Ph.D. University of California, Santa Barbara
Spring 2010 Office Hours:
Research: Medieval and 16th-century literature, book culture, text and image, reader reception, authorship, patronage, and gender theory.
Recent courses taught:
Reflections on Teaching:
I often ask students on the first day of class what baggage they bring to the course. What do they already know about the subject? What feelings do they have toward the material? While this may appear to be a simplistic way of beginning a course on medieval literature, it is, in fact, always an enlightening way to be reminded of what my passion evokes for others – war, plagues, violence, oppression, and inequality. As much as these types of reflections do not speak to my vision of the field of medieval studies, allusions to damsels in distress and knights in shining armor are no better. And yet, these are common and shared preconceptions of the medieval period. While I don’t agree with them, I recognize them because both visions represented my own twisted understanding of the Middle Ages the first time I entered a class on medieval French (kicking and screaming, I might add).
I left that first class “converted” and have ever since been fascinated by the first 600 years of “modern” civilization. I love the opportunity to share with students my vision of the medieval period. What all students of a foreign language know is that study of another world opens up the possibility to observe and sometimes grasp an entirely different worldview. It is my belief that the study of the Middle Ages can have a similar, if not more shocking, effect. It is both familiar and foreign to Americans in particular. We have a well-packaged image of the Middle Ages and what it is said to represent. In our present society while we live daily in the midst of war and suffering, the Middle Ages has become the prime reference for all that is wrong and evil in the world. From the threat of “getting medieval” on someone from Pulp Fiction to current practices of referring to American-led wars as crusades and our enemies as coming straight from the Dark Ages, we as a society use the medieval period as a stand-in for our greatest fears.
And yet, so many of our core values, practices, and notions were shaped during the middle ages – including our concept of love, honor, identity, and nationhood as well as modern views on sexuality, the rights and obligations of power, and relations between cultures. My work as a scholar and a teacher centers on helping students not only to gain a better understanding of such a rich period in world history and literature, but to explore with them why it can be disconcerting but essential to expose and dispose of a stereotype so important to our own cultural identity today.
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