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?
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?
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.