art history, Medieval Studies, new york city, summer internships, undergraduate news

Peter A. Vergara (FCRH ’18) Shares his Experiences as an Intern at the Cloisters


“In mid March 2015 – toward the end of New York’s perpetual winter – I took the subway up to Dykman Street and trekked up the snowy hills of Fort Tyron Park to reach The Cloisters Museum and interview for their summer internship program. To my amazement, I did receive the offer to become one of eight summer interns working for the Education Department at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cloisters Museum and Gardens. June 1st was the beginning of the most fascinating, exhausting, and rewarding summer I have had so far. The internship at The Cloisters was two-fold: Day-Camp tours and a Gallery Talk.


For the day-camp tours, we, the interns, had two lists of twelve works of art. One was titled People in the Middle Ages and the other Medieval Treasure Hunt. We spent time researching and learning about these twenty-four works of art and how they fit Vergara during Gallery Talkinto their theme. Our research prepared us to be tour-guides in preparation for groups of summer camps and schools – the average group was twenty-something kids, of any age between four and twelve. Our job was to take the facts and history of Medieval Art and bring to life the Middle Ages for these kids. Of course, we would avoid the gruesome stories of plague and torture; however, we highlighted the level or skill and patience that went into creating tapestries and stained glass without modern tools. The children loved identifying the figures of the king’s court in the Nine Heroes Tapestries and exploring the shining works of gold, ivory, or rock crystal. At the end of each tour, we spent 10-15 minutes with a craft project that related to the theme of the tour.


The second part of the internship was the Gallery Talk. Over the course of the nine-week program, each intern came up with a theme of their choice and developed a one-hour lecture around 6-8 works of art that related to the topic. We had access to the Met’s extensive library and were expected to research our objects in great detail. The topic I chose was Art Across Medieval Spain. Growing up in Madrid and being exposed to medieval ruins at a young age, I was eager to explore the history behind the art of medieval Iberia. I specifically focused on the religious conflicts between Christians and Muslims, and on the pilgrimage culture of traveling to and from Santiago de Compostela. The most fascinating information I came across in my extensive research was that these two themes are intrinsically related; each of the seven works of art I included in my lecture directly related to both the Christian Reconquista and the pilgrimage to Santiago. The work I had the most fun studying and presenting was an alabaster statue of Saint James the Greater – on this stop of my Gallery Talk I touched on the historical enigma behind this disciple of Jesus, his significance to Spanish culture during the Middle Ages and the transformation of his meaning today as pilgrims flock to his remains from all over the world for religious and secular reasons.


As you might know from visiting the museum yourselves, The Cloisters provide a sliver of medieval Europe on the northernmost tip of hectic Manhattan; not only is this a space for academia and truism, but also a refuge from the speeding yellow cabs and loud street vendors downtown. I was honored and privileged to help this unique museum over the summer – plus, I learnt a great deal about Medieval Art in the process.”


Peter Vergara is a freshman at Fordham College Rose Hill. He is double majoring in Political Science and Art History, with a minor in Philosophy.



events, Medieval Studies, Vernacular Languages

Fall Symposium on “Faith and Knowledge in Late Medieval Scandinavia” a Success

In the midst of the excitement and commotion of Pope Francis’s Manhattan visit on Friday, September 25, an intimate group of scholars from the United States and Norway convened at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus for a conference on Faith & Knowledge in Late Medieval Scandinavia, organized by Drs. Mikael Males and Karoline Kjesrud, both postdoctoral fellows at the University of Oslo.

The conference is the latest in a series of recent events at Fordham concerning the literature and culture of medieval Scandinavia. In 2012, Fordham hosted a symposium titled “Textual Interpretation in Medieval Vernaculars,” as well as an earlier conference in 2010, “New Directions in Medieval Scandinavian Studies,” which developed into a book, Eddic, Skaldic, and Beyond: Poetic Variety in Medieval Iceland and Norway, edited by Fordham’s Dr. Martin Chase, S.J., and released by Fordham University Press this past spring 2015. The theme of this latest conference grew out of conversations that took place between the two organizers regarding their respective interests. While Dr. Males studies the poetics of Old Norseskaldic verse and Dr. Kjesrud studies the reflection of power relations between social classes in literary genres, both often found themselves wondering how ideas about the divine were made manifest to subjects in medieval Scandinavian society. How did people acquire the tenants of their religious beliefs? In what terms and forms did they express them?

With such fundamental questions as these forming the conference’s unifying thread, the day’s talks ranged over a wide fieldbrigitte of topics. Among the presenters, Elise Kleivane (University of Oslo) discussed the availability of scriptural texts in Scandinavian vernacular languages – a talk which included the fascinating example of a church door ring bearing a runic inscription of the Ave Maria; Margaret Cormack (College of Charleston) reported on the progress of a project that aims to map statue purchases in order to document the spread of saints’ cults throughout Iceland; and Stephen Mitchell (Harvard University) surveyed the charms and spells of the late medieval and early modern periods that invoked pagan gods for the attainment of such ends as wealth and treasure or protection against rats. Taken together, these talks and others presented a revealing overview of the age’s social and intellectual landscape.

The day demonstrated the potential for a focused conference to illuminate a broad question using insights from a variety of disciplines. The attendees agreed that with further refinement and consolidation, the day’s material will make for a unique book project, and all expressed interest in a follow-up conference at which the contributors might present their progress.



By Andrew O’Sullivan

faculty news, history department, Medieval Studies

Maryanne Kowaleski Begins Prestigious Radcliffe Fellowship at Harvard University

This story is cross-blogged from History at Fordham University.


Last Spring, Maryanne Kowaleski, Joseph Fitzpatrick S.J. Distinguished Professor of History and Medieval Studies was selected to hold a prestigious residential fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advances Studies at Harvard University to pursue her project entitled Living by the Sea: An Ethnography of Maritime Communities in Medieval England. The Radcliffe Institute fellowship competition  is international in scope, and fellowships are awarded to only 3% of applicants. As Professor Kowaleski begins her fellowship year, let’s find out more about her project and the Radcliffe Institute where she will be based. 

According to the fellowship announcement, entitled “Big Thinkers, Big Projects”. The Institute is

dedicated to creating and sharing transformative ideas across the arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences. The Fellowship Program annually supports the work of 50 leading artists and scholars. Academic Ventures fosters collaborative research projects and sponsors lectures and conferences that engage scholars with the public. The Schlesinger Library documents the lives of American women of the past and present for the future, furthering the Institute’s commitment to women, gender, and society.

Radcliffe Institute Dean Lizabeth Cohen said of the 2015 fellows that

“It is an honor to provide these innovative thinkers with time, space, and intellectual stimulation to do their best work in ways that often defy expectations and disciplinary boundaries,” said Radcliffe Institute Dean Lizabeth Cohen RI ’02. “As Radcliffe fellows, they are sure to develop unusual collaborations, take unexpected risks, and generate new ideas.”

Professor Kowaleski’s project is entitled Living by the Sea: An Ethnography of Maritime Communities in Medieval England. What follows is from the abstract for her project.

Past human interaction with the sea has become an important issue for many disciplines, spurred on by debates on our responsibility for rising sea levels, the depletion of fish stocks, and global warming. The historical perspective’s contributions to these and other issues, such as rights of access to marine resources, are valued, but rarely focus on the period before the seventeenth century. The emphasis has also been more on people as ecological actors and less on the interaction between humans and marine environments.  My project contributes to these current debates by analyzing the impact of marine environments on the types of work, economic strategies, language, value systems, and family structures of those residing near the sea in medieval England. The study attributes a powerful role to marine ecosystems in promoting a distinctive sub-culture among the inhabitants of coastal villages and small port towns, as well as quayside neighborhoods in larger seaports.

Congratulations to Professor Kowaleski on this major award, and enjoy your year at Harvard!

Alumni, art history, Medieval Studies

Scott Miller (MA ’12) Leads Exhibition Tour of ‘Treasures and Talismans’ at the Cloisters

Within the canons of art history, rings are often relegated to second-class status. Nineteenth-century art historians, for example, were more likely to regard pieces of jewelry as consumer objects than as products of imaginative artistry on par with sculptures or oil paintings. But since May, the Cloisters have sought to redress this imbalance by highlighting the role rings have played as signifiers of social identity from antiquity to the Renaissance in their exhibit entitled “Treasures and Talismans: Rings from the Griffin Collection.” Last Friday, Fordham Medieval Studies alumnus Scott Miller, who1880_cropped co-authored the exhibition’s catalog, Take This Ring: Medieval and Renaissance Rings from the Griffin Collection, led visitors from Fordham on a tour to explain how rings acquired meaning and worked to construct their bearers’ identities.

The late Byzantine and early medieval rings featured in the exhibit afforded Miller the opportunity to explore how anthropological studies throw light on the work of art history. Historians have searched for explanations, for example, for the transition from the smoothness and relative simplicity that characterized antique rings to the almost “neurotic” quality produced by the geometric and architectural designs from late antiquity. Miller described how British anthropologist Alfred Gell’s ideas concerning magic as a “technology of enchantment” have helped historians to theorize what factors might have been at work in this particular shift. Miller placed the collection’s elaborate late antique rings in the context of the Byzantine court of the tenth century as described by Liutprand of Cremona, who, durin1923_croppedg his audience with the emperor, observed mechanical singing birds, stomping lions, and levitating thrones. The highly wrought rings of late antique nobles may have been worn with the intent to dazzle and bewilder delegates like Liutprand.

Another group of rings, the diamond giardinetti, demonstrate the importance of provenance in understanding the social roles that rings played. Miller noted that without knowledge of the rings’ background and only their design and materials, a historian would likely judge these fashionable rings to have belonged to courtiers or aristocrats. But the rings’ provenance identifies them as having been donated to a Spanish convent as “dowries” by novic1878_croppedes’ families at the time of their entry into the convent. Historians, suggests Miller, have to be wary of ascribing social significance to an artifact based on its design alone. New practices and individual innovations can twist existing conventions to bestow meaning in new and unexpected ways.

To further illustrate his point, Miller turned to Fordham’s own Nina Rowe to ask about her wedding band. While the ring had been invested with great meaning by its bearer, Professor Rowe showed visitors that the band was in fact an inexpensive mood ring, one which had to be replaced so often that she orders them in bulk. “There’s a place in Alaska that sells them for cheap,” she said.


By Andew O’Sullivan

Digital Humanities, Medieval Studies

Student Spotlight: CMS Summer Intern Rachel Zeltzer (Bennington College)

Hi, my name is Rachael Zeltzer! I am a senior at Bennington College focusing on Christianity in the early Middle Ages. This summer, I interned for the Center for Medieval Studies with the Digital Humanities (D.H.) team. Before this experience, I honestly did not know very much about Digital Humanities; however, I quickly realized just how much D.H. could transform and alter data, sources, and even just words. When I arrived at Fordham, the D.H. team was in the middle of two major mapping projects, and I was lucky enough to be a contributor to both of these! rachelz

One of the projects (Forthcoming: Exploring Place in the French of Italy) involved taking a corpus of French texts written in Italy during the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries, scanning them into the computer, using programs to strip the text, searching for certain geographical places and how many times they occurred, compiling this data into spread sheets, and then mapping the toponyms onto different maps. Though I was specifically working with the data sheets, this project allowed me, as well as the rest of the team, to think about these texts in entirely new ways. Because it was digitalized, we were also able to manipulate the data differently.

Even though mapping is not necessarily part of my studies, I was so excited to be working with such a driven, intelligent team. This project not only taught me more about the French of Italy and its geographical context/importance, but also about how to, refreshingly, think about the humanities and the Middle Ages. Digital Humanities is something I now want to try to bring to Bennington!

I want to thank Dr. Hafner, Dr. Morreale, and the rest of the team for being a part of such a fruitful, interesting, and rewarding experience!

Alumni, Medieval Studies

Alumni Spotlight: Scott Miller (M.A. 2012)

Since graduating Fordham University’s program in Medieval Studies in 2012, Scott Miller has been pursuing a PhD in art history at Northwestern University.  His research specializes in the courtly arts and culture of Valois France and Burgundy, particularly the architecture and landscapes of great royal houses.  Over the past three years, he has presented on these topics in the June 2014 “Buildings and the Body” conference in Southampton, England and at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo, Michigan in May 2015. His dissertation project approaches four major Valois châteaux: the Louvre, Vincennes, Hesdin, and Germolles, and seeks to uncover how moments of social performance and intervenUntitledtion into domestic architecture transformed buildings, gardens, and landscape into crucibles of elite identity and political power formation.

In spring 2015, Scott presented his first publication, Take this Ring: Medieval and Renaissance Rings from the Griffin Collection.  Co-authored with Sandra Hindman, professor emerita in Art History at Northwestern University and owner of Les Enluminures, this book accompanies the exhibition Treasures and Talismans: Rings from the Griffin Collection at the Cloisters Collection. “In this volume,” Scott states, “we chose not to cut close to the tradition catalog format.  Rather, we treated the rings in this distinguished private collection thematically.  Seeking to tell the story of the “life cycle” of the ring, we presented a history that followed them from the mines to the archaeological context, and through a human world in which they acted as symbols, talismans, and even social agents.”

Digital Humanities, Medieval Studies

Graduate Students Participate in “Digital Day”

On August 27th, Fordham’s medievalists invited faculty and students from across the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences to participate in the first annual Digital Day, co-sponsored by the Center for Medieval Studies and GSAS Futures. Alisa Beer (History Ph.D. Program; MVST ’13) and David Smigen-Rothkopf (Medieval Studies M.A. Program) taughtDigital Daystudents how to use Photoshop and WordPress to create their own professionally-oriented websites and visual materials. The workshop was the first of the Center’s professional workshops for the 2015-2016 academic year.

Medieval Studies, Vernacular Languages

Fall Symposium: Faith and Knowledge in Late Medieval Scandinavia



Fordham University, Lincoln Center Campus

South Lounge of the Lowenstein Building

September 25th

At this seminar we will investigate religious life in Late Medieval Scandinavia, in particular as it relates to how knowledge was perceived and attained. The absoluteness of the dichotomy between what we believe and what we know has always been dependent on context, and in the Late Middle Ages, the difference between the two was undergoing constant negotiation. This is probably due not only to an increase in sources, but also in voices, disco
urses, and questions actually raised. This seminar is dedicated to listening to those voices, and to trying to discern how they sought to answer questions that have constantly beset the human mind. The seminar is part of a book project.

Lunch will be provided. Please email for more information. We hope to see you there!


Digital Humanities, Medieval Studies

CMS launches the Oxford Outremer Map Project

On June 17, at Saint Louis University’s Annual Symposium on Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Dr. Nicholas Paul and Dr. Laura Morreale publicly launched a major project sponsored by Fordham’s Center for Medieval Studies, under construction since July of last year. In collaboration with graduate students and other center affiliates, they set out to create a digitally enhanced and interactive version of a map created by Matthew Paris in the thirteenth century, increasing its accessibility for further research. The website also features essays and discussion pages, as well as a methodological report on the technical work flow accompanied by a short video.

We are planning a colloquium to discuss this map on April 9th, 2016 at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus. For more information, contact

The Oxford Outremer Map Project

Oxford Outremer Postcard_Final_001

Medieval Studies, Vernacular Languages

What is the Vernacular?

This post is guest-edited by David Wrisley, Medieval Fellow @DJWrisley.

Medieval Fellows for the Fall 2014-15 semester Emma Campbell and David Wrisley are hosting an informal workshop with other Fordham scholars on the notion of the vernacular across different medieval contexts.

Participating Fordham medievalists include Lucy Barnhouse (History), Louisa Foroughi (History), Laura Morreale (Medieval Studies) and David Pedersen (English).

Guiding questions for the flash presentations are as follows:

  • What happens when competing vernaculars exist and which specific historical contexts shape their use? (Morreale)
  • How did language become authoritative in Mainz’s courts and contracts? (Barnhouse)
  • How does the representation and use of Latin and vernacular languages in medieval Francophone texts complicate opposition between these groupings? (Campbell)
  • How has the tendency among scholars to establish Latin as the pinnacle of literary production in the early Middle Ages caused us to miss the possibilities that might have been utilized by authors writing in the vernacular? (Pedersen)
  • Since the term vernacular itself does not appear to be a medieval term, are there medieval ways of approximating the concept? (Wrisley)
  • Where does language choice feature in constructing identities and navigating social hierarchies? (Foroughi)
  • What about different national language situations inflects the way the term ‘vernacular’ is used in medieval scholarship? (Wrisley)
  • What are the implications of this for the way we think about medieval language and translation? (Campbell)
  • What can the use of the vernacular in surviving documents tell us about how it was used alongside Latin (complementing or competing with it) in legal process? (Barnhouse)
  • What do we gain or lose from applying the term ‘vernacular’ to discourses beyond the realm of language difference, i.e. material cultures, social groups, or religious practices/beliefs? (Foroughi)
  • How might the critical tendency to assume Latinate philosophy and theology as an ideal for authors writing in the vernacular have caused us to gloss over the peculiarities of the subtly varied worldviews that vernacular languages might be uniquely able to express? (Pedersen)
  • When multiple vernaculars exist beside indigenous vernaculars, what benefits do authors enjoy with each linguistic choice? In the case of Italy, I’m wondering if French and Occitan were more easily transferred within the Italian peninsula than were the local Italian dialects.  (Morreale)
  • How we might use humanities “big data” to think about the vernacular as a shifting literary historiographic category?  (Wrisley)

Check back here for a crowd-edited summary of the event.

Fordham vernacularity