Congratulations to our recent PhD students

September 27, 2016 by Communications

Congratulations to our recent PhD students who defended in late Spring or Summer 2016: Christopher Liebtag Miller, Romney David Smith, Colleen Butler, Caroline Mae Smith and Kasandra Castle.

Christopher Liebtag Miller, “die sah man weinen. The Representation of Emotion and Dispute in Middle High German Heroic Epic”. Supervisor: Markus Stock. External reader: Jan-Dirk Müller, Ludwig-Maximilians Universität (München).

This thesis approaches the depiction of conflict and emotion in Middle High German heroic epic from an anthropological perspective, thereby establishing the norms and practices that obtain within the fictive societies the texts present. I argue that these epic narratives problematize the anxieties of medieval aristocratic society, critique those human elements deemed most disruptive to it, and establish positive and negative models for its ordering through variations upon a traditional progression of conflict and through the representation of communicative emotion within this progression.

Across many texts, medieval German heroic epics present a remarkably consistent set of practices and behaviour associated with conflict. With recourse to medieval law codes and anthropological observations of societies lacking effective centralized authority, I demonstrate that these practices provide the texts with a flexible narrative structure and are a framework for engaging with social and political concerns. In chapter one, I begin with a consideration of the role played by displays of emotion as symbolic communication within heroic narrative, demonstrating that such displays are a primary means by which status and identity is expressed and established. In chapter two, I contextualize these displays within a semi-standardized progression of conflict comprising more-or-less discrete stages of dispute. In so doing, I show that the communicative content and performative valence of emotion is dependent upon its position within the conflict progression. In the third chapter, I establish these disputes as the expression of an economy of symbolic capital with honour as its essential currency. Approaching these strategic performances in such a manner reveals that the dispute practices previously outlined function as a form of status competition in which the negotiation and valuation of honour serves to establish and consolidate social hierarchies. The final chapters are devoted to the varied communicative valences of specific emotion displays in this context. Here, I demonstrate that public displays of grief are utilized to delineate and confirm membership within the honour group, even as they broadcast collective injury, solicit aid, and legitimize violence. Public anger, on the other hand, serves to make or refute status claims, threatening or accompanying reactive violence.


Romney David Smith, “Across an Open Sea. Mediterranean Networks and Italian Trade in an Era of Calamity”. Supervisor: Mark Meyerson. External reader: Paul Freedman, Yale University.

In the eleventh century, commercial dominance of the Mediterranean passed from the Muslim and Jewish traders of the House of Islam to the Italians of such maritime cities as Pisa or Amalfi. Although the outcome of this economic transition is well-known, the purpose of this study is to consider the mechanism that motored Italian takeover. An examination of the characteristics of the trade network, both before and after the economic transition, finds that little structural change occurred; it is therefore argued that Italian merchants operated in conformity with the commercial paradigms of the existing Muslim and Jewish trade network, which are known to us from the Cairo Geniza. It was only the coincidence of major political failure in the large Mediterranean polities that enabled a realignment of Italian merchants from participants to dominant players in the existing trade network. This political failure, which I term “the great calamity,” saw the end of the Caliphate of Cordoba and left both Byzantium and the Fatimid Caliphate much reduced, a situation which rebounded to the advantage of smaller polities. Among them, the city of Pisa serves as a test case for this study’s assertions about Italian integration into the Mediterranean network of Muslim and Jewish traders

Following the emphasis of the “New Mediterranean Studies” on interconnectivity, a key conclusion is that the spaces defined by trade, such as the decks of ships shared between Jewish, Muslim and Christian merchants, provided an almost neutral medium for the exchange not only of commodities, but also their conceptual, material or stylistic commensals. The final chapters of this thesis concentrate on the social mechanisms that propelled merchants, material culture and knowledge across the Mediterranean. They look at the shared visual culture that permeated the Mediterranean and its concomitant lexicon of shared symbols and motifs. This common visual culture includes architecture, the famous bacini of Pisa, and the broad category of spices, incense and materia medica. This last group, it is suggested, marked an expanding locus of practices shared across both the Christian and Muslim shores of the Mediterranean.


Colleen Butler, “Queering the Classics: Gender, Genre, and Reception in the Works of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim”. Supervisor: David Townsend. External reader: Ralph Hexter, UC Davis.

This thesis examines how the world’s first female dramatist, the tenth-century canoness Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, challenged pedagogical interpretations of gender in her imitations of Roman literature. The dissertation finds that while Hrotsvit imitated the content and form of Ovid, Terence, and Virgil, she denaturalized the binary conceptions of gender promulgated in their works by inverting the specific markers of gender identified in pedagogical texts associated with them and by linking those behavioural markers to imbalances of social power rather than to biology. Studies of the sex/gender system in the early medieval period have tended to focus on medical discourses which attribute gendered behaviour to biology. My doctoral research uses untapped primary sources to prove that gender was not invariably thought to be tied to biology in the medieval cultural imaginary. The commentaries, glosses, and other pedagogical texts on classical literature used in medieval classrooms presented readers with a concrete set of ideas about gender, including highly specific linguistic and behavioural expectations. While scholars have increasingly begun to analyze commentaries on classical literature for insights into medieval gender norms, the majority of this work has focused on the dissemination of ideas about masculinity in male homosocial schools during the twelfth century and beyond. My research contributes to this conversation by asking how early medieval female readers responded to the educational discourses on gender which they encountered in the female-led classrooms of women’s religious institutions. The thesis is also innovative in its proposal that Hrotsvit’s book of saints’ legends was written in imitation of Ovid. Overall, the dissertation revises current understandings of the sex/gender system in the Ottonian period, demonstrating that ideas which resemble the social construction of gender were circulating centuries earlier than previously thought.


Caroline Mae Smith, “Noble Canons, Clerical Nobles: the Cathedral Chapter and Society in Fourteenth-Century Girona”. Supervisor: Mark Meyerson. External reader: John S. Ott, Portland State University.

This dissertation is an examination of the cathedral chapter of Girona, Catalonia in the first half of the fourteenth century, looking at its composition, function, and role in local society. Using material from the Girona chapter and diocesan archives, I argue that the Girona canons were important members of both the ecclesiastical and secular hierarchies of the diocese. Due to a unique privilege requiring all canons to prove noble descent, the men of the Girona chapter were closely connected to the regional nobility. This shaped their sense of identity and influenced them as they sought to live like their noble counterparts and defend their honor. My work explores the boundary between secular and religious identities, discussing the range of activities carried out by these men.

In this dissertation, I outline the structure of the chapter and the norms governing daily life for the canons before discussing the canons’ duties in the cathedral and their work on behalf of the chapter. My research shows that many canons participated in religious activities not mandated by their position in the chapter and showed their devotion in their testaments by donating to charitable institutions, churches, and religious houses and by founding and endowing new benefices and altars in the cathedral. I then discuss the chapter as a corporate body, arguing that it worked to protect its rights, holdings, and jurisdiction in the face of challenges from both ecclesiastical and secular authorities. Finally, I examine the ways that the canons remained connected to their families, arguing that the canons’ noble identity was an important part of their identity.

My research shows that the canons actively built their personal patrimonies, conducted economic transactions for themselves and for relatives, and showed the enduring significance of ties with their families in their testaments. Many Girona canons made bequests to relatives, selected them as executors, and made provisions for their spiritual health in the afterlife. This dissertation shows that the canons could be both noble men and cathedral canons, and they maintained the values and mindset of men from both of these worlds.


Kasandra Marie Castle, “The Development and Decline of Malediction in the Charters of Anglo-Saxon England”. External reader: Catherine Cubitt, University of York.

This thesis focuses on the use of maledictory sanction clauses to protect charters, whether written grants of land or privileges, in Anglo-Saxon England. Based on a specially designed and created database of all Anglo-Latin sanction clauses from authentic and substantially authentic single sheets from the ninth to the eleventh century (approximately 171 documents), it traces the formulation of the clause through the pre-Conquest period, revealing lexical, structural, and thematic patterns. Because they were subject to scribal creativity, sanction clauses reflect themes of importance to their draftsmen and run parallel to punitive and infernal concepts emphasized in contemporary works.

The thesis begins with a historical overview of medieval cursing and examines each of the elements potentially included in a sanction clause. It then presents data that was collected in a century-by-century arrangement in order to reveal potential patterns. Finally, it looks at the Anglo-Norman Cartulary of Christ Church, Canterbury, extant in three medieval copies. The cartulary’s compiler recasts his source materials, altering them to fit a common mold. This recasting included the addition, deletion, and modification of the sources’ sanction clauses. Such interpretive acts tell us much about the intent of the early English cartularists, the archival environment that produced such a compiler, and the perceived function of malediction in the post-Conquest period.

This dissertation suggests that sanction clauses dropped from contemporary diplomatic use, not because of a newfound perception of their inefficiency—they were, arguably, fairly inefficient modes of preservation all along—but because of the gradual secularization of the previously highly religious genre. The detail with which formulation of the Anglo-Latin sanction clause is laid out herein sheds further light on its intricacies and provides material for further study of its significance in the broader Anglo-Saxon social context.