March and April brought my first professional engagements at conferences and classes.  After the end of the term at York, during which time I had shadowed and had a fun (but at times trying) time teaching for the first time, I attended the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature’s first conversation.  The SSMLL and the Corpus Centre for the Study of Greek and Roman Antiquity jointly hosted “Classicists and Medievalists in Conversation: Epic“.  Of course, this event seemed tailor-made for my interests.  I was an undergraduate classicist with a focus on epic, and I am a current medievalist focusing on epic tradition in medieval romance.  This was technically a conference, but it was organised to be a more informal forum for discussion. The short panels left plenty of time for discussion afterwards.  There were lots of big names in the room, and I was particularly starstruck by Philip Hardie whose books I’ve consulted frequently over the past several months.  I think I was a bit timid–this was my first big-girl (as in not just postgraduate) conference, and the discussion tended to be dominated by more experienced, published, and employed academics.  I felt a bit out of place, as much of the discussion was on material I’d never encountered before.  However, it was a good way to dip my toes into the conference pool.  My full conference report can be found here.

St. Hugh’s College, Oxford
Works Cited: http://www.proimmune.com/

Two weeks after the day-long Epic conversation, I went to back to Oxford for the Romance in Medieval Britain Conference at St. Hugh’s College.  This was a three-day event, and the papers were absolutely fantastic.  I got to see two of my fellow PhD workroom friends present papers, talked with academics I’ve encountered at Cambridge and Durham, and meet other new researchers and post-docs with similar interests.  I was pleased to find that there were many others working on various Troy Books and ecphrasis, there was one panel whose papers fit incredibly well with my MA dissertation on hospitality and generosity in Gawain romances.  It was tiring, but extremely rewarding and fun.  After the last panel, I got to walk around the manuscript exhibit at the Bodleian Library.  While perusing the various sections, I bumped into another PhD from the conference who was visiting from Toronto, and we had a lovely afternoon walking in the sunshine.  My goal is to present a paper at the next RMB in two years, and I hope to keep up with the contacts I made this year.

Old Main, Gustavus Adolphus College
Works Cited: http://geography.blog.gustavus.edu/

After that crazy two weeks, I went home and then up to Minnesota to speak at Gustavus.  I shared my study abroad experience at the annual “Why Classics?” event and got an overwhelmingly positive response from the faculty.  The following day, I taught a class on the Aeneid in the Middle Ages with particular attention to the text of Chaucer’s House of Fame (Book 1) and sections of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  I was a bit disappointed that the students didn’t seem to work with the Middle English, and I discovered that I should have spent more time on SGGK because the text I provided for that had a modern translation.  I was expecting a Latin class to be a bit more receptive to engaging with the language, but I understand that it was something new for them.  However, I think the class went well even if I presented many novel ideas in a short amount of time.  I spoke with the only medievalist in the English department (who, of course, had been working in admin while I was a student), and he said he struggles each year when deciding on Chaucer text.  To use or not to use the Middle English?  It’s something I don’t think we should struggle with; Chaucer’s Middle English isn’t particularly difficult, and I’ve seen many undergraduate classes who read all the literature without translations.  It’s something to consider in the future, and I’d never thought about it before.

Being back at Gustavus as a speaker was a bit surreal.  I stayed in the guest house and was driven to and from Gustavus by my old advisor.  I was privy to all sorts of gossip and opinions from the faculty about which I had no idea as a student.  It was interesting to be on the other side of the fence–the side shared by professors I highly respect and adore.

I had a fantastic time being a “grown-up” academic for the first time.  It’s scary to be there, and entering into the ivory tower is daunting.  I hope that with practice I can work up to feeling more like I belong among those academics.

My dad and I have been in Durham for two nights and about two days.  It’s lovely to be back in such a picturesque and historical city, though the scholarship is causing a few hiccups.  I’ve met with the reception in the college, put my ginormous suitcases and recent bedding purchases in my room, and met with one of the professors and IMRS participants who championed my acceptance and reception of the scholarship.  All seems well, and the sun is shining brilliantly outside over the cathedral!

However, now that these little things are cleared up, or at least on their ways to being cleared up, I have some big decisions ahead of me.  I have to choose modules (American “classes” or “courses”).  After having experience at the Cambridge summer school and at the University of Washington, I have so many modules I want to take!  First, there are the languages.  I want to have at least some basic understanding of Old English, Middle English (1 term already), Old French, modern French, and Latin (3 years already).  I want to be able to teach classes on Shakespeare, medieval literature (with a focus on later poetry, Arthur, epic, and romance), composition (hooray for my Texas TAAS standardized teaching prep actually coming in handy!), manuscript tradition, and the classical tradition’s progression from its early inception in Greece through the beginning of the Renaissance in Europe.  Whew, that’s a lot!  Plus, a good background in the history of the Middle Ages is something I feel I need, and I’ve gotten some excellent education on that.

The modules I’m looking at are Narrative Transformations (classical antiquity to Renaissance), Roland to Orlando (epic), Paleography (reading manuscripts), Codicology (formation of manuscripts and early print), Old English, and romance (focusing on Arthur).  I know I want to take Narrative Transformations, but so much looks so good!  Is it good or bad to want to know everything about literature in the later Middle Ages?  For the master’s program, perhaps it is.  Perhaps it isn’t and it’ll allow me to fine-tune my specialty.  I want to have a specialty in epic literature and antiquity’s influence on medieval literature.  For me, epic includes things like Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (a traditional romance), and folklore legends that become epic, like Robin Hood and the entire Matters of Britain and France and Rome/Vulgate Cycle/Arthurian romance.

I saw this a while ago, and actually have an entire book filled with literary figures and texts broken down into Facebook notes, status updates, and profiles.  The book is called Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don’t Float. I love this!

Several things are probably apparent about me on this blog.  I love books.  I love reading.  I love learning.  I am a nerd, and am proud of it.  I also have an actual plan for the future, which I didn’t have a year ago.  About a week ago, I stopped into my history professor’s office to chat about my paper.  My research led to talking about graduate school and my future studies in Durham, as well as jobs in the future.  I loved talking with this professor, because I think she’s a lot like me, and instead of simply being blunt and saying my career path is wrong (like a couple of professors have done because they’ve had a hard time finding jobs), she talked through what I want to do and why and how I want to go about it.  She asked tough questions, was honest about her experiences, and took time to listen to the reasons why I want to be in an interdisciplinary program.  She listened to me, instead of scoffing (like Professor X did when I said I wanted to study both classical literature and medieval literature), or saying I seemed anxious in class, even though I was one of the few who didn’t complain about the course load (again, Professor X), or offering unwanted and unneeded advice when the Professor hadn’t had me in class (Professor Z).  This professor listened and encouraged me to fight for my dreams.

I told her that classics was so attractive to me because I could study language, literature, history, and art in a time period instead of placing emphasis on one area of study.  Yes, literature is my favorite, but I don’t think I get much out of the literature if the history and social conventions aren’t explained.  A literature class can be amazing without any historical context, but my knowledge lacks depth.  In addition, just studying something in translation fails at truly demonstrating the genius behind a particular text, and some of the magic is lost.  I believe to understand art, one must know the history behind it and the artist’s contemporaries.  To understand texts, one must appreciate the original language and the political and societal friction surrounding the construction of that text.  I want my specialty to be in literature, but I don’t think I will understand the material to the best of my ability or be able to teach that material without a solid foundation in other subjects concerning the medieval time period.  Likewise, I wouldn’t appreciate Chaucer or Dante without a strong background in the ancient classics and antiquity.

In addition to being buoyed by her advise and experiences, I’ve been finding an abnormally high amount of inspirational pictures, mostly thank to that time sucker called Stumble Upon.  I’ve picked up the habit of saving photos I love after seeing them online in my iPhoto library so that I can share them later.  These images serve several purposes for me: they inspire me and remind me why I’m slaving over a paper or pulling all nighters after I’ve graduated and am non-matriculated.  They make me happy and represent some aspect of my personality and my life.  They remind me of my friends, and in posting them, I hope to inspire them and let them know I miss, love, and appreciate them.

Here are some of my favorites I’ve saved lately:


Starry Night

As I get ready for bed, I always find myself thinking about the stars and the night sky.  The universe is a beautiful thing, and it’s extraordinary to ponder how small we really are in the grand scheme of things.  Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I love older history so much.  I have studied the height of organized civilization, which is an almost alien way of life to us.  Marriage at 13?  Slaves?  A round trip across the Mediterranean taking 20 years?  No Facebook?!  Yep.  Crazy, I know.

I recently found an animated model of Ptolemy’s universe online.  You can zoom in (the best part is after you’ve zoomed in) and speed up the images.  It’s amazing how accurate it is, for the most part, after all this time.  Yeah, I know Greece isn’t, and never was, the center of the universe, but the orbits of the planets were revolutionary.  Do you remember playing the game in middle school in which different balls were the planets and they were placed however many steps apart to demonstrate their relative sizes and distance from one another?  (It was great!  That and the parachute are the things I remember the best.)  Well, this reminds me of that.

Ptolemy's Astronomy

I kinda sorta knew that Memorial Day was coming up from the sale ads in my email inbox, but I have never paid much attention to the holiday because I’ve always been out of school before.  I actually had to look up the UW calendar to confirm that we don’t have class on Monday.  I didn’t know if it was a school holiday or not.  It was a welcome surprise to see that we do, indeed, have the day off, but the gift of a free day has also put me into a frenzy because next week is the last week of class.  It’s strange how “nice” surprises can somehow turn sour because of circumstances.  I would usually be so relieved to have a day off, but I’m itching to get back to class after this vertigo crapola I’ve been dealing with.

However, on the positive side, I have longer than I thought to work on my research paper.  I’m getting everything sorted out right now, and my desk is an absolute mess.  It’s a constructive mess, though.  I think.  I’ve discovered that as I read, I’m becoming more aware of the best scholars in the field and if I generally like their writing style or not.  That was something I struggled with in classics, probably because I took classes in almost every possible field in that general academic area.  I got to remember the translators I preferred (see my Aeneid post for some comments on that) but didn’t really identify with any particular scholar’s articles or books.  In the Robin Hood area, I’m fond of Ohlgren, Keen, and Knight, even though I sometimes find Keen a little general and Knight a bit pretentious.  However, I can identify sources’ usefulness sometimes based on this.  If I see that an article cites something by one of them or cites the Dobson and Taylor as the source of the Gest, that’s an indicator of something good.

I’ve also been struck by the lack of female scholars in medieval history.  My professor is amazing, and a woman, and one of my favorite articles from class is written by Barbara Hanawalt, but the academics in the last paragraph–the dominant figures in Robin Hood scholarship–are all male.  Granted, academia didn’t have more gender equality until recently, but it’s strange to know that I’ll be going into a field that is predominantly male.  And I have no idea if the UK is as adamant about integrating women into the workforce as the US when it comes to the collegiate level.  I remember the US News and World Report’s statistics on graduate schools, and all of the classics graduate programs were very male-centric.  Hmm.  I guess I’ll have something to look for when I get to Durham.  Hopefully, I won’t be the only girl in my program.  I also have more respect for my classics professors, Mary and Yurie, and my history professor, Charity, after coming to this (belated) realization, and appreciate their hard work even more.

Let’s see…  What else on the academic front?  My next batch of books is on King Edward II, as I’m trying to find good material on the royal court to compare to Robin Hood’s greenwood “court” in the Gest.  I don’t find single monarchs particularly enthralling, so I’m sure it will feel like a slog.  That may be why I decided to take a break and write a post, too.

First, some music to give you an idea of where my head is:

“Merry Men” from Robin Hood

“Ibelin” from Kingdom of Heaven

“The Battle” from Gladiator

There are certain things I like to have nearby when I’m buckling down to research and to write.  Flavored coffee (like the coconut creme I have here now), certain soundtracks playing on iTunes nonstop, and brightly colored pens are great.  I’m usually partial to The Lord of the Rings soundtracks for work, but I’ve made a special playlist for this venture.  It includes Kingdom of Heaven, the new Robin Hood, and Gladiator (I can’t forget my roots!).  Ah, music.  Without it, life wouldn’t be as happy.

iPod Nanos

I don’t know if I mentioned the fact that I love green recently.  Well, I do.  I have no idea if that comes from me starting to focus on medieval history (Lincoln green, the greenwood, etc.) or perhaps from my winters in Minnesota, which are decidedly vacant of green, and boiling summers in Texas and Oklahoma, which have various shades of brown predominating the landscape.  My room is periwinkle, but somehow over the years I’ve collected a green iPod Nano, a green phone cover, a green metal water bottle, and green room and desk accents.

Burghley House Grounds, Lincolnshire

Or maybe I’m morphing into a tree.  Historians and writers would have you believe that stranger things have happened.  Don’t believe me?  Check out John Mandeville; he’s one trippy medieval dude.

I also have this theory that green is the color of evil and death.  Look at the Disney Hercules, The Lord of the Ring trilogy, and the like.  The Underworld is a sickly green color, the Dead Marshes have ghostly green spirits, and the Paths of the Dead have similarly-colored creepy guys.  The Green Knight in Sir Gawain is, well, you know… green.  In the Aeneid, Anchises is in a green field in the Underworld, too, though it’s not as unpleasant as the Greek version.  On the flip side, green is the color of life and safety.  Leaves, the (ahem) greenwood, spring, and “go” signs are all green.  Interesting paradox.  I may smell a paper coming up.

And that reminds me that I should get back to work on my current paper.

A Step Into Green

Good luck to the graduating class of Gustavus, and a special “congratulations” to my friends who are walking tomorrow!

I first read The Enchantress of Florence last year, just before I went to Florence.  It’s a whimsical, imaginative tale about a man who comes to the Mughal capital and tells the emperor a story.  Salman Rushdie is amazing, and I cannot accurately describe how apparent it is that he lovingly chooses each word and weaves them expertly together.

The passage I loved is on page 249, and it was the first page I’ve ever dog-eared in a book.  I can’t stand intentionally breaking the spine of a book or bending all the pages to keep the place.  Ugh.  So annoying.  However, this passage was so beautiful that I had to mark it:

The past was a light that if properly directed could illumine the present more brightly than any contemporary lamp.  Greatness was like the sacred flame of Olympus, handed down from the great to the great.  Alexander modeled himself on Achilles, Caesar followed in Alexander’s footsteps, and so on.  Understanding was another such flame.  Knowledge was never simply born in the human mind; it was always reborn.  The relaying of wisdom from one age to the next, this cycle of rebirths: this was wisdom.  All else was barbarity.

Candle in Lincoln Cathedral

Hopefully, it’s clear why this passage appealed to the classicist and historian sides of me.  It has a grand metaphor and uses examples from classical antiquity to illustrate its point.  Most of us have heard the saying about history being doomed to repeat itself if we don’t understand it.  This is saying that history and the passing of knowledge is true wisdom.  It’s an absolutely beautiful passage.

Brass Lamps, Egypt

Glass Lamps & Candle Holders, Turkey