist to learn in graduate school—or at least so it was for me—isn’t getting to grips with paleography, or the myriad uses of the Latin ablative, or even how to get through a lengthy comps exam reading list with relative speed. (Though each of these things carry their own special brand of frustration.) The most important thing is learning that you are not your work.

I know that may sound a little corny, and as the product of a stolid Irish farming family, I resisted fully understanding the maxim for quite some time. I was raised to believe that if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right, and that you should take pride in a job well done. There’s nothing inherently wrong with those ideas, but I think that how I internalized them led me to confuse the end-product with the process. Looking back at my undergraduate career, and even my time as a Master’s student, I can now see how that confusion led to a lot of stress, frustration, and anxiety. It’s possible to make a sincere effort with a paper or an article, to do the best you can with the information that you have, and still end up with a piece of work that doesn’t entirely do what you want it to do. And yet the most difficult thing turns out to be not looking that that draft that’s not what it should be, and figuring out how it needs to be fixed; it’s realizing that producing an imperfect draft isn’t a measure of your ability as a scholar.

What gives you a far better sense of your measure as a scholar is your ability to adapt your writing, to see the potential in your work, and to make something better of it. Working as an editor provides you with a good object lesson in the truth of this. Once an article has been accepted by a journal, an editor doesn’t work with just one version of it. At least during my stint at Hortulus, I got to see multiple versions of the same work: the original version (which was of course often itself the final iteration of many months of work), which I read through with an eye to identifying appropriate peer reviewers; the annotated versions which the reviewers return, marked up with what excited them or what they felt lacking; and then the revised version which the author returns, incorporating the reviewers’ suggestions. This version then goes through another round of line and structural edits before it’s ready for publication. The process allows you to see people making critiques, and then others taking those critiques and doing something with them—to see not just the polished final version, but also the various revisions of it along the way. Getting to observe this process at a remove helps to break down some of the fear that there are other scholars out there—the nebulous “good ones”—who are able to produce perfect work without so much as a bead of swear dampening their brow. When you get a seminar paper or a dissertation chapter back from an advisor and it’s liberally annotated with suggestions for further readings, queries about the framing of your argument, or even the occasional inscrutable ‘???’, it is in no way proof that you are less good than other graduate students, or that you are not working as hard as your peers. Critique is just one step in the process, one that will hopefully let you see the potential in your work.

Working as an editor also makes you see that you have something to offer as a scholar, that you have amassed a body of knowledge on your area of study on which you can draw. The work that you put into structuring the historiographical section of your master’s thesis—you can draw on that to provide advice to someone who’s struggling to make the framework of their article cohere. All that reading you did for your comps exams—that lets you come up with a reference to a journal article that will help to bolster the point that the author has made. As graduate students, there’s still so much for us to learn about the craft of being a historian or a literary scholar, but it’s not self-important for us to recognize that our own work is built upon a steadily expanding knowledge base.

Yet equally, to be a diligent editor also requires a recognition of the fallibility of critique, of the fact that those who review work are not omniscient. Their assessment may be wrong; they may want the author to have written a completely different manuscript. I know that when I edit something, I do so out of a sincere desire to help someone improve their work and the belief that my suggestions will help the author to do so. However, I don’t presume to think that my advice is always right just because it’s well-intentioned, nor am I so naïve as to think that all peer reviewers are working from the same good motivations. Having to critique others’ work has helped make it much clearer for me, that the critique which I receive on my work is something to be taken seriously and thoughtfully, but also as counsel rather than a final judgment.

Part of being a good editor is treating another’s work with empathy, mindful of the labor that has been put into it so far and looking always for its potential—and when you learn to do that with a colleague’s work, you learn to do the same with your own.

General Interest Column: Lucy Barnhouse on “The Medievalist Abroad: Widening the Conference Circuit”


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The Medievalist Abroad: Widening the Conference Circuit

          Conferences can be bane or blessing or both, depending on factors ranging from one’s teaching schedule to where one’s degree of extroversion. The atmosphere of collegial exchange at a good conference is one I find invigorating, even if it’s usually savored through a haze of over-caffeinated exhaustion. I confess, though, that process of applying for conferences is one I’ve often faced with dread. I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time poring over the annual calls of prestigious conferences, wondering how to fit my current research under the umbrella of a given topic. Time spent doing research in Europe forced me out of these bad habits, through forcing me out of the North American comfort zone of the Kalamazoo-plus circuit. I started searching CFP listings by location and date, or by keywords like “medicine” instead of “medieval.” Exploring these new conferences, I discovered a counterintuitive truth: presenting at conferences where medievalists were in the minority both stimulated my writing process, and resulted in stimulating feedback.

During the past summer conference season, I had my first experiences of attending conferences where I was one of very few medievalists. I found these conferences—on historicizing security, on the history of medicine, and on urban history—helped me hone valuable skills. This process began even before I attended the conferences themselves. Writing abstracts—and papers—helped me think about my topic in new ways. For instance: how might my work on medieval leprosy contribute to a conference on “(In)visibility, (In)security, and Gender in Historical Perspective?” Is “Healthscaping Pre-Modern Cities” the conceptual frame I never realized my fourteenth-century property disputes needed Preparing to speak on how one’s own work relates to such broad topical themes or theoretical frameworks provides a great excuse for delving into secondary literature.

Such research is something that I, at least, find perpetually slipping down my to-do list. Conferences not only imposed a deadline for doing it, but a purpose, in giving me a shared vocabulary with non-medievalist scholars. In my case, presenting research on a late medieval leper hospital to an audience of historians, sociologists, and scientists provided an opportunity for reading up on legal anthropology. It also opened my work to the bracing questions of an audience with no assumptions. Writing for an audience with no background knowledge forced me to sharpen my central ideas, making them clear enough to be concisely expressed. Presenting for an audience primarily made up of non-medievalist scholars means there is no chance for the room to get caught up in fine points of source analysis or historiographical controversies. There are, of course, times when a room full of people ready to talk through a coffee break about the semantics of Old Norse or the fine points of a liturgical procession is just what is wanted and needed. But participating in other conversations proved a salutary exercise.

I found it refreshing and stimulating to discover how scholars with very different sources are engaging with similar—or different—problems and questions. Topical conferences on medical and urban history proved very educational for me. I spent a lot of time listening… and taking copious notes that I’ve since used in preparing and teaching classes on modern Europe. I also found myself engaging in unexpectedly familiar conversations. It turns out that historians of hospitals in the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth centuries are also dealing with debates over the moral quality of patients, and tensions between private charity and public funding. The ways in which these questions have been debated in the medieval historiography are often tied to broad narratives about the Middle Ages, and finding them outside it felt very liberating.         Conferences sponsored by umbrella organizations can also be especially good opportunities for workshops and networking. The conference of the Society for the Social History of Medicine even included a workshop designed for graduate students and early career researchers (more of this, please, conference organizers everywhere.) At the same conference, panels with papers on pre-modern topics brought the medievalists together in bunches, throwing together thirty or so people from multiple disciplines and career stages with the shared interest of medieval medicine. This proved a shockingly efficient method of facilitating the exchange of contacts and citations with other graduate students, and of getting into conversations with established scholars who might have been mobbed—or at least nervously avoided by me—at an all-medievalist conference.

My summer of interdisciplinary love helped sharpen my own sense of what makes my research distinctive, and what connects it to the questions others are asking. It also built my confidence in presenting that research to non-specialist audiences, an experience I’m glad to have had before going on the job market. All of the steps of the conference process—from brainstorming to reception—proved helpful, in slightly different ways than they are when the expected conference is made up primarily of medievalists. Being forced to approach my own topic from a variety of perspectives was an exercise that made a pleasant change from obsessive tinkering with paragraphs and anxious contemplation of chapters. I’ve since presented for an audience of scientists, humanities scholars, and the interested public, and have more presentations to lay audiences scheduled. I’ve also become something of an evangelist for presenting at conferences not designed by and for medievalists. It provides an opportunity to participate in new conversations, to make new friends… and to communicate to others what’s so great about the Middle Ages, asserting that we belong in these larger conversations too.

Lucy Barnhouse

Lucy Barnhouse is a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department of Fordham University, New York. Her dissertation, “The Hospitals of Mainz: Legal Privileges and Social Functions,” examines the effects of canon law on the development of late medieval hospitals. She spent the academic year 2013-14 in Mainz as a Fulbright Scholar, doing archival research, and has presented the results of this research internationally. Her work focuses on how the legal status of medieval hospitals as religious institutions influenced the place of hospitals, including leper hospitals, in the religious and social networks of late medieval cities.

Digital Publishing Column: Paul A. Brazinski on “Smile for the journal :) Emoticons and their use in online publishing”


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“Smile for the journal :) Emoticons and their use in online publishing”

In January 2014, I took a university course (with a different but credible institution) to get my certificate to teach online college courses; naturally, the class was online. In the first module, we were taught about “netiquette”, the proper manners for communicating with others in an online service or forum.[1] For example, the professor showed us how to USE CAPITALS WHEN MAKING A POINT, which I understood and accepted. i also understood how using abbr, as when txting or typos, wood take away from ur argument. However, he taught other points, such as the use emoticons to display our emotions to our students, which I was at first skeptical about. For me, the instructor’s constant use of “:)” and “:(” made the course seem unprofessional and I viewed the feedback as unauthentic. I understand where the professor was coming from, but it did not resonate well with me.
            As the Chief Reviews Editor with Hortulus, the experience made me reflect on how I incorporate emotions in feedback in our reviews process, since I rarely meet in person with my reviewers. So I did my research and was surprised at what I found. First, emoticons have been in use for over 31 years.[2] The first emoticon in an online forum was used in a message board about a fake mercury spill at Carnegie Mellon University. The faculty there used the emoticon to differentiate real messages from jocular content in the forum. Although it is hard to pinpoint the first use of an emoticon in written English, the earliest example might be an 1862 transcript of a speech President Lincoln wrote.[3] Needless to say, emoticons have a much longer history than I expected. As I kept researching, I found that major publishing houses, such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Houston Chronical have printed issues on this new incorporation of emoticons in the business and professional world.[4] So perhaps I was behind the times, as might also be reflected in the fact that I still use a “dumb” phone. Nevertheless, I am still skeptical and have used other means to display my feedback for reviews, which is the point of this brief entry. In what follows, I will state what I use at Hortulus to give feedback, which I have found successful thus far.
           First, as a Chief Reviews Editor, I made a hierarchy of status updates, which I stick closely to when giving feedback; they are subpar, poor, decent, ok, good, great, excellent, tremendous, and perfect. In giving feedback, I really think that being warm and direct is best. Giving the right level of feedback is crucial or else something might get lost in translation. For example, if I tell a reviewer that their piece is perfect in an email but attach a draft for revisions that has thirty in-depth comments and numerous grammatical corrections, confusion or minimal edits could ensure, as I have witnessed first-hand. The same is true for the opposite scenario – negativity for a stellar review could result in a reviewer pulling their piece mid-process, as I have heard from colleagues but not experienced personally. Thus, honesty is the best policy and I have a rubric that I use to give feedback. I have found that reviewers that receive the appropriate amount of feedback are more likely to make the proper edits and meet their deadlines.
            Second, I try to prove a personal message with every email response. For example, I try to comment in emails on particular phrases or wordings that I found superb from the reviews. I also like to ask “How is your semester coming along?” and similar questions to open my emails. I do this for two reasons. First, I do this to establish professional relationships with my reviewers. Since I have taken this position, I have met three of my reviewers in person at conferences and other academic events, which has always made the occasions more enjoyable for us all. Secondly, I do this in order to understand their schedules. For example, if reviewers reply saying a family event has them swamped this weekend or that they are giving a major presentation soon (as some do), then I try to accommodate their busy schedules in our deadlines if I have leeway. Naturally, most reviewers do not reply to these opening questions, while others state something neutral like “all is well here.” But, I find that giving people the opportunity to open up or state any conflicts they have as very beneficial in getting reviewers to meet their deadlines and to make the process less stressful.
           The internet has often been criticized as being a “faceless forum”, where many openly attack one another, hiding behind false identities.[5] Some people use emoticons to take the ambiguity away from their joking/unprofessional messages, however, I do not. Although my tactics in employing emotions in feedback are not perfect, I think my use of a strict hierarchy of statuses, proving direct and warm feedback, and opening emails with a personal greeting are steps in the right direction. These steps keep my feedback straightforward and positive. Moreover, I have enjoy the personal touches as my time as Chief Reviews Editor. However, I am open and eager to hear what others do. Please let us know what you do in giving feedback in emails. Feel free to use an emoticon if you want. ;)

[1]For the rules of Netiquette, see the official network website at http://www.networketiquette.net/.
[2] Houston, Keith, “Smile! A History of Emoticons” The Wall Street Journal (27 September 2013).
[3] Houston 2013.
[4] Newman, Judith, “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Must I Know, Too?” The New York Times (21 October 2011); Vulcan, Nicole, “How Should the Use of Emoticons be Conveyed in Business Communication?” The Houston Chronicle.
[5] Milman, David, “Schoolyard bullies branch out over the Internet,” Computer World (20 October 2010).

CFP: “Pilgrimage, Exploration and Travel” (Fall 2015 themed issue of Hortulus)



New Deadline: AUGUST 31

Hortulus: The Online Graduate Journal of Medieval Studies is a refereed, peer-reviewed, and born-digital journal devoted to the culture, literature, history, and society of the medieval past. Published semi-annually, the journal collects exceptional examples of work by graduate students on a number of themes, disciplines, subjects, and periods of medieval studies. We also welcome book reviews of monographs published or re-released in the past five years that are of interest to medievalists. For the fall issue we are highly interested in reviews of books which fall under the current special topic.

Scholarly interest in the topic of pilgrimage spans many geographies and disciplines. Additionally, recent scholarship has revealed the significant impact of pilgrimage and travel upon medieval people of a variety of religious, social, and regional backgrounds, not just the pilgrims themselves. For our Fall 2015 themed issue we invite proposals that explore the topics of “Pilgrimage, Exploration, and Travel” from multidisciplinary and comparative perspectives. Some potential topics for papers might include relics, badges, clothing, and associated material culture; perceptions of space, including landscape, geography, and architecture; the economics and politics of pilgrimage; pilgrimage narratives and other literary evidence; miracles and healing; readings of pilgrimage that consider monastic vs. lay approaches, social class, and gender; local and “national” identity; sacred journeys from any culture in the pre-modern world; liturgy and ritual of pilgrimage; and failed pilgrimages.

Contributions should be in English and roughly 6,000–12,000 words, including all documentation and citational apparatus; book reviews are typically between 500-1,000 words but cannot exceed 2,000. All notes must be endnotes, and a bibliography must be included; submission guidelines can be found here. Contributions may be submitted to hortulus@hortulus-journal.com and are due August 15, 2015. If you are interested in submitting a paper but feel you would need additional time, please send a query email and details about an expected time-scale for your submission. Queries about submissions or the journal more generally can also be sent to this address.

General Interest Column: Sarah Kathryn Moore on “The Interdisciplinary Advantage: Being a Medievalist in a Small Program”


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The Interdisciplinary Advantage: Being a Medievalist in a Small Program

There is no official medieval studies program at my university. Nor is there any organized certificate program; there isn’t even a university-run group or lecture series. Besides myself, there are three or four other students reading in or writing dissertations on medieval English literature (in a department with well over 100 postgraduates). In other departments, the situation is similar: two or three postgrads each in Romance languages, history, art history, music, religion. I’m not at a small school—my university is the largest in the northwestern US. I’m happy at my institution and I have a wonderful advisor, but I must admit that my first few years in the program were a struggle.

Being one of the only medievalists at a large university can be isolating. Selecting relevant coursework with an eye toward both breadth and depth, acquiring languages, navigating interdisciplinary conferences: these are challenges that my colleagues in, for example, 20th century American literature don’t have to address. I have been reduced, more than once, to figurative hair-tearing and gnashing of teeth when communicating with departmental or university representatives who don’t understand the unique challenges of my sub-field. Cross-disciplinary coursework is not encouraged by my department and language acquisition is seen by my peers in other fields as a year-long requirement to get out of the way rather than as a necessary part of their scholarship. My department’s attitude is similar, and there is no support, financial or otherwise, for school-year or summer language coursework.

As medievalists, the necessity for interdisciplinary coursework is a unique challenge. No matter our field, we must have a working knowledge in history, religion, the arts—and of course we all need multiple foreign languages. Not to mention the fact that “medieval studies” covers 1,000 years and three continents, and we’re expected (by potential employers, and others both within and outside academia) to be familiar with these vast temporal and geographical ranges.

However, this necessity can also work to our unique advantage: for one thing, we have natural allies outside our primary department. Furthermore, we’re able to neatly sidestep the ever-present academic pitfall of tunnel vision—the necessity of learning broadly as well as deeply is frustrating when not supported by our department and/or university, but it also provides us with chances for vital, informed scholarship. Moreover, it gives us ready-made opportunities for cross-disciplinary conversation and collaboration. And where the individual departments at my university can sometimes seem indifferent toward medieval studies, there are structures in place to support interdisciplinary projects.

When I decided to start a reading group for medievalists at my university, the first people I approached were my professors. I found them hugely supportive—after all, they know as well as I do what it’s like to be at an institution with a small contingent of medievalists. My advisor connected me with a new student I hadn’t met, who was eager to donate her valuable organizational (and grant-writing!) skills and her boundless enthusiasm to the project. Several professors also put me in contact with other postgraduate medievalists I hadn’t met—students who were dissertating and weren’t often on campus, for example—as well as advanced undergraduates with a strong interest in medieval studies. Some of these undergraduates are returning students with a good deal of knowledge and even publications under their belts, and many brought impressive language skills to the table as well. Once I started getting the word out (primarily via departmental email lists) I was also connected, through other students and professors, with local community members loosely affiliated with the university, many of whom had relevant postgraduate degrees and were delighted to be in touch with other medievalists. Within a year, what started as a reading group in the school library grew into an official “Graduate Interest Group” with generous funding from university’s Center for the Humanities, which also provides publicity and meeting space.

At a school with a smaller medieval studies program, one may be afforded the opportunity (or forced) to look outside the home department for support. The support I felt I lacked from my department was more than made up for in the support of other postgrads, professors, and the Center for the Humanities (whose raison d’être is to support interdisciplinary scholarship, making our alliance a win-win situation). As a medievalist in a small program, I’ve discovered that it is possible to get the support I need—financial, curricular and emotional—but I have had to be both creative and proactive in searching for it.

Sarah Kathryn Moore is a graduate student in English literature at the University of Washington in Seattle.

This essay was originally published in a slightly different version at The Venerable Read in August 2011


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