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.

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.

Interview with Dominic Birch

Dominic Birch is taking our next seminar on Tuesday 28 February, 18:00. Dom will be talking about ‘The Construction of Early Modern Social Reality’ and, as usual, tea and biscuits will be served from 17:40. 

Below we chatted to Dom about Northern England, strong women and linguistics. 

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

I’m Dom, and I’m studying for an MA in Economic and Social History. I’m from a small village called Long Newton which is in between Stockton (where Queen’s campus is) and Darlington (the stop before Durham on the train). Sadly, my parents have just moved down to Cambridgeshire meaning that they’ve left me and my brother (who lives in Newcastle) to represent up here.

What brought you to Durham?

Despite it being so close to my home I didn’t really consider coming to Durham originally and applied for my undergraduate course due to it being one of the few places that offered an English and History degree. Then, one day, I had an epiphany and—four years later—I’m still here!

It was actually a bit more complicated when applying for the masters degree. As time passes I feel increasingly North-Eastern and don’t want to leave the hills, the people and the coastline.

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


I love the shared humanity we have with the early modern period that’s combined with a huge distance between our cultures. It’s that contradiction that makes historical work often so exciting. A lot of my work concerns disputes about sex or drinking and often they’ll be something that sounds like it could be at home in a soap opera (‘she’s my husbands whore’, that sort of thing) but coupled with an early modern twist—like the involvement of some kind of rogue clergyman. Such fun!

What does your research focus on?

I’m an early modern social historian—so my work aims to get at the lived experiences of the vast majority of the population in the past. Right now I’m looking at how personal disputes were resolved without individuals suing each other. Early modern England was quite litigious but we have a lot of cases where individuals didn’t take their disputes to the law and I want to know why. Did neighbours help quell the quarrel? Was there a stand procedure for this? What types of location were important? That sort of thing.

I also have a huge historiographical interest in developing an ‘ethical’ understanding of what it means to write history.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

I’m going to focus on how the social structure of this period helped shape the linguistic systems and ideologies that individuals lived through. It sounds a bit mad. The essential premise is that language, being social, always reacts to how our society is structured. So I try to identify salient aspects of early modern society and link them up how early modern people understood and used language.

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

I like to think I’d have pursued my maths degree and ended up as the Economist‘s token leftie columnist.

kill-bill-jacket-850x1300Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

It’s hideously unoriginal but I love Anthony and Cleopatra. I have a rather strange obsession with strong female characters (Hedda Gabler, Thelma & Louise, The Bride). And I think Cleopatra is a badass bitch.

Interview with Jess Allen

Our next MEMSA seminar will be taken by Jess Allen, talking about ‘Forgotten Voices: Reconstructing Female Friendships in Renaissance France’. 18:00, Tuesday 14 February. We chatted to Jess below!

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

Tunbridge Castle

I’m from Tonbridge, a small town in Kent where there isn’t much to do or see other than a relatively small Norman castle. I lived there until I went up to Oxford to study French and German, spending my third year and most of my vacations in France, Germany, and Luxembourg. I developed a love of early modern French literature during my first year and haven’t looked back.

What brought you to Durham?

After I finished my undergraduate studies, I really wanted to go to a different university for my Master’s so that I could experience a new environment and a new set of people. I decided on Durham because there is such a high concentration of medievalists and early modernists, the city is beautiful, and there are lots of interesting opportunities and activities to explore.

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

I love the way that pretty much all of the issues we discuss today, from gender to education and from war to politics, were present and being discussed during the early modern period too. Reading French literature from the period provides you with a window into that society as well as with new ways to think about your own; it seems to me that the texts I read, even though they were published about five hundred years ago, are highly relevant to our current political situation.

What does your research focus on?

At the moment, I’m working on my MA thesis which is about women and friendship in early modern French literature. I’m looking at Madeleine des Roches and her daughter Catherine who had a salon in Poitiers alongside Montaigne’s adopted daughter Marie de Gournay, analysing how they write about gender and friendship in their works. I’m still working out my precise approach to the topic, but I’m interested in how they thought about these concepts themselves and how we might use this to approach their works.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

I’m going to be talking about what I’ve thought about so far and where I might be going next. Not many people know a lot about these writers, so I really enjoy introducing people to them and their work.

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?lufthansa-a380-630x420

I love travelling and I’ve often wondered what it’s like to be a flight attendant, so maybe I would be doing that. If I didn’t manage to get a job with my favourite airline, Lufthansa, I would probably be teaching English somewhere seeing as I love teaching, languages, and exploring new places.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

That’s a really hard question. The text that got me really interested in the Renaissance was Montaigne’s Des Cannibales so I’ll say that, because without that, I wouldn’t be here today.

Interview with Heidi Richards

Our next seminar is 18:00, 31 January with Hiedi Richards ( talking about ‘From Romance to Reality: Influences of Medieval Romance Literature on Late Medieval English Castles’. As usual, tea and biscuits from 17:40. Below we talked to Heidi about Dolphins, Broadway and King Arthur! 

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

I am from Raleigh, North Carolina, in the United States.  I originally went to university to get a degree in musical theatre–I was aiming for a career on Broadway.  But after my first year, I had a change of heart and wanted to be Indiana Jones (which was my original dream through high school).  I completed my degrees in archaeology and religion at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW).  I worked at a church with teenagers for a few years and then felt that the archaeologist inside of me was longing for England.5077-5077_New-York-Broadway-MAIN.jpg

What brought you to Durham?

When I was about 13 years old, I received a calendar with castles on it one Christmas.  Since then, I’ve known I wanted to live in England and work with castles in some way.  When I was working on my undergrad degree, I did a 6 month study abroad program in Swansea, Wales, where I had an internship with the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust.  That opened up the door for me to come back to England.  When I decided I was going to come to England as a postgrad student, I originally had my mind set that I would go to school in London.  Then one day, I did a random google search and happened to see Durham.  I saw how charming it looked online, and that it also had an excellent archaeology department, and I instantly had my heart set on coming to Durham.  I came to Durham for my MA in September of 2014, and now I’m in the second year of my PhD.

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

As you can probably tell by my title, I really love castles and the romance of the middle ages.  I’m a bit of a dreamer…my favourite FAVOURITE thing is to just wander around castle ruins and let my imagination go wild.

What does your research focus on?

My research focuses on influences from medieval romance literature on later medieval English castles–focusing on landscape design and castle architecture.  I look at my research from a buildings archaeology perspective, which uses standing structures to tell the story of a place rather than artifacts.  Instead of the stratigraphy of soil, I look at layers of architectural features.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

I plan to just give an overview of my research: what it’s all about, how it works.

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

I would either be in musical theatre or a murder mystery writer.  Or, possibly a marine mammalogist—I really love dolphins and otters.

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

Dolphins are cute.

Probably Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain.  In my opinion, it really initiated the emergence of all the great romances and Arthurian stories.  It combines the ancient imperial ancestry myths of England with the early medieval history of Britain down through the lineage of Constantine and King Arthur.  Fascinating stuff!

Interview with Louise Garner

Our next seminar is on Monday 16 January, 18:00 (tea and biscuits from 17:40). Louise Garner will be giving a talk entitled “Bringing up the Flowerers’: Recipes for Conception, Miscarriage and Abortion in Seventeenth-Century England.” 

Below we chatted to Louise about East Asia, early modern women and family medicine. 

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

I’m from Leicestershire, but haven’t lived there for a long time.  Before I left Britain I lived in Pendle, near the Witches. After Lancashire I moved to The Falkland Islands, and then lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for four years and then lived most recently in Kathmandu, Nepal for a few years.

What brought you to Durham?

Moving back to the UK from living abroad was like a blank canvas, I could go anywhere and do anything! I decided to indulge a passion and study for Masters in Medieval and Early Modern Studies at Durham.  I’d been to Durham as a visitor and liked it, and the university setting and expertise seemed perfect.

I intended to stay just for a year, but ended up buying a house here and starting a PhD.

What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?birthing-woodcut-final

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t drawn to the high drama – Kings, Queens, executions, battles, plague etc.

However, I’m really interested in medicine and actually think that Medieval and Early Modern people probably knew a lot more than we give them credit for, in fact they could probably teach us a thing or two. The knowledge they had was just “known” I think and has been lost because no one thought it even needed to be recorded.

I’ve recently had a baby and I’m sure an Early Modern midwife had a few tricks and tips up her sleeve, particularly with regards to breastfeeding, that has been lost. As a society we’re expected to mistrust our bodies – I think the EM woman was certainly more in tune with hers.

What does your research focus on?

My current research is on non-destructive identification of pigments used in illuminated manuscripts.  However, the knowledge of which pigments were used means nothing without context so although I’m based in the Chemistry department I am also in History – I have a supervisor in each camp!  I’m delighted to be able to utilise my physical sciences degree and my history based masters together.

What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?

My MEMSA talk is on my masters’ research which was regarding reproduction and childbirth in the Early Modern.  Specifically, I narrowed the reproductive field down to conception, miscarriage and abortion in my dissertation and then used household medicine and family recipe books as a lens through which to explore these concepts.

If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?AP78907278_Seychelles_Trave-large.jpg

I’m a qualified teacher, and before I left to come to Durham I was a head teacher.  So I’d probably be teaching somewhere, probably in South East Asia, perhaps in Myanmar or South Korea. Although I hear the Seychelles has a lovely little school…

Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?

No not really, I love medieval manuscripts, but more as beautiful objects.  I particularly like the little notes and marginalia scribbled in them, particularly curses to people who don’t return books! I’d like to learn Old English, so maybe ask me next year and I’ll have a favourite OE text.


Interview with Dr. Elizabeth Goodwin

MEMSA’s final seminar of term will be given by Dr. Elizabeth Goodwin (Sheffield University) on the topic of ‘Emotion, Resistance and Reformation in the Diary of Caritas Pirkheimer’ ( 13 December, as usual tea and biscuits from 17:40, with the seminar at 18:00. 


We chatted to Elizabeth about mentalities, early modern nuns and the reformation below. 

Tell us about yourself; where are you from?

I’m from Sheffield, where I finished by PhD last year. It’s not got a lot in the way of medieval history, but I’ve volunteered as a tour guide at our remaining Tudor house of Manor Lodge, and could tell you a lot about how much of a connection it has with Cardinal Wolsey, Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots!

What do you love most about the medieval/early modern period?

I love being able to recreate a world that you can’t easily access, understand different mentalities, see change and upheaval and rupture and continuity over a broad period. Trying to understand the drama and experiences of everyday life in contexts so vibrant and different.

What brought you to Durham?

I gave my very first research paper at Durham, in the summer of my first PhD year, in 2013 – it was a really interesting conference of Resistance and Authority, and I remember being thrilled that my paper was taken really seriously and that I didn’t mess it up.

What does your research focus on?

My thesis focused on communities of English nuns before and after the Dissolution of the monasteries, how these communities formed and reformed themselves through textual and material culture, and how these communities continued after the official structures of their convent were no longer there. I looked at a comparison with German nuns going through the Reformation, and my latest work is a continuation on this – I’m looking at emotion and emotional responses in Medieval/Early Modern nun’s visual culture, and reading emotional defences into the incredible work of Caritas Pirckheimer.

What are you focusing on for your seminar?

I’m going to explore some of the newest work I’m looking at, at emotional methodology in the Reformation Journal of Caritas Pirckheimer, a sixteenth-century German Abbess who resisted the Reformer city council’s attempts to close down her convent between 1524 and 1528. Her work is incredibly dramatic and features these superbly emotional scenes, utilised to, I think, defend the convent from broader Reformer discourse and the immediate threat to her convent that was being posed. Her work is fascinating because she engages so heavily with medieval Humanism and with the Reformation, so crosses all of these boundaries. I’m really excited to talk about her.

If you weren’t an academic what would you be doing?

I worked in hospitality all the way through college and my undergrad and MA degrees, and I’m a fairly bossy, organised person, so probably events management