Medieval literature

Reid-Mullarkey Research and Teaching Forum--October 24th

You are invited to the next Reid-Mullarky Reseach and Teaching Forum—Writing and Teaching in the Age of the Unspeakable. Wednesday, October 24th from 2:30pm-6:30pm at Rose Hill’s Duane Library, Room 351 and videoconference to LL309. Please plan to attend. Tea will be served. For more info see below.

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Doctoral Student Danielle Sottosanti Represents Fordham at the IUDC Doctoral Consortium

Congratulations to graduate student, Danielle Sottosanti, for being chosen to deliver a portion of her Doctoral research at New York City’s Medieval Inter-University Doctoral Consortium. The Doctoral Consortium, which draws from faculty and graduate students from CUNY – Brooklyn College, CUNY – Graduate Center, Columbia, Fordham, NYU, Princeton, Rutgers, SUNY - Stony Brook, and others, showcases the research of top students in and around New York City. Danielle’s paper, “The Romance of Crossover: Why Now is the Time for Broader Study of Late-Medieval Religious Conversion,” formed part of a session entitled “Finding New Paths,” chaired by Professor Steven Kruger of CUNY – Graduate Center. The Consortium was hosted this year by NYU on 27 April 2018. The attached image from the Auchinleck MS imagines religious conversion in the enigmatic, medieval romance, "The King of Tars," where the convert's skin color changes once he is baptized. Please join the Fordham community in congratulating Danielle for a job well done!

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English Faculty Receive Fellowships

Congratulations to English Department faculty members who have been awarded Fordham Faculty Fellowships! 

Fordham Students Experience the Camino

Buen Camino! This greeting is passed along the trail to the pilgrimage site, Santiago de Compostella, in Galicia, Spain. A popular shrine with medieval promotional literatures spanning genres of romance, ethnography, hagiography, and liturgical sources, the relics of St. James had a booming career in the twelfth century, and again in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

On September 29th, 2017, both of Dr. Suzanne Yeager’s course sections of Medieval Traveler heard first-hand about pilgrim experience from recent peregrinas, Dr. Christina Carlson and Rachel Podd. Dr. Carlson, a professor of Literature at Iona College, NY, graduate of Fordham University’s Doctoral Program in English, and recipient of Fordham’s Doctoral Certificate in Medieval Studies, shared her experiences of the trail, alongside Rachel Podd, a current advanced student in Fordham’s Doctoral program in History. “If making the pilgrimage is this gruelling today, even with all of our modern conveniences,” one student mused, “then this presentation gave me much more respect for the undertaking it was for medieval pilgrims.” Students were interested to learn of the intersections of medieval and modern, secular and spiritual aspects which both scholars presented. For Dr. Carlson, this was a first-time pilgrimage to Compostella, but she is a long-time traveler to the island of Iona, where she takes her undergraduate students on pilgrimage on a routine basis. For Ms. Podd, the journey was the third time she had made the trek, assisting Fordham students on their pilgrimages.

Clearly both scholars have a lifetime of medieval literature, history, and travel in their futures. Podd spoke of the rare scent of glacial mountains, when the wind was blowing just right. “I wish I could bottle the air!” she reflected. We were grateful for these Fordham scholars for offering us a vicarious taste or their pilgrimages. 

Biblical Pageants Set to Life

At the end of this semester, Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow Boyda Johnstone's Interdisciplinary Capstone course 'Medieval English Drama in Performance' (a course originally designed by Andrew Albin for his Lincoln Center students) will be staging a student-led production of a medieval play on the Rose Hill campus. Practice for this is already well under way: in class on Friday, Feb. 17, her ENGL 4148 students performed renditions of cycle pageants, which are medieval versions of biblical stories from the creation of the world to the last judgment. The groups each chose their favorite pageant and produced original adaptations of The Fall of Lucifer (city of Chester), Adam and Eve (city of Chester), Joseph's Trouble About Mary (city of York), and The Second Shepherd's Play.

The first sketch re-imagined God as Bernie Sanders with "Dolan Trumpeh" and Steve Bannon as the rebellious angels Lucifer and Lighteborne; the second split God into male and female counterparts as Adam and Eve struggle to decipher the mating rituals of animals; the third offered audience prompts to "boo" or "applaud" while Joseph wonders which man helped Mary cuckold him; and the fourth highlighted the harsh labor conditions under which the poor shepherds work.

One of the distinctive features of medieval cycle drama is the way in which it humanizes and personalizes biblical stories, transporting ancient tales into the streets of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England. So transporting the stories yet further into our modern context of the twenty-first century makes a lot of sense. After engaging in the difficult work of adapting the texts into a more modernized English, the students could more directly confront the bawdy and slapstick humor of the cycle, reinvigorating tales whose themes of betrayal, hubris, and human suffering remain equally relevant today. Medieval drama was performed by amateur actors drawn from the communities gathered around them, so any lack of talent or mastery over the material can actually enhance modern engagement with how the pageants originally worked. Even the inevitable flub or mistake, for ENGL 4148, could represent a meaningful part of the entertainment.

After the class, students requested that they do more of these performance workshops, since it brought these somewhat esoteric pageants to life. So stay tuned for more performances from ENGL 4148!

Erler Named Distinguished Professor

The English department is celebrating Professor Mary Erler's promotion to the rank of Distinguished Professor at Fordham University. Chair Glenn Hendler shared the good news with faculty and students  at the 2015 Inaugural Lecture.

Erler focuses on medieval and early modern literature, women’s reading and book ownership, and early English printing.


She earned her BA in English at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana and her MA and PhD in English from the University of Chicago. During her time at the University of Chicago, where she trained as a medievalist, Erler recognized a gap in scholarship on medieval women.

Nowadays, names like Margery Kempe and Christine de Pizan abound in medieval scholarship. Erler’s contributions have no doubt propelled scholarly interest in the field.

Along with numerous articles and reviews, Erler has written and edited several books, including the widely acclaimed Women, Reading, and Piety in Late Medieval England (2002). She has edited Robert Copland: Complete Poems (1993); Poems of Cupid, God of Love (1991) and the volume of Records of Early English Drama (REED) on Ecclesiastical London (2008) . She has also edited essay collections, including Gendering the Master Narrative: Women and Power in the Middle Ages (2003) and Women and Power in the Middle Ages (1988). These collections focus on the cultural position of women in medieval times. The latter has sold more than 5,000 copies, an impressive number for an academic volume, and is frequently used by professors in their courses.

Most recently, Erler published Reading and Writing during the Dissolution: Monks, Nuns, and Friars 1530-1558 (2013). In this book, Erler shows how the chronicles, devotional texts, and letters of friars, anchorites, monks, and nuns reveal the various spiritual and practical responses to the changes in religious affairs during the Dissolution. “Bibliography can lead into biography,” Erler said.

Erler has taught at Fordham for thirty-five years, offering courses to both undergraduate and graduate students. She described the experience of teaching as wonderful and merciful. “It gives you the opportunity to do over what you felt you didn’t do right the first time,” she said.

Erler has also distinguished herself through her administrative duties. She was chair of Fordham’s English department in the 1990s, overseeing the merger of the Rose Hill and Lincoln Center campus communities. Erler asserted that, during difficult administrative times, history can inform future decisions. “We have the advantage of hindsight,” she said. Erler has also served on the faculty senate for ten years, and she has acted in various committees for both the English department and the larger Fordham community.

Congratulations to Mary Erler on her well-earned accomplishment!