Friday, May 23, 2008

University of Notre Dame Commencement for Medieval Institute Graduates

19 May 2008
States News Service

When it comes to Commencement ritual and symbolism, it's hard to outdo students in Medieval studies, who don't feel they've been appropriately graduated until they've received a bonk on the head with a volume of the Gospels-"Thrice," insists Jonathan Boulton, fellow of the Medieval Institute and concurrent associate professor of history.

Almost 20 years ago, as then director of undergraduate studies, Boulton decided that Notre Dame's world-renowned Medieval Institute needed a celebration befitting the institute and the field. Borrowing from ceremonies he had experienced at England's Oxford University, he scripted an induction of students into the society of medievalists.

"We even attract people into the major on the strength of this ceremony," Boulton said. "They hear about the head-cracking and say, 'Oh, well, I definitely want to do that.'"

The nearly hourlong event, Saturday afternoon of Commencement weekend, begins with a formal procession into the perfect venue-the medieval-styled chapel of Alumni Hall.

Bachelor's degree candidates line the right side of the chapel, master's and doctoral candidates the left. At the altar, and a nearby podium, faculty officiate first by shedding their usual titles to adapt something a bit more antique. Institute director Thomas Noble is "officiant;" Rev. Michael Driscoll, Boulton, and Alexander Blachly are proctors. Blachly and Driscoll hold the additional titles of beadle and chaplain, respectively. Daniel Sheerin serves as praelector.

Sheerin's role is the more recognizable: he announces students' names from a podium, watches as they sign their names into the book of graduates and sees that they receive a wax-sealed scroll certifying their achievement.

Noble's role is reminiscent of a medieval lord accepting the allegiance of his knights. As each student kneels before him, he first takes their hands between his hands and solemnly admits them to the order of scholars; then he taps them on the head three times with the Gospel lectionary. The ceremony is spoken in Latin throughout, and as he taps them he wishes them "the fortitude of David, the wisdom of Solomon, and the charity of Mary."

"It's an ancient Oxford ritual," says Boulton of the triple whacking. There is no record of exactly why a crack on the head is required, but Boulton notes that many European and British ceremonies birthed during the first millennium involved physical symbolism. Knights, for example, are still inducted with a tap of a sword on both shoulders.

Students are robed in their Commencement gowns and mortar boards. In colorful contrast, the faculty are resplendent in their doctoral robes, the styles that were fashioned during medieval time. Each doctoral program adopts its own color-purples, greens, reds and blues-and fanciful headwear such as Father Driscoll's purple toque. It's a squatter version of a chef's hat, earned from the Sorbonne, as was his sash of purple and gold, offset by what appeared to be white tails of fur.

"The French always did know how to accessorize," he quips, in the spirit of a ceremony that proceeds with pride and good humor.

And solemnity. It ends with the "chanting" not of Notre Dame's alma mater but of Salve Regina. Applause then is called for, again, in Latin.

Most of the master's degree candidates will continue studying for doctorates. Most undergraduate majors will pursue post-graduate degrees in Medieval tudies, theology and medicine. One, though, a double math and Medieval studies major, has taken a job as an actuary. Oddly enough, says Linda Major, director of undergraduate studies, the math-medieval combination is fairly common.

History Compass

This journal, which you can access here, is devoted to historiographical surveys of the field. Here are some medieval articles from recent issues:

May 2008

Rome's Final Conquest: The Barbarians, by Walter Goffart

The Prehistory of the Crusades: Toward a Developmental Taxonomy, by Burnam W. Reynolds

An Introduction to Medieval Environmental History, by Ellen F. Arnold

Teaching & Learning Guide for: Teaching the Middle Ages on Film: Visual Narrative and the Historical Record, by Martha Driver - you can freely read this article here

March 2008

Kabbalah: A Medieval Tradition and Its Contemporary Appeal, by Hava Tirosh-Samuelson

Postcolonialism and the Study of the Middle Ages, by Nadia R. Altschul

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Wells Cathedral

Secret galleries at the cathedral
16 May 2008
Wells Journal

It's no surprise to hear singing in Wells Cathedral, but what you may not realise is that the building itself used to sing.

In the middle ages, the hundreds of life-sized statues that adorn the Cathedral's west front would appear to be singing, thanks to secret galleries behind the façade that housed the choir.

On Palm Sunday, the choir would take their place in the galleries, and as the procession of clergy approached, the statues of saints would appear to sing a response to the clergy's chants.

The building's secret was revealed in the BBC programme How To Build A Cathedral, which was broadcast on BBC4 as part of the BBC's Medieval Season last month.

"The Cathedral building itself became a stage set for a religious ritual," explained presenter and architectural historian Jon Cannon. "Dressed in their most magnificently embroidered clothes, the clergy formed a great procession. Clouds of incense surrounded them. They were about to take place in a piece of sacred theatre, re-enacting Christ's entry into Jerusalem.

"For a few brief moments, architecture, sculpture and a kind of sacred theatre had fused," he said. "This church in the English West Country had become Jerusalem itself."

Building of St Andrew's Cathedral was originally begun around 1180, but the West façade was not completed until the mid-13th Century. There are niches for 500 statues in the façade, and the Cathedral retains nearly 300 of its original figures.

Lady Chapel in Chichester Cathedral now restored

See Chichester Cathedral in all its glory
16 May 2008
Chichester Observer

After more than half a century surrounded by scaffolding, Chichester Cathedral can now be seen in all its glory after restoration to the Lady Chapel was finished. For three years, skilled craftsmen have carried out painstaking and much-needed tender loving care to the chapel.

Since work started in 2005 the chapel has been closed to the public, but now hoardings have been removed - and just in time for the seventh annual Chichester Cathedral Festival of Flowers on May 29. The £900,000 project has involved restoring the exterior and interior of the chapel, including the re-colouring and restoration of nine sets of Clayton and Bell stained-glass windows.

One of the most important aspects of the work has been to reapply all the medieval colours to restore its brightness. Iron gates which cross the entrance were once black, but have now been painted grey so they are more in keeping with the medieval colour scheme. Other work has included repainting the chapel ceiling with vermilion (a reddish colour) and blue stripes, just as it would have looked originally.

It is believed scaffolding has been in place since the second world war. Alison Godfrey, of the Chichester Cathedral Restoration and Development Trust, said: "The stained glass is absolutely stunning."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Final update on the 43rd International Congress on Medieval Studies

Here are some more notes and blogs posted on the Internet, talking about the Kalamazoo conference.

Paul Gans has some notes on his itinerary here and here.

Philologist Errant has penned Thoughts from Kalamazoo.

CyberMedievalist gives her wrap-up of the congress, which contains a lot about Irish-related papers.

The Rumiate, aka Larry Swain, gives a detailed acoount of his trip to Kalamazoo.

Lisa Spangenberg has posted online her paper she gave this year: They are fairies; he that speaks to them shall die': Speech and Silence in Medieval Fairy Narratives

Finally, Richard Nokes offers a few more links to other posts (and back to us here - thank you!) of bloggers.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Kalamazoo roundup

Our apologies for not bringing you any other updates this weekend. It looks as if the congress was another strong event. Here are what some of the bloggers have been saying:

The Rose Garden gives a full account of the sessions she went to here.

Notorious Ph.D gives an account of her working the Book Room, trying to get a deal on publishing her book.

Digital Medievalist liveblogged a session on, not surprisingly, Weblogs and the Academy: Professional and Community Outreach through Internet Presence. You can also read MacAllister Stone's paper entitled: Text in Motion: Navel-Gazing as Pedagogical Strategy.

Ex-Aidan gives an account of his adventures up to Friday, if more comes will post the links later this week.

Jeffrey Cohen of In the Middle has already returned home from his Kalamazoo trip. He calls it his favorite conference.

The Idea of Order gives some details about her congress experiences here, and Richard Scott Nokes has three reports: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

As we find other reports of the congress, we'll post up the links.

13th century ship discovered in Barcelona

Ship sunk in 13th century uncovered at Spain construction site
10 May 2008
EFE News Service

Construction of an underground parking lot in a Barcelona neighborhood that was under the sea in the middle ages has uncovered a ship that sank, according to archaeologists supervising the site, in the 13th or 14th century.

The ship's remains are at some 7 meters (23 feet) below sea level, where construction workers found the upside-down wooden hull of a ship that capsized and sank off what was then the coast of the Catalonian capital. Experts say that the ship's design indicates that it came from somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean.

The director of the City History Museum, Joan Roca, who visited the site Saturday with Mayor Jordi Hereu, said the find proves that the port of Barcelona had relations not only throughout the Mediterranean but also with cities on the Atlantic.

The ship was found on land that formerly belonged to the Cercanias Renfe railroad company and where the Sacyr Vallehermoso firm has been building an apartment block since July 2006.

Due to the location of the discovery in the city's downtown area, supervision of the site is the province of the City History Museum's archaeological service and the General Heritage Board of the Generalitat, or Catalonian government.

Festschrift for John J. Contreni

6 May 2008
US Fed News

A Purdue University historian will be honored by his colleagues and former students with a publication and three conference sessions devoted to his lifetime contributions in the field of medieval studies.

The career and scholarship of John J. Contreni, the Justin S. Morrill Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, will be celebrated at the May 8-11 International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich. Contreni is an expert in medieval literary, intellectual and monastic culture, specifically during the Carolingian Age when Charlemagne and his descendants in the 8th and 9th centuries rebuilt European society.

In addition to the three sessions in his honor at the conference on May 9, 19 scholars in the field are writing articles in honor of Contreni's scholarship. These articles will be published in a Festschrift, a German term for a commemorative volume of essays compiled in honor of a major scholar.

This particular collection will feature essays by medievalists from around the globe, said Steven Stofferahn, an assistant professor of history at Indiana State University and co-editor of the publication.

The book, which will feature articles on education, manuscripts, imperial expansion, hunting spectacles, Jewish-Christian relations, political ideals and the Carolingian Renaissance, will be published in 2010. It will be edited by Cullen Chandler, an assistant professor of history at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa., and Stofferahn, two of Contreni's former students.

Contreni became dean of the College of Liberal Arts in 2006. Before that, he was dean of the Graduate School in 2004 after serving as interim dean from 2002-04. In 1999 his name was inscribed in Purdue's Book of Great Teachers. In 2003, he was elected a fellow of the Medieval Academy of America in recognition of his contributions to medieval studies.

Contreni was head of the Department of History from 1985-97 and interim head of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures from 1983-85. From 1981-85, he served as assistant dean for the School of Humanities, Social Science and Education, which is now the College of Liberal Arts. He has been at Purdue since 1971, and he earned his doctorate and master's degrees from Michigan State University in 1971 and 1968, respectively. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in history from St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., in 1966.

Michelangelo sketches of Sistine Chapel to be displayed in Italy

7 May 2008

ANSA - English Media Service

A drawing attributed to Michelangelo that shows sketches for the decoration of the Sistine Chapel will go on show for the first time this weekend after it was discovered in a private collection last year.

The work was found among the belongings of Giacomo Maria Ugolini, San Marino's ambassador to Egypt and Jordan, which Ugolini bequeathed to a foundation bearing his name when he died last year.

Measuring 2.90 by 3.77 metres, the drawing includes studies of a female figure with children, a seated male figure and a podgy winged baby, or 'putto', as well as various sketches of arms and a right hand.

"The drawing presents surprising similarities to two others already attributed to Michelangelo - one certainly authentic - kept at the British Museum in London and the Detroit Institute of Arts," said Heinrich Pfeiffer, professor of Christian Art History at the Gregorian University and the man who found the drawing last year, at the presentation of the work on Wednesday.

However, Pfeiffer admitted that the number of sketches attributed to Michelangelo has grown in the last few decades, often with little justification.

He said that it was possible that in this case the drawing is a copy rather than the genuine item, but if so it was made ''by an extremely able hand, perhaps even by a contemporary of Michelangelo''.

The drawing will go on show as part of an exhibition entitled Genesis - The Mystery of Origins in the town of Illegio, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, from May 11 until October 5

Around 60 biblically inspired works from between the fourth and the 20th centuries and from 15 European countries will be on display, including Russian and Byzantine icons and masterpices by Andrea Pisano, Tintoretto and Antonio Canova. Photo: A Michelangelo sketch.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Medievalists at Kalamazoo

Here is a list of bloggers who will be attending the International Congress on Medieval Studies. During the rest of week we will be checking in and linking to any interesting posts they deliver:

In the Middle

The Ruminate

The Rose Garden

Unlocked Wordhoard


Steve Muhlberger

I know I have missed a lot of bloggers that will be there, so please send me a message at and I will add your name to the list.

Monday, May 05, 2008

International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo)

Sadly, we will not be attending the 43rd International Congress on Medieval Studies held May 8-11, 2008 at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan. During the congress, we will post links to bloggers and news who are there. For now, we are going to post some information for those going to Kalamazoo for the first time, about what to expect and what to attend.

The congress is held every year on the grounds of Western Michigan University, which has its own Medieval Studies graduate program.

Originally, the congress was held only at one corner of the university known as the valleys, but over the years it has grown much larger and has spread over most of the campus. The three valley buildings, however, are still used as the main housing area for attendees.

If you do stay on site, your room will mostly look like this, a fairly spartan set up. They provide you with a pillow, bed sheets, blanket, towels and soap. If you have room to take your own pillows and blankets, please do so, as this is not the best quality.

You can prepay for meals which are served in a cafeteria in the valleys, but I would advise against it - the food is really terrible, just terrible. Instead, there are a few places on the campus and many more just off of it where you can have a decent meal. The Bronco Mall, which is on the lower level of the Bernhard Center (this hall hosts the plenary lectures and a lot of other activites) has a few fast food places, including a McDonald's and Subway. This is also the place to go to access computers for either online surfing or to finish up your paper before you give it.

One highlight of the congress is the book exhibits room, which in recent years has even spread out to a few extra rooms. Around 40 booksellers are here, representing all the academic publishers that deal with the Middle Ages. Besides offering hours of browsing, the book room sees a lot of business getting done between authors and potential publishers. If you like buying books, prepare to spend your money here. Good deals can be had, especially on Sunday morning when everyone is packing up.

Finally, I should add that there are lots of sessions for you to attend. Usually 50 separate ones take place at the same time, with a wide variety of topics being talked about. This session was attended by only a dozen people, but others will draw up to 100 strong. Plan ahead on what you want to see, and figure out how to get there as it can be a long walk from place to place.

This is a very brief overview, and a later date we will add a much larger guide to Kalamazoo on the main site.

Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies (March 2008)

Here are some abstracts from volume 32, issue 1 of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies.

Onomastics, gender, office and images on Byzantine lead seals: a means of investigating personal piety, by John Cotsonis pp.1-37

Abstract: Based upon a database of 7,390 lead seals that bear religious figural imagery in conjunction with the names and official titles of their owners, this paper investigates the contribution of lead seals to our understanding of the choice of various religious images as an expression of personal piety. The study examines the roles of homonymity, gender, family names and official titles in individuals' selections of sacred images for their seals. Tables and figures display the numerical and statistical results that are compared to trends found in other media.

Exile and return in John Mauropous, Poem 47, by Christopher Livanos pp.38-49.

Abstract: The author reads an epigram by John Mauropous as an engagement with epic and biblical traditions. Critical studies of exile and return from different eras of the Greek literary tradition by Émile Benveniste, Gregory Nagy and Nancy Sultan are used to provide a theoretical approach to the tradition with which Mauropous engages. It is suggested that Mauropous' wanderings in the territory of the xenos and return to the familiar world of the philos, and especially his personification of his home as a trophos (nurse), allude to Homer, and that epic language and motifs strengthen the poet's assertion of selfhood and make ancient literary themes relevant to Mauropous' life as a scholar and churchman.

Relations between the Fatimid and Byzantine empires during the reign of the caliph al-Mustans ir bi'llah, 1036-1094/427-487, by K.E.F. Thomson, pp.50-62

Abstract: Throughout the history of the Fatimid empire (909-1176/296-566), Byzantine sources support the idea that contact was kept to a minimum for trade. However, Arab historians reveal that in fact al-Mustansir engaged in correspondence, gift exchanges and embassies with several emperors. Descriptions of these mutual relations in the reign of al-Mustansir are a political mirror to the international effects of events such as the arrival of the Seljuk Turks, uprisings and civil war, and are also a fascinating insight into the diplomacy of Muslims and Christians banding together at a time of significant crisis for both.

On historical linguistics, linguistic variation and Medieval Greek, by Io Manolessou, pp.63-79

Abstract: This article focuses on two questions: the application of current historical linguistic methodologies to vernacular Medieval Greek in comparison to similar research in other medieval languages, and the notion of linguistic variation in Medieval Greek, in parallel with the possible methods for its fruitful investigation.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Historical Research (May 2008)

The latest issue of Historical Research: The Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research (volume 81, issue 212) contains the following articles:

R. I. Moore - The war against heresy in medieval Europe pp.189–210

Both the level of clerical anxiety about popular heresy in the century or so after 1140 and the breadth and vigour of measures adopted to suppress it, initially in the Languedoc, were disproportionate to its extent, coherence and support. This article therefore seeks an alternative explanation for the launching of the ‘war against heresy’ in thirteenth-century Europe, and finds it primarily in the developing self-consciousness of the new administrative elite produced by the demographic and cultural transformation of Europe in the eleventh century.

Theron Westervelt - Royal charter witness lists and the politics of the reign of Edward IV pp. 211–223

Historians of medieval England have excelled at getting the most information out of what often seem to be the least giving of sources, yet they have tended to shy away from the witness lists to royal charters. A study of the role and purpose of these charters shows that they deserve a second look, and an examination of the charter witness lists from the reign of Edward IV reveals just how useful they can be in the study of late medieval politics.

Evan T. Jones - Alwyn Ruddock: ‘John Cabot and the Discovery of America’ pp. 224–254

Dr. Alwyn Ruddock was one of the best scholars to work on the North American discovery voyages of John and Sebastian Cabot (1496–1508). For thirty-five years scholars in this field awaited the groundbreaking volume Ruddock was said to be preparing on this subject. Yet, when Dr. Ruddock died in December 2005, aged eighty-nine, she ordered the destruction of all her research. This article examines the research claims she made in her 1992 book proposal to the University of Exeter Press and in her later correspondence with U.E.P. Her findings are so extraordinary that they will, if proved correct, transform our entire conception of the scale, nature and importance of John Cabot's achievements.

This last article is freely available here.

The 'Controversial' Pizza Commercial

The Middle Ages in popular culture perhaps, but apparently this commercial for Domino's has been getting negative reviews from pizza delivery people.