Interview with Abigail Steed

Our next seminar will be taken by Abigail Steed on 20 June 2017. As usual tea and biscuits will be served at 17:40 with the seminar starting at 18:00. And, after the seminar we will be having a party with wine & snacks. Below we talked to Abi about Walsall (not Warsaw!), PGCE and her love of the Anglo-Saxons. 

Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?

I grew up in Walsall in the West Midlands (not Warsaw, Poland!). I moved far far away to St Andrews for my undergraduate degree, then even further away to Greece where I taught English for a year before coming back to the UK and to Durham.

What brought you to Durham?

I’ve been drawn to the north east ever since I first visited on a family holiday years ago, and of course Durham is a fantastic place to study medieval history. Having decided a four year degree in the subject wasn’t quite enough, I came here to do an MA and by some serendipity am still here studying for my PhD.

What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?menintights-bann

When I was younger I was a big fan of Robin Hood (of the Disney fox sort, mystical long haired 80s TV sort, melancholy cassettes played in the car, you name it). Show me a ruined castle too and I’m yours. I also decided long ago that king Cnut sitting in the sea telling the tide not to come in was an excellent image (and maybe something some of our leaders now should take note of!) So I suppose it’s the power of all the stories and places to still capture the imagination that I love.

What does your research focus on?

My research is on vengeance in late Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman society. In particular it’s leaning increasingly towards the place of divine vengeance in the way that medieval people thought about the world and negotiated their own relationships. I became interested in stories of saintly vengeance miracles in my final year of undergraduate study, and it all developed from there really. I’m now looking more broadly at how theological ideas influenced interpretations of events and codes of morality, which feeds into all sorts of other issues such as levels of religious belief and scepticism, social memory, and chains of communication among and between different social classes. It means reading anything and everything I can get hold of source-wise.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?2A8C401700000578-3162129-Experts_believe_the_elaborate_weapon_could_belong_to_one_of_King-a-26_1436956613223

The seminar is going to be based on the first part of my thesis. I’ll be attempting to explain the roots of the theological concept of divine vengeance, and why it was conceived of as a necessary component in ordering the relationship between God and humanity. I’ll go on to contextualise this with some examples of how this influenced the interpretation and recording of historical events in this period.

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

Probably being a primary school teacher and living for the bit of the curriculum on the Anglo-Saxons. I had a place on a PGCE course and that was my back-up plan when I was applying for my PhD.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

I could list many, but I’m going to go with Beowulf. Seamus Heaney’s translation is wonderful and you get something new out of it every time you go back to it.

Interview with Olivia Colquitt

Our next seminar will be taken by Olivia Colquitt on the topic of ‘Death and Desire: Mermaids in the Medieval Imagination’. 18:00, 13 June. 

Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?

I’m from St Helens, a town wedged between Liverpool and Manchester, which is terribly lucky, since my hometown is unfortunately lacking in stuff to do, meaning I can soak up the culture of the big cities. In fact, I studied my BA at Liverpool and its close proximity means that it’s become a second home for me. While you can’t find as many medieval marvels as there are in Durham, the North West of England is certainly not short of historical interest.

What brought you to Durham?

Medieval literature was the first thing to ever truly click with me and I yearned to take things further. Where else could be better to delve deeper into the Middle Ages than Durham? The city’s rich medieval history and the fantastic research taking place at the university made it a no-brainer, and I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to study here.

What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?

To me, the Middle Ages seem both a fairy-tale and an intensely gruelling period: an age of chivalry and courtly love on the one hand, and one of plague, strife, and fear on the other. I think it’s these blurred margins between reality and fantasy, evoked so compellingly in medieval romance, that have always drawn me in. Looking at the magnificent courts such as Eleanor of Aquitaine’s in Poitiers, for example, one can never quite be sure to what extent fairy-tale is influenced by real life, or real life is emulating romance.

What does your research focus on? 

Having studied both English and French as an undergrad, I’ve always been interested in how texts evolve geographically and temporally. My Masters here at Durham gave me the chance to move further North and track the cultural transmission of ideas in Old Norse literature. I’m currently working on my MA dissertation, which explores the approaches to honour, love, and sovereignty in the French, English, and Norse versions of Yvain. My PhD will examine the French and English Melusine, and look at how monstrosity is linked to identity construction, dynastic legacy, and the conceptualisation of the right to rule.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

Mermaids are such a well-known figure in the modern world, particularly in current fashion (I can’t help noticing all the ‘mermaid hair, don’t care’ t-shirts), but my research has proven these seductive sirens to be highly enigmatic. During my seminar, I’ll be exploring the development of the mermaid throughout the Middle Ages, considering her roots in antiquity, and reflecting upon her symbolic associations.

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

As I said earlier, studying medieval literature ignited a flame in me that I’ve never experienced before, so I find it quite difficult to imagine what else I’d be doing. That said, I would love to write historical novels and offer an insight into the lives of some of my medieval heroes and heroines, such as William Marshall, Empress Matilda, and Jacquetta Woodville.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

Although my research hones in on English adaptations of French material, my all-time favourite text is what I like to call an ‘original home-brew’: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. While its Arthurian elements and romance motifs link it to a plethora of other texts, this poem is so wonderfully unique. The Green Knight, the beheading game, and the detailed alliterative verse make it such a vivid read that time and time again I find myself turning back to it. I’m even collaborating on an independent animation of it!

Interview with Rachel Fennell

Our next seminar will be taken by Rachel Fennell on Tuesday 6 June. Rachel will be speaking on ”Look, her lips. Look there, look there’: The Consequences of Kissing in Early Modern Tragedies’. As usual, tea and coffee from 17:40 with the seminar at 18:00. 

Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?

I’m from the Black Country, West Midlands, which means people automatically do terrible impressions of an accent that I don’t have when they meet me. I’ve lived in lots of different places, however, including Chengdu and Bangkok so I’m a bit of a wanderer. I did my BA and MA at Lancaster, which with its castle and cathedral reminds me a lot of Durham.

What brought you to Durham?

I’ve always wanted to do a PhD and Durham has always had an excellent reputation, so it seemed like the perfect place to come and complete my studies. I feel very fortunate to be living in such a beautiful place.

What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?00bayfield

How grim and gruesome it could be! From catching the Black Death to running the risk of being burnt at the stake, I’m constantly struck by how extreme everything could be, whether it was religion or politics, criminal punishment or disease. Of course, some of those issues we’re still dealing with today, and I find it fascinating to look at the parallels between our own time and that of the Medieval/Early Modern period. In many ways we’ve barely changed at all.

What does your research focus on?

I’m currently investigating representations of the Sleeping Beauty motif, considering the cultural and medical implications of the comatose woman in conjunction with Medieval and Early Modern imaginative fictions. My research looks at how the sleeping corpse evolves from a Medieval image of saintly veneration with miraculous healing abilities to cynical Jacobean fetish object. In particular, I am focusing on the reactions of others to the corpse, especially that of both the beloved and the unwanted suitor, as well as the medical, chemical, spiritual, physical and romantic interventions necessary in order to successfully -or otherwise- induce a state of consciousness once more.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

Rogue_-_Iceman_kiss
X-Men: Cursed Kisses are Still a Thing

I’m going to be considering the idea of the ‘True Love’s Kiss’, which for better or worse is ingrained in Western culture and features in all the very best fairy tales. I’ll be looking at how for the Early Modern tragedian, however, kissing a slumbering corpse was often what killed Prince Charming.  I’ll therefore be briefly exploring the motif of the cursed corpse kiss and focusing on why the mouth was the gateway to life and death.

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

Teaching English as a foreign language, somewhere in South East Asia. It’s what I was doing before I came to Durham to start my PhD and I really loved everything about it: the people; the food; the weather; the amazing places I was privileged enough to see. I’d love to go back one day.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

My favourite texts of the Medieval/Early Modern period have always been plays and as much as I love a bit of blood and gore, my favourite play is Shakespeare’s great romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing.  A scheming bastard, a faked death, warring would-be lovers and a happy ending? Just my cup of tea.

Interview with Anum Dada

Our next seminar will be on 23 May given by Anum Dada on the topic of ‘The Shifting Identities of Saracen Women in Medieval Romance’. 

Below we chatted with Anum about Glasgow, cultural exchange and fine art. 

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?

I’m from Karachi, Pakistan. I moved to Glasgow for my BA and then decided to come to Durham for my MA and stayed on for a PhD.

What brought you to Durham?

I decided to come to Durham primarily to work with my current supervisor. I was already familiar with her research, having looked at it for my BA thesis, and thought that her research interests would suit my research very well.

What is your favourite thing about the medieval/ early modern period?

This may be too general but I love how absurd medieval texts can be! From the most absurd creatures in bestiaries to giant green men, medieval texts always keep you entertained.

Bevis_fights_AscaparteWhat does your research focus on?

My research deals with the representation of Saracen women in Middle English romances written during or immediately after the crusades and what this reveals about cultural and literary interaction and exchange between the Christians and Muslims. As I am looking at interaction between both groups, my research deals with a lot of medieval eastern texts as well as western ones.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

In my paper for this seminar I will be shifting the focus a little bit from my main research. Instead of discussing interaction, I will be looking at the representation of Saracen women in Sir Ferumbras and Sir Beues of Hamtoun and how their representation positions them as anchor between the Christian and Muslim worlds.

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

I might be pursuing a career in fine art. I always enjoyed painting though I hardly have any time for it anymore.


220px-Baysonghori_Shahnameh_battle-sceneDo you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

That’s a difficult question to answer but I guess I would have to go with the Shahnameh, roughly translated as the book of kings. I’ve been obsessed with the Shahnameh as far back as I can remember!

 

 

Interview with Jose Cree

Our next seminar is on Tuesday 9 May and will be taken by Jose Cree. As usual, tea and biscuits from 17:40 with the seminar starting at 18:00. 

Below we talked to Jose about SE Asia, Evangelicals and early modern diseases. 

Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?

I’m from Nottingham originally, but I’ve lived in Sheffield for the better part of ten years now. I’ve done my BA, MA, and now my PhD there. Before starting my PhD I moved back to Nottingham briefly, to work as a seminar tutor at Nottingham Trent University.

What brought you to Durham?

I’m here to give a talk to MEMSA about my work on early modern addiction.

What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?

It’s got some pretty interesting diseases.

What does your research focus on?bloodletting

My research looks at early modern addiction across the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Addiction Studies is a huge field, but so far most research has focused on the nineteenth century or later. Early modern addiction is quite different, so I’ve done a lot of work on defining what it meant in an early modern context.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

In this seminar I’m going to talk about the origins of addiction in the writings of sixteenth century protestant reformers. The word seems to have been almost exclusive to evangelicals for the 1630s and 1640s—which is odd, because the actual meaning of the word wasn’t specifically evangelical at all!

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

south_east_asia_map
South East Asia
Teaching English as a second language, probably somewhere in SE Asia. I did a CELTA (Certificate of English Language Teaching) course in Vietnam a few years ago, but moved back to the UK to teach in higher education.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

I spend most of my time now reading short sections from lots of texts, rather than reading one text detail, but during my MA I had a lot of run reading “A narrative of God’s gracious dealings with that choice Christian Mrs. Hannah Allen”.

Interview with Ryan Wicklund

MEMSA’s next seminar will be taken by Ryan Wicklund, who will be presenting on the topic of ‘Mentalités and Response: Agriculture after the Black Death’. As usual seminar will begin at 18:00 with tea and coffee from 17:40. 

Below we talked to Ryan about Texas, the Black Death and County Durham. 

Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?

I’m originally from Houston, Texas. I’ve lived all over, though. I did my undergrad degree back in Texas and came to Durham for my Master’s. I moved back to Texas and taught for a bit until I decided I missed research and the academic life.

What brought you to Durham?

A professor I had in undergrad had done his PhD here and highly recommended it. I was already thinking about doing grad school in the UK, did a bit of research, and decided this is where I wanted to be. Funny thing is, I know a good ten people here at Durham who chose it based on that prof’s recommendation.

What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?

Not to be a pain, but I really don’t have a particular favorite thing about the medieval period; I find it all fascinating. If I was forced to choose, I’d have to say the societal and cultural history of the period after the Black Death. With everything in such a flux, so many things changed very quickly.

250px-CloistersxWhat does your research focus on?

I look mainly at the period after the Black Death in County Durham. A lot of the work on the period after the Black Death focuses on southern England, so it’s a bit neglected. I look at the management practices and economic mindsets of the individuals managing the estates of the Durham Cathedral Priory and how those practices and mindsets might explain peasant economics and larger trends.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

I’ll be focusing on how individuals adapted their economic practices in the period of economic and societal change following the Black Death in County Durham. While the data comes from the estates of the Durham Cathedral Priory, I hope to use it to explain how ordinary individuals interacted with market forces and the larger world around them.

Untitled-21
Pieter Brueghel the Younger—The Village Lawyer

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

Well, I thought I’d might like teaching grade school, but experience quickly taught me otherwise. So I’m really not too sure. May be a lawyer? We always need more of those!

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

To be honest, I don’t work overmuch with pieces of literature, and no one wants to hear me drone on about my love for manorial accounts. I’d probably go with the Canterbury Tales. It’s one of the first medieval texts I read and I like the way it gives a bit of insight into medieval individuals.

Interview with Alex Wilson

Our final seminar will be on March 14 and will be led by Alex Wilson, speaking about ‘Othering the Other: Social Cognition in Two Icelandic Sagas’. As usual, tea and biscuits from 17:40 with the seminar starting at 18:00. 

Below we chatted to Alex about York, Grettis, legality and outlawry! 

Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?

I grew up in Fulford, near York—our school was just down the road from one of the slightly less famous battlefields that shaped the events of 1066—but I’ve spent eight of the last nine years living in Durham.

What brought you to Durham?

A favourite teacher recommended that I should apply to study here, and I liked it enough to stick around. Originally I had planned to specialise in modern literature, but halfway through my undergraduate course I became interested in medieval texts through discovering Old Norse and Old English literature.

Abraham_Ortelius-Islandia-ca_1590What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?

The fascinating rise and fall of the Icelandic Free State, which rejected royal oversight for most of its existence and which somehow survived for around three hundred years without a head-of-state or any standing government. It’s a wonder it lasted that long, given how unstable the social structure was as a result of having no government, but it inspired a wonderful body of literature in the sagas that it produced.

What does your research focus on?

I work on ideas of community and identity in Old Norse–Icelandic saga literature, with a particular focus on the concepts of legality and outlawry. I’m currently in the latter stages of writing up my thesis, which analyses how Old Norse outlaw narratives commentate on and critique the socio-political contexts of their protagonists. Some scholars have surprisingly argued that these texts have no political dimension at all, and I think this claim needs to be addressed.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

I’ll be talking about the psychological concept of social cognition, which, in the most basic sense, seeks to understand how people make sense of other people, and thereby construct social norms. It’s similar to the more familiar concepts of normativity and otherness, but social cognition develops those ideas into a more complex model of inter-personal perception. In the course of the seminar, I’ll analyse key scenes from two sagas, Fóstbrœðra saga and Droplaugarsona saga, to demonstrate how some marginalised saga figures distort conventional social schema in order to give themselves an advantage in taking revenge on their more powerful adversaries.

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?

Not too sure, but I’d hope it would still involve plenty of reading and writing.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?FordGrettir2

It would have to be a saga, and if I have to pick just one, I’ll go for Grettis saga. Grettir Ásmundarson was the longest-surviving outlaw in the history of medieval Iceland, and his saga reflects this; it’s mostly made up of episodes set during his twenty-year period of outlawry, all of which are characterised by Grettir’s larger-than-life presence. It’s by no means the most intricate or sophisticated saga—although it certainly demonstrates those qualities within individual episodes—but it’s full of supernatural conflicts, intricate psychological explorations, and bawdy, often carnivalesque humour. I’d highly recommend it.