Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Planning a medieval survey

Am swamped with a number of things at the moment, only one of which seems appropriate blog fodder right now: books for my spring course.

The spring course is a survey of medieval history from 1000 to 1500. I've taught the medieval survey before, but with a slightly different time frame. I've also been asked to address the Italian Renaissance to some extent, since that isn't being covered by other history courses here this year. I haven't taught the Renaissance in any depth for a while, but since I'm going to do it here, I also think we will discuss the question of the 12th-century renaissance.

I am undecided on using a textbook; I usually use Barbara Rosenwein, Short History of the Middle Ages, but have ordered some others to look over, too.

I will probably use Geary, Readings in Medieval History as a general reader, but am open to other suggestions.

Other primary sources I expect to use:
some of Chretien de Troyes (I particularly like Yvain)
Letters of Abelard and Heloise
Dante, Purgatorio

Beyond that I have a long list of stuff I'm considering, including far too many ideas. So some questions for any readers lurking out there:

Textbook: yea or nay? if yea, any suggestions?
Is there a source collection you prefer to Geary?
Other standalone primary sources you'd consider especially important to a survey that runs from 1000 to 1500?
Any primary or short secondary works that are particularly good for the Italian Renaissance or the 15th century?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Medieval history at the AHA

I just got the AHA annual meeting schedule in the mail today. Usually there's something of a dearth of medieval sessions at the AHA--actually, even if you put together the ancient, medieval, and early modern sessions, they are probably still outnumbered by sessions on, say, the U.S. since the 1960s.  

This year appears different, though; so thanks to the Program Committee and the session organizers for having a diverse lot of medieval sessions.  Some of them do come from the affiliated societies--the American Society of Church History and the American Catholic Historical Association can usually be relied on for a few medieval topics, and societies focused on regions like Spain or Italy often have a few as well.  Although I still observe the scheduling problem of sticking several of the medieval sessions in the same time slot, at least this year we are not in the position of seeing the only 3 or 4 medieval sessions all in the same slot.  

Here's what I noticed on a quick spin through the catalog (apologies to any sessions I've missed):

  • Reform and Clerical Culture in the Eleventh Century (Fri. 1pm)
  • Identities: Forms and Functions in the Middle Ages (Fri. 3:30pm)
  • Medieval History: Old and New Classics III (Fri. 3:30pm)
  • Late Medieval and Early Modern Catholic Responses to Heretical "saints" (Fri. 3:30pm)
  • New Directions in Morisco Studies (Fri. 3:30pm)
  • Greek History and Its Islamic Fate, 630-930CE (Sat. 9:30am)
  • Problematic Passions: Case Studies in the History of Emotion in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Sat. 9:30am)
  • Women and Community in the Middle Ages (Sat. 9:30am) (this looks particularly nunnish, so I will do my best to attend)
  • Christianity, the Religious Other, and Demonic Language in Medieval and Early Modern France (Sat. 9:30am)
  • Cultural and Intellectual Responses to the Crusades (Sat. 2:30pm)
  • New Trends in Medieval Spanish History (Sat. 2:30pm) 
  • Locating Jews in Medieval Iberia (Sun. 9am)
  • Reassessing Reform: Medieval Models of Change (Sun. 9am)
  • National History in an Age of Globalization: The Case of Medieval France (Sun. 2:30pm)--especially notable for the participation of Dominique Iogna-Prat)
  • Bound Feet, Corseted Waists, and Veiled Heads; Chastity Belts and the Tropes of Contained Femininity (Sun. 2:30pm)--ok, this one is only sort of medieval; it does feature Albrecht Classen on chastity belts and looks potentially quite interesting
  • The Other Middle Ages: New Developments in Byzantine Studies (Mon. 8:30am)
  • The Papacy: Its Friends and Foes in the Later Middle Ages (Mon. 8:30am)

Having written all that up, I'm pretty impressed with the collection: a good variety of topics and regions. There is certainly some medieval stuff hiding in some of the thematic sessions, and there are also a good number of early modern sessions (and a few ancient ones) that I haven't listed here.  The concentrations at Friday 3:30 and Saturday 9:30 are unfortunate, but the AHA only schedules two sessions a day, so some kind of logjam was inevitable with this many sessions.  Medievalists attending the AHA should have plenty to interest them.  

Monday, October 20, 2008

Last Monday was a "fall break" day off for me--my institution doesn't have a full week of fall break.  That one disruption totally threw me off the weekly routine; I kept staying up too late during the long weekend, and so spent last week feeling groggy, out of sync, and vaguely cross.  And I got very little done.  I think I've finally reset to normal.  

Sometimes a break comes at just the right time, and for me this one seems to have come at the wrong time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Other last nuns

First I'm going to link to Jonathan Jarrett's post on the last nuns of Sant Joan de Ripoll, aka Sant Joan de les Abadesses.  Go read it; click on the charter and enjoy the lovely script and the impressive collection of signa.  

The ousting of the nuns from Sant Joan has always seemed fishy; the counts levelling the accusations against them benefit so clearly that one becomes skeptical.  The former abbess Ingilberga, I believe, ended up buried at the altar of St. John in the cathedral of Vic, although I can no longer recall where I read that.  It seems a final sign of devotion to her community's saintly patron.

Sant Joan was far from the only nunnery in the Middle Ages to be forcibly closed.  Here is one of those cases where I'm sure Jo Ann McNamara's Sisters in Arms describes some other examples, but the lack of a subject index makes it exceedingly difficult to find where.  However, my own notes on other houses in Catalonia turns up several others, all from the later Middle Ages.

One house of Hospitaler women, which had only been opened a few years earlier, closed in 1250. Seven women's communities in Catalonia closed between 1307 and 1399; another fourteen closed between 1407 and 1475. There's another group of twelve or so closures in the second half of the sixteenth century.

Why? For many of these I've found very little information so far.  Unlike the nuns of Sant Joan, the nuns of these houses were not accused of parricide, and not explicitly called whores either.  Where rationales for the houses' closing can be found, the reasons cited are poverty, disrepair, and dwindling numbers that made it difficult or impossible to maintain the monastic rule.  Josep Marques discussed seven of them in an article for Estudis del Baix-Emporda 15 (1996).  All seven of these houses were small, with relatively few nuns (seven or eight, often becoming fewer over time) and modest endowments.  One house was closed when its membership came to consist of the prioress, a single nun, and a servant; another was built in a location prone to flooding. In most cases the remaining nuns joined another community, and the properties and title of prioress would be attached to the other community as well. 

Several of the 15th-century closures were Cistercian; these were usually ordered to close by a superior Cistercian abbot, on the grounds that they were too small.  In these cases what tended to happen was that the remaining nuns joined a larger Cistercian nunnery, while the property went to Poblet, the large Cistercian men's monastery in Catalonia.  That seems a bit hard on the women's communities, who had to take in extra membership without getting extra resources to support them.  These closings may be part of a larger pattern of similar phenomena in the 15th century.

In a lot of cases, however, we just don't know what the rationales were.  Nor do we know whether there was truth to the reasons claimed, or whether a group of perfectly ordinary nuns fell victim to political and ecclesiastical machinations.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Notes from Crown and Veil, 1

I admit that art history is one of my weak points.  Certainly I am just as capable of admiring a pretty image as nearly anyone, and I can differentiate between Romanesque and Gothic to some extent, but my knowledge of art history is not that deep.

So this volume's focus on art history is a welcome corrective for me, providing a different point of view and things to think about. And it has pretty images, too.

Three of the essays in Crown and Veil really focus on the visual: Jeffrey Hamburger and Robert Suckale give a general introduction to the art of religious women, Carola Jaggi and Uwe Lobbedey deal with architecture, and Barbara Newman discusses women's "visual worlds." 

Hamburger and Suckale give what seems to be a good overview of what is known about women's art in the Middle Ages, with some interest in reconstructing how works of art were used within the cloister. This sort of reconstruction of the material world of a monastery is immensely useful, I find; it helps give a real sense of what monastic life was like. They devote attention to textiles as well as sculpture and painting, and discuss monastic works of art as functional rather than merely decorative, serving a variety of practical and devotional purposes within the community. Very different from encountering the art in museums, moved far out of its original context.

Jaggi and Lobbedey's essay on architecture emphasizes diversity: although there appear to be general patterns in the layout of many monasteries, they cite many variations, most based on the local conditions of each community. This fits in with ideas I've encountered elsewhere, that communities of nuns were often idiosyncratic and relied heavily on local founders and supporters.  Some of their comments provoke further questions.  For example, they mention the grille as a popular measure of enclosure in German houses of Dominican nuns.  I don't entirely know when this feature originated and how/when/where it spread, though. As I recall, in the 15th century a lot of Spanish nunneries had grilles installed--so they didn't have them before--yet the German Dominican houses have them in the 13th century.  An interesting question, I need to see if anyone has really looked at this.

Finally, Newman emphasizes a special connection between women and images, looking both at visionary nuns and at guidance for nuns that emphasized visualization as part of prayer.  In some ways this essay reads like a boiled-down version of work she's done elsewhere (her extensive work on Hildegard of Bingen, for example), but it's a nice summary of some of her points.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Getting behind

Well, as I said, it was a busy week, with a lot of things to do.

Which is why it was a particularly bad time to come down with some miscellaneous malaise. Now I'm behind on everything. I'll be back once I dig myself out from under the piles of essays, books, and chores.