Musings of a domesticated scholar

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Holy Women, pt 1

Since my last post, I’ve passed all my PhD exams, taken a few several weeks to recover, and gone to England for a couple of weeks. After my extended break, health issues, and a family visit, I am happy to be back and researching for my dissertation prospectus.
But first, I owe you all an adventure. Three months ago you voted on which should be my next blog post, and the tallies are in: Holy Women it is! Sorry for the delay.
In order to make up for lost time, I’ll do this in two installments.
Holy Woman #1: Constance in Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale: “the mediator”


Chaucer’s story is a bit more elaborate and stylized than its Anglo-Norman source, a chronicle by Trivet. This blend of saint’s life and romance could also be called “Murderous Mothers-in-Law.”
Synopsis: A syrian sultan converts to Christianity in order to marry Constance, a merchant’s daughter. She’s not particularly keen on the idea, but unlike the Wife of Bath admits that women “are born to thralldom and penance, and to be under man’s governance.” The sultan’s mother resents that he converted for the pretty little thing; accordingly she fakes conversion, kills all the converts of her own land, and exiles Constance to Italy. Constance is shipwrecked in Northumbria, where she’s saved by the pagan but sympathetic King Alla. After he and his people are converted by her “mediation,” Alla and marries Constance and goes off to war, leaving her at the mercy HIS vengeful mother. In an intricate fake-letter plot, Constance’s new mother-in-law exiles her and her son. Eventually Alla catches on, returns home, kills his mother, and takes pilgrimage to Rome.
It’s been five years since Constance and her son have been lost at sea; she’s never given up hope, and although she pales three times in the story, her faith and prayers sustain them. At long last they wash ashore in Rome, where the family is reunited.  Alla and Constance return to England, living happily for one year before he dies. Constance leaves for Rome to live out her days with her son, now Emperor Maurice.
Themes: Constance is plotted against by older, pagan women; she accepts her fate without self-pity or despair; she leads by example, giving no grand speeches but converting others (especially powerful men) by “mediation.” She is always humble, quietly accepting her fate and seeking God’s protection.
Holy Woman #2: St Cecilia in Chaucer’s formerly-known-as-second-nun’s-tale: “the big reveal”


Influenced by Richard Love, Augustine, and the Franciscan Meditations on the Life of Christ, Chaucer’s S Cecilia is sometimes thought of as “the only good woman in the Canterbury Tales.” I take issue with that, but will let you make your own conclusions.
If Constance is patient and quietly brave, Cecilia is “busy” and urgently bold. We hear much more from Cecilia than we do from Custance, and I think part of that is due to genre: Man-of-Law’s Tale is hagio-romance, but Cecilia’s story is more strictly hagiographical. What fascinate me about Cecilia’s Tale (as I mentioned in my post on Values of the Hidden in 2011) are the visible elements of the story. There are secret angels, popes popping out of catacombs, magical golden books, covert meetings, clandestine conversions, but also spectacular confrontations and tortures.
Themes: Cecilia is nothing if not active; she engages in debates on logic and faith, and has strong ties to the secretive Christian community. She preaches for three days after being boiled and half-decapitated, emphasizing her role as one who reveals the truth of God as well as the “naked”ness of her fellow humans.

That’s all for now, but if you’re interested in reading more (and differently) about Chaucer, check out the mind-blowing Dark Chaucer: An Assortment.

Look out for my next post on holy women later this week:
Holy Woman #3: Julian of Norwich: “the visionary”
Holy Woman # 4: Margery Kempe: “the housewife”

Until then, here are some other sources of medieval holy women:

The Early South English Legendary
Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women
Bokenham’s Legends of Holy Women

Choose your own adventure!

Hello again, friends!

I’ve been taking a break from EVERYTHING since I passed written exams (booyah!), and after a kickass conference at CUNY, I’m reluctantly slowly coming back to the realities of teaching and studying for orals.

Weren’t these AWESOME?!

I’m drafting questions and answers as part of my prep for oral exams, and instead of writing all of them up and overloading/boring my ever-gracious readers, I thought I’d let you decide which issue is most interesting (if any). After I hear from you all on blogger, twitter, and facebook, I will write up one of the following issues for your reading leisure and pleasure (and yes, that should rhyme in your head).

1. The Alfredian canon. What’s in? What’s out? According to whom? [Or, “Bately and Godden got into a fight. Who won?]
NB: this refers to a group of 9th c Anglo-Saxon ‘translations’ of Latin originals once attributed to King Alfred.
2. Varying presentations of “holy women” in South English legendary, Chaucer, Margery Kempe, and Julian of Norwich.
3. Portrayal of chivalry in Havelok the Dane, Horn, Sir Orfeo, Chretien, Marie de France, and the last book of Malory’s Morte.

So what do you think?

If none of these appeals to you, I can also write up some brief comments on:
4. How I would teach Beowulf
5. How I would teach a medieval seminar
6. How I would teach medieval/early modern drama

Please let me know (somehow), and in the meantime, don’t forget to check out (and participate in) our awesome HASTAC forum on mapping.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Moderns Interview Medievals on Arthur

Now that I’ve taken my major exams, I have a moment to reflect on how thankful I am to get all kinds of support from all kinds of people. One particularly surprising source of support has been Twitter, through which I’m able to be in touch with other medievalists around the world. One of the many perks of having an intellectual (if digital) community is that we can learn from each other in (almost) real-time and help one another in various stages of research.

I’ve reached out to fellow graduate-level-medievalist-named-Rebecca, MedievalBex, whose blog I’ve written about already. She was kind enough to contribute to my previous post on interviewing medieval authors about Arthur by adding in the authors of Annales Cambriae and Mabinogion.

So here’s the post from last time, made better (as all things are) by collaboration.
Until soon, wishing everyone a well-networked week.

Let’s imagine a time machine that, instead of taking us somewhere, just brings interesting folks into the present–that way we don’t have to worry about changing, packing, etc. Brilliant!

Next, pretend that with this magic machine, I’ve brought some of the Arthurian authors into my home (thinking the campus coffee shop will be a little too much).

Amidst all our revery, I’ve asked them who they think Arthur was. Here are their answers:

Gildas (6th c): “No clue, but did you hear about the Battle of Mt Badon? It was epic, really.”

Nennius (9th c): “Hmmm. Sounds a little like the dux bellorum. Helluva guy. Good leader in battles, but not much outside of that.”

Annales Cambriae writer (10th c): “The Battle of Badon – Arthur carried the image of the Virgin Mary and won. Yay! The Battle of Camlann – Arthur and Medraut both fell and there was devastation in Britain. Boo.”

Monmouth (12th c): “British king with awfully Welsh-looking queen and companions. A product of two great cultures.”

Wace (12th c): “A king TOTALLY DISGRACED by his love-triangle. What a shame. Oh but can I just add one thing? For the sake of history? The Round Table thing…probably not real.”
Marie de France (mid 12th c): “Qui est Arthur?”

Layamon (late 12th c): “King Arthur was a war-leader, a lawgiver, and a thoroughly Christian king. Also, fairies were present at his birth. That doesn’t change how warry and Christiany he was, but they were there. For sure.”

Stanzaic Morte author (14th c): “The king of Camelot, clearly– he’s the one with the huge military campaign in the made-up kingdom? You remember… the one who died because his best knights couldn’t settle their differences? Oh and there was that terrible Modred fellow.”

Chestre (mid 14th c): “Husband to that total b___ who almost ruined a really cool knight. Thankfully, said knight eventually got to live in fairy land with his magical chica. Hot.”

Alliterative Morte author (late 14th c): “Arthur was a warrior king who performed in and witnessed many battles. You should have seen his armor! And his weapons, and his horse, and all his crazy moves. And do you know about his ships? Also, will this take long? I have a battle re-enactment to attend.”

Mabinogion writers (14th c, or earlier): “Oh look, a magical boar! Ooh, and over there, a shapeshifter! OOOHH and a woman made of flowers!! Oh yeah, and there’s King Arthur too. But mostly magical stuff.”

Malory (mid 15th c): “Arthur was an acquaintance of Sir Lancelot, the greatest knight EVER.”

William Morris, Bridgemen Art Libary

Oh no–someone brought up Bede and now things are getting a little heated. I’m sending these strangers home before something disastrous happens.

Wish me luck!

Still Want to be a Medievalist, Volume 2:

Welcome back!

As promised, a double-dip second helping of research tools for medievalists. Feast your eyes on the following:

Looking for a “primary source” (from taxonomic chart)? 

Middle English:

  1. Records of Early English Drama, arranged by town in 27 volumes, brings together “external evidence of dramatic, ceremonial, and minstrel activity in Great Britain before 1672″( Included in its records are guild records, treasurers’ account rolls, mayors’ books, etc.
  2. Digital Index of Middle English Verse, published in 1943, supplemented in 1965, and newly indexed in 2005, lists Middle English poetry from 1200-1500. The entries are numbered and listed alphabetically by first lines. Online, one can search by author, title, scribe, subject, verse form (alliterative, etc), or rhyme pattern (ababab, etc). It also includes printed books, inscriptions, bibliography, and glossary.
  3. A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050-1500 brings Middle English texts together with critical evaluations, bibliographies, and manuscript and/or early print information. It spans 1050-1500, and 11 of 12 volumes are published. Volume II is the Pearl Poet, but Volume VI is Ballads, so there’s no set rule for how the volumes are published.
  4. The Index of Middle English Prose consists of 18 handlists based on “major repositories”. It describes the MSs, or references to MSs, of works between 1200 and 1500 and includes a list of incipits.
  5. Index of Printed Middle English Prose modernizes the spelling of works printed between 1150 and 1500. The entries are numbered and alphabetized by first line; author, title, genre, and date included.


  1. Patrologia Latina‘s 200+ volumes contain the works of most church fathers between AD 200 and 1216. Its limitations are numerous, but eased by joint searchability with Acta Santorum (for those whose universities have subscribed to the service). NB: once you find what you’re looking for, you’ll want to grab a more updated edition of the text.
  2. Repertorium Biblium Medii Aevi catalogues known authors and commentaries in its first volumes. It has two volumes of anonymous commentary listed by incipit, a supplement, and an index.
  3. Acta Sanctorum was the first serious, critical approach to saints’ lives. Across almost 70 volumes, the work is organized by day.

Looking for sources/analogues? Influence/interpretations?

  1. Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture works towards the present from “classical, patristic, and medieval sources seeking to summarize the most convincing evidence for their being known or used in England” ( It includes oral sources, charters, and even recipes.
  2. Fontes Anglo-Saxonici is “a register of written sources used by authors in AS England”( As a compliment to SASLC, its print version works backwards from AS to find sources. Online, you can search by author or source.
  3. Sources and Analogues of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (2 volumes), organized by Tale, is exactly what you think it is — but better. Why? Three words: facing page translation.
  4. Anglo-Saxon England is an interdisciplinary journal published annually since 1972. Now under the guidance of Keynes, the quality of the articles and bibliographies are better than ever.
  5. Year’s Work in English Studies, another annual periodical, is organized by time period. It boasts that it is “[t]he qualitative narrative bibliographic review of scholarly work on English language and literature…” ( It’s probably right.
  6. Studies in the Age of Chaucer: Wondering what people are saying about Chaucer? Go first to Studies in the Age of Chaucer, which NCS has been publishing since 1979.
  7. Variorum Edition (Chaucer) has 8 volumes planned. Its twofold mission is “to provide analysis of textual history of Chaucer’s individual works and to offer comprehensive overview of all facets of critical commentary of each work” ( It pains me to include this, but I’m glad to see something legit come out of Oklahoma. HOOK’EM.
  8. Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages was published in 1959, and is partly responsible for the revived critical interest in chivalric games. It is, not surprisingly, a large collection of essays on nearly every medieval iteration of Arthurian lit.

Still want to be a medievalist? Volume 1

Hooray! You made the right call. You should know, though, that many of your days and nights will feel (and actually look) like this:
I got such great feedback (and so many retweets!) that I decided to go ahead and fill in some of the blanks in yesterday’s taxonomic chart).

But let’s start from the beginning.

Once upon a time at a University on a Hill, a wise man named Professor W started a series of flashcards for grad students. As the years went on, each student added his or her own relavent resources. The age-old hoard as now come down to me. Behold, the UNC medievalist-qualifying-exam-research-method-flashcards, now with a few DIGITAL sources.

I. Looking for primary sources, Old English
A. Prose
 1. English Historical Documents: Heartsies for this one! Of the twelve volumes, only the first four deal with medieval documents. They are broken up according to the following years: (500-1042), (1042-1189), (1189-1327), (1327-1485). Special prize to whomever can guess the reason for the date breaks! Each edition provides a translation of chronicles, laws, and charters in addition to an introduction to the period, secular narrative sources, and ecclesiastical sources.
2. Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen: spoiler alert– this fella’s in German. First published in the early (very early) twentieth century, this resource provides an edition of Anglo-Saxon laws; text is in Anglo-Saxon, German, or Latin. Some can be found in slightly modified context at The entire book is accessible online through Word searches come up on a nifty little “timeline” at the bottom of the page.
3. Rolls Series: with a nickname like “Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland during the Middle Ages,” this has to be good. Although all 99 volumes spanning 255 books are still striclty bound in the DA section of your library, the index can be found online:
 4. PASE Database: Really, I’m at a loss for words with how AMAZING this resource is, so I’ll use their words instead: “The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England (PASE) is a database which aims to provide structured information relating to all the recorded inhabitants of England from the late sixth to the late eleventh century. It is based on a systematic examination of the available written sources for the period, including chronicles, saints’ Lives, charters, libri vitae, inscriptions, Domesday Book and coins; and is intended to serve as a research tool suitable for a wide range of users with an interest in this period”( On the fence about being a medievalist? Spending five minutes on this website will push you right over, and into the [loving? strapping? capable?] arms of Stephen Baxter and Simon Keynes.


B. Poetry
1. Online Corpus of Old English Poetry: You’ll notice that this resource actually starts with “Online.” Win! this project aims to collect and share “all known Old English poems and poetic lines in bare-bones editions with clickable glosses…and minimal, mainly textual notes” ( As of 2010, there are very few OCOEP editions available, but there are tons of links to Georgetown’s Labyrinth Library. You can search by title or manuscript. Pull this up next time someone asks you how hard it is to work with so few texts.
2. Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records: Volumes are organized by manuscript, and there’s no index, so you’ll have to know what you’re looking for (or just browse it for fun). published by Krapp and Dobbie, you’ll see this in footnotes everywhere. Each volume contains the texts and notes.
C. Manuscript
1. Catalogue of MSs Containing Anglo-Saxon: When you hear someone say “Ker,” you need to be sure to maintain eye contact, sit up straight, and nod with agreement to whatever comes next. Check out his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (also on this list). The catalogue was published in 1957 to include ALL manuscripts with Anglo-Saxon in them (except cartularies). Each entry describes the manuscript and its contents, even including glosses, notes, and scribbles. The 412 entries are organized by library; the 1991 appendix includes manuscripts written by continental scribes.
2. Early English MSs in Facsimile: Every now and then we all need a little manuscript fix. Don’t want to leave home? The publisher’s website for this series is your ticket: In ‘real life’ each volume introduces and describes the manuscript (even tracing its history, if possible). All Old English manuscripts are reproduced.

Until next time (info on Middle English resources), wishing everyone happiness in research.

So you want to be a medievalist…

…that’s awesome! Congrats, and welcome. 
I’m about to take exams, and I’d like to share with you some resources that I knew nothing about until I found out I’d be tested on them. In a perfect world I’d have time to explain them all to you. For now, here’s a rough sketch of what they do. And please forgive the strange formatting errors. I’ve spent far too much time trying to html my way out of them already.
Until soon, stay savvy, friends!
Primary Sources: What do you want to find?*
                                   Old English                                                        Middle English
                                          |                                                                             |
Prose                Poetry               MS            Drama                            Verse             Prose                 ?
|                           |                          |                      |                                   |             |                           /
                                                             Record of Early English                                  Manual of Writing
|                           |                          |                   Drama                            /             |      in Middle Eng.           
             Online Corpus of Old                                            (Digital) Index of                      
             English Poetry;                                                      Middle English Verse                                                             

             Anglo-Saxon Poetic                                                                                           

|            Records                             |                                                                        |

English                                      Catalogue of MSs                                      Index of Printed
Historical                                   Containing Anglo-Saxon;                          Middle Eng Prose;
Documents;                               Early English MSs in                                 Index of Middle
Die Gesetze der                         Facsimile                                                    English Prose
Rolls Series;
PASE database
            Patrologia Latina
*Latin? —Repertorium Biblium Medii Aevi
                  Acta Sanctorum

Secondary Sources: What kind of question do you have?*      
                        About sources                                                About influence or interpretation
                                |                                                                                       |
Fontes Anglo-Saxonici;                                                                                Anglo-Saxon England; Year’s Work in English
Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture;                                                Studies; Studies in the Age of Chaucer; Variorum
Sources and Analogues of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales                         Edition (Chaucer); Arthurian Lit in the Middle Ages
*Old English Newsletter Online and Digital Medievalist are also great sources for sources

Tertiary Sources, etc.: For the very specific, or very general search
International Medieval Bibliography; Bibliography of Publications on Old English through 1972; Bulletin Bibliografique (Societe Internationale Arthurienne)
Indices (indexes?), Surveys, Concordances, etc:
Motif Index of English Metrical Romances; Survey of English Place-Names; Index of Arthurian Names in Middle English; Biographical Register of University of Oxford to AD 1500; Medieval Libraries of Great Britain; Monumenta Germaniae Historica; Dictionary of National Biography; Dictionary of the Middle Ages

Linguistic Aides:
Cambridge History of the English Language, Grammar of Old English (Hogg), Handbook of Middle English Grammar;  A Middle English Syntax; Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English, Microfiche Concordance to Old English, Historical Outlines of English Sounds and Inflections; Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary; Dictionary of Old English (Toronto)

Gliding along

Hello, all!
It’s a cold, wet day here in Durham– perfect for reading and prepping for exams. One of my favorite tools, as I’ve recently tweeted, is
Here’s an example of what I’ve done with it:

As you can see, I’ve laid out the medieval and early modern drama I’m responsible for. What’s great is that I can add images, text, etc to each entry. And this is all in the free version!

Until soon, wishing everyone a cozy evening– no matter where (or when) you are.

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