Congratulations to our recent PhD students

September 14, 2015 by Communications

Congratulations to our recent PhD students who defended in the Spring or Summer terms of 2015: Lisa Chen Obrist, Jennifer Kostoff-Käärd, Ann Wesson, Anna Wilson, Sean M. Winslow, Christopher Berard and Eduardo Fabbro.


Lisa Lynn Chen Obrist (defended in April 2015), Time and How to Calculate It: A Study and Edition with Translation of Book 10 of Hrabanus Maurus’ De rerum naturis. Supervisor: John Magee. External reader: Helmut Reimitz, Princeton University.

This study investigates the text and context of book 10 of Hrabanus Maurus’ De rerum naturis (DRN) and presents a new edition of the Latin text and an English translation. Chapter one provides an introduction to the topic of computus in the early middle ages, beginning with a definition of the term computus and its cognate disciplines. The chapter continues with a summary of the historical development of the computistical sciences from the early Christian Church up to the Carolingian age. In order to contextualize book 10 of DRN, an overview of the encyclopedic genre is offered to lead into the discussions of Hrabanus’ computistical and encyclopedic works: De clericorum institutione, De computo, and DRN. Chapter two presents the first modern edition of the Latin text of book 10 of DRN based on the earliest manuscripts and includes descriptions of the sources and textual history, the manuscript witnesses used, and the editorial principles applied. Chapter three provides a commentary on the structure, content, textual sources, and literary traditions of book 10 of DRN. Particular attention is given to the four main source authors: Venerable Bede, Isidore of Seville, Cassiodorus, and the anonymous author of the Clavis Melitonis. As well, previously unidentified passages in book 10 are now attributed to eight new sources including works by Ambrosiaster, Origen, and Paterius. Additional passages which were introduced in the later manuscript and print traditions have also been identified and sourced. Chapter four explores the reception and influence of book 10 of DRN and the story behind the possible twelfth-century additions to the text as well as possible future avenues of study. The three appendices comprise the new English translation of book 10, a glossary of computistical terms, and instructions for calculating the date of Easter.


Jennifer (Jenny) Lynn Kostoff-Käärd (defended in June 2015), The Glossa Ordinaria on Ecclesiastes: A Critical Edition with Introduction. Supervisor: Alexander Andrée. External Reader: Mark Clark, The Catholic University of America

This dissertation describes the discovery of the earliest version of the Glossa Ordinaria on the Book of Ecclesiastes and presents this text in its first ever critical edition. Included is a study of its sources, its development throughout the Middle Ages and its relationship to other exegesis on Ecclesiastes. The Glossa Ordinaria, which surrounds each verse of the scriptural text with traditional interpretations, stands as the sine qua non of the medieval study of the Bible, a resource whose influence began in the early twelfth century and persists in theological writing beyond the sixteenth century. Despite this, and perhaps because the Glossa’s ubiquity deters scholars from making editions from the available manuscripts, we have only a few editions of Glossa Ordinaria texts.

The dissertation begins with the exegetical history of Ecclesiastes, from patristic up to modern approaches to the text. Central to this section is a classification of the main strategies which exegetes throughout history have used to resolve interpretive difficulties in Ecclesiastes. This classification was created to be applicable not only to Ecclesiastes exegesis but to exegesis on all the biblical books. A further approach to the exegetical history of Ecclesiastes is offered by a series of case studies, each posing an interpretive question and then juxtaposing the responses of exegetes and glosses. The subsequent section reveals how the edited text was discovered, this text’s link to the version of glossed Ecclesiastes reproduced in the first printed edition of the Glossa, and the relationship of the versions to their sources. The applicability of the designation “Glossa Ordinaria” to both versionsis considered. The final section offers an edition of early glossed Ecclesiastes with the layout of the manuscripts adapted for the printed page, thereby contributing to ongoing discussion concerning the best way to present medieval texts to modern readers.


Ann Wesson (defended in June 2015), Colonization and the Church in High Medieval Sardinia. Supervisor: Joe Goering and Mark Meyerson. External reader: Sally McKee, UC Davis

This thesis investigates the role that the Church played in the political, spiritual and economic colonization of Sardinia in the high Middle Ages. By using Robert Bartlett’s conception of the European “center” and “periphery,” it shows that Sardinia represents an unusual case of a territory that was culturally both central and peripheral. Within this ambiguous cultural setting, and using papal letters, political treaties, chronicles, monastic documents, and onomastic evidence, the thesis examines the way Pisa, Genoa and the Roman pontiffs used Rome’s spiritual and cultural authority to strengthen their own political and economic claims in Sardinia. Specifically, by focusing on the archbishop of Pisa and the bishops and archbishops of Sardinia, it shows that the personnel of the Church, which are not commonly considered agents of colonization in Sardinia, were in reality fundamental to bringing Sardinian society closer to being a political and cultural extension of the Italian mainland. It also, however, investigates the ways in which local Sardinian rulers at times strongly resisted ecclesiastical pressures to conform to the norms of Rome, or used the spiritual prestige and cultural tools offered by the Roman Church to negotiate political advantages for themselves. In this way, the thesis finds that foreign cultural colonization in Sardinia was at times less effective than is generally assumed, and that in certain situations the personnel of the Sardinian Church could offer the means for resistance to foreign colonization. Finally, the thesis draws comparisons between Sardinia and other examples of political, economic and spiritual colonization within Europe, to show how Sardinia is both part of a wider medieval European pattern, and simultaneously a unique case in the study of medieval colonization.


Anna Wilson (defended June 2015), Immature Pleasures: Affective Reading in Margery Kempe, Petrarch, Chaucer, and Modern Fan Communities. Supervisor: David Townsend. External reader: Karma Lochrie, Indiana University.

This thesis explores the ideological significance of immaturity to several late medieval texts that focus on the conjunction between reading and feeling. Using examples from modern fanfiction to help theorize affective reception (that is, reading and response that privileges feeling), this thesis argues that approaching medieval texts with a ‘fannish hermeneutics’ highlights how ideas of age and temporality structure relationships between reader and text across late medieval reading communities. In particular it examines how Margery Kempe, Petrarch, and Chaucer performed, resisted and played with the idea of immature reading in their texts. For each author, an immature relationship with texts becomes a space of inappropriate desires and emotional excess, ambivalence, anxiety, and subversive power. Although these authors moved in different intellectual communities, all interacted with a shared cultural ideology of immaturity and reading that emerged primarily from monastic theories of reading and worship from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries. Chapters One and Two argue for the centrality of a ‘fannish hermeneutics’ to reading the Book of Margery Kempe and her contemporaries; Chapters Three and Four further argue Petrarch’s debt to this same tradition of affective piety. Chapter Five treats Chaucer’s reception of Petrarch in the Clerk’s Prologue and Tale, arguing that Petrarch’s portrayal of vernacular poetry as childish is central to Chaucer’s poetics of reception. Finally, in addition to analyses of individual late medieval texts, this study also examines how metaphors of immaturity have shaped twentieth- and twenty-first-century reception of medieval texts, particularly in the relationship between ‘amateur’ (a category I juxtapose with ‘fan’) and ‘professional’ medievalism. How does the cultural narrative of the movement from childish love to mature objectivity structure our understanding of history? And how might returning to ‘immaturity’ as a theoretical category shape modern approaches to medieval literature?


Sean Winslow (defended July 2015), Ethiopian Manuscript Culture: Practices and Contexts. Supervisor: Michael Gervers. External reader: Timothy Graham, University of New Mexico.

The Ethiopian tradition of manuscript production, despite being the longest-lived in the Christian world, is one of the least studied. My dissertation, based in part upon a series of field interviews conducted with scribes and manuscript craftsmen in the Ethiopian highlands between 2007 and 2011, presents information from those interviews and contextualizes it in relation to other published sources in order to describe the Ethiopian tradition in its own terms before transitioning to selected conclusions about how scholars of non-Ethiopian manuscript traditions might use the Ethiopian tradition to inform their approaches to historical practices.

The work is divided into seven chapters: Chapter 1 introduces the research approach. Chapter 2 analyzes what is known about the contexts of manuscript production in Ethiopia, with a special emphasis on interrogating the lack of surviving books from the earliest periods of Ethiopian bookmaking. Chapter 3 describes the practices of parchmenters in the Ethiopian tradition and documents their tools. Chapter 4 describes the work habits of scribes including the cutting of pens, preparation of quires, and the situation of writing. Chapter 5 relates methods and recipes for the making of inks. Chapter 6 covers the processes and tools of the book binder and decorator.

Chapter 7 transitions away from describing the Ethiopian tradition and focuses on what scholars of non-Ethiopian manuscript traditions can learn from ethnographic parallels with documented practices. The Ethiopian tradition is continuous since at least late Antiquity, and serves as an important source for analogies to those who wish to better understand vanished historical practices.


Christopher (Chris) Berard (defended September 2015), Arthurus Redivivus: Arthurian Imitation in Early Plantagenet England, 1154–1307. Supervisors: James Carley and Mark Meyerson. External reader: Richard Moll, University of Western Ontario.

This dissertation is a diachronic study of when and how the first five Plantagenet kings of England and their opponents attempted to use the figure of King Arthur for political gain. Medieval chronicles, chivalric biographies and occasional poetry from the British Isles and Continental Europe constitute its raw materials. Fundamental to this work is reconstructing the ways in which the pseudo-historical Arthur existed in historical memory in the time and places under consideration. This study provides a history of Arthurian self-fashioning that is concomitantly a reception study on medieval understandings of Arthur.

The ideological basis for the practice of Arthurian imitation is the myth of King Arthur’s return: the idea that the legendary sixth-century hero of the Britons would somehow rise again and ‘re-establish’ a great Western European empire based in Britain. Although it is commonly assumed that exspectare Arthurum was an indigenous belief of the Brittonic peoples of Brittany, Cornwall and Wales, this dissertation underscores that there is no evidence to sustain the position that the construct was either ancient or Brittonic in origin. The idea’s earliest attestation dates from 1125 and is a statement about Brittonic belief by a non-Brittonic writer.

The central argument of this dissertation is that the Plantagenets, beginning with Henry II, exploited the myth of Arthur’s return in two ways. First, they advanced the idea that the Brittonic Celts mistakenly clung to a literal interpretation of exspectare Arthurum and were fruitlessly awaiting the return of the original King Arthur. Explicit analogies were drawn with the Jews awaiting their messiah; the purpose of this racist stereotype was to provide moral justification for Plantagenet expansion into Wales and Brittany. Second, the Plantagenets communicated that the myth should be understood figuratively and that they, by virtue of their insular crown and territorial possessions, were Arthur’s true successors.


Eduardo Fabbro (defended September 2015), Society and warfare in Lombard Italy (c.568-652). Supervisor: Nicholas Everett. External reader: Chris Wickham, Oxford.

The aim of this dissertation is to re-evaluate the role of warfare and the military from the establishment of the Lombards in Italy to the end of King Rothari’s reign (c. 569–652). A thorough reassessment of the source material suggests that the Lombard kingdom was a breakaway section of the Byzantine army in northern Italy, which, seceding from the Empire, produced an independent government in Italy. Chapter one analyzes the evidence connecting the advent of the Lombards in Italy with a military rebellion, and produces a picture of the social context of the army in the 560s, highlighting the reasons behind the rebellion and the connections between mutiny and barbarian gentes. Chapter two tackles the trajectories of the Lombard policy after the rebellion, the role of Kings Alboin and Cleph, and the collapse of the Lombard monarchy (c. 574–84). Chapter three analyzes the role of the Franks in the re-establishment of the Lombard monarchy, and the importance of northern Italy for Frankish Alpine policy. The fourth chapter covers the period from Agilulf to Rothari examining the political and military achievements of Agilulf and Rothari, and evaluating the changes in the performance of the army, to suggest that the social conditions behind the support of the army had changed from the early to the mid seventh century. The social aspects of the army in the seventh century are discussed in chapter five, which looks at Italian society under Lombard rule, analyzing the evolution of economy and social organization, and the impact of the military on society. Finally, chapter six uses the data on the performance of the army and on the social structure presented in the previous chapters, to provide an analysis of the mechanisms of recruitment and the impact of military policy and changes on Italian society under the Lombards.