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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.

Neslihan Şenocak

Hannah Weaver

Jilian Pizzi

Meeting Schedule

09/28/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:30 PM
Medieval America: The Local in the Global
Suzanne Conklin Akbari, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University


The medieval past is increasingly understood in global terms, moving past the narrow confines of Latin Christian Europe to include not only the Mediterranean region and the Islamic world, but also wider expanses of Africa and Asia, and even the Americas. Yet this ‘global turn’ comes with some dangers, including the risk that a European paradigm of ‘the medieval’ will simply be exported to other regions, along with Eurocentric perspectives on periodization and geography. This lecture draws on a recent exhibition at Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum, “Books Along the Silk Roads,” in order to illustrate how collaborative research projects can be structured to avoid some of these dangers, while also offering glimpses into the global medieval past to a wider public. The relationship of – and the tension between – the global and the local is fundamental to this approach. The final part of the lecture turns to the local environment of Lunaapahkiing, or Lenape land (New Jersey, along with southern New York, eastern Pennsylvania, and Delaware), using this case study to explore how our approach to the global medieval is inflected by our local environment, and shaped by our own situatedness.

10/24/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:30 PM
Where are the women? Priests' wives and partners in the Central Middle Ages (Northern Italy, Southern France and Catalonia)
Emilie Kurdziel, University of Poiters


still controversial within the Roman Catholic Church, the only religious branch within the three monotheisms to demand celibacy and continence from its ministers. But if much has been written about the legal institutionalization of clerical celibacy during the Gregorian Reform, and its theological and economic motivations, very few scholars have considered the problem of its effects on the social fabric, or investigated the reality of priestly marriage and concubinary practices before and after the crucial years 1050-1130’s. Even fewer have drawn attention to clerics’ female partners. The social group constituted by priests’, bishops’ and popes’ wives and concubines in the central Middle Ages therefore remains a blind spot of medieval studies (and more broadly of social sciences). Issues such as the evolution of the actual social status of priests' female partners, or their socio-cultural roles, still await investigation. A first step to do so is to flush out these figures hidden in documentary shadows. These women are indeed difficult to grasp in the sources, even before the middle of the 11th c., although there is strong evidence of their existence. As the example of the Tuscany charters from the 10th-11th c. reflect, this is due to documentary reasons (the under-representation of women in general in medieval documentation), but probably also to certain ‘marital’ options (the choice of cohabitation over marriage) and phenomena of concealment and invisibility specific to the particular status of priests' female partners.

11/14/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:30 PM
Dangerous Devotions: The Life of Clare of Rimini
Sean L. Field, University of Vermont


This talk will present the origins, intentions, and main ideas of a collaborative project by Sean Field, Jacques Dalarun, and Valerio Capozzo, just published by University of Pennsylvania Press as A Female Apostle in Medieval Italy: The Life of Clare of Rimini. The talk and the project focus on a fascinating, little-know woman, whose life is preserved in a fascinating, little-known text. The woman, Clare, was born in the Italian city of Rimini around 1260 and died there between 1324 and 1329. The text, La vita della beata Chiara da Rimino la quale fo exemplo a tucte le donne vane, was composed in Italian by an anonymous Franciscan of Rimini. Although it is probably the earliest known work of hagiography written directly in Italian, and the rare vita to be written before its subject’s death, this text has received relatively little scholarly attention since Jacques Dalarun published a critical edition (1994) and ground-breaking study (1999). Clare’s Life tells the story of a difficult, controversial, uncompromising woman, set against the background of her roiling city, her star-crossed family, and the tumultuous political and religious landscape of her age. Clare’s story loosely follows a “sinner to saint” model. But rather than representing Clare as the perfect image of a docile holy woman, her hagiographer reveals all her scandals and her failures. Indeed, the text explicitly details Clare’s denunciation by local preachers—hardly typical hagiographic fare. Clare was a penitent who attracted like-minded followers, but she was never a nun. She might be seen as a “suspect saint,” or even a “holy heretic” (to use terms from the title of Janine Larmon Peterson’s recent book). And yet, she gained the support of a Dominican bishop, a Franciscan-leaning cardinal, and important inhabitants of Rimini and the surrounding area. This talk will look more closely at Clare’s dangerous devotions to suggest the overlooked importance of her life and Life.

12/02/2022 Zoom
1:00 PM
Translatio imperii et studii: Orosius and the Making of Imperial English from Alfred the Great to the Conquest
Elizabeth Tyler, University of York
Speaker Link Abstract


The Old English Orosius was produced in the West Saxon kingdom at some point during the reign of Alfred the Great, Edward the Elder or Athelstan (late 9th-early 10th century). It survives in two full manuscripts, one from the early-mid 10th century (British Library, Additional 47967) and one from the early 11th century (British Library, Cotton Tiberius B i). Both are intimately related to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles – Add. 47967 was copied in the same hand as the A Chronicle while the C Chronicle was carefully added to Tiberius B I in the mid 11th century.
This paper will use these two surviving manuscripts of the Old English translation of Orosius’s Historiae, set in the context of contemporary Latin and vernacular history-writing (insular and continental), to explore the place of imperial thinking to ideas about the nature of the kingdom of England and to theorizing about English as a written language: translatio imperii and translatio studii are closely intertwined here. England will be considered from several perspectives: as a composite of other smaller English kingdoms; in relation to the other kingdoms and peoples of Britain, (Scandinavian, Hiberno-Norse, Welsh and Scottish); and with regard to other imperial polities of the Latin West (Carolingian, Ottonian, Salian and Cnut’s North Sea Empire). Within this framework, we look at the links between the deep and politically active engagement of English secular and clerical elites with ancient history from Creation to the Fall of Rome and their politically and intellectually ambitious use of the vernacular for history-writing. This use of what was a small local language led to knowledge of English history being virtually inaccessible outside the bounds of England, as Sigebert of Gembloux complained when writing his famous universal Chronica, revealing the paradoxical nature of choosing to write history in English.

03/10/2023 Zoom
10:30 AM
Seminar meeting co-sponsored with the Colloquium for Early Medieval Studies, "Analogues and Kinship: A Talking Circle"
Multiple speakers,

Notes: Suzanne Akbari (Princeton University), Tarren Andrews (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Yale University), Gage Diabo (Kanien'kehá:ka, Concordia University), Emma Hitchcock (Columbia University), Audra Simpson (Kahnawà:ke Mohawk, Columbia University), Stephen Yeager (Concordia University)
04/13/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University / Zoom
5:30 PM
Reconstructing Palimpsests: The Tale of Two Hands
Daniela Mairhofer, Princeton University


Arabic NF 8 from St Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai (Egypt) dates from the second half of the 9th century and contains a copy of the Gospels in Arabic, written in Kufic. The codex is remarkable not only for its many layers of erased texts in different languages, but also for its unique composition – some of the leaves consist of small palimpsested fragments sewn together.

The paper offers a re-evaluation of this unique 'patchwork' manuscript, more specifically the fragments with Latin undertext and their (alleged) role in the reconstruction of a 'Latin scriptorium' on Mount Sinai, while also discussing palimpsest techniques and terminology more generally.

05/08/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University / Zoom
5:30 PM
Through a Methodological Glass Darkly: Medieval Literary and Historical Texts
Wayne Storey, Indiana University Bloomington


Whether in print, manuscript or digital form most texts we encounter are veiled by one or more layers of cultural, interpretative and material mechanisms that can even subtly alter the work or event we believe they are designed to convey. It seems inevitable that no form of reproduction of a text or event can be free not just of human error but of the application of norms of reproduction that respond to the editorial style of time and place to interpret and make a text more understandable to the readers of the copyist’s, printer’s or editor’s day. How we edit and understand the preparation of editions, from manuscripts to digital archives, are fundamental operations in our own readings and interpretations of the works with which we work.

After a brief review of methods in the scholarly editing of medieval texts and historical documents, the conversation on May 8 will focus on the methods of material philology and the thorny area of authorial drafts and ‘clean copies’—belle copie—with examples from Petrarch’s Rerum vulgarium fragmenta (Vaticano Latino 3195), a document supervised by the poet with numerous addenda in his own hand but potentially at varying stages of the work’s completion, and the in fieridigital archive devoted to the codex and the Fragmenta: