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This seminar addresses subjects of common interest to all branches of medieval studies. The seminar particularly encourages interdisciplinary topics and approaches, which will stimulate discussions of issues in the study of medieval culture. One of the great advantages of the seminar is that it brings together representatives of medieval disciplines, from Columbia and elsewhere, who otherwise would have only rare opportunities to talk about questions of common interest.

Professor Neslihan Şenocak

Professor Hannah Weaver

Emma Hitchcock

Meeting Schedule

10/15/2021 Online Meeting
1:00 PM
'Modern' Saints, Competing Orders and Comparative Iconographies: The Representation of Mendicant Saints from Francis of Assisi to Elzéar de Sabran
Julian Gardner, University of Warwick (England, UK)


The changing nature of sanctity and the emerging procedures for official canonization are reviewed. Alterations to the Lower Church profoundly affected the representation of Francis' life and achievements at Assisi. The unplanned aspects of the fresco cycle of Saint Francis in the Upper Church are considered in the context of contemporary attempts by other mendicant Orders to promote their saints. The Preachers commemorated Dominic in a marble shrine at Bologna. The Augustinian Friars, lacking a 'modern' founding saint, endeavoured unsuccessfully to secure the canonization of Nicholas of Tolentino, and secondarily, Agostino of Tarano. Louis of Toulouse was canonized soon after his death because of Angevin lobbying and papal acquiescence. The Milanese shrine of Peter Martyr may be considered a Dominican riposte. Thomas Aquinas raised particular iconographic problems for which the Dominicans provided various solutions, in Pisa and Florence. Consideration of Elzéar de Sabran, a lay aristocrat who became the third Franciscan saint in 1369 concludes the discussion.

02/17/2022 Online Meeting
5:30 PM
'Like Locusts in Their Multitude’: The Multiplying Gaze in Early Medieval Sources
Shane Bobrycki, University of Vienna (Austria)


What does the numerousness of a people signify? It can be good to be numberless, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the shore. Early medieval propagandists across regions, religions, and cultures prided themselves on being as countless as Abraham’s seed. But innumerability could also be a means of discrediting a people or a group. Ninth- and tenth-century Franks likened “Greeks,” “Northmen,” “Magyars,” and “Saracens” to forests, droves, and swarms. When an Umayyad ambassador visited the Slavs, he was sure they were the most numerous people on earth. Byzantine writers likened Latin Westerners on Crusade to locusts. This talk explores the stakes of the multiplying gaze across early medieval societies. What made phobic innumerability so durable as a strategy of delegitimation? In what ways did this strategy, common in so many times and places, manifest itself distinctly in the early medieval West?

03/03/2022 Heyman Center, Columbia University
5:30 PM
Chaucer’s Battered Husbands: Gender, Victimization, and Shrewish Rage in the Canterbury Tales
Carissa Harris, Temple University


This talk examines the gendered politics of claiming spousal abuse in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. After the Clerk’s account of Griselda’s abuse at the hands of her husband Walter, the Merchant identifies with Griselda’s victimization by claiming to have suffered traumatic mistreatment by his shrewish wife. The pilgrimage’s Host then shares his own experience of marital violence from his “labbyng shrewe” of a wife. Both the Merchant and the Host use the popular figure of the wrathful shrew to co-opt the feminized language of gendered trauma in order to insist that their suffering is of paramount importance. Situating Chaucer’s unhappy married men in the larger context of medieval male-voiced laments of abuse by shrewish wives, I explore how Chaucer’s shrew-bound men imagine their trauma as conferring a form of shared victimhood that carries the privileges of knowledge, solidarity, consolation, and community.

03/31/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:30 PM
Contesting the Caliphate: Genealogies of Power in the Islamic West
Abigail Balbale, New York University


In the twelfth century, as Iberian Christian kingdoms fought to expand into the peninsula’s Muslim territories and the Almohad caliphate conquered much of the Islamic west, one king fought the Almohads and served as vassal to the Castilians. At its peak, his kingdom constituted nearly half of al-Andalus and served as an important buffer between the Almohads, Castile, and Aragon. Muḥammad ibn Saʿd ibn Mardanīsh was celebrated in Castilian and Latin sources as “the Wolf King,” and denigrated by Almohad and later Arabic sources as irreligious and disloyal to fellow Muslims. A close examination of contemporary sources across the region shows that his short-lived dynasty actually constituted an attempt to integrate al-Andalus more closely with the Islamic East—particularly the Abbasid caliphate—than ever before. This talk uses the lens of genealogy to trace two contradictory trajectories: how Ibn Mardanīsh sought to connect himself to the Islamic east, and how modern scholars have used this figure to emphasize the difference of al-Andalus from the east, as a particularly advanced, cosmopolitan and "European" part of the Islamic world.

04/28/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:30 PM
The Afterlives of Saladin: Romancing Islam in England and France
Chris Chism, University of California, Los Angeles


When Salah al-Din ibn Ayyub joined the lands of Syria and Egypt beneath a single Sunni rule, thus obliterating both the Fatimid and Zengid dynasties, he had to win hearts and minds as an outsider and upstart. Salah al-Din and his family were Kurds who rose to state power not through high birth and right descent but through service and military leadership. They thus seized power from the margins and had to work in extraordinary ways to establish their rule.

This paper argues that Salah al-Din exerted appeal by capitalizing on three distinct areas of affective connection: 1) nostalgia for a lost but glorious past, 2) hospitality to strangers through diplomatic gift-exchanges, and 3) a sense of kinship rooted in family. These affective features persist even within hostile English and French stories of the Sultan of Egypt. This paper, part of a longer project on Saladin, looks at Saladin's literary shadows in three works: the Pas Saladin, and then more briefly the Middle English Floris and Blanchefleur, and the Book of John Mandeville, to argue that Latin Christian writers sometimes write Saladin and his avatars dialogically to open transactions and foster emotional community across religious lines. So read, Saladin's preeminence becomes less a fixed exception to anti-Muslim racial hostilities than an ongoing dynamic that reexamines uncanny, deeply felt proximities between and within cultures.