Today I need to shift gears. I'm teaching an undergrad seminar (not about nuns, alas) in the fall, and I need to select the readings and get them to the copiers so they have plenty of time to get permissions. This will more or less require me to work out the entire schedule of readings for the fall in the next few days--always something I find difficult, since there are dozens of little decisions to be made.
Meanwhile, I want to clarify a point of vocabulary regarding nuns, especially of the medieval variety.
It's customary in English to refer to houses of nuns as "convents" and houses of monks as "monasteries." This means that when I refer to "women's monasteries" I usually get some raised eyebrows. People have said to me, "Oh...they lived in monasteries?" sounding very impressed. Really, convents and monasteries are basically the same thing, it's simply a convention of English vocabulary, and I don't know when it developed. (Readers? any insights?)
I use the word monasteries to refer to women's communities because that's what my sources say. The Latin charters I'm dealing with refer quite consistently to a house for nuns as a monasterium. So they are clearly people who live in a monastery. The charters also use the word conventum. This word, in context, seems to refer to the religious community as a legal entity: the abbess and the conventum of the house together make decisions about buying and selling property, according to the charters, for example. Monasterium seems also to be used to refer to the physical building and its surroundings, but can also refer generally to the community. So these nuns (continental, not English) clearly lived in both a monastery and a convent, and I use both terms whenever they seem appropriate.