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In my teaching and writing, I aim to look at the past through the lens of some very old works of literature – and to encourage others to read these works too, and to think about our shared histories. The aim of this site is to provide resources that might be helpful as we reflect on how the medieval past can help us to understand how we got to where we are today, and to consider what kind of shared future we might want.

If you’re curious about my research in the field of Medieval Studies, this site will give you information on my books, academic articles, and book reviews. (Start with the ‘About’ page.) And you can also find links to my work in the area of Public Humanities—books, podcasts, lectures, and national radio—where I share some ideas on how literature, art, and history might matter to us all.

Anyone interested in following my newest work—both academic and otherwise—can find some brief thematic “clusters” below, combining past research with current interrogations.


Latest News & Events

  • The Paul Gottschalk Memorial Lecture I presented at Cornell University on Chaucer’s periodization is now available on YouTube. By focusing on the House of Fame, the Knight’s Tale, the Man of Law’s Tale, and Troilus and Criseyde, I explored questions such as the following: Does Chaucer present a linear or a cyclical view of history? To what extent does each national history stand on its own? And what’s the place of the individual subject within Chaucer’s periodization?

    You can watch this and other lectures I’ve given on my Media page.

  • I’m excited to share some bonus content from my literary podcast The Spouter-Inn, in which my co-host Chris Piuma and I interview early book librarian Timothy Perry on the Fisher Rare Book Library’s outstanding recent acquisition: The Book of Peace by fifteenth-century author Christine de Pizan.  You can listen to the episode here

The University of Toronto also published this engaging article about the manuscript. It includes an interview with me, as well as with medieval scholar Lori Walters, about Christine’s legacy as both the “mother of humanist feminism” and as a skilled scribe who supervised the production of manuscripts of her works. 

Can’t get enough about Christine de Pizan?  Chris and I recently dedicated an entire episode of our podcast to her most influential work, The City of Ladies, anchoring our current cluster of works by women writers.


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Talking About Literature

The Spouter-Inn

 

Talking About Literature: The Spouter-Inn

The new year has brought a new project: The Spouter-Inn, a literature podcast that I’ve been doing together with Chris Piuma, through megaphonic.fm (which hosts “fancy little shows”).

I thought it might be interesting to describe how I got to this point, and what it’s been like experimenting in a medium that is very different from the environment I know best — that is, the classroom.

You can read how the podcast project evolved out of teaching a large-enrollment literary course, “The Literary Tradition,” on my blog.   

 
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How We Read

 

How We Read

In 2015 I brought together a community of thinkers to discuss How We Write, so perhaps it’s natural that my focus would eventually shift to considering how we read. Reading practices are changing profoundly. New formats—social media, reading on digital screens—has caused new styles of writing to evolve, requiring new ways for readers to filter and skim. We are reading more than ever, but we are also reading that material differently. Does reading in digital environments cause a decline in ‘deep’ understanding, and even in empathy? Do new forms of reading and interpretation really help us to find new truths, or do they recreate the injustices of previous ones?

In my forthcoming book, How We Read (co-edited with Kaitlin Heller), a number of scholars reflect on how their reading experiences—whether pleasurable or frustrating—have shaped them into the people they are today. 

 
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The Crusades

And Their Legacy

 

The Crusades and Their Legacy

I’ve written extensively about how a series of territorial conflicts came to be known as “the Crusades,” which (in the words of my colleagues at Warwick) “have left a profound and disturbing legacy in inter-cultural and inter-faith relations nationally and worldwide.” In my book Idols in the East, I explore stereotypes about “Saracens” that developed out of the Crusades—stereotypes that are still pervasive in present-day depictions of Muslims. I've also co-written an article about a fascinating medieval map of the city of Jerusalem written by a scribe living in northern Europe who clearly had access to first-hand knowledge of the city—knowledge that may have been gained through the experience of Crusade.

I continually have an eye out for articles on the Crusades in the public discourse, and have publicly commented on how these ancient holy wars—and the Middle Ages in general—have been misappropriated by white supremacists. It’s striking that, much like with the American Civil War, many of these groups use performance, or “historical re-enactment” to reify their own version of the Crusades in site-specific locales.

To learn more about how the medieval past continues to be invoked in modern political settings, take a look at some of the texts listed in this very good article published by Forbes magazine. I'm looking forward to attending the upcoming conference hosted by Virginia Tech on “Narrative and Nostalgia”: this will be a great opportunity to think about how both the Crusades and the American Civil War serve as sites of white supremacist fantasy, as well as topics that can be investigated for what the historical past can tell us about our present moment.  

“The medieval past is actually highly integrated, highly diverse, with a tremendous amount of cultural interchange.”

— Suzanne Conklin Akbari, chronicle of higher ed