As my students and I make last-minute preparations to depart for our study-abroad in England, two recent posts remind me of the purpose of these courses and why it’s so fabulous to be studying medieval-early modern British literature in Great Britain.
Why and how did you get interested in medieval history? We want to hear your stories about you discovered the Middle Ages and medieval history. We are setting up a page on Medievalists.net to post your videos and stories – you can post them here on Youtube, or on our Facebook page, or email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Since I study medieval literature, to which medieval history is merely (!) vital background, I’m not sure I’m truly invited to this party, but I’m inspired to answer for my interest in the Middle Ages.
Several elements contributed to my interest in medieval literature. I was always a reader, and I loved books and stories with medieval settings. I was good at languages. But through college and my MA program, I thought I was going to focus on modern or contemporary literature–in fact, I was planning to be a poet. Fortunately, that didn’t work out.
By the time I started my PhD, I’d read some modern historical novels that made medieval literature seem really intriguing (e.g., Dunnett, Walton, White), but I still hadn’t made up my mind between 20th century or medieval literature by the time I arrived at UNC-Chapel Hill. At this point, chance or fate (Wyrd in Anglo-Saxon) or God took a hand.
I took Old English, because we all had to (those were the days!), which introduced me not only to the language but also to several students planning to major in medieval lit. One afternoon, as I was riding home on the bus, a fellow grad student asked me what I planned to major in. I told him I hadn’t decided. He invited me to a party for medieval studies majors that weekend. The deciding factor: medievalists were kind, funny, cheerful, pleasant people. Even the moody ones weren’t mean about it. The 20th c. majors were mostly sarcastic, snarky, and morose. I foresaw a depressing future full of angst as a 20th c. major, and declared my intentions the next week.
My interest in languages and linguistics got a workout (Old and Middle English, Provencal, Old French, Latin, German, Old Irish, Middle Welsh), and I could follow the paths of the old tales back to their origins. It’s like archaeology–but less dusty. And so much, much more. Still enjoying it. Thanks, Michael Kuczynski—although I could and should thank many other people who contributed to my medieval studies, if Mike hadn’t invited me to that party, I might never have gotten to know any of them.
Three posts in one day may seem like spam, but when I realized that the replica Viking ship the Sea Stallion from Glendalough actually set sail yesterday on its return voyage from Dublin to Denmark, I had to post the link to the Smithsonian video . Last year, the ship sailed from Denmark to Dublin, reproducing typical Viking voyages of the 8th-11th centuries.
According to the accompanying Smithsonian.com article
[R]ecent research has suggested that the Vikings pouring out of Denmark, Sweden and Norway 1,200 years ago had more on their minds than raiding, though they were not above using their martial reputation to their advantage in areas where they were vastly outnumbered. These adventurers also wove a network of trade and exploration that stretched from Russia to Turkey to Canada, buying and selling goods from places as distant as China and Afghanistan. “They were people without boundaries,” says Wladyslaw Duczko, an archaeologist at the University of Uppsala in Sweden.
This information will make fans of Michael Crichton’s The 13th Warrior happy, undoubtedly. A Viking voyage was swift, considering, but no romantic cruise, however:
Nighttime temperatures plunged into the 30s. . . . “It kept on raining and raining and raining,” says crew member Henrik Kastoft, a spokesman for a Danish political party in his day job. “There were so many nights I just sat there shivering for hours.” Each member of the crew had only about eight square feet of space to himself. “I really suffered from being so close to people for so long. I got edgy, cranky,” says Erik Nielsen. “Maybe the modern analogue would be a submarine.”
Archaeologists, anthropologists, and literary/history scholars learn a lot from projects such as these.
Thanks to my in-laws for the subscription to Smithsonian Magazine, without which I might have missed this story!