Monday, December 31, 2012

Fever in a Snowstorm: Musings on Perspective

I've had a fever for the past couple of days, and it's got me thinking about perspective. There's something surreal about feeling the heat radiate from your own skin as you watch the snow fall and fall. The dissonance between my experience of the world right now and the fluffy, frozen reality of the world mingles with the haziness of my fevered brain. Of course people always feel temperature slightly differently. I joke with a good friend that we could never get married because the thermostat wars would be epic. But fever brings these differences of experience into sharp relief.

Not only do we feel the air differently, but we often see the world differently as well. I bicker with my mother when she mentions a blue car that I am quite sure is violet. I've never understood why such moments of seeing color differently are so annoying, but now I think that it's those very trivial moments that call our attention to the fact that we may not be looking at the same thing as everyone else when we open our eyes. We go about our days resting upon the assumption that we're seeing basically the same things as the other people in our vicinity. Our sense of sanity rests upon this premise. But when you say that's a grey shirt and I insist that it's tan we bump uncomfortably into our own assumptions. Color definitions are more tangible than other differences of experience, such as one friend commenting that it was a lovely dinner party just as another blurts out that it was a terribly awkward evening. Such moments are startling, but we can chalk them up to mood, whereas color seems more objective, verifiable.

Yet color, like everything else, exists on a spectrum. Even assuming I am not color blind, I neither see nor identify color in the same exact way as everyone else. Primary colors are fairly straightforward, but things get murkier as we delve into the complicated depths of the color wheel. It's incredible how three basic pigments can produce such infinite variety ... And it's not just how we define colors, but how we experience them. What emotions they provoke.

Senses are strange. We speak of our senses as ways of directly engaging with the world, of accurately assessing our surroundings. Yet what does accuracy mean when something that looks suspiciously like opinion flavors our sensory perceptions? This song sounds beautiful to me, but you say it's just noise. That food tastes delicious to you, but I find it revolting. What factors mediate our senses? And what do we do when our most direct means of accessing reality proves to be so fickle?

Perhaps it can be refreshing to admit that we have individual perspectives. Maybe we could see the world more clearly if we admitted that none of us is omniscient and that multiple perspectives are useful. I am part of an interdisciplinary group in grad school, and we joke that all our discussions boil down to how we approach T/truth. We read the same text, but notice different things and approach it in different ways. We define words differently. Like the cliched story of the blind men and the elephant, we all emerge with a bigger picture when we compare notes, when we engage in dialogues rather than monologues (and promoting dialogue is certainly at the heart of my teaching). What good does it do any of us to assume that our own way of reading is the correct one, that alternate methodologies are silly? Rather than devalue other disciplines, I find myself grateful that so many people are trying out so many different paths. I find the best approach is to acknowledge that my perspective is both valuable and limited, and that it is more valuable if I can admit that it's limited.

Granted, a fever is an extreme. Certainly this illness alters my perception in potentially dangerous ways. But as I try to nurse myself back to health before I have to head to Boston for the MLA conference, I consider that fact that we're all always perceiving things differently to a greater or lesser degree. And maybe these perspectival particularities could be useful and even delightful.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

In fields where they lay: The Second Shepherds' Play as the original Christmas special

In keeping with my tradition of writing a holiday blog (started last year with Gawain and the Green Knight), I would like to write this year on another of my favorite medieval Christmas stories, The Second Shepherds' Pageant. The Second Shepherds' Pageant, also called The Second Shepherds' Play, has been burdened with its confusing title simply because it's the second play on shepherds in the Towneley manuscript (though the two weren't necessarily meant to be performed as a pair). Though the play is anonymous, the author has become known as the Wakefield Master. The play inserts common shepherds into the nativity story, and it combines social commentary and humor with piety. Simultaneously medieval England and biblical Bethlehem, the play is a beautiful example of the ways in which biblical stories were alive for medieval people through medieval dramatic practices.

The play opens with a lone shepherd's complaint. The weather is cold, and conditions are intolerable for poor men, who are beaten down by hard living and made submissive to the gentry. Both the weather and the social structures described sound an awful lot like late medieval England. As other shepherds arrive on the scene, squabbling (good-natured and otherwise) ensues. When Mak, a man of unsavory reputation, makes an appearance, the shepherds greet him with suspicion. Their suspicion soon proves well-founded, as Mak slips away while the shepherds nap and steals a prize sheep. He takes it to his wife, Gill, and the two concoct a plan. If the shepherds come looking for their missing sheep, they will put the lamb in their cradle and Gill will pretend to be in childbirth. Mak and Gill are known for having children constantly (sometimes twice a year, Mak complains earlier in the play), so her sudden condition shouldn't take any one by surprise. The trick works well at first. The shepherds do show up quickly (and angrily) to seek their lost lamb, but Mak begs them to pity his wife in her childbed while Gill makes terrible moans. The shepherds finally leave, and Mak and Gill breathe a sigh of relief. But then one shepherd realizes that he gave the new baby no gift, and the others respond in kind. Their generosity proves troublesome for our thieving couple, when the shepherds return and pull the swaddling clothes aside to present the child with birthday presents. They cry out that the child is a monster, and then recognize that monster as their own missing lamb. It's no accident that they only discover their lamb once they turn from anger against Mak and Gill to generosity toward the "child." At this point the play, so farcical in tone, could turn deadly. The shepherds have a right to execute Mak for what he's done. After some deliberation, they turn merciful and decide to toss him up in a blanket instead, a humorous solution to the problem. Tired out, they lie in their field to sleep. As if in response to their mercy, a star appears and an angel tells the shepherds of the birth of a savior. They go to seek the Christ child in his manger, and this time they do remember gifts. They give cherries, a bird, and a ball (meant to symbolize life in a time of death, the holy spirit, and a royal orb, respectively). This story, an alternate to the Magi, shows us not wise men, but everymen. They are common shepherds, people the audience might know, granted entrance into the joyous and miraculous scene of the nativity itself.

The setting of the play is particularly resonant, since it is always both Yorkshire and the Holy Land. The characters talk of walking on the moors, and mention many English locations throughout the play. When Mak first arrives, he pretends to speak with a southern English accent, and the others tease him until he resumes his customary Yorkshire speech. People and place all seem firmly located around Wakefield itself. Yet when the star appears, the shepherds need not travel far to find Bethlehem. And, as David Bevington notes in his Medieval Drama, there would have been two platforms for the play. Mak and Gill's house would have been parallel to the manger on the set, with the shepherds' field in between, connecting the two and presumably holding the audience as well. Bevington explains how the staging gives "a visible form to the parallelism of the farcical and serious action. Although the Wakefield Master never calls explicit attention to the resemblance between the two births, the stage itself would help make the point" (384). The playing space would have visually enacted the themes of the play, yoking together sacred and profane, past and present, there and here. For many people in medieval England, the Bible itself was inaccessible. Books were expensive and the Bible was in Latin. Medieval Drama was thus an important way in which people of the period engaged with scriptural material in a highly interactive way. They wrote and acted in these plays. They stood in their city centers among biblical set-pieces and cheered and laughed and booed and cried. Perhaps they threw things at devils and perhaps they sang along with songs they knew. Puritans were horrified by such spectacles, wanting people to have access to scripture itself instead. But the plays give us insight into the way people of late medieval England saw these as living stories, as stories that were real parts of their own lives and with which they could engage actively. Real emotions, including humor, could be part of sacred drama. Biblical time and place collapsed with contemporary English spaces. The Second Shepherds' Play takes the collapse of time and place to an extreme as the play inserts Yorkshire shepherds into the nativity. In fact, the majority of the play follows these shepherds, who could be anyone from anywhere and anytime, and yet are also clearly from Yorkshire. It's not until the star appears near the end of the play that we get any overt hint that this is a Christmas story. The play seems to suggest that even mundane moments can be part of a miraculous larger narrative, that we are all part of this narrative together and that it thus continues to have real existence in the world.

I had the good fortune to see the play performed at the Folger Institute several years ago when my good friend and colleague Dan Stokes and I participated in an Early English Drama workshop there, and the performance was engaging, beautiful, hilarious, and moving. I laughed; I cried. I know that sounds cliché, but I really did laugh and cry over the course of the production. And I wasn't the only one. The most amazing part was the mixed audience. Scholar of medieval drama sat next to families with small children, and all were captivated. Dan and I were having a pint at the pub after the performance, and we saw the actor who played Mak there. When we told him how much we'd enjoyed it, he was thrilled and offered to buy us a round. Apparently, the actors had been terribly nervous that night, since they knew that the academics were coming to the show. We reassured him that they had managed to make the play both wonderfully accessible and scholarly fascinating. In fact, I found it fitting that this play had remained so engaging to so wide an audience. The way in which the play infuses the familiar and yet incredible story of the nativity with everyday people and their hijinks is striking even to modern audiences. The way that these quarreling, complaining, scheming characters can be so moved by the baby in the manger lends the final scene a real sense of awe.

As funny as the play is, the ending is surprisingly poignant. These characters we have come to know seem a bit awkward in the holy scene, but they are so genuinely enamored with the baby that it's hard not to feel a shared sense of joy in the moment. Their gifts to the child may be simple, but they are heartfelt. And the manger is a humble space not unfamiliar to our common shepherds. A play that could have ended in death (either of the sheep or of Mak), ends instead in miraculous birth. And while the symbolism of the lamb in not lost, nor is the audience unaware of the larger story which includes the Passion, we are allowed for a moment, like the shepherds, to just enjoy the scene. Affective piety was popular in the later Middle Ages, and holy people imagined themselves at the foot of the cross and felt the pain and sorrow of that moment. The Second Shepherds' Play gives us a chance for a different kind of affective engagement, one in which we place ourselves instead in the manger and feel the shared joy. After I saw the play performed, the group of us remarked at how moving it was to all of us, despite our different belief systems. The message is one of mercy and joy and hope, a sense that any one of us could play a part at any moment in something greater than ourselves. This year has been difficult for many, and these last few weeks filled with unimaginable heartache (see Kate's recent beautiful post on the Coventry Carol). I only hope that we can respond to tragedy with compassion. Like the red cherries picked in the frozen white winter, like the baby born when nights are longest and days are coldest, even the bleakest moments are available to hope and beauty. And the beauty of basic human compassion is that we all have the power to bring it into the world. Perhaps this is the perfect time to think about how the simplest things can be miraculous. Even moments that are common or silly or petty or sad can be made precious if we remember to treat each other with kindness. With that in mind, I wish you all a season filled with love.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Most Interesting Man in Medieval Studies: Redux

As a sort of holiday gift to all our readers (that is, if you consider medieval jokes gifts and not afflictions), I decided to revisit a post I composed a little over a year ago. I realized that our most interesting man was sorely in need of some new accolades, and so I've provided the newest top ten below. Please add to the mayhem in the comments -- the more the merrier! I'm convinced we can't have enough of these.

And so, without further ado, I wish you all a happy holiday season and give you:

The Most Interesting Man in Medieval Studies . . . Redux. 

1. The MLA recently awarded him a prize for his translation of Piers Plowman   . . . into flawless Dothraki.

2.  Flashmobs the world over have popularized his interpretive dance of “The Complaint” (also known as "Hoccleve Style").

3. Students refer to any uncertainty on his part as “The Cloud of Unknowing.”*

4. He once travelled from the Syria to Northumberland by rudderless boat . . . just to see what it would feel like.

5. When he registers for a conference, he does so twice: once for himself, and once for his beard.

6. When he sleeps, Langland has a dream vision . . . about him.

7. Conferences are held annually to unpack his stirring analysis of Scandinavian rune sticks.

8.  His lectures on the absence of stirrups in Merovingian Francia regularly move audiences to tears.

9. He lulls his children to sleep at night by reading to them . . . from the 13th century Rolls of Parliament.

10. To protest Greenblatt’s most recent book, he will host an open bar at Kalamazoo 2013. Drinks will be shaken, not swerved.

*Many thanks to Kristi for the idea behind this one! 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Coventry Carol

"The Coventry Carol" always seemed a terribly odd, and terribly eerie song for the Christmas season, given that Christmastime — as one commentator on the Sandy Hook tragedy poignantly lamented — is supposed to be joyful. Full of good cheer. This particular carol, however —the sole survivor of a now-lost 16th-century mystery play— tells an important part of that story. A bleaker part. It is sung from the perspective of a mother lamenting the loss of her child, one of many slaughtered on Herod's orders: 

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.
That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

On this day, as the updates on the incomprehensible Sandy Hook killings continue to come in — and as the press performs their shameful, but predictable, pandering for ratings by dwelling on the killer's story — I am struck by the fact that while we know and remember Herod for the awful orders that he gave, we have no names of those he ordered to be killed. We only know them by their epithet: the Innocents. Little children killed on the orders of — according to the stories that come down to us — a single, scared, hubris-addled man. 

And yet, though we have no names for the children of this legendized narrative, their story survives and is told again and again. In a gospel. On the church floor of Siena's Duomo. In countless other artistic renderings. In medieval mystery plays. In "The Coventry Carol." Their deaths are inextricably wrapped up in the Christmas season, and they remind us of the profound sadness that can, and does, course through the clamoring joys of the season. 

Its haunting melody gently challenges the very idea that Christmas is supposed to be filled with simple joy. I've grown to strongly distrust the word "supposed" and its cousin "should." Having spent the better part of a very brutal year chiding myself because I "should" be happier, I can definitely attest to how inertia-inducing (even damaging) the word can be. The fact is, for many people -- certainly the survivors and the families of the innocents killed this week -- this time of year could not be further from joyful. This time of year, for them, has become something to be survived, and it becomes so at least in part because of the cultural pressures that insist on joy as the only acceptable feeling of the season. 

"The Coventry Carol," however, reminds those who suffer in this time that they are certainly not alone. That a long time ago, as magi came to Bethlehem to find a babe in a manger and rejoice in the finding, and as hosts of angels sang of his birth to bedraggled shepherds, there were also many families weeping for a loss too profound and too final to comprehend. It forces those of us fortunate enough to experience joy at this time of year to remember those with bleaker stories to tell. And, hopefully, to remember to be that much more grateful for our joys because they are so very fragile. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Musings of an InterSwervist*

Reactions to Stephen Greenblatt's recent book The Swerve reached a fever pitch on the blogosphere and twittersphere yesterday and today in response to the announcement that the book has been awarded the James Russell Lowell Prize by the MLA. Much has been said already about the book's willful disregard of facts in favor of a highly reductive approach to the roughly thousand-year period known as The Middle Ages, and you can find wonderful responses to the MLA's questionable decision and to Greenblatt's book here, here, here, and here.  The reactions of medievalists and early modernists on Twitter have been equally vivid.

I've been trying to pinpoint why I've been so dismayed by Greenblatt's book and, most recently, about the MLA's decision to give it a prestigious award. I think it comes down to a few concerns, many of which have already been eloquently expressed by the posts I mentioned previously. 

One of my primary concerns lies in Greenblatt's baldly outdated approach to the Middle Ages, made very clear in the book's preface when he states: "Something happened in the Renaissance, something that surged up against the constraints that centuries had constructed around curiosity, desire, individuality, sustained attention to the material world, the claims of the body. The cultural shift is notoriously difficult to define, and its significance has been fiercely contested." There is, quite simply, no way to support this statement if you include, say, Alfred the Great's investment in literacy, the popularity of French Fabliaux, the ENTIRE polymorphous "genre" of medieval romance (and let's not forget about Chaucer and Boccaccio).

Another of my concerns ties into the conversation on periodization well underway in the interwebs: click here for a great recap. Call me a naif, but I had thought that we had largely moved passed the idea that the complex millennia between the so-called "Classical" and "Early Modern" periods was nothing more than an intellectual sink hole. As Elaine Treharne so eloquently put it, by presenting this fictionalized view of the Middle Ages, Greenblatt "provides us with a sequence of superficial imaginings that might yet prove damaging to readers who, assured by the prize-winningness of this volume, assume they are being told something other than fiction." This really bothers me — that a book like this one (because of its Dan Brown-esque glitz and its earning both a Pulitzer and the Lowell Prize) has so much potential power to reinscribe and promote popular myths about all things medieval. The fact that much of the damage in The Swerve is done by way of insults made in passing ("[In the Renaissance] it became increasingly possible to turn away from preoccupations with angels and demons . . .") make the work's popularity even more vexing. 

As many have already noted, The Swerve is overtly polemical. One of the most obvious of such moments occurs in the passage below, which Jim Hinch explores at length:

"It is possible for a whole culture to turn away from reading and writing. As the Roman Empire crumbled and Christianity became ascendant, as cities decayed, trade declined, and an anxious populace scanned the horizon for barbarian armies, the ancient system of education fell apart. What began as downsizing went on to wholesale abandonment. Schools closed, libraries and academies shut their doors, professional grammarians and teachers of rhetoric found themselves out of work, scribes were no longer given manuscripts to copy. There were more important things to worry about than the fate of books. Lucretius’s poem, so incompatible with any cult of the gods, was attacked, ridiculed, burned, or ignored, and, like Lucretius himself, eventually forgotten.
The idea of pleasure and beauty that the work advanced was forgotten with it. Theology provided an explanation for the chaos of the Dark Ages: human beings were by nature corrupt. Inheritors of the sin of Adam and Eve, they richly deserved every miserable catastrophe that befell them. God cared about human beings, just as a father cared about his wayward children, and the sign of that care was anger. It was only through pain and punishment that a small number could find the narrow gate to salvation. A hatred of pleasure-seeking, a vision of God’s providential rage, and an obsession with the afterlife: these were death knells of everything Lucretius represented." 
Hinch does a beautiful job pointing out the voluminous fallacies in the above quotation, but what struck me most about this passage is how it seems to have far more to to say about very contemporary anxieties over the state of education than it does about the Middle Ages. Like the film 300, it is a fantasy that appropriates historical events in order to fuel personal agenda. In this respect, the passage above, and the general tenor of The Swerve, reminded me of some of Frank Miller's more inflammatory statements offered in an NPR interview shortly before 300 hit theaters:

"Lets talk a minute about the enemy . . .  and the 6th century barbarism that they actually represent. . . . These people saw peoples head's off. They enslave women. They genetically (???) mutilate their daughters. They do not behave by any cultural norms that are sensible to us. I'm speaking into a microphone that never could have been the product of their culture and I'm living in a city where 3,000 of my neighbors were killed by thieves of airplanes they never could have built."

A clue as to the inspiration for Frank Miller's garbled and factually inaccurate description of the Middle East (and for his investment in the film version of 300) lies in that final sentence: his very personal experience of the traumatic events of 9/11. Greenblatt is nowhere near as unhinged as Miller, but a similar tell exists in Greenblatt's book. Indeed, the entire premise of the book seems less inspired by Bacciolini's discovery of Lucrecius that it was by Greenblatt's discovery of Lucretius  as a young man -- a discovery that, no less, allowed him to heal from the emotional traumas of his youth. I have no problem with personal anecdotes (I actually found his willingness to get personal refreshing), and I am not saying that the personal has no place in academic discourse -- Kristi and I frequently interweave the two here, and I recently argued in favor of that kind of approach in an earlier post. I wonder though whether this book might be a perfect example of what can happen when someone becomes far too invested in making a speculative version of history (fueled by personal response) an authoritative one. Far too many of his arguments rely on what I can only describe as personal opinion and bias for their existence, and he disregards (as Bruce Holsinger's recent tweets make hilariously clear) a vast array of information in order to perpetuate his own vision of the so-called "swerve to the modern." This is a hard pill to swallow when I have to explain to students (in almost every class I teach) why you have to rely on MORE than the stuff that's in your own head when you try to substantially add to an academic conversation. 

I think, in the end, what I find so problematic about The Swerve and the accolades it has earned is this: that the author makes the same rhetorical mistakes (over and over again) that I find in freshman essays. I expect to find these kinds of mistakes in the latter, just as I expect to encounter misconceptions about the Middle Ages (or in Frank Miller's case, the Middle East and its inhabitants) in popular culture. But it's more than frustrating to see those kinds of errors not just overlooked but actively perpetuated (and rewarded) in a book written by a well-known scholar. What kind of example is this possibly setting for the students we teach and in whom the MLA is ostensibly invested? What kind of example is it setting for discourse in general? What does it mean that factual inaccuracy and dated polemic are overlooked by prestigious award committees in favor of rhetorical swagger? 


Ok -- I think I've vented my spleen enough for one day. Time to practice sochin (the Mjollnir of all katas . . . good lord, did I just write that?!?!) and listen to Tool on repeat while doing so. I will, however, leave you with the following (my very first meme contribution) before I jump into my white pajamas and pretend to kick copies of The Swerve around my living room. A message from all InterSwervists, perhaps: 

*All due credit goes to Jeffrey Jerome Cohen for coining the term!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

In Which Two Bloggers Decide to Curb the Spam: Or, Our Shiny New Moderation Policy

Unlike this tin-can collectible, spam of the internet
variety is neither "wicked," nor "awesome."
Certainly not "wicked-awesome."
In Romaunce was recently subjected to a bizarre barrage of spam messages, all of which were advertisements masquerading as comments.  Kristi and I quickly realized — after seeing a half-dozen or so appear within an hour — that we needed to find a way to discourage these kinds of posts. We have, as a result, decided to start moderating the comments we receive.

We want to reassure our readers that this blog will remain a space for fruitful dialogue, and we will always welcome diverse and contrary perspectives. Our goal is to foster conversation, and in an effort to keep our energies focused in the right places, we're going to start filtering comments.

Messages that respond in direct (or meaningfully indirect!) ways to our posts will always be prioritized, provided that the they are ones geared towards striking up  conversation (quibbles with phrasing, cavalier/dismissive comments, etc. will likely not get published). In line with many other blogs, we will always be happy to advertise events, conferences, etc. related to the interests of the blog.  We will, however, refrain from publishing unsolicited advertisements, especially for goods or events with no connection to what we write about here at In Romaunce. I'm looking at you, i', and others of your regrettable ilk. And it goes without saying that we refuse to publish or feed trolls.

Hopefully this will put an end to the spam, and we can get back to conversing as usual!

Take care, oh wanderers of the interwebs, and stay tuned for more from your friends here at In Romaunce or, to use our recently discovered acronym, IRAWR.



Monday, November 12, 2012

A Pilgrimage to Williamsburg . . .

Taken when I was much better at refilling the feeder . . . 
I am currently sitting on my lovely porch, catching meaningful looks from the local hummingbirds. Their feeder desperately needs a refill, and I think they’re doing reconnaissance for an impending revolution. I also just narrowly escaped from a lounge of lizards dangling underneath my porch umbrella (apparently a group of lizards is called a “lounge” . . . the things you learn!). It’s been a few weeks since my trip back to Virginia, and I’m thankful for the quiet time I have now to reflect upon everything I experienced while I was away. Each day of my trip was lit up with reunions, lectures, dancing, weddings, and more, and I find myself overwhelmed, in a good sense, with all I experienced.   These events converged with one another in truly surprising and beautiful ways, and I’ll try to capture at least some of that here.

I travelled back to Williamsburg, VA on October 2nd to attend a variety of events. Monica Potkay, who is in no small part responsible for my love of Chaucer, invited me to lecture for the Medieval and Renaissance Studies department at William and Mary on a topic related to my dissertation, and George Greenia — ever a source of support and encouragement throughout my undergrad and graduate years — invited me to submit a paper to the Annual Symposium for Pilgrimage Studies he was organizing.  For the lecture, I chose one of my favorite topics of late: the representation of Mongols in Middle English Romance. For the conference paper, I decided to revisit my old flame Sir Isumbras, choosing to approach the romance from the angle of redemptive pilgrimage rather than that of crusade. Lecturing at my alma mater was at once comfortable and surreal. I’d presented on this topic once before, and I knew the College very well, but it felt strange to inhabit a new role in this place all the same. I was deeply touched by the number of my professors who attended, and I had at least a few moments where, as I looked out at the students, I realized that I was in exactly their position only a handful of years ago, and that I honestly didn’t feel that differently from how I did back then. Admittedly, I can’t pull the all-nighters I used to (I've tended of late to fall asleep like a cartoon character around 11pm), and I know a lot more stuff than I did back then. I’ve also been through a tremendous amount — experiences both wonderful and tragic — that has certainly impacted how I see and respond to the world and those around me. And yet, as I stood up at the podium waiting to get started on the talk, I realized that what hasn’t changed at all is my enthusiasm for what I do. I had worried at various points throughout my years in graduate school that I was choking what I loved to death (and sometimes I really think I was!), but what hit me in that moment before the talk was that I still felt like a student in a certain sense. I still felt the gravitational pull of all I had left to discover, and that was why I was excited enough to stand up in front of a group of (mostly) strangers and talk about my findings for an hour.  A pleasant feeling, to say the least!

A tremendous amount happened in between this lecture and the conference. My incomparable sister-in-law got hitched to a truly great guy, and we all danced together (many of us in pink dresses and feather boas) late into a gorgeous Fall evening to the dulcet tones of Van Halen, Journey, and The Beatles. My good friend Andrea and I crashed our undergrad advisor’s office hours with Cheese Shop sandwiches (and beer) for a long-overdue reunion, and I also had the great pleasure of reconnecting with a professor who had always encouraged my poetry writing and whose children I’d babysat for a few of my undergrad years. I hadn’t seen them since I graduated, but it felt in many ways as though we were picking up where we left off – barring the fact that the son I babysat as a little one is taller than me now (which, in fairness, isn't that hard to accomplish, hobbit that I am).  I made sure to spend an evening training and having an incredibly meaningful conversation with my Sensei, who has been a constant source of wisdom and support for as long as I've known him. 

I also met up with someone I hadn’t seen since high school but who serendipitously came back in to my life a few months ago; we’re facing a lot of the same challenges at the moment in certain aspects of our lives, and being able to talk with her and find an ally at this particular juncture was such a gift.  Last but certainly not least, the long stay allowed me to spend a lot of quality time with my parents and sister (my brother was still deployed at the time, but I’m happy to report he is now home safe and sound!), and I even made a brief trip down to North Carolina to visit with my grandmother, who I hadn’t been able to see since my grandfather passed away this past summer. 

Each of these wonderful reunions reminded me of how important it is to stay connected with those who matter in my life, and to always take the chance to reconnect with those I’ve accidentally eluded over the years.  The work that brought me back to William and Mary was certainly important, but the combination of work and “play” reminded me of what Eileen Joy asked recently in her post on friendship: "What would it mean to imagine one’s career, one’s writing, as a sort of devotion to another, to a beloved, whether mother, sister, lover, or friend? Or even to a set of friends, those already met and those still unmet, a kind of ceaseless love-as-talking?” In a way, my work on this trip pulled me back to Virginia and allowed all of these wonderful reconnections to occur, and I rather love the idea of imbricated work and friendship. Her challenge — that we don’t necessarily need to separate work and life — really resonated with me on this trip as a result.

The symposium I attended was the first one ever held by the Pilgrimage Institute at the College of William and Mary, and in many ways it aligned with this desire to balance and comingle work with other aspects of ones life.  Attendees and presenters came from a variety of fields and vantage points. Some were academics. Others were dancers. Some were art therapists. Others were documentary directors. Many were pilgrims. This vibrant mixture of passions and careers imbued the symposium with an eclectic energy I’d never quite experienced before at a conference.  The weekend kicked off with a rough-cut screening of “The Camino Documentary” directed and produced by Lydia B. Smith. The documentary focuses on Camino Frances, and follows a diverse array of pilgrims who embark on a pilgrimage for equally varied reasons. Some travel in memory of a loved one who has passed, some for the adventure and the challenge, some to find missing parts of themselves. I was struck, however, by something that a monk said at the outset of the documentary. He talked about how the external journey is important, but that the internal journey one undertakes when on a pilgrimage is of equal if not greater significance. This resonated strongly with what I was preparing to say in my own presentation on virtual pilgrimage, and it was fascinating to see it play out in the lives of the pilgrims on the screen. What truly impressed me, however, was the fact that the documentary didn’t push any particular narrative on the pilgrims.  The ending was cathartic, but it didn’t pretend that every person who journeyed on the Camino was fundamentally altered. The changes, if there were any, were subtle and allowed their privacy, something that I’d imagine can be hard to balance in the making of a documentary film about personal journeys. 

The following day was one largely made up of presentations, and I was especially taken with the student exhibits on display between the major sessions. The undergraduate presenters had attended the Camino abroad trip this past summer and had – as part of the requirements of the program – completed a research project focused on a particular aspect of pilgrimage. Their research interestes were diverse, creative, and deeply insightful, and it was thrilling to see so many intrepid undergraduates working hard on new and exciting projects. I had an especially serendipitous conversation with one of these students, Robin Crigler, who focused his project on aspects of playfulness and ritual on the Camino, which reminded me yet again of the power of conjoined formality and informality (it really seemed to be the running theme of this trip).

My own presentation, which I’m providing at the end of this post, was a standard conference paper, but I decided to be a bit bolder in terms of what I encompassed. I introduced my topic — Sir Isumbras’ use of pilgrimage imagery — by way of Google Earth, Petrarch, and German nuns, and even though I worried initially that the combination made for nothing more than insanity, it somehow all came together. Considering Isumbras from the angle of pilgrimage rather than crusade was hard at first. I kept wanting to talk about its crusading themes because that’s what I knew best. Forcing myself to stick with pilgrimage, however, allowed me to discover a whole array of new possibilities in this text. I had honestly gotten very tired of Sir Isumbras after working on it in both the dissertation and in an article for Chaucer Review. Discovering something new about the romance went a long way towards reigniting my enthusiasm for it, and it helped to reminded me of the value in taking diverse — and seemingly contradictory — approaches when analyzing (dare I say journeying through?) a text.

We drew on "shrinky-dink" paper, and then got to watch our
creations warp and diminish in a toaster-oven. The point was
to experience anxiety over the loss of our creation, only to
realize that it was simply undergoing a transformation. Much
like the experience of pilgrims on a journey . . . 
I decided to attend the session on pilgrimage and art therapy following my own, and was so very glad that I did. It was unlike any session I’d ever participated in before. The presenter, Wanda Sawicki, explained how she uses art therapy and the concept of journeying to work with her patients. She explained that "pilgrims who struggle with integrating transformative experiences from the Way into their daily life can benefit from engaging in creative work through art therapy;" in other words, the virtual can assist and enrich the actual. She invited all of the attendees to participate in an exercise with her to help demonstrate this concept. She asked all of us to meditate on a place we have journeyed to, or even a favorite place where we like to go walking, and think about the colors of that location. She asked us to imagine ourselves in that space and to focus on the colors closest to us and then move further and further out to the horizon, taking in all of the hues we recalled along the way. Afterwards, she invited us to paint our own mandalas with those very colors and images in mind. The point of all of this was to create a virtual journey that recreated the same positive transformations and emotions we experienced in the actual space. Her exercise converged in surprising ways with my own musings on virtual pilgrimage, and it was fascinating to me that centuries — even millennia — after the creation of labyrinths and other modes of virtual travel, we still find value in (and are pulled towards) these kinds of meditative journeys. 

This theme continued into the evening at the dance performance. Each of the dances performed were powerful in their way, but I was especially struck by the concluding act that, like the art therapy workshop, enacted a form of virtual pilgrimage. The dancers journeyed across the stage, acting out their struggles with the landscape and with the limitations of their bodies. They climbed. They stumbled. They pressed on. They carried one another. They eventually made it to Santiago. The choreography captured the arduousness and cathartic nature of such journeys, and also served as a beautiful example of how powerful the visual representation of such journeys can be. It also made me recognize an alternative meaning of the phrase “to feel moved.” It occurred to me that when we say as much, we’re actually suggesting transportation — that meaningful events, moments, performances, etc., actually have the power to inspire powerful virtual journeys of their own.  

The final day involved two diverse and fascinating plenaries — one on the shifting meanings of pilgrim garb and the other on an ‘eco-evangelical’ pilgrimage along the Sao Francisco River — and a concluding round-table meeting about the future of the conference and the Institute. This kind of meeting was new to me as well, and it was an absolute delight to attend. We all volunteered ideas and suggestions for the financial plans of the Institute, and also raised suggestions for future symposiums. By the end of the meeting, it seemed like we had an array of exciting future plans in the works, and I cannot wait to see what the Institute has to offer in the coming months and years. The energy and conviviality of this weekend gathering was infectious, in no small part because of how welcome people were to simultaneously analyze and personalize the experience of pilgrimage. This conference quietly broke down the divides between academic and non-academic modes (for lack of a better set of terms); both became equal and complementary partners in this setting. I think that the topic of this conference — pilgrimage — invited this kind of openness. It is impossible to completely separate the intellectual from the personal when we talk about these kinds of journeys, since the experience of pilgrimage is meant to be deeply subjective. This isn’t to say that all conferences have to be this way, but I certainly hope that this one does, because it allowed for an array of striking convergences to emerge in even the most unlikely of places.

As soon as the meeting wrapped, I dashed over to Mama Steve’s (my family’s favorite place for brunch) for one last get-together before I headed to the airport. While there, I noticed — of all things — a person who looked suspiciously like Santa Claus sitting at the table behind my mother. As I chatted with my parents, I couldn’t help but notice him as he stood up (in a Christmas-themed aloha shirt) and assembled a plate of homemade cookies from the contents of a cooler he’d brought with him. He placed a holiday card for the waitresses next to the platter and then left the restaurant as casually as an aloha-attired Santa possibly could.  The waitresses seemed bemused, and for a few seconds I worried that they were going to turn skeptical and toss the cookies in the trash. To my delight, they did no such thing, but passed the plate around to each other, laughing and enjoying a moment of mirth in an otherwise hectic Sunday. The wonderful absurdity of this scene seemed a fitting way to conclude this trip. A little reminder, perhaps, to take the time to revel in moments of subtle hilarity — to be playful — in the midst of everything else around me. 

I left for California that evening with a truly full heart, and I’ve remained deeply grateful for all of the renewed energy and enthusiasm I’ve been able to bring back with me.  I’ll close for now by offering up my paper, and will look forward to sharing other ideas with you all very soon. Cheers!

Sir Isumbras and the Virtual Pilgrimage

The term virtual is loaded with an array of very modern implications.  Select Google Earth from a smart phone, for instance, and you can find yourself transported to any far corner of the virtual globe, many of which can be viewed in 3-d. Click on Skype, Facetime, or any number of other such programs and you can have virtual face-to-face conversations with friends a half a world away. The desire to bridge vast and uncrossable distances propels us towards the world of the virtual, and I would hazard to guess that each of us can think of at least one occasion (if not dozens) where that ability was deeply comforting. This desire extends quite naturally into the world of pilgrimage, and a wide array of cyberpilgrimages are available to a modern peregrinator. You can find apps that allow pilgrims to virtually participate in pilgrimages to Lourdes, and I even found one that allows you to trace your way through a variety of labyrinths (a virtual pilgrimage twice over). In another example, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops created a Facebook app in 2011 that allowed young people to virtually travel on pilgrimage to World Youth Day, and nearly a thousand students participated in this way. Given that the entire world can be accessed through mobile devices and computers, the development of virtual pilgrimage in the modern world is hardly surprising. What might be surprising, however, is that the medieval world was also one in which this kind of nonstandard journeying was quite popular. 
            Some of the most striking examples can be found in medieval convents. As Marie-Luise Ehrenschwendtner has explored, the nuns at the convent of St. Katherine’s at Augsburg were, in 1487, “awarded papal privilege by Innocent VIII . . . granting them all the indulgences usually acquired through a pilgrimage to Rome and visits to the seven pilgrim churches . . . To qualify they simply had to recite three Paternosters and three Ave Marias at three different and specified localities within the enclosure;” the nuns of Augsburg would go on, in 1499 to commission Hans Holbein the Elder, Hans Burgkmair the elder, and another unnamed painter to create paintings of the seven pilgrim churches of Rome for their convent (“Virtual Pilgrimages,” 46). Kathryn M. Rudy has also tracked the appeal of virtual pilgrimage in continental (mostly Dutch and German) convents, arguing that since “nuns and religious women had little chance of visiting the Holy Land in the flesh . . . [they] instead invented, developed, and revised existing strategies for virtually visiting Jerusalem and the other holy places” (Virtual Pilgrimage in the Convent, 19). In her work, she examines seventeen texts and an array of images and practices used by enclosed nuns to inspire and actualize their virtual peregrinations. Importantly, Rudy discovered through her work that for many of these women, their pilgrimages were not metaphors but were “practice[s] to exercise as physically as possible and as literally as possible: not just with the imagination, but with the eyes, the hands, and the feet” (19). 
            These nuns frequently made use of actual pilgrimage itineraries and travelogues in their creation of virtual peregrinations, of which Francis Petrarch’s Itinerarium ad Sepulchrum Domini is an example (as an aside, I came across no evidence to suggest that the nuns used Petrarch's Itinerarium specifically, but since it remains one of the more noteworthy examples of virtual pilgrimage, I felt bound to include it here). In 1358, Giovanni Mandelli invited Petrarch on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Fears of either dying or becoming ill at sea caused him to decline the offer, and Petrarch instead composed, over the course of three days, an itinerary for his friend to take with him on his journey. This work is often cited as an example of the widespread phenomenon and practice of virtual pilgrimage to Jerusalem during the later Middle Ages.  As Theodore Cachey observes in his marvelous edition of the Itinerarium, this work  “asserts and celebrates the poet’s capacity for overcoming the alienation of the journey and of space through writing” (20). In fact, by emphasizing the lightness and ease of travel through the writing process, Petrarch elevates virtual travel, advocating for its legitimacy alongside more conventional means of pilgrimage.  As Cachey observes, Petrarch does not criticize pilgrimage or delegitimize it, but he does suggest the potential irrelevance of physical location. As he says at one point,  “In fact, that which makes me happy or miserable is not to be found in any place but in the soul, and knowing that we must die in some place, I do not know where is better” (Itinerarium, Pr. 3). Rather than travelling in the conventional sense, Petrarch decides to go virtual: he announces his plans to “complete a very long journey in a concise style” and frequently emphasizes the ease of his journeying through maps and letters in this work.
These examples demonstrate the widespread appeal and popularity (throughout a variety of cultural settings) of virtual pilgrimage. This form of meditative travel, as scholars such as Suzanne Yeager have observed, were considered as valid as actual peregrinations. Yeager, however, extends the exploration of medieval virtual pilgrimage to vernacular literature as well, and, in complement to her work, I’ve come to realize in my studies of medieval literature that this legitimization of nonstandard travel affected the representation of pilgrimage (martial or otherwise) in late Middle English literature. For the sake of time today, I’ll only discuss a single, representative text – Sir Isumbras – but this romance stands as particularly clear example of virtual pilgrimage in Middle English literature. Through this text, and in complement to the examples above, we see how its depiction of redemptive travel simultaneously validates actual and virtual modes of pilgrimage. Virtual replications of such journeys, in the end, emphasize the significance of the various destinations and highlight the palpable desires to reach them, even if the means are seemingly unconventional. These alternative modes of travel, in the end, reveal and important truth about pilgrimage: that the journey and its potential to activate change, revelation, and redemption in the traveller, is what actually matters. To quote from The Camino Documentary we saw last night, virtual pilgrimage hones in on the fact that such journeys are “not about arriving, [but are instead] about living.”
Isumbras was arguably one of the most popular vernacular romances in Late Medieval England. It has no direct source, but appears inspired by the legend of St. Eustace, so much so that scholars have frequently noted the romance’s occupation of a space in between hagiography and romance. The romance’s hybridity, coupled with its widespread circulation (from Chichester to the Scottish lowlands), and the fact that it survives in both secular and devotional manuscripts, suggests that the romance may well have been read both for entertainment value and for devotional purposes, a theory supported by  Sir Isumbras' mimicry of the devotional model of virtual pilgrimage in its plot and narrative structure.
Since the text is a fairly obscure one, I’ll provide a brief summary. The romance begins with a description of the hero as a generous and benevolent knight. One day while hunting, a divine messenger comes to him with a message that God plans to punish him for his pride. The messenger gives Isumbras a choice: to suffer now as a young man or later in his old age. Isumbras chooses the former and immediately loses all worldly possessions: his horse drops dead, his dogs go mad and run off into the forest, his livestock die, his house burns down (all in a mater of seconds it seems). His wife and three sons survive, but the family finds themselves destitute with hardly the cloths on their backs. Isumbras carves a cross into his shoulder with a knife and announces that he and his family will go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On the way, two of his sons are abducted (either by beasts or angels depending on the version) and are presumed dead. At the Greek Sea, Isumbras, his wife, and his remaining son are confronted by sea-faring Saracens who are on their way to sack an unnamed kingdom in Christendom. The Sultan abducts Isumbras' wife and makes her his bride, orders Isumbras to be brutally beaten, and leaves him and his remaining son on the shoreline; the wife is sent to Palestine to reside in the Sultan's palace while he and his men continue on their way into Christian territory. Isumbras's remaining son is abducted in turn (again, either by a beast or an angel).
The hero makes his way to a town where he takes up blacksmithing and, after seven years, forges his own armor. He battles as an unknown in support of a Christian kingdom besieged by the aforementioned sultan, and kills scores of Saracens, the Sultan included. The king of the Christian kingdom asks Isumbras for his name, clearly wishing for him to join his retinue. Isumbras refuses to divulge his identity and continues on his pilgrimage. Once he reaches Jerusalem or Bethlehem (manuscript depending), an angel visits him and announces that he has been absolved of his sins. Isumbras soon hears of a beneficent queen (who is, in fact, his wife) and journeys to her castle. They are happily reunited, and Isumbras is swiftly made king, having rightfully inherited the territory through the death of the Sultan and his wife's false marriage to him. Isumbras attempts to convert the inhabitants of his kingdom but they refuse, and a force of roughly thirty thousand Saracens rises up against him. On the day of battle, his wife announces that she will wear armor and die at his side in battle, but, in the nick of time, the three sons arrive on the field (either guided by an angel or riding on the beasts that had abducted them several years prior). The united family lays waste to the entire Saracen army, and Isumbras and his sons go on to conquer other territories.
In my previous work on Isumbras, I looked closely its representation of crusading (which is, at heart, a form of pilgrimage), and argued that the romance provides a streamlined and deliberately idealistic version of successful religious conquest. Significantly, however, the romance emphasizes the journey and the process of Isumbras’ salvation over the establishment of global empire. The romance might end with a vision of military victory, but Isumbras’ ability to win lands and prestige are predicated on his moral redemption — on his pilgrimage. As such, despite the martial flourishes that pull Isumbras into the realm of crusades romances, the text remains one deeply wedded to notions of virtual devotional practice.
While it is true that Isumbras’ journey to the Holy Land gradually takes the form of a crusade, the romance stresses that the martial components of his pilgrimage are born out of necessity. All we are given at the outset of the hero’s journey, for instance, is a clear sense of his need for redemption and his desire to embark on a redemptive journey: 
To his poor children three
Who stood before him naked, he said: 
You shall do as I advise,
To seek God where he lived and died,
Who for us shed his blood.” . . .
With his knife he cut
A cross in his bare shoulder,
In stories as clerkes say.  (Sir Isumbras, 125-29;143-44) 
The carving of the cross into his shoulder evokes (however brutally) the crossing vows of crusader knights, but it remains the only hint of the battles that are to come. And even when they do occur, it is clear that Christians are only being forced to protect themselves. The sultan’s attacks of Christian lands, and the Saracen uprising against Isumbras and his wife, require martial responses. Initially, however, all we are presented with is the hero’s announcement that he and his family must undertake a redemptive journey for the sake of his (and even their) souls. While the battles may remain the more captivating moments of the romance, the bulk of the story details Isumbras’ physical journey from Europe to the Holy Land and his journey from sin to absolution. His ascension to kingship and his martial victories, in other words, are only made possible by his humbling pilgrimage.
The suffering endured by Isumbras and his family on their way to the Holy Land dominates the initial stages of their journey.  Their escalating misfortunes and its eventual dissolution force the hero into complete submission to the will of God. Initially stripped of all worldly possessions, Isumbras eventually finds himself alone after wild beasts (or, in some versions, an angel) abduct his children and a marauding sultan kidnaps his wife. Perceiving all of these moments of abjection as part of God’s will (113-116; 205-6), Isumbras remains faithful to his penitential quest, never despairing or growing angry in the face of his suffering. His losses of status, of material goods, and of his family force him to relinquish any sense of control over his identity. He becomes, as a result, a penitent tabula rasa through which his salvation and his earthy successes as a crusader are assured.
Even when Isumbras charges into his first battle against Saracens, emphasis remains on his need for redemption and for the continuation of his promised journey to Jerusalem. As Elizabeth Fowler has argued, he “reforges his identity” by working as a blacksmith and creating a set of armor, and eventually rides out in support of an unnamed Christian kingdom besieged by the Sultan who had previously abducted his wife ("Lordship and the Saracens," 102). He dominates on the field, killing scores of Saracens and even the Sultan himself. But when presented to the grateful Christian king, he solemnly refuses to give his name. While this refusal to identify himself resonates with the “Fair Unknown” tradition of medieval romance, Isumbras’ insistence on anonymity allows for the foregrounding of his pilgrim journey. Since he will only find redemption through his completed pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and since any form of recognition at this king’s court would imply vainglory and lead to distraction and premature social elevation, the hero has no other choice but to remain nameless and to depart in order to stay faithful to his redemptive journey. He leaves quietly in the guise of a palmer, and, in so doing, reveals an ability to contextualize his successes and failures as results of God’s will rather than his own. He also demonstrates, through the adoption of anonymity, his learned capacity to prefer spiritual devotion and the maintenance of his soul to secular and social ambitions.
As I described earlier, Isumbras’ journey doesn’t end in Jerusalem, but rather in a vague Levantine principality, and also on a note of martial victory and crusade. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that this romance doesn't reveal the beginning or the end point of Isumbras’ journey.  We have no idea where he comes from, and all we can say about where he ends up is that it lies somewhere in the vicinity of the Holy Land. Geographic punctuations like the Greek Sea and Jerusalem do exist, but not even they are stable — as I mentioned earlier, versions of this romance place Isumbras’ redemption in either Jerusalem or Bethlehem. Additionally, Acre (the last Latin kingdom to fall in 1291) is mentioned in the romance, but only in certain versions.  I have previously seen these kinds of slippages as byproducts of the romance’s circulation throughout a lengthy and volatile time period. As Lee Manion has observed, for instance, Acre did not remain as strong a seat of desire as Jerusalem, which may explain why so many later versions of the romance fail to mention it. And while the naming of Jerusalem — at the outset of the romance and as a site of Isumbras’ absolution — certainly participates in the long-standing tradition of its status as Christendom’s ideological nexus, I would offer that Isumbras’ journey, since it does not — cannot — end in the Holy City, points not only to the desires of reclaiming Jerusalem in the late Middle Ages but also to a deprioritization of destination over the journey itself.  The fact that the very geographic locations in Isumbras are negotiable, in other words, align with Petrarch’s observations about location and its limitations.
This romance creates, from start to finish, a streamlined virtual journey from Europe to the Holy Land, from a state of pride and sin to a state of grace and redemption. Audiences of the tale are actively invited, moreover, to insert themselves into the narrative. By refraining from naming the exact location of Isumbras’ home or of his eventual Levantine kingdom, those who encounter the story are given an opportunity to create those locations for themselves. Isumbras and his journey have all the more opportunity to become exemplary for the audience as a result. In a strange way, the romance takes a narrative form that nearly replicates the structure of the meditative labyrinth at Chartres. I’ve wandered along that labyrinth many times, and have always found its replication of faith journeys to be startlingly simple and revelatory: when you enter into it, you immediately come very near to the center. You think that your journey will be an easy one, only to find yourself rapidly swung out to the farthest edge of that center. This process repeats itself over and over again until, at long last, you reach the end of the journey. Unlike a maze, the labyrinth offers up no tricks or false endings.  There is only one, inexorable conclusion to your wandering.  In a similar fashion, while Isumbras’ life — initially so calm and peaceful (even complacent) — is rapidly destabilized, the journey he undertakes inexorably leads him to a state of absolution, a spiritual prosperity mirrored in his ascension to kingship and the reunion of his family. Like a wanderer in the labyrinth, Isumbras is flung to the far edge of his faith, and has to slowly find his way back to his center.  Along the way, he models the process of a penitent pilgrim for audiences of the story, and offers opportunities for reflection on the tensions between the earthly and spiritual priorities.
To return to a point made earlier, the fact that this romance circulated in both secular and devotional manuscripts suggests rather strongly that Isumbras was not only an entertaining story but was one that had actual devotional value. What my brief exploration of Isumbras’ narrative structure hopes to offer, in the end, is a glimpse into how a text long considered a less-than-artful vernacular romance successfully uses the structure of romance and of virtual pilgrimage as a conduit to devotion. By replicating a pilgrim’s journey, and by demonstrating how essential that journey is to a knight’s salvation, the romance invites audiences to virtually trace a similar route and reflect upon the lessons learned therein. Thank you.


Cachey, Theodore J. Petrarch’s Guide to the Holy Land: Itinerary to the Sepulcher of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002.

Ehrenschwendtner, Marie-Luise. “Virtual Pilgrimages? Encloser and the Practice of Piety at St Katherine’s Convent, Augsburg.” In The Journal of Ecclesiastical History (January 2009): 45-73. 

Fowler, Elizabeth. “The Romance Hypothetical: Lordship and the Saracens in Sir Isumbras.” In The Spirit of Medieval English Popular Romance, edited by Ad Putter and Jane Gilbert, 97-121. Essex: Pearson Education, 2000.

Manion, Lee. “The Loss of the Holy Land and Sir Isumbras: Literary Contributions to Fourteenth-Century Crusade Discourse.” Speculum 85 (2010): 65-90.

Rudy, Katherine M. Virtual Pilgrimage in the Convent: Imagining Jerusalem in the Late Middle Ages. Turnhout: Brepols, 2011.

Yeager, Suzanne. Jerusalem in Medieval Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.