Saturday, September 13, 2008

Stormy Weather

It's Saturday and I'm sitting in my office doing a little catching up on postponed tasks while waiting for the right time to set out for the stadium.  Yes, it's a "game day" and in an effort to secure free and proximate parking, I coerced my significant other into rising at 6 a.m. to follow me to the parking lot and give me a ride home after dropping off the car.  Later, he continued the personal limo service by dropping me off on campus.  TIP:  for 2 weeks a drop-off at the campus post office has worked nicely as a means to get relatively close and find a spot to stop without incurring the ire of the traffic lords.

There's nobody here in the MI at the moment--quite a switch from Friday when students were busily working on homework assignments in the reading room and one of our senior faculty was happily ensconced behind a giant foam pillow that was cradling a book she was perusing with beatific intensity.

Downstairs in the lobby of the library, there is a lot of casual meandering going on since the torrential (in the words of the local weather reporters) downpour that has been going on since last night abated.  During the cease-water, all of the grills on the quads sprang into action and got their charcoal blazing to take advantage of the hiatus.  I availed myself of what is arguably one of the finest game day delicacies--the steak sandwich prepared by the Knights of Columbus.

I have pretty much decided that I will go for a "cluck-and-moo" combo.  In other words, prior to the game, I'll visit the Nelson Port-a-Pit barbecue outside the stadium for some of their chicken.  Tried their boneless rib sandwich last week and found it less satisfying than the chicken; however, they had small roasted potatoes (done in the same style as their roasted chicken, I was assured) and found these delicious, although pricey.

As you can tell, I have certain food fancies that form a significant segment of my personal game day ritual.

The fans (including those of ND's nemesis Michigan) are decked out in all sorts of foul weather gear.  ND ponchos, Crocs, knee-high waterproof boots, and umbrellas of all sizes and shapes abound.  The humidity is 93% and the chance of precipitation is 80%, with thunderstorms a distinct possibility.  Some flooding has been reported in White Field and I have donned a bathing suit under my outerwear in order to prepare for a thorough drenching.  (Many years of following the Ohio State team around the Big 10 has given me some practice in gearing up for all sorts of football weather--as well as another reason to view Michigan supporters as demon spawn when considered en masse.)

Last week's game against San Diego State had perfect weather and I enjoyed introducing our new Mellon Fellow, Susan Dudash, to ND football rituals.  The win was scratched out of some dismal first-half play, good special teams work and a good 4th quarter.  Luckily, SD St had no passing game, or we'd have gotten shellacked.

Well, gametime is approaching, so GO IRISH!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Growth Through Teaching

As we close in on the beginning of our semester, I thought it might be appropriate to mention an article I read for the first time back in the spring entitled,  Growth Through Teaching, by Rabbi Noah Weinberg.  It is a very down-to-earth discussion about the benefit to oneself from teaching.  The rabbi seems to be addressing the "non-professional" teachers, i.e., all of us who don't spend part of our working day in a classroom, however, I think his message is a good one for the "pros" as well.  Basically, he argues that teaching is a moral obligation.  To quote: 
To attain wisdom for living, teaching needs to be a basic way of life. . . . By reaching others, you will reach yourself. . . . When you reduce ignorance in the world, even by a little bit, you give a great gift to mankind. . . . Help cure the international ignorance problem.  Teach wisdom.
At some point, even the most brilliant teachers worry that they are not reaching their students effectively.  (Repeated misspellings on student papers, e.g., "mid evil," do have a daunting effect on even the hardiest educator's ego.)  In some institutions of higher learning, the duties of teaching become merely the scut work that keeps the REAL business of research chugging along by bringing in the paying customers.  And the shortcomings of students can always make cheap fodder for cocktail party stories.  

So, now is a good time to consider WHY we teach and how it changes lives--both our own and others.  Click on the link above and read the article.  It comes from a web site called which describes its parent organization this way:  "Aish HaTorah is a non-profit, apolitical network of Jewish educational centers, with 25 branches on 6 continents. Aish provides opportunities for Jews of all backgrounds to discover the beauty and meaning of their heritage in an atmosphere of open inquiry and mutual respect."  Rabbi Weinberg is the founder of Aish HaTorah and the article comes from his book, "48 Ways to Wisdom."

And don't forget--teach wisdom.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Back in the Saddle

Long time no blog. Yup, I've been doing "real" work like cleaning up mailing lists to send out posters announcing our Conway Lectures in September and the SIEPM conference in October. My labors have been aided by a couple of helpful young grad students. However, for those of us working in the second half-century of our existence, it is a bit of a shock to realize that today's graduate students do not know how to use a typewriter. The delight I still get from using the automatic "white-out" correction key is an unknowable emotion for those to whom "white-out" mean a climate-based visual condition. Can I really have learned to type (and on a manual typewriter at that) before my grad student helpers were born? Worse yet, can I really be older than some of their parents? Yipes. I even have clothes older than some of these whippersnappers.

While I have been doublechecking zip codes and codifying our editorial label style, I've also been mulling over topics for bloggability. A number of things have come to mind, and one thread in particular has been recurring in the back of my head. It's the theme of entitlement. Lots of disparate connections have been forming in my head. One piece comes from the experience of a first-time college-level instructor who was going through the angst of teaching his students that "class participation" required more than mere classroom attendance during a discussion period. He bemoaned the fact that some of the students seemed to carefully limit their discussion responses to a minimal one comment per session, in order to get the requisite "checkmark" for participation. In the course of my commiseration with him, we talked about the apparent misperception that doing the minimum amount of required work was sufficient to garner an "A." The proposition that one had to do MORE than the minimum AND do it exceptionally well in order to earn an "A" grade did not seem to be a commonly held principle among his students.

"Earning" the grade, rather than being given the grade seemed to be the basic issue. Now, of course, we weren't talking about anything that hasn't been debated and discussed many times in current essays about trends in higher education. Yet, it did come home in a very visible way because summer session also brought a young scholar to our Reading Room who quite happily spent long hours poring over his paleography studies into the double-digit evening hours (and perhaps into the single-digit really early hours, too, I suspect). What a striking difference in attitude! Admittedly, the comparison here is between undergraduates taking a course to fulfill a requirement and a highly motivated graduate student, so the contrast was probably exceptionally pronounced, but it was a vivid dichotomy, nevertheless.

In thinking about the difference I observed, it occurred to me that, like the never-before-experienced manual typewriter, the undergrads probably didn't see people actually struggling to educate themselves very often. For most of the students, a college education was an acquisition like a car--something presented to you by your parents for meeting a minimal set of requirements (or maybe not exceeding a minimal number of school suspensions/fistfights/or drunken post-party hangovers). A "present" rather than an "achievement."

As I move farther into that second half-century I mentioned before, I find myself understanding more clearly my Depression Era parents' sense of mystification about the factors motivating me and my peers. I listen to National Public Radio pretty regularly and I especially like their weekly tales from the StoryCorps project. These wonderful vignettes frequently make me tear up and force a pause in my morning routine so I can blot and smile. Many of the stories deal with "then v. now" contrasts in lifestyle, upbringing, and all sorts of matters taken for granted about the norms of behavior. In a great many of the stories, the speaker talks about an "achievement" that is almost beyond the comprehension of the listener--working 3 jobs to keep a family together, travelling to a new country with one's worldly goods in a satchel, foregoing a holiday break in order to earn money for a child's college education. In the same way, the daily tragedies of war, violence, and natural calamity being reported during other parts of the broadcast sound unimaginable to those of us with jobs, housing, and caring social networks.

All this mulling on entitlement and achievement really seems to hinge on our degree of familiarity with environments outside our own. If all one has known is joblessness, warfare, or at the other extreme, surfeit and excess, one has a hard time properly calibrating one's expectations of "normal" or "typical" or "proper" behavior. My father used to quote something he'd heard that seems apropos here: "experience is what you get when you don't get what you want." Not getting what we want can put us in the position of having to look for a way to get it that enlarges our capacity to "think different" and come up with strategies to achieve our desires. Perhaps there is something more than workout encouragement to be had from the "no pain, no gain" philosophy.

My goodness, I feel like some Late Antique Roman bemoaning the passing of the Republic. Well, I guess that's what we second-half-centurions do. Interesting. I had no idea that I really WOULD understand when I got older, just like my father said I would.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Let Knowledge Grow

I was in conversation recently with one of our faculty who observed that "medieval studies is a difficult field." The context concerned the chances of a particular student "making it" through exams, and I began wondering whether a mediocre pass might be reason to counsel against continuation in the program. This train of thought got me making connections to a couple of other random comments I've noted. A visitor bemoaned the fact that as the only medievalist in the department, it was difficult to impress non-medievalists with a tenure dossier when much of the evidence offered would fail to elicit the oohs and ahhs that ought rightly to accrue to work produced through intense manuscript research in several languages. Colleagues used to working on a text in a language they speak every day and reading secondary sources in the same language (albeit with postmodern meta-language incursions), were unlikely to grasp the inherently more difficult process of accurately transcribing and translating, much less analyzing, a single sentence in Middle English and comparing it to versions of the same thought in Anglo-Norman French, Latin, or Middle High German.

I also recall discussing the importance of overseas archival research for our medieval history students with the departmental graduate studies director (a specialist in colonial America) and finding him astonished by the odd opening hours, strange usage limitations, and general technological intransigence of some European document repositories. He opined as how it was probable that such peculiarities might, indeed, make it more difficult for a medievalist to complete a dissertation on the local economy of the Loire Valley in the same amount of time allotted to a graduate student using 20th century newspaper and magazine accounts to demonstrate a shift in the political sentiments of the urban middle-class.

One more point that fell into my mental melange was the notorious article about the Kalamazoo Congress, written by Charlotte Allen, that appeared in the 6-2-08 installment of the Weekly Standard. Postmodernism and waste studies came in for some serious satiric stabs in the story. In among the jibes is the reasonable question of whether the world needs 3,000 medievalists with varying degrees of academic erudition. At what point is "good enough," indeed, good enough?

And my last bit of cogitational stew focuses on the amount of effort required to maintain a flourishing undergraduate medieval studies major. My fellow discussant and I agreed that, even in an arts-and-letters-friendly environment, it was harder to make the classic liberal arts case for medieval studies click in the minds of prospective majors, than to do so for English or History. (Those who teach a medieval field at schools with weighty science programs may feel free to laugh at the "degree of difficulty" to be found in a liberal arts institution, but I still think my statement holds its subjective truth.)

So, what IS the point (or points) I'm trying to make? I guess it's something like this. Medieval studies IS a difficult field and you have to like it very much in order to do all the things that you must in order to be a first-rate medievalist. As with most endeavors, everyone is not going to be a superb practitioner, but perhaps enthusiasm does count for quite a bit in stimulating the interest of students who may have what it takes to surpass the academic accomplishments of their teachers.

This gets back to the beginning issue: does one encourage an "average" student to pursue a degree in a demanding field of study where excellence is both hard to achieve and often overlooked. As an ABD with an M.A. in medieval history, my conclusion may be a reflection of my own desire for self-worth, but nonetheless, I would argue that the likelihood of future career success as a medievalist should not be the primary benchmark in determining a student's worthiness to pursue a course of study in which he or she may never becoming a leading light. Rather, the stick-to-it-iveness of the average student should be rewarded by the chance to do the thing he/she loves. In no way do I advocate lowering standards or cutting more slack to the eager but inept, or in some other way decreasing the value of the degree earned. What I do advocate is setting the bar of "good enough" at a level that shows reasonable competence, without the added demand of brilliance.

I would add that all students need good counsel about their career aspirations and the odds for or against achieving the goals they set for themselves. The actual likelihood of success must be clearly (and compassionately) spelled out, so that with mature reflection, students can make their life choice based on a realistic assessment of their skills and with full knowledge of the challenges their career path is likely to hold.

My final answer is: yes, there is room for 3,000 medievalists in the world, even those with a "B" or two on their transcripts or a passion for waste studies. Crescat scientia vita excolatur. ("Let knowledge grow from more to more, and thus be human life enriched." Motto of the University of Chicago)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Life Matters

One of our undergraduate Medieval Studies majors, Kevin Healey, is visiting Lourdes with his family. This is not just a summer vacation trip, but a true pilgrimage. Kevin is battling stage IV cancer. His family and friends have asked the Notre Dame community for their prayers while they are in Lourdes on the 150th anniversary of St. Bernadette's last apparition. On this past Wednesday, the day's-end Mass held at the Basilica on the Notre Dame campus was offered for Kevin. For information about his story, see Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers, or offer an expression of concern in a way that best suits your own spiritual practice and inclination.

There is a great deal of discussion on our campus and many other Catholic institutions about the meaning of "Catholic education." To me, one of the most enriching aspects of life at Notre Dame is the opportunity to seek the prayers of others for personal intentions. I am also very grateful to be in a "catholic" environment that allows interaction among different religious viewpoints. People of many faith traditions are in evidence on campus. In a single day, one can see a traditionally garbed nun, a grad student in a yarmulka, and a Muslim woman in a headscarf making their religious practice visible to others. Less-obvious signs of spiritual practice appear in lecture topics, announcements for groups like Zen@ND, and in kindnesses from those unattached to a specific faith tradition but with deeply held spiritual values. For example, yesterday's South Bend Tribune carried a story on a new book that came out of discussions between two Notre Dame professors--one an evangelical Protestant and the other a Catholic.

I am very glad to be in a place that values personal spirituality. The challenge, I think, is to provide ways for the inclusion of all persons within a framework that is dominated by a specific faith tradition. I rejoice when Notre Dame succeeds in doing so, and I feel deep concern when it fails to accomplish that goal. Kevin's response to his illness seems deeply grounded in a single faith tradition, but I think it offers something valuable to people outside that tradition. Courage and persistence in adversity sound very old-fashioned and cliched, but they are very basic to life success, nonetheless. Kevin's example is one that encourages me and moves me. I hope it does the same for you.

Friday, July 11, 2008

New from Notre Dame Press

Our friends at the University of Notre Dame Press have just published their Fall 2008 catalog. As usual, they have some strong medieval offerings, along with a quite varied list of other items (short fiction to patristics; poetry to business ethics). The UND Press publishes the Medieval Institute's yearly Conway Lectures, see for the titles by Ulrich Horst, Rosamond McKitterick, and Paul Strohm.

UND Press will have an English translation of >Jacques Le Goff's Saint Louis coming out in January 2009, as well as a paperback edition of Pope Innocent III by John C. Moore.

Something unusual that caught my eye was The Extraterrestrial Life Debate, Antiquity to 1915: A Source Book, edited by Michael J. Crowe of the Notre Dame faculty. And the Press is starting a new series in January 2009 called "ReFormations: Medieval and Early Modern" under the general editorship of David Aers, Sarah Beckwith, and James Simpson. The initial outing is Against All England: Regional Identity and Cheshire Writing, 1195-1656 by Robert W. Barrett, Jr. Also of interest to medievalists: Arabic Literary Salons in the Islamic Middle Ages by Samer M. Ali.

If you're not familiar with the Press's book list, I encourage you to take a look. And of course, they do have plenty of titles dealing with Catholic education, the history of Notre Dame, and that varsity sport whose fall at-home schedule determines the likelihood of weekend events being held on campus.

Three Cheers for Margaret!

Yesterday, we celebrated the birthday of our first-rate administrative assistant, Margaret Cinninger. Anyone who has visited the Medieval Institute in the last 6 years has met Margaret (and probably been helped by her). The MI is enormously lucky to have this talented, warm-hearted individual on its staff. I can say without any qualification that Margaret is the best AA I've ever had as a colleague. All of us (students, faculty, and staff) receive tremendous professional support, personal encouragement, and a wonderful work ethic example from her. She makes my job much easier, and I want to tip my hat and curtsey low to this special friend and coworker. Hip-hip-hooray!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Back Home in Indiana

Thanks to the various correspondents who have visited this blog and offered comments about movies for medievalists, blogs and blogging, the meaning of graduation ceremonies, course syllabi, and lightbulb jokes. It's good hearing from you.

We're getting an international cast of registrants for the SIEPM conference in October. So far, 2 from Japan, 1 from Poland, 1 from Canada, and Americans from Wisconsin, Florida, and Washington, D.C.

This year's Fourth of July celebration was especially memorable for some of us in South Bend. I was the winning bidder at an Arthritis Foundation silent auction for the mayor's "skybox" at Covaleski Stadium for a Silverhawks baseball game. For those who don't know, the Silverhawks are a Class A minor league team that is part of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. The "Cove" is a lovely little stadium and watching a game there is truly a throwback to baseball in an era before million-dollar paychecks were common occurrences. My crew of 22 neighbors, family, and Institute folk watched the Silverhawks beat the Lansing Lugnuts, 2-0. My favorite moment was listening to one of our distinguished senior faculty humming along to "Shout" while watching a clip from "Animal House" on the scoreboard, and then, mirabile dictu, correctly identifying the Beatles version of "Twist and Shout" being played over a clip from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," despite the lip synced scene from "Wayne's World," defied his powers of identification, but nonetheless, it was an enchanted moment while we waited for the sky to darken sufficiently to view the fireworks.

The weather was absolutely perfect and during the game, we got a personal visit from Swoop, the Silverhawks' mascot. Apart from late delivery of a can opener and our peanuts and Cracker Jack, it was a great success. At times, the small-town character of South Bend can be a bit disheartening to the strongly urban-hearted among us, but on this occasion, it was a joy. In particular, the build-your-own-burger competition (a person dressed as the top half of a hamburger bun had to collect human-sized (plastic) burger components, stack them on the human "bottom half" of the bun, and then fall on top of the stack) offered a possible addition to the next full-scale, social event sponsored by the Medieval Institute. In order to retain an appropriate sense of propriety, I would assume that we would field distinct faculty and student teams, least some over-zealous student "top half" try to seek revenge for a poor grade by flopping too hard onto a faculty "bottom half." Other between-the-innings merriment included the vegetable race (won by the carrot after a valiant effort by the broccoli and a directionally challenged performance by the corn).

I urge you to catch a Silverhawks game next time you visit.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Constable New Acting Director of Medieval Institute

With great pleasure, I am posting the e-mail message below from John McGreevy, incoming dean of the College of Arts and Letters, to the Medieval Institute faculty and students:

Dear Colleagues:

I'm delighted to announce that Remie Constable has agreed to step in for a two-year term as Acting Director of the Medieval Institute. As all of you know, Remie's record is an unusually distinguished  one. She has published two major monographs and edited a third. Her revised dissertation, "Trade and Traders in Muslim Spain" (Cambridge, 1994) received the John Nicholas Brown prize from the Medieval Academy of America. Her fellowship record is equally stellar, with major awards from the American Council of Learned Societies and the NEH.  At the same time, she has successfully taught  at all levels of the curriculum, from university seminar to graduate student reading courses, and is this year slated for a College Seminar. I can personally attest to her gifts as an administrator, and her six-year stint as Director of Graduate Studies in History was marked by significant advances in the organization and coherence of History's graduate program.

I will look forward to further conversations with medievalists on campus about the long-term future of the Medieval Institute. But your thoughtful, measured responses to Mark's call for suggestions, and your enthusiasm for Remie as a possible leader, were most helpful.  Please join me in thanking Remie and congratulating her for taking on this new role

Best, John

As all of you know

John T. McGreevy
Department of History
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0368
Fax: (574)631-4717

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Movies for Medievalists

Back in the days when I worked at the University of Chicago, I took a whole series of film classes through the Continuing Education program. I really became interested in movies and we got to see a lot of first-rate films and hear them critiqued by an extremely keen mind and hysterically funny raconteur, Chicago Sun-Times movie reviewer Roger Ebert. See the left margin of the blog for my in-progress list of "movies for medievalists." Nominees for the list are welcome.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Medieval Studies Syllabi

In two separate instances recently, I've heard faculty mention that they would like to see syllabi from courses like their own (see the comment posted on this blog by Robin Vose of St. Thomas University (Nova Scotia) about medieval movie courses) or in areas of personal interest (as suggested to me by Danielle Joyner, one of our Notre Dame art historians).

I became curious about the availability of such resources and found a few places to start by Googling "medieval syllabi":

Sample Syllabi from ORB (On-line Reference Book for Medieval Studies)

Medieval Literature from Prof. Jack Lynch at Rutgers

Medieval Military History and the Crusades from De Re Militari.

History of Magic and the Occult from the Societas Magica's Syllabus Project

Medieval Era Jewish History from Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Syllabi Finder from the Center for History and New Media, George Mason University (described as: "Searching 1,046,372 syllabi at the Center for History and New Media and over 500,000 syllabi via Google"); putting in "medieval" as a keyword brought up an estimated 31,600 matches

Anyone else have some suggestions?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Times, They Are a-Changin'

With mixed emotions of congratulations and sadness, let me share an announcement made this morning by Notre Dame's Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, Mark Roche. He wrote to the faculty of the Medieval Institute as follows:

I have just appointed Tom Noble as Chairperson of History. We have many reasons to be grateful for Tom's wonderful leadership of the Medieval Institute. Tom has done a superb job as Director, continuing to advance our premier graduate program, taking the lead on a major investment in Byzantine studies, and enhancing our undergraduate program, lifting it in the past three years from 5 undergraduate minors to 22 majors, including 1 honors major, 5 supplementary majors, and 29 minors. Even as Tom has invested his time in administration, he often taught an overload, and he received a Joyce Award for Undergraduate Teaching this past year. Tom has also remained very active as a scholar: his most recent book Images and the Carolingians: Tradition, Order, and Worship is forthcoming from the University of Pennsylvania Press; his edited volume, Early Medieval Christianities, 600-1100, Volume 3 of the Cambridge History of Christianity, will appear later this year; and his volume of translations, Charlemagne and Louis the Pious: Five Lives, will appear next year with Penn State University Press. The 5th edition of his co-authored textbook, Western Civilization, appeared last year. While we will miss Tom's leadership in the Institute, he will continue to be involved as a Faculty Fellow, and the College will greatly benefit from his new role.

I am hopeful that an acting director of the Institute will be appointed shortly. Formally, Tom will take over his new duties on July 1, but will continue to be available as we make the transition. I encourage those of you who know Tom as a colleague or teacher to send him a note of congratulations. His e-mail address is:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


As I began writing entries for this newborn blog, I did what any reasonably curious person with access to the Internet does these days and I "Googled" the term "medieval blog." Poking around in various places unearthed a list of such blogs at That got me sampling around a bit and looking at things like and I feel as if I'm a budding oenophile who is sampling a great many varietals of different vintage and trying to get a handle on my own preferences while developing a knowledge and appreciation of the standard taste benchmarks. I also see that blogs can easily become a near occasion of sin for those of us who fight regularly with the temptation to pontificate. Likewise, I wonder about the impact of blogging on the production of Ph.D. dissertations. My guess is that blogging is moving up quickly to the status of "getting coffee" in terms of its delaying effect on graduate student (and perhaps professorial?) academic productivity. Luckily, those of us who function as low-level administrators can far more easily justify our blogging efforts as job-related. The good news, too, is that some (at least) of what might pass for idle conversation if verbalized around a water cooler or the departmental photocopier is, actually, of some interest/use/amusement to readers. Of course, I'm not sure if any such discerning parties are eyeballing my own pontifications, but it DOES make me feel good to think so. Perhaps pride of authorship is the real key to blogulatory activity. Go figure (or just write a comment on my blog).

Monday, June 16, 2008

Summer Latin and Paleography at ND

Tomorrow is the start of our summer semester at Notre Dame and we have the pleasure of welcoming Frank Mantello, from Catholic University of America, as a visiting professor. This is the twelfth summer that Frank has taught Medieval Latin and Paleography courses in our program. Many of our Medieval Institute graduate students have studied with Frank over the years and they prize their experience in "Latin bootcamp." It's no lie to say that he has "written the book" on medieval Latin; he is coeditor of Medieval Latin: An Introduction and Bibliographical Guide.

Students from around the country come to Notre Dame for the opportunity to take courses that often are not available at their home institutions. Thanks to the generosity of the Medieval Academy's Committe on Centers and Regional Associates (CARA) scholarships, we can fund the tuition of two student members of the Medieval Academy who enroll in either Medieval Latin or Paleography. Our summer program web site ( gives information on the application process.

One of my personal delights is being part of an enterprise that encourages scholarship because it is intrinsically valuable to human society, rather than questions whether it meets a cost-benefit definition of contemporary relevance or practical utility. I really believe in and value this element of the liberal arts tradition. I remember having a rather unpleasant conversation as an undergraduate college student with a well-meaning engineer uncle who wanted to know what I planned to "do" with my history degree. Luckily, my parents never took up this same conversational strand. At this stage of my career, I would probably be a lot better equipped (and a lot more confident in my position) to argue for the validity of my choice of a major. (At least I hope I would be.) I've never regretted that choice of a major, even though virtually all of my professional career has been spent in non-academic editing and marketing communications for institutions of higher education.

So, three cheers for medieval Latin and paleography (and their students and teachers)! Long may you prosper.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Who Loves Yuh, Baby?

One of my summer projects is updating our MI web site and I would really like to add more alumni news. Right now, if you go to you will see that we cover the period from 1996 to 2008 (although not comprehensively). In the past, we've focused on highlighting academic appointment/publication information because we often have prospective students ask about our placement record. It makes it easy to point them to this location and they can see the range of our alumni network in academic institutions throughout the world. Nonetheless, as you might suspect, our updating efforts have been somewhat hit-or-miss. I'd like to correct that by trying to create a contact list of all our living Medieval Institute grads (in and out of academia).

My goal over the summer is to get some help from the ND Alumni Office to obtain a complete list of our grads and current contact info for them. With that in hand, I'd like to e-mail each of our alumni and ask them to give me a paragraph or two on what they are doing currently. IF YOU ARE A GRADUATE OF THE NOTRE DAME MEDIEVAL INSTITUTE, please feel free to beat me to the punch and shoot me an e-mail with your on-line address, present work status, noteworthy life events, a cv, a reminiscence, or whatever you wouldn't mind sharing with my blog-readers. I reserve the write to edit--after all, it IS my blog--but you might get a kick out of catching up on some of the folks with whom you share memories. I would very much like to get acquainted with more of our MI alumni. They keep turning up and introducing themselves to me at conferences, and I'm starting to feel that becoming our "family" historian would be a very enjoyable addition to my job description.

Thanks to the blog, I've heard from Simone Brosig (Ph.D. 2006), Bonnie Mak (Ph.D. 2004), Mike Waddell (Ph.D. 2000), and Robin Vose (Ph.D. 2004). And I know that there has been an on-campus sighting of Randy Smith (Ph.D. 1998), whom I hope to catch before he leaves South Bend. If any of you blog-readers are visiting Notre Dame, let me know, so I can greet you in person. You might even get one of our Medieval Institute t-shirts--a precious commodity in some circles.

Our "kissing cousin" medievalists who graduated from other ND departments are most welcome to join in the lovefest, too. If you had the entry code to the Reading Room door, then you're plenty good enough to comment on this blog. So, now do you know "who loves YOU, baby?"

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Roman Holiday?

OK, this isn't really about the Audrey Hepburn/Gregory Peck movie, but thinking about Rome when you're writing from South Bend, Indiana does make your mind wander a bit! Here's an FYI on a perennial fellowship opportunity.

Rome Prize 2009
The American Academy in Rome invites applications for the Rome Prize competition. One of the leading overseas centers for independent study and advanced research in the arts and the humanities, the Academy offers up to thirty fellowships for periods ranging from six months to two years.
Rome Prize winners reside at the Academy's eleven-acre center in Rome and receive room and board, a study or studio, and a stipend. Stipends for six-month fellowships are $12,500 and stipends for eleven-month fellowships are $25,000.
Fellowships are awarded in the following related fields:
- Architecture
- Design (including graphic, fashion, industrial, interior, lighting, set, and sound design, engineering, urban planning, and other related design fields)
- Historic Preservation and Conservation (including architectural design, public policy, and the conservation of works of art)
- Landscape Architecture
Fellowships are also awarded in: Literature*; Musical Composition; Visual Arts. In the field of humanities we award fellowships in Ancient Studies; Medieval Studies; Renaissance and Early Modern Studies; and Modern Italian Studies.
*Awarded by nomination through the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

1 November 2008 competition deadline
For further information or to download guidelines and application forms, visit the Academy’s website at or contact the American Academy in Rome, 7 East 60 Street, New York, NY 10022-1001, Attn. Programs. T: (212) 751-7200, ext. 47; F: (212) 751-7220; E: Please state specific field of interest when requesting information.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Fab Five Master Medieval Studies

Per my earlier post (see archive for May 30, 2008), you know we have a special ceremony for our graduates. Here are the smiling faces of our five 2008 Master of Medieval Studies (M.M.S.) grads. They make a charming group (in my humble opinion). Tuh-dah! (Trumpet roll . . . . )

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Flashes of Light

1. So far, all my postings have been pretty serious. Just for fun, here's a joke (non-medieval to be sure, but something that I enjoyed):

Rene Descartes is drinking with friends in a bar.  At the last call, the bartender asks him if he'd like another drink. Descartes says, "I think not" and disappears.

2. I've been pondering a suitable answer to the question below. Feel free to comment with your own suggestions.

"How many medievalists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?"

3. Here are a couple of questions for discussion before you start your next administrative meeting (or at the end of a very long dinner with a guest lecturer who did NOT wow the crowd):

What movie best portrays the reality of life in the Middle Ages?

What is the most unrealistic film portrayal of medieval life, in a drama? (The "drama" qualifier is intended to knock out "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and "Robin Hood: Men in Tights," among other comic contenders.)

What is your favorite movie about the Middle Ages?


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Ambrosiana Library on Microfilm

This week, the MI welcomed Don Prudlo, assistant professor of history at Jacksonville State University, for a short visit to our Ambrosiana Library microfilm collection. Don was awarded one of our Ambrosiana stipends, a $500 cash award to subsidize research visits to the collection. (Details on the award are available at:

The ND Ambrosiana collection is a wonderful scholarly resource. Based on an agreement between Giovanni Battista Montini, then the cardinal-archbishop of Milan (later Pope Paul VI), and Fr. Theodore M. Hesburgh, then University president, Notre Dame's Medieval Institute holds microfilms and photographic copies of nearly all of the Latin and vernacular materials and many of those in Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic housed in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan.

The Frank M. Folsom Microfilm and Photographic Collection consists of positive and negative microfilms of over 10,000 Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts belonging to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, together with about 50,000 photographs of miniatures, illuminated initials, and Old Master drawings supplemented by some 15,000 color slides.

In addition to the microfilm collection, ND Art History Prof. Robert Randolf Coleman is producing an inventory-catalogue of the Ambrosiana's collection of some 12,000 drawings by European artists who were active from the fourteenth through nineteenth centuries. The project database, which includes scanned images of the drawings, may be searched free-of-charge at

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Angel and the Muse (Villanova Conference)

ND Medieval Institute alumnus Michael Waddell (Ph.D. 2000, Medieval Philosophy), who is on the planning committee for a conference at Villanova, sent in a call for papers. (Note that the dates overlap with our own SIEPM conference, but I think there are enough medievalists to go around if the recent 3,000-person gathering at Kalamazoo is any indication.) Here are the details.

The organizers of Villanova's Patristic, Medieval, and Renaissance Studies Conference (PMR) invite all Notre Dame medievalists to participate in the 33rd annual PMR (October 10-12, 2008).

The theme of this year's conference will be "The Angel and the Muse: Inspiration, Revelation, Prophecy." Keynote addresses will be delivered by Peter S. Hawkins (Religion and Literature, Yale Divinity School) and Michael Sells (Islamic Studies, University of Chicago Divinity School). While the keynote addresses and several sessions will examine the conference theme, the conference welcomes submissions on all topics in late antiquity/patristics, Byzantine Studies, Medieval Studies, Islamic Studies, Jewish Studies, and Renaissance and Reformation Studies.

For more information, please visit the PMR website at: or click on the heading of this post.

Or, feel free to contact Michael Waddell:

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

SIEPM Conference October 8-10, 2008

I'm very pleased to announce that we've just posted the program and information about local arrangements for the SIEPM Conference being hosted by the Medieval Institute at Notre Dame in fall. The conference will focus on the particularities of the teaching of philosophy and theology in the studia of the mendicant (Augustinian, Carmelite, Dominican, Franciscan) and monastic (Benedictine, Cistercian) orders and at the theological schools at the Papal Court (notably at Avignon) as distinct from instruction in the faculties of the university proper.

There's a full list of speakers, paper titles, and logistical details about travel to South Bend and accommodations for visitors on our web site. There will be 26 papers given over the course of 3 days and the conference participants reflect the international membership of the SIEPM. CLICKING ON THE HEADLINE OF THIS POST WILL TAKE YOU TO THE CONFERENCE WEB PAGE.

Friday, May 30, 2008

MI Graduation Ceremony

Just two weeks ago, the Medieval Institute held its annual ceremony to honor graduating students from undergraduate through Ph.D. levels.  We have faculty in academic robes processing into the faux-medieval Alumni Hall Chapel, followed by a rank-by-rank initiation into the scholarly community of medievalists.  The baccalaureate students kneel and profess academic fealty while the master's grads also swear to use their teaching skills only for good purposes.  Ph.D. grads shed their master's robes and are re-vested with doctoral gowns.  The whole ceremony is conducted in Latin, led by Tom Noble, the Institute's director, as the main officiant, and assisted by other faculty in the roles of praelector, chaplain, beadle, and proctor.  The highlight is what we refer to as the "head-bonking."  Graduates are tapped on the head with a Gospel book three times and wished the "fortitude of David, the wisdom of Solomon, and the charity of Mary."  The first-time participants (whether students or faculty) sometimes assume that hoakiness will trump pomp and circumstance, but in fact, it seems to work in the other direction.  Proud parents are not the only ones to get teary-eyed as we move through the solemnities, and ultimately adjourn in the courtyard for punch and cookies.  The faculty/staff newspaper covered the event this year and published a story and picture at:

Thursday, May 29, 2008

It's Almost Fall Already

I've been updating the Medieval Institute's web site with information about our fall calendar.  Go to or  to see what's new.  September 18, 23, and 25 are the dates of our annual Conway Lectures. This year's speaker is Jonathan Riley-Smith.  October 8-10 will bring the SIEPM (Société Internationale pour l'Étude de la Philosophie Médiévale) colloquium on "Philosophy and Theology in the Studia of the Religious Orders and at the Papal Court." Shortly, I'll have more details on the SIEPM conference available on our web site, so anyone who is planning to attend can get some hints about travel and local accommodations.  The MI's Kent Emery, together with Bill Courtenay at Wisconsin (Madison), have come up with a very full 3 days of programming.

Thanks to the various folks who have sent good wishes on the launch of this blog.  Your encouragement is greatly appreciated.  I'm also delighted to note that time spent at Notre Dame is being recalled with such pleasure by our visitors.  Don't be shy about posting comments on the blog site, you're very welcome to join/start a conversation.  And as radio host and raconteur Garrison Keillor says, "stay well, do good work, and keep in touch."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Summer People

We're creeping into summer here in South Bend, so that means nights in the 40s and days that totter into the 70s. Right now, we're midway between the end of spring semester and the beginning of summer classes. A lot of the students are either off for summer research projects (like many of our faculty) or getting in some recreation time before a summer of paleography with Frank Mantello or a return to the pleasures of planning or finishing a dissertation. 

Shortly, our SIEPM fellow, Sander de Boer, a philosophy graduate student from Radboud University, Nijmegen (Netherlands), will be finishing his 3-month visit with us and returning home. We're still enjoying the company of our 2007-08 Mellon Fellow, Cristina Maria Cervone, asst. prof. of English at Villanova, although she will be moving back to Philadelphia in mid-summer. Susan Dudash, from Fordham's Dept. of French, will be in town this week to secure housing for her 2008-09 Mellon year with us and returning later in summer to begin her year in residence. John Alexander, a returning visitor who clearly can't get enough of the MI, will appear in June to work in our Ambrosiana microfilm collection. John is an architectural historian at the University of Texas, San Antonio.  Owen Phelan, ND History Ph.D., now at Mount Saint Mary's University and Seminary in Maryland, will be returning to his old stomping grounds for a research visit.

Our local visiting scholars, Aaron Canty (Saint Xavier U.), Warren Lewis (Martin U. emeritus), and Bobby Meyer-Lee (Goshen College) will be making guest appearances in the reading room periodically this summer as well.

One of the best parts of my job is meeting visitors like these and introducing them to South Bend and Notre Dame.  Welcome back to one and all!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Welcome to the Notre Dame Medieval Institute blog!

This blog is an experiment in communication and community. Hundreds (thousands?) of students, faculty, and scholars across the world have some connection to the Medieval Institute (MI) at the University of Notre Dame. Maintaining a connection with our alumni, former faculty, and research visitors is the practical goal of this blog.  I would like to offer an opportunity for ongoing conversation to those individuals who have studied, worked, and visited the MI over the years. I also hope to keep you informed about our activities and people.  I invite you to join the conversation and visit our web site at: